An Empty Nest…Refilled

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting Brian and Debbie Holt.  A few years ago, with the freedom and opportunity of an “empty nest” just ahead, Brian and Debbie made a choice that turned expectations upside-down for them and their three sons. 

Brian expressed to me, “I’ve been in church all my life, taught Sunday School and all that; tried to raise our sons to be Godly men, but the act of adoption and what has followed has impacted our sons for the Lord more than anything we’ve ever done.  It really has been a profound experience of the Gospel for each of them, and for us.” 

I asked Brian if he’d share about that decision, and this is what he wrote.  It’s longer than a typical blog post, but well-worth the investment to read it:

In January of 2003 Debbie and I decided to take a class together…Perspectives on the World Christian Movement…along with several others from our fellowship. At the end of the fifteen weeks, I had finally grasped some understanding of God’s heart for missions. As Debbie and I pondered what this meant for us she said, “I think God wants us to go to China to adopt a little girl” to which I promptly responded, “No” and pointed out that adoption was not part of the Perspectives curriculum.

God had blessed us with three biological sons; at the time they were ages 22, 20 and 17; Debbie and I were both 45. I was thinking about Andrew (our youngest) soon being out of the house and contemplating what that would mean for Debbie and me as it freed up our calendar, allowing us to attend more social events; to finish getting the boys through college and experience certain financial freedoms. I was beginning to make plans with really only one person in mind…me…and adoption was not on my radar. But we continued to talk and pray about it, and ultimately the Lord impressed upon my heart that this was, in fact, what he was leading us to. This began a seven-month journey that led us to adopt Lilly Grace on December 7, 2003. At the time I did not really comprehend that, not only does God have a heart for missions, He also has a heart for adoption. He was beginning to grow that heart in Debbie and me.

Not long after we told my Mom and Dad about our decision to adopt, my Dad was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Two tumors were identified; in his brain and his lung. Dad had two major surgeries, took a partially debilitating medication, and had radiation treatments. He seemed to be doing well until the cancer reappeared. While I spent most of my free time helping him and my mom through all of this, Debbie diligently pursued our adoption. Our simultaneous journeys through adoption and the disease provided several opportunities for us to experience the sovereignty of God in our lives. It was a time of blessing during the struggles.

We brought Lilly home to Arkansas on December 16 and on the evening of December 18, Dad passed away with Mom and me sitting beside him and holding his hands. God is good.

While we had begun our initial adoption seeking a “healthy” child, God soon led us to pursue children classified “special needs.” Debbie is a registered nurse and we realized that her training would benefit us as we cared for a special needs child; plus we would get to choose our child and the adoption process would be shorter.  Lilly had been diagnosed with a VSD, a ventricular septal defect. In March of 2004, we took her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital where a gifted surgeon repaired three holes in her heart…one of them the size of a quarter. Lilly turned two a couple of days later and now shows no effects from her heart condition.

In August of 2005 we returned to China to adopt Anna Rose.  Anna was almost three and had surgery in China to repair a cleft lip and palate (funded by Love Without Boundaries)… she proved to be quite a shock to our system. Lilly had been very compliant; Anna was proving to be the most headstrong child we have had the pleasure of raising. She is seven months younger than Lilly, and competition between the two is the norm. But Anna also has one of the most engaging personalities I’ve ever experienced and is proving to have a heart for others that is truly amazing. Her heart for others is growing out of her desire to know God…she and I have conversations about spiritual things that seem to me to be very impressive for an eight year old.

We came home with Anna feeling that our journeys to China were finished; our family was now complete. Soon we would have grandkids… what more did we need? I was conveniently ignoring the fact that God had impressed upon me on a couple of occasions that we were not done adopting. We thought we were now too old to adopt again from China as we had passed the age of 50. But God was continuing to move in our lives, and in response to a book I was reading early in 2010, I stuck a post-it note on our bathroom mirror one morning. It said, “What does God want us to do?”

On January 1, 2011 Debbie, the girls and I set off to Harbin, China to add some more testosterone to our family and we brought  Nathan Oliver home; he being the ripe old age of 2 and 1/2 .

There have been so many moments when God has used adoption and life with our new children to show me His heart. By getting to choose Lilly, Anna & Nathan, He reminds me that He chose me. In loving them, He reminds me how much He loves me. Through their “defects” He has shown me mine – and He reminds me that He loves me anyway. By loving them through their disobedience, He has shown me how He loves me through mine, and how patient He is with me. I now can see more clearly what it means that He has adopted me into His family; I understand more fully the depth of His unconditional love for me (for us). He is showing me more and more the blessing of calling him, “Abba, Father.”

I used to wonder if I could love an adopted child as much as I do our biological kids. I don’t wonder anymore.   He has blessed me with the ability to love these children as if they are truly our own – because they are. He has blessed Debbie and me with the opportunity to be parents again.

God has also used our adoption story to impact others, including our biological sons. One of our sons had a traumatic church experience as a teenager that drove him away from God. As he has found his way back, our act of adoption, these acts of obedience, have seemed to play a large role in continuing that healing and in showing him that our God is real. It seems that our obedience in this has done more to demonstrate the power of the Gospel to our children than anything we have ever taught them or told them. We just completed a study of Corinthians at church, and I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:15 where Paul talks about believers being “the aroma of Christ” and then again in Chapter 3 where he tells the Corinthians that they are his letter of recommendation, “known and read by everybody.” One of my notes from that study asks, “What does my letter say?”

God has and is using adoption as a means to show me what it means to let go, to let Him truly be Lord of my life; to not place my faith in myself, my abilities, my plans, my retirement funds. God continues to work in Debbie and me, lately spurred on by our participation in [a conference] on Orphan Care. He is showing us that adoption is just part of the answer, and that it can sometimes be the wrong answer. He is showing us that orphan care is about child trafficking, social justice, growing a heart for orphans in the indigenous church around the world. It is about mentoring, foster care and respite care. It is about continuing to pursue God and His call on our lives…right now being frustrated by seeming inaction as we wait for Him to show us what is next.

It is about sharing with others God’s heart for the fatherless – and about continuing to let that heart grow in us.