In February of 2017, an image was relentlessly shared on various social media sites, so much so that People Magazine featured the picture along with an article explaining it. The image featured five beautiful children–ranging in age from eleven to two–sitting side-by-side on a wood bench, three smiling and two looking back at the camera stoically. These siblings had garnered so much attention because they were asking for something absolutely crazy: to all be adopted together.
Also in February of 2017, my wife Gabrielle and I began taking classes to obtain our foster care license, which was something we’d been talking about doing for months. And then one day I was sitting in my office (working incredibly hard, I’m certain) when I received a picture message from Gabrielle. It was that aforementioned photo of the five kids, and the message she included with the image was this: “Let’s adopt them!”
A bit surprised by the message, I clicked on the children’s adoption profile, appreciated how adorable they were, and noticed that the profile stated that they were only considering adoptive resources from Kansas. But then I got sidetracked looking at other profiles of children in need of adoption in Kansas and even replied to Gabrielle’s message with a link for a different boy who I apparently thought would have been a good fit for our family. I moved on real quickly from those children, because the idea of two twenty-four-year-olds with no parenting experience adopting five kids was completely absurd.
Later that day, as I often did, I ended up in my boss and good friend Dave’s office. As a foster parent himself, Dave was and still is my constant confidant for all things related to foster care and adoption. I mentioned to Dave with a laugh that Gabrielle had suggested that she and I adopt five kids, and then the two of us discussed what that kind of life would look like. But the more we talked about it, the more a harrowing realization dawned on me: sure, Gabrielle and I may have been young, but if these five children all wanted to be adopted together, then the best bet may just have been a couple that didn’t already have any other kids. My exact words when I left that conversation with Dave were these: “Oh, shit. I think we’re actually going to consider this.”
And we did. Over the next few days, Gabrielle and I spent a great deal of time talking about these kids. For some inexplicable reason, we felt like God was somehow calling us to take a gigantic leap of faith and bring five children into our family, even though we felt too young, too unqualified, too inexperienced, and too poor. We debated what it truly meant to be called to do something and how we could figure out if we were. Eventually, without many answers, we decided to take the first step. We filled out an online form in which we expressed interest in adopting the five children and submitted it to the child placing agency in charge of finding them an adoptive home. It wasn’t that intense of a first step, as we later found out that 1,400 other couples did the exact same thing. But it was still a step.
Weeks passed and we heard nothing. We weren’t surprised; after all, these kids had become a national media spectacle and we knew that the child placing agency was overwhelmed with interested parties. Neither were we particularly disappointed; after all, going from zero kids to five kids would have been unfathomably life-altering and we figured it was something we would have inevitably failed at anyway. And so we pressed onward, finishing our foster care classes and beginning the arduous process of obtaining our license. The five kids fell out of the backs of our minds.
One day, a month and a half later, I got a phone call from an unknown number, so, per personal policy, I let it go to voicemail, figuring that if it was important enough the caller would leave a message. Sure enough, my phone vibrated with the notification of a voicemail message. I didn’t know it then, but the content of that message was about to drastically redirect the course of our lives for the next several months.
The message was from a lady named Wanda (not her actual name, but I’m going to call her that), who was the adoption recruiter for the five children. She thanked us for our interest in the kids and expressed a desire to speak with us further regarding them. Surprised to have heard from someone so long after submitting the interest form, I quickly called her back. Wanda told me about how she thought Gabrielle and I might be a good fit for these five children and that, even though the child placing agency had already narrowed down the field of candidates to seven, she wanted us to fill out an adoption profile for the children’s case team to consider. I was stunned, and so was Gabrielle when I told her later that evening.
We didn’t deliberate for very long this time. An opportunity–a wild and crazy opportunity–had presented itself to us, and we were going to act on it. We informed Wanda of our decision to move forward and set about the task of completing an adoption profile. We submitted it to the case team, they looked it over, and then notified us that they wanted us to submit a full adoption application for the five children. That’s when things got really wild. Over the next several weeks, we had many conversations with Wanda, a conference call with the children’s caseworker, health exams, fingerprinting, background checks, and a whole host of other things to do in a short period of time. We were late to the game, and the children’s case team was doing us a huge favor by considering our application at this point in the process.
Once we’d turned in our application, all we could do was wait (which is 90% of what you do when you’re trying to adopt a child, just in case you were wondering). In that time of waiting, we found ourselves falling in love with these children, just as if they’d been ours forever. We stared at their pictures constantly. The agency provided a video of them, and we watched it so much that we could quote it. We began calling the upstairs room with the hideous shag carpet the boys’ room and the upstairs room with the normal carpet the girls’ room. We bought bunk beds and accepted other furniture donations from family and friends. I started whispering their names with the antecedent “my daughter” or “my son”, just to hear how it sounded. We puzzled together what childcare and schooling would look like. We realized we’d need to get a minivan.
We also worried. Were we doing the right thing? Was adopting five kids all at once–most of them with some sort of special need–something we would be able to handle? Was it something we would be able to afford? Were we too young to have an eleven-year-old son? Was our faith strong enough? Would our schedules work out? Were the kids going to like us? Would we be ostracized from the rest of our peers because of this? Were we going to become the crazy DeLoaches with all their crazy kids? Would they ever call us Mom and Dad? Would they ever grow to love us and accept us as their parents?
A few weeks after we turned in our application, we found out that we had made it into the “final four” families still in consideration to become these children’s parents. That completely blew our minds. Thousands of people had shared these kids’ story on the internet (my sister even had friends in Florida who’d heard about it), 1,400 families had filled out online interest forms, People Magazine had featured the children, and here we were in the final four. We could barely believe what was happening.
As the day of the best interest staffing (the meeting in which the adoptive family would finally be selected by the children’s case team) approached, so did our confidence that this was going to happen. We felt like we were perfect candidates. After all, there must have been some reason why the agency was willing to consider our application even though they’d already narrowed the field to seven families. We were young, fun, and energetic, plus we knew the educational and mental health systems well. We were involved in the community and we had family nearby to help with such a monumental undertaking. We didn’t have any other children, so these kids would get all of our attention. We understood and were prepared to handle the special needs these children had. To be frank, we believed that we had taken a gargantuan leap of faith, and now God was obligated to honor our faithfulness by giving us these children.
Unfortunately for us, God is not capable of being manipulated, nor is God a puppet master who forces events to happen in a certain way. The best interest staffing was held, and a week later we found out that we were not selected to adopt the five children. Our dreams were shattered by a little piece of paper in our mailbox. We were utterly devastated.
I felt like the prophet Isaiah who, when asked by God who would go into the world and do God’s work, leaped to his feet and cried, “Here I am, send me!” Only when I said, “Here I am!” to God, God merely responded by laughing in my face and saying, “Good grief, son, sit down.” It was as if my faithfulness to what I believed was God’s call had been betrayed. I didn’t understand at all, and I was mad at God because of it. We had done what we thought God was calling us to do, and God had just flicked us aside.
We spent the next several days feeling angry, disappointed, exhausted, burnt out, and sorry for ourselves. Wanda had called to tell us she knew of a few other sibling groups that she thought we should pursue, but at that point I had no desire to try adopting again. I was emotionally drained beyond what I thought was possible and all I wanted to do was drown out everything I was feeling.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I had completely misunderstood God’s call for my life. The feeling that my purpose in life was to be a father to the fatherless was so strong, and yet the first time I tried to fulfill that purpose, I failed. Who did I think I was? What made me think that I actually had anything to offer the world? Who was I to think that I could do anything that actually mattered? Why would God call someone like me to do something meaningful?
And then Gabrielle, in all her amazing wisdom, pointed out that by throwing ourselves a pity party we weren’t helping either ourselves or the multitudes of children in need of adoptive homes. It might have been a single sentence, but that was just the kick in the pants we both needed to pick ourselves up and try again. We didn’t know it then, but just two months later we would welcome our first foster placement into our home. Now as we move toward adopting this boy as our dearly beloved son, we realize that we might have actually been lucky to avoid adopting five children all at once. Just one kid is a hell of a lot of work; I can’t imagine five.
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe God called us to specifically adopt those five children, nor do I believe that God has specifically called us to adopt the son we’re currently working to adopt. A lot of Christians talk about figuring out what God’s plan or calling is for their lives, like it’s some sort of puzzle we have to put together while wearing blindfolds and oven mitts. But I really don’t think it’s that complicated. God has made it pretty clear what is most important to him, so whatever God’s “call” is for our lives, it will fit into that. We all have various abilities and passions that give direction to our lives, and so whatever God’s “call” is for our lives will also fit into that. Find the spot where God’s values and your abilities and passions converge and there you will find your calling. It’s that simple.
For us, our passion is children in foster care, and we both have experience working with children who exhibit difficult behavior (which some, though not all, children in foster care can display). It’s pretty obvious that God cares a lot about that kind of stuff too (see James 1:27, among other places in the Bible), so that’s how we came to find our calling as adoptive parents. But like I said, I don’t believe God necessarily called us to adopt any specific kids. I think God just wanted us to get off our butts and do something. Whether it was those five or the one we have now or some other kid somewhere else, I don’t think God cares. What matters to God, I believe, is that we did something.
So God didn’t betray us when we weren’t selected to adopt the five children, and God didn’t “lead us” to the sweet boy we have now. Those things just happened because we had a pretty general idea of which way to go and we stepped out in faith.