By Annie Hamlin, Church of the Holy Cross, Daniel Island
Fifteen years ago, in Southern China, one tiny two-year-old was placed in my arms. In this one precious, enormous moment, our hearts were opened to the Lord and broken for the orphan. That summer everything changed, as He shook us out of our “comfortable” and helped us see the world through His eyes and through His heart for the fatherless.
I once read that “comfortable” is the most dangerous place for a believer to be and we were comfortable. We had been blessed with four healthy biological children, three awesome little boys, as well as our beautiful, two-year-old baby girl. We had talked about adoption for years, but our lives were just as they were supposed to be as we raised our children and lived out our “American Dream.” However, it was our biological children the Lord used to bring our casual conversations about adoption to fruition as it became more and more “uncomfortable” to love our children, while so many others were literally dying to be loved. Adoption is not comfortable, but it was that “uncomfortable” that exposed our hearts and wrecked us, as the Lord began to reveal to us the orphan’s reality.
Lizzie came to us with an understanding no two-year-old should ever have. I remember taking her back to visit her orphanage to say goodbye, after having her for only a few days. I remember the fear with which she clung to me as each nanny (unsuccessfully) tried to take her from me and I remember telling her to wave bye-bye as we boarded the bus to leave the only place she had ever known, and I will never forget the relief and the joy that visibly washed over her as she smiled and waved good-bye.
The next few years were spent in a place both hard and beautiful as we adjusted to a life filled with medical appointments, clubfoot castings and surgeries. We found ourselves living out a crash course in trauma scars and the brokenness that will seep into the heart of even one so young. It was uncomfortable and it was difficult, but the Lord used it to bring us to our knees and to push us to a place of dependence as He gently peeled away our pride and presented our hearts to us as they truly were.
Five years after Lizzie came home, we found ourselves back in China, this time for two determined little girls with cerebral palsy and once again the Lord showed us realities that broke us and equipped us for the refining to come. Once again, these two brave little girls were ready to leave all they had known and walk off with strangers whom they had never met and could not understand. Maggie and Lucy were so very ready to belong and to be loved. Once again, the path laid out before us was scary and difficult but it was the kind of experience that changes you and points you right to Jesus.
By the Fall of 2017, we had settled into a new normal, just on the edge of comfortable, when we felt the Lord calling us back. Will had just turned 14 when he came home to our family. We adopted him the day before he would have aged out of the Chinese system to begin the rest of his life in “the second orphanage,” a dark reality that so many children face after aging out. Will is blind and when he came home, had no English at all, but the Lord readied him and equipped us, and Will’s transition was filled with a peace that could only come from the Holy Spirit.
Our family’s journey has been an exquisite mixture of arduous and amazing. The language barrier is challenging. The medical and the therapy appointments are difficult. Learning to parent trauma is painful. Letting go of “normal” is super hard, but the Lord enters into to all of it. His presence has been so tangible and so evident as we have stepped outside of ourselves and our American Dream and into His dream for our family.
This year, Lizzie will be a senior in high school. She is a straight “A” student and in defiance of 18 clubfoot castings and multiple surgeries, is a beast on the soccer field! Will is a rising junior and despite being blind, is an amazing musician. He participates in his high school marching and concert band and is a part of our church’s praise band! Maggie will be a high school sophomore this year and although she has to fight her cerebral palsy daily, has such a joy about her and a faith that challenges me! She has a very hard time speaking but feels the Lord calling her to share the gospel with the lost. Lucy will be a high school freshman this year and even though she typically uses crutches or a walker to get around without falling, has completed two 5K races!
We knew when we adopted our children, they would no longer be orphans, that they would be loved and cherished forever and that their journeys would be transformational. What we were to discover was that, in the process, is that we were no longer orphans and that we were being transformed as the Lord used every bit of the broken and the beautiful to wake us up and set our hearts on fire for Him. I believe adoption is the clearest picture of the gospel that we have as scripture tells us in John 14:18 (NIV), “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” As believers we are adopted into God’s family and loved and cherished forever as we let go of control and release our hearts to Him.
Our kids’ memories and their stories are filled with loss and trauma, but they are home and they are healing. It completely shatters you when you think back on the love and the attention that you poured into your biological children and you begin to understand (in the depths of your spirit), the loss your adopted children have suffered and the loss that millions of other waiting children are stranded in.
According to estimated statistics, there are over 100 million orphans in the world. Every day over 38,000 children will age out; that’s one orphan every few seconds. Less than 1% of all orphan children will be adopted.
James 1:27 tells us to, “care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It is easy to turn away. It is easy to be busy. It is easy to get discouraged by well-meaning family and friends. It is easy to live that American Dream, but once your eyes have been opened and your hearts completely shattered, there is no excuse that satisfies.
There was nothing special about our family. There was no grand, overt sign from God. We just said “Yes” and began to understand what daily dependence on the Lord truly meant. There are many ways to help, but as one adult orphan said while speaking at the 2013 CAFO Summit, “When I grew up in the orphanage it was Christians who came and built nicer buildings. Christians who bought us beds, clothing and provided money monthly for food. It was a Christian, who wrote a letter in a shoebox, who first told me I was loved. It was the Christians who met all my physical and material needs in that orphanage. But it was also Christians who neglected my biggest need. Children in orphanages don’t need more money, nicer buildings, or better clothes. I am not an orphan because I lost my home or provisions. I am an orphan because I lost my parents. I needed a mom and a dad. I needed a family. Christians treated all my temporary symptoms of need but never cured my long-term disease of being orphan. I am still an orphan.”
If you have ever considered adoption, pray, talk to other adoptive families and then reach out to an agency. His still small voice may be calling you.
SIDEBAR: Chris and Annie live in Charleston SC with their children, Christian (25), Charlie (23), Caleb (20), Will (19), Emmeline (17), Lizzie (17), Maggie (16), Lucy (15) and Alex (11 – waiting for us to bring him home)