I'm standing in the Orlando International Airport with my 14-year-old daughter, waiting for her to board a plane for Indianapolis. She's heading home while I'm jumping on a flight to Tulsa for my next speaking engagement. She clutches my hand tightly; even at 14 years old, she still holds my hand in public, and it never stops warming my heart.
I step to the side as she steps toward the woman taking tickets. As the scanner beeps and the attendant welcomes her, she walks down the jet ramp and disappears.
How in the world did she become so grown up, I wonder to myself.
Tears fill the corner of my eyes as I turn to head toward my departure gate. After picking up a cup of coffee, I find a spot near the gate and wait to board. I'm suddenly overcome with emotion as I think about my daughter boarding a different plane. Silly, I think. I'll see her and the rest of my family tomorrow.
But my heart can't stop itself. "Gosh I love my kids," I whisper.
It's at this moment that I think about an email I'd received a few days earlier. A father of three adopted kids poured his heart out about his recent struggles, and eventually asked me -- as an adoptive dad myself -- if I had the choice, would I do the whole adoption journey over again. In the email, he explained how he and his wife have been pushed to the edge -- and beyond -- by their children. All three were adopted from the foster care system. He has an 11-year-old daughter with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a 14-year-old son with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), and a 3-year-old son who's suddenly showing signs of both disorders.
"This is not what I signed up for," he admitted. Then he asked, "Would you do it again? If you could start over being a parent, would you do this entire thing over again? Would you foster? Adopt?"
As I sit here and consider my answer to this, I think back to the past 14 years for my wife and I, in which we adopted eight children. Those years have been incredibly difficult -- anything but perfect. The scars we wear on our hearts, and all over our bodies, are proof. If I had a dollar for every time we had the thought, I didn't sign up for this, I'd be a multi-millionaire. That's why I totally get where this father is coming from. I could feel every word he had typed.
I close my eyes and can see all of the dark moments in our family's life as clearly as when they were happening ...
I see the police showing up on my doorstep looking for one of my kids.
I see the Department of Children's Services showing up to investigate.
I see my son being put into a police cruiser and driven to a psychiatric ward.
I see my daughter coming home with a black eye and bruises all over her body.
I see my wife and I driving to pick up my son to move him to a different residential facility.
I hear my wife's phone call to tell me they're parked on the side of the road, standing outside of the car, because my child was flipping out and hitting her.
Any normal person would read that and think to themselves, Why would anyone in their right mind sign up for that? It seems as though we are gluttons for punishment. So, why do it?
I'll tell you why ... the heart. While most see the imperfections of our story, I see how perfectly imperfect it is. I see how intricately our story has been woven together in a tapestry of grace and love. In spite of the darkness, there's no way I could tell a more powerful, nor beautiful story. And I say that in the middle of some very dark circumstances. Even now.
It's the heart that drives us to this crazy, unbelievable choice, and it's the very thing that would drive us to do this all over again.
After all, if there's one thing I've learned about this journey, it's that it takes a very special heart and a strange set of eyes. That's why not every human being is called to be foster or adoptive parents.
Our eyes see through the wreckage and brokenness of this world, to the very center of humanity. We're not phased by the broken; we see the potential. We believe in redemption and know that everything is repairable. There are no lost causes or hopeless cases, there are only bigger stories.
Every time I look at my children, I see the future -- even when I've been driven to the edge and beyond. Our story is not hopeless, it's beautiful.
So, after all of this pondering, my answer to this father is a simple, YES! A trillion times YES! Sign me up; show me where to board; I'm in it for the long haul. The depth of my heart is greater than the scars on my arms. You may shake your head and call me naive. After all of the bombs we've sustained in our marriage and our parenting, some may call it reckless. Heck, some called it reckless when we decided to adopt and foster in the first place. But I didn't care then, and I don't care now.
While foster care and adoption has drained the life out of us, it's also filled us with more life then we could ever imagine. For every time my heart's been ripped out of my chest by desperate and dark moments, it's wanted to beat out of my chest with love and compassion. As the faces of my beautiful children flash through my mind, I am overwhelmed. I love them more than anything -- despite the rough, rough road we've traveled.
So ... YES. Show me where to jump and I'm off the edge.
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