Inside Out, Upside Down: An Interview with Rachel
The following interview is a part of the Inside Out, Upside Down series, in which we will hear the stories of Christ-following families who have taken part in orphan care. To read more about the series, start here.
I am beyond excited to introduce you to my good friend Rachel. She wears many hats - wife, mom, small business owner, physical therapist - but she loves fiercely and serves wholeheartedly in all her roles.
Tell us about yourself! Do you prefer coffee or tea? What do you enjoy doing when you have a kid-free moment?
Hi Everyone! I am a “mostly” stay at home mom to my 4 children, but I also own and run a small screen printing business, and I work 10 hours a week as a Physical Therapist. I prefer coffee, but my husband would claim that with the amounts of flavored creamer that I add to every cup, it no longer counts as real coffee. I am unashamed.
In my kid-free moments, I love to exercise (weightlifting, mostly, but sometimes a good outdoor run). I also enjoy baking (with or without the kids. Two very different experiences.) and eating what I bake. If I am kid-free AND mobile, I delight in one-on-one time with dear friends from our church community (often involves a mocha). I’m also a compulsive purge-er and organizer, and can be found sorting through the abundance of toys and gear that threatens to take over our living space, much to the chagrin of my husband and kiddos, who all fancy themselves “collectors.” :)
Introduce your family.
I’ve been married to my husband (his name is technically Chris, but he went by “Brez” in college and I’ve never been able to make the switch) for almost 11 years now. We met in college, and thought we would NEVER date or get married. God had different plans, obviously. We are parents to two daughters, Noa (6) and Emett (2) and two sons, Titus (4) and Simeon (8 weeks). We live in North Carolina, where Chris pastors a small church that we planted just over 3 years ago.
How did God first make you aware of the orphan crisis? What was it specifically that grabbed your attention?
My dad was adopted as an infant, so even as a child, I was hyper-aware of the impact that adoption can have, not just on the life of the child adopted, but on the adoptive family and on the ever-expanding circles of people that one adoption touches. Even as a child, I hoped to get to adopt one day. I felt (feel!) permanently connected to and blessed by adoption, because of my dad’s story, and now because adoption is the way that our son, Simeon, joined our family.
Tell us about your adoption journey with Simeon. What were your fears throughout the process and the greatest challenges to overcome?
Brez and I have been open to and excited by adoption since before we got married. We were never quite sure of the timing and the logistics, and as it turns out, after some trouble getting pregnant with our oldest, we had 3 biological children in fairly quick succession. Our timeline after that was pretty flexible, but it seemed to make the most sense to wait a bit, save up some money, and let our little ones grow to slightly more independent ages.
Last year around Christmas (2016 - our kids were then 5, 3, and 1), the Lord grabbed my attention one morning as I sat in our living room gazing at our Christmas tree and the stockings strung across our mantle, and I felt clearly that we were supposed to make room for a 6th stocking on our mantle by the following Christmas (2017). It seemed absurd. We had not researched agencies, or even really talked seriously about beginning the adoption process since before we had our first baby. We know people who have been in the adoption process for YEARS. Home studies and paperwork can take forever. And we had been setting some money aside for adoption since we got married, but that fund was certainly not plush.
Even in light of all of that, I committed to pray for that 6th stocking every day of 2017, and to be open to whatever the Lord was asking us to do. Brez joined me in that prayer (he is the more naturally flexible, open, and courageous human in our marriage), and we started asking more serious questions of our friends who had adopted. We also began interviewing adoption agencies in January of 2017. By March, we had chosen an agency, completed our home study, and were officially an “active family,” waiting to see what the Lord would do in the months to come.
We were prepared for a longer wait, because we had been told that many birth moms won’t want to place their babies in a family that already has several children. We were fine with that. We weren’t coming to adoption feeling any sort of “need” or expectation as to what it would or should look like. For us, adoption wasn’t a deep longing; we were hoping to have the privilege of welcoming a child through adoption. We just felt….Open.
Our most obvious hurdle was the financial component of adoption. The average cost for domestic adoption in the U.S. is $32,000-$38,000. But while it was the biggest hurdle, in the strangest most-opposite-of-my-budget-loving-personality way, it felt like the least of our worries. We hoped to be able to fundraise, and we had a modest amount set aside, but we knew that even if we had to spend every cent we had saved and borrow the rest, the Lord was telling us to remain open and take those next steps forward.
How did you choose to pursue domestic adoption versus other routes (i.e. international, foster-to-adopt)? Was your adoption open or closed, and how did you make this decision?
This part of the adoption process paralyzed us a bit. Brez and I never felt the calling to a specific country, or region, or population, etc., that some people seem to have. How do you choose domestic adoption when there are children in orphanages ALL OVER THE WORLD??? How do you specify an age range, at the expense of the children older/younger than that who are in need of a family? Should we foster-to-adopt or just go “straight” for an adoption? How do you choose an agency….local, national, international, Christian, one-that-someone-we-know-liked-or-didn’t-like? What will impact our children the most, and how much is too much to expect of them? It seemed like once we opened our eyes a bit wider, the need was completely overwhelming.
Each time Brez and I discussed these decisions, it seemed that we both felt drawn towards domestic adoption, but I worried that we were choosing the Easier Way, because it was hard to picture doing something like flying to China, when we had 3 little ones and minimal financial flexibility. Finally, a good friend who had adopted said something that grounded us and stopped our heads from spinning: “ALL kinds of adoption are needed. Be open to what God is telling you, but also do not be afraid to choose what makes the most sense for your family right now. The right option for you guys does NOT have to be the most difficult/complicated option.” That settled it. There are children in the U.S. that need families and homes, and that felt like a need we could meet.
So we honed in on domestic adoption and started the paperwork with a Christian agency we were familiar with. About 2 weeks into our “work” with them, it was clear that this agency was not a good fit for us. We switched to an agency that works only in the United States that (to us) seemed much more responsive, transparent, and professional. It also happened that though we didn't have any age specifications aside from wanting to keep our 5 year old the oldest, this new agency primarily placed newborns and infants, and so we were pretty certain we were getting a baby.
This agency requires all adopting parents to agree to some level of openness in their adoptions. The minimum requirement is “semi-open,” which means we would send update letters and pictures to the agency to be forwarded to the birth mom on a regular basis. At the beginning of our adoption journey, I felt completely fine with semi-openeness. As a mom, I WANTED the baby’s birth mom to always be able to know how he/she was doing, and that they were loved and cared for. However, I felt hesitant about committing to any level of openness beyond this (phone calls, emails, direct contact, visits, etc.), before I met the birth mom. How do you decide what is healthiest for the baby (and for the rest of our children!) before you know the person you will be interacting with? I was resolute about not committing to any kind of closeness that I wasn't willing to maintain long-term. So, that was where we started. And as you’ll read below, that was another area of my heart that the Lord ended up turning completely upside down.
In what ways has adopting Simeon turned your world inside out and upside down? Even in all the difficulties, would you do it again?
I keep mentioning the word “open,” and I will confess to you, prior to our adoption journey with Simeon, “open” is a word that never really described me. I like structure, predictability, and routine. I am good at making plans, and taking small, orderly steps to bring them to fruition. Things I am not: flexible, adaptable, go-with-the-flow, adventurous, or easy-going. At some point in the winter of 2017, I offered a small but confident Yes when the Lord indicated that this year might be the year we were going to adopt a child, and after that, the Holy Spirit flung the doors of my heart Wide. Open. to all that was coming. All of the variables. All of the unknowns. All of the heart ache and brokenness and “this was never meant to be this way” that the world of adoption brings with it. There were times in the process when I told my husband “The Lord is changing me. I almost do not recognize myself.”
We matched early in our process with a birth mom in our state. We connected with her, met with her in person, and spent 2 months getting to know her and preparing to welcome her little girl into our family (due December 2017. That felt like such a clear answer to my Stocking Prayers!). That match ended up falling through in a brutal, sickening turn of events, and Brez and I, and our sweet children, were left ravaged and confused. We felt so clearly that the Lord had directed every step of our process. Why would God take away something that was so clearly from Him?
We grieved the loss of that little girl, who we already loved in the most deep and wide-open way. Our agency was very supportive, and told us to let them know when we were ready to re-activate our profile (for those who are unfamiliar with adoption language, this just means that our family would once again be available for birth mom’s to choose as adoptive parents). At first, it felt wrong to me to “throw our hat back into the ring,” when we were suffering what I would imagine felt something like a miscarriage. This baby girl had a place in our family that we felt was specific to HER. Every hope and prayer and plan for our future included her.
After praying (and crying) for a few days, and trying to help our young children do the same, we came to the conclusion that we needed to activate our profile again, and remain open to what the Lord was doing. At that point, it was October (2017), and I let go of my vision of a baby joining our family before the coming Christmas. It just didn't seem feasible to match that quickly, or to match with a birth mom who was that late in her pregnancy. But I felt this fierce hope, and a holy confidence that God was going to do something mind-blowingly beautiful through this loss.
The Lord turned me inside out, to the point that even in that pain, doubt, confusion, and turmoil, my heart opened more. Squaring up with the brokenness of this world in the way we had would normally send me into Lock-Down Mode. Guard. Defend. Protect. Control. Those are my natural tendencies in the face of such a wound. Especially as I watched my children weep and wonder. But God, in His grace, called us deeper and made us braver. We felt the call to adopt as compellingly as we ever had. So we re-activated and settled in for the wait. Again.
We got a call less than 2 weeks later. Our social worker said that there was a birth mom who had spent the past 3 months studying the profile of every single family that was adopting through our agency, trying to find the right one for her baby. They showed her our profile the week that we re-activated, and she chose us immediately. She was having a baby boy, and he was due in November, 6 weeks from the day of that phone call.
It was our Simeon, and he was born on November 27, 2017, less than a month before Christmas. His stocking brought me to tears every single time I looked at our mantle this Christmas season.
How has God deepened your understanding of the Gospel through adopting Simeon into your family?
For Brez and I, adoption has always provided an earthly picture of the way that God loves each of us and invites us into His family. The lengths that parents will go to bring their adopted children home and the grace and love and hospitality of adoption are such parallels (imperfect, but we believe congruent!) to the ways that God welcomes us. Simeon is our son. He has been in our family for 8 weeks, and he is as much “our” child as Noa, Titus, and Emett are our children. He is a permanent, beloved, and needed part of our family, and knowing him (and his birth mom) gives us a privileged glimpse into the mind and heart of God towards His children.
We have also been shocked by the space that the Lord has carved in our hearts for Simeon’s birth mom. We met her at the hospital when Simeon was born, and we had several (unexpected) days of contact with her during Simeon’s NICU stay and her extended recovery from a traumatic delivery. My love for her and connection to her has definitely turned me inside out. I expected to remain guarded, private, and wary of any interaction or expectation that could affect Simeon or our other 3 kids. I felt the opposite of all of those things. The Lord broke me open yet again, and I felt a love and affection for her that I could not have imagined. Protecting and honoring her felt as important to me as protecting and honoring the baby boy that we were adopting.
Our interactions and growing relationship with Sim’s birth mom have held many awkward moments and have ravaged my Mom Heart in ways that have changed me forever. I see tangible ways that the Lord is working in her life, and the opportunity to know and love her continues to be a blessing that I could not have anticipated. We have no idea what shape our relationship with her will take in the future, but we hope and pray that the Lord will guide us as we seek to love and remain connected with her.
What would you tell someone who has been thinking of pursuing domestic adoption but hasn’t taken that first step? Are there any resources or organizations that were especially helpful to your family throughout the adoption process?
Geez. I’ve already written too much! Let’s switch to bullet point format.
-Do your research, but don’t get paralyzed by it.
-Seek out families who have adopted and ask lots of nosy questions.
-Make sure that you choose an agency that you trust and that is committed to supporting both your family AND the birth family through the process (and that goes far beyond the matching and the placement of your child!).
-Set parameters and boundaries for your family (these might relate to finances, timelines, openness with the birth family, etc.). Set them prayerfully and thoughtfully, and trust them. You will need these guidelines in times of emotional upheaval and heart-wrenching stories. But also…hold them with open hands. The Lord continues to show us (and show us, and show us) that His plans are not often our plans, and His ways are not often our ways. I admit, I don’t love it. But if we had kept our fists tightly clenched and our hearts “safe”, we would have missed out on the life-changing, gut-wrenching beauty of our adoption story.
What is one piece of wisdom you would tell a family as they go throughout the adoption journey?
The adoption journey is a vulnerable one. The brokenness you find here might break you in ways you were not expecting, and I’d say that is a gift. To have our eyes opened, and our hearts stretched and scarred, and to learn to say Yes even when it means the loss of all of our Normal and Predictable and Safe has changed us for the better. Adoption has brought us closer to the Lord and closer to each other. We have been given the gift, through our son Simeon, of participating in God’s reconciling work on this earth, and there isn't a day that passes that I am not acutely aware and thankful for that privilege.