After six years of hoping for a second child, my husband and I embarked on an adoption search. The next four years became a journey of faith as our ideas of what our family should be clashed with the plan God had the wisdom to design for us.
Searching for an adopted child always seemed to me a taller order than simply praying to conceive. It seemed presumptious to me -- like saying, "Hey, Master of the Universe -- I know you're busy, but... could you arrange to send me a baby, even though I can't grow one myself?" It was a process even learning how to pray humbly for such an enormous gift.
Along the way, we learned how completely God knew our innermost wishes. Prayers we didn't even dare speak would be answered in the end.
I was driven in my adoption search by a strong feeling that God meant for me to have more than one child. I always imagined they'd be just a few years apart, like my sister and I had been.
While I knew I already had so much to be thankful for -- one healthy son already, when so many had none! -- I was still miserable.
But as my birth son Evan got older and older, it became increasingly evident that our family's size and shape would not match these fantasies. Evan was the one all the younger kids loved, a natural older brother, and it was heartbreaking to see him an only child. I felt my life was a train that had gone hurtling off the rails and I couldn't figure out how to get back on track.
I'd like to say that I remained upbeat and joyful during this difficult time, but I'd be lying. While I knew I already had so much to be thankful for -- one healthy son already, when so many had none! -- I was still miserable.
Going to any public place became torture. Why couldn't my local Target store just make an announcement: "Attention parents! Please exit the store for an hour so that Carol can shop!" The sight of so many families with their matched pairs and trios and more of obviously biologically related kids - their parents seemingly oblivious to their good fortune -- was like daggers stabbing my eyes.
Chain of Miracles
To speed our adoption search, we decided to look in two directions at once, in the foster-care system for older children -- statistically the most likely option for domestic adoption -- and privately for a birthmother about to deliver.
For the most part, I put my dreams of a newborn to the back of my mind, knowing it was a long shot. Then we met a birthmother through an ad we placed in the local pennysaver. Despite advertising across 14 states, she was less than an hour away. We met, and a chain of miracles began that left us convinced God was at work.
We tried not to get too excited, knowing she could change her mind, knowing that for every eight couples seeking a newborn, adoption experts say one will take a baby home. But it was hard to ignore our birth mother's name: Sarah. Mother of the Jewish people!? I felt surely, this was our match.
So began a three-month rollercoaster ride as we waited and wondered whether this was our baby. I felt the need to pray every day for the child my heart knew was missing from our family to be found. I'd heard the saying that if you pray for something every day for 40 days in a row, it will come true. Interestingly, we had met Sarah just about three months before her due date... plenty of time to put my plan into action.
Over the weeks, the personal part of my prayer boiled down to this: "Help me be worthy of the child I trust you are sending my way, whether it's this one or another. Help me be patient and calm as I wait. And help me be ready for whatever is going to happen when Sarah's baby comes."
My 40 days came and went, and I kept on praying. I felt I needed to keep this daily prayer going to remain sane and balanced as the waiting days ticked by.
At 6:30 a.m. one morning, the phone rang, and off we sped to the hospital.
The four days that followed presented many challenges. We were confronted with numerous relatives of Sarah's, many of them unseen by us until that moment. Each had their own agenda -- they were angry or confused, they wanted to adopt Eylian themselves, or wanted Sarah to keep the baby. And three times a day, as the hospital's shifts changed, a new head nurse would come in to try to convince Sarah to keep her baby.
Inside my brain was screaming, "Get away from my baby!" But the prayer reserve I had built up sustained me. I was able to smile at everyone and show nothing but joy, and go with the flow. And it wasn't an act -- I felt calm, deep inside.
The long-lost, missing baby we named Eylian Natan -- Hebrew for "God answered me with a gift" -- was ours. He was born on my father's 70th birthday, in case we needed any more signs that he was meant for us.
The Missing Girl
We now had two boys, and in my mind my family was complete. But I buried another secret sadness when we brought Eyli home -- we had hoped we would have a girl in our family, and now it appeared we would not. We had decided to take any match we were offered, regardless of sex. And Evan was so happy that his new sibling was a brother; it all seemed right.
My husband also seemed to have prayers he kept to himself. When we were cleaning out the garage to make a charity donation, I said he should take the baby carseat. He responded by making a sad face, sticking out his lower lip.
"Are you crazy? Aren't we done with babies?" We weren't.
"Are you crazy?" I said. "Aren't we done with babies?"
We weren't. When Eyli was two, we got a call from Sarah. She had had another baby -- a girl -- just 15 months after Eyli was born. Though she had hoped to raise her, the little girl had gone straight into foster care. If she couldn't regain custody, would we take her?
The moment she spoke, I saw at last God's whole plan for my family laid out in front of me. In my darkest days, I had asked God to grant my fondest wish -- and now, God wanted something in return. This was the reason Eyli had been ours -- because he had a sister coming too, and God needed a family who would raise them together.
The missing second child had been found, and now, the missing girl. God had answered all our dreams -- for a newborn, and for a girl -- just not in the way we had expected. Instead, we were doubly blessed with two new children instead of one.
I thought that having an adopted newborn showed me the limitlessness of God's wonders, seeing a baby not of my blood nurse from my breast and cling to me and call me Mommy. But then, in May 2004, our daughter came home to us after a monthlong transition process with her foster family.
Within a week of her arrival, this 16-month-old girl who learned to walk and talk and understand the world in another family was following me around with her arms outstretched, saying "Mommy," asking me to hold her. And answering to her new, Jewish name, Ariella -- our brave girl, God's lioness -- as if she'd always known it.
I don't want to give the idea that since Ariella's adoption, we have all lived happily ever after in some kind of rosy-glowing dream world. On the tough days, when these two mischeivous toddlers are leaping from the top of the bureau, dumping milk on the floor or applying permanent marker to the walls, we are stressed, we are tired, sometimes we feel like we're losing our minds!
But we're usually able to keep smiling, knowing that we are living the amazing life of a family whose wildest dreams have been surpassed. I no longer feel my life has gone off the rails. In fact, it feels exactly right.
I feel like I have it all now -- the pink princess costumes and the train sets, the close-age siblings and the older brother they dote on. I realize now that if I'd gotten the family I wanted, I would have missed so much. God's dreams for us are often bigger than our own, and I try to remember now that it often takes a long time for His grand design to be seen.