By Dawn Ruhl
Worth the Risk
Completing the Ugandan side of Josie’s adoption took just over five weeks. Eli and Esther returned to the U.S. after two weeks, and God taught me so much in the remaining three weeks about what it means for His strength to be made perfect in my weakness; His grace was completely sufficient for me – and for the rest of my family (2 Cor 12:9). The adoption process (no matter where it's completed) is an incredibly frustrating endeavor, and walking through it in Uganda to bring Josie home was one of the most difficult things we had ever done. But God was so very present throughout my time there, bringing me exactly what I needed at exactly the right time, and our family of four was joyfully reunited just two days before Christmas in 2011.
Before Eli headed back home, we decided to make the 4-hour trip out to western Uganda to meet the 9-year-old boy we’d been praying for. In the days preceding our trip to meet him, we had received approvals from all the agencies we had to petition for permission, and, on the paperwork front anyway, we were free to pursue his adoption. Since none of the paperwork doors had been closed, we decided to keep moving forward, though the thought of bringing home a 9-year-old boy made us a little weak in the knees. What would the effects of institutionalization be on his little heart? Were we putting our other children at risk? How would our parenting approach need to change? What if he didn’t want us to be his family?
While the answers to those first questions (and all the others we asked ourselves and the Lord in secret) were obviously important, it was the answer to that last question that gave us the final push to step out into the deep waters of older child adoption. When we arrived at the children’s home, we spotted our boy hanging at the back of the crowd of curious kids who had swarmed our van. He had no idea we were there to see him until the director called him into the office with us. We talked for a few minutes through an interpreter. Then they asked him if he would like for us to be his family and if he would like to go live in America with us. Without hesitation, he said yes. He didn’t know us from anyone, but he knew he had been praying for a family. He trusted that God was answering his prayers and that, therefore, we were worth the risk. How could we, adults who had walked with the Lord long enough to know that He is Everything, do anything but say the same? We didn’t know this boy yet, but we had been praying that God would provide a family for him. We didn’t have all the answers about what this would look like, but wasn’t this precious soul worth the risk?
We left the children’s home that day with two daughters in our arms and a son in our hearts. It was God’s kindness to us to allow us to meet our son before we were able to bring him home, because knowing we had a very specific child waiting for us to come back to get him was very motivating in keeping the process moving forward. We had thought there might be a chance that we could complete his adoption on the same trip, but the Lord had other plans. We settled into being a family of four before heading back to Uganda six months later to bring then-10-year-old Mzee ("moo-zay") into our family. We ended up being in-country for over seven weeks with him (Eli and Esther came home again after four weeks), and the process was so ridiculously frustrating that we insisted we were finished adopting from Uganda by the time we arrived home in August 2012.
Mzee’s transition to our family was remarkably smooth. We had prepared ourselves for lots of possible scenarios, but a joyful, respectful kid who immediately claimed us as his own was not really one that we had allowed ourselves to hope for because it seemed so unlikely. But we are living proof that adopting an older child from an institutional setting does not instantly turn your life into a horror story, like all those made-for-TV movies and sensational news stories would lead you to believe. While those awful, heartbreaking stories do happen – and it would be naive to pretend that they don’t or to be unprepared for the worst-case scenario when actually pursuing it – older child adoption can be astoundingly beautiful, as two sets of people make the daily choice to trust and love one another, even when it’s incredibly difficult. And it absolutely is difficult – but there aren’t many things in this life worth doing that aren’t.
A Crazy Thought
After we had gotten settled a bit with Mzee, we felt the Lord pulling our hearts much closer to home. We had seen what a blessing it was to open our home to a child who needed a family, and we began to become more and more aware of the need for homes for children right here in our own community. There are thousands of children in foster care in North Carolina, and it seemed like an incredible privilege to be able to serve a few of those kids – and their parents – during one of the most difficult times in their lives. We completed our training classes to become licensed foster parents in the spring of 2013.
In May 2013, as we were working on our foster care license, we learned that one of Mzee’s Ugandan friends had an adoptive placement fall through at the last minute. This boy, Sam, was one of Mzee’s best friends, and we had all been so excited about his coming to the U.S. and into a family. Knowing that Sam had watched his hopes for a family crumble around him was more than we could bear. We were begging God to bring Sam a new family, and I sensed the Lord asking me if I really meant it when I said my "yes" was always on the table. In the dark, in a quiet moment before sleep, I finally vocalized to Eli the thought that had been bouncing around my head for days: maybe we were supposed to be Sam’s family. It was a crazy thought. Sam was 12 years old. We were done with Uganda! We were pursuing other things. Not to mention that we didn’t have a bit of money left in our savings account after three adoptions in three years. But Eli confirmed that he thought maybe we were, indeed, supposed to be Sam’s family. So we prayed, and offered up our "yes" once again, to the One who changes hearts and makes all things beautiful, and asked the Lord to show up in a big way if this is what He really wanted us to do. Because of the specifics of Sam’s case, we would need to be traveling within six weeks.
A Different but Better Plan
Since we had so recently adopted from Uganda, our paperwork was completed in lightning speed. Within days of sharing our intention to adopt Sam, many generous friends had contributed to our adoption fund, and others stepped up to organize fundraisers for us. We chased papers while watching the money roll in. We said yes to Sam at the beginning of June, and just four weeks later, we were on yet another plane back to Uganda, with $25,000 in our adoption fund. It wasn’t the summer beach vacation we had been planning, but I can say without a doubt that God’s plan is far better than anything I can dream up. The judge granted our petition to become Sam’s family in July, and we changed his name to Joshua Samuel (he still answers to both Joshua and Sam, so don’t worry if you get confused!). After another 7-week Ugandan adventure, we arrived home in the U.S. in August 2013. It’s been a bumpier road this last time around as we all figure out how to navigate these new relationships, but God has been so faithful, as always, to provide the tools and wisdom and experiences that we need to do the work He has given us.
Our journey has been long and winding, sometimes dark, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, and we are humbled every day to realize the privilege we’ve been given to serve the Lord in this particular way in this life. Our hope is that our story moves you, as it has us, to see God in a new way, and to bring Him glory and honor for the great things that He has done. If our story also stirs up questions or thoughts that you have about adoption, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. For those who are interested in getting a little more practical information about adoption, I’ll close with a list of helpful resources. Thank you so much for taking the time to read our story; may the Lord use it as He wills.
US Department of State Intercountry Adoption
Wake County Foster Care
AdoptUSKids - national photolisting of kids awaiting adoption across the US
Private Domestic Newborn Adoption - an overview
Supporting and Understanding the Adoptive Family
After the Airport - a glimpse into post-adoption life and some practical suggestions for ways to support adoptive families