Waiting might be one of the most challenging things in life. No one likes waiting. Waiting is miserable and often agonizing. Waiting can be suffering. In his book Christ and Calamity, Harold Senkbeil writes, “We’re fearful in the face of tragedy and the unknown because we’ve never passed this way before; the terrain is unfamiliar, and the perils are formidable . . . We wonder what’s to become of us.” We all have plans that we grasp so stubbornly. We build our lives around our own version of what we think is best and will make us most happy. But we are not omniscient to to know what’s best, nor are we omnipotent to make our plans come true.
The point of breakdown in most of our plans is related to timing—we have to wait for what we desire; and it can be excruciating. In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop writes, “Why is waiting so difficult? Because it feels as if we’re not doing anything. And that’s the point. You’re not doing anything, but God is. Waiting puts us in an uncomfortable place where we’re out of control of our lives.” This quote so accurately encapsulates our life over the past five years as we’ve been on the foster care/adoption journey. God has fractured our illusion of control year after year. By shattering our dreams and frustrating our plans again and again, he has reminded us that he is God and we are not. When plans are frustrated and desire is unfulfilled, it is painful because we are emotionally invested in those plans and are often truly convinced they will come about the way we envisioned. Our plans are suboptimal; they are as fragile and fallible as we are. They are always contingent on circumstances that are outside our knowledge and outside of our control. In our disappointment, we’ve come to realize that what we have is greater than the plans of which we once dreamed. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts are disguised as painful trials. This is the story of an unexpected adoption.
May 15, 2018—THE CONTEXT
In 2014, my wife and three children moved from NH to CA for me to attend seminary. My plan was to complete seminary as fast as possible so that I could return home to live, and pastor, and be near my family again. Halfway through seminary, God placed a burden on our hearts for the 1,400 children in Los Angeles County who were waiting for a home, so we became foster parents. When we began our training and certification, one of the most important lessons we learned, yet overlooked, was that foster parents do not have the luxury of guarantees or expectations. We cared for two young sisters for three months and they were reunited with their family. Then we took in a beautiful, two-week-old baby girl in October of 2016 and called her Nina. Over time, her case looked promising for adoption.
And so we waited. We waited and waited.
After I graduated seminary in 2017, we knew that God wanted us to stay in CA until permanency was granted. We committed to another year out in CA, but God had other plans. On May 15, 2018—a year to the day from my graduation—we were devastated to learn in court that the adoption would take longer because they had to do their due diligence to notify the birth mother who was essentially MIA. In this moment of unfulfilled desire—where a forceful blow leveled us with nothing but that vacuous, nauseated feeling in our guts—God’s will was undeniably clear. It was just hard to swallow. (Nina wasn’t adopted until the end of 2020—two and half years after this point). After a week or so of lamenting and planning ahead, we decided we wanted to make the most of our time while God kept us in CA. My wife proposed that we take in another placement while we are out here for yet another year. I was not opposed, so we waited to hear for an opportunity.
June 1, 2018—THE PURSUIT
On June 1, 2018, my wife excitedly told me that she had learned about a newborn baby girl from a foster care Facebook group that was born in a hospital in LA County the day before and needed a home. Now, I’m not one to meddle, I like things to happen organically the way they’re supposed to—especially things like foster care placements that have a system set up for finding a home. But my wife is not like me. She picked up her phone and called the social worker to inquire about this newborn baby. She learned that the baby was in the NICU and needed to stay for a few more days before she was ready to be placed with a family. She was also told that this baby was the sweetest little thing ever. Laura continued to call the social worker every day to get an update and declare her desire to care for the child. To be completely honest, I was not supportive of her endeavor and thought that she was circumventing the system, but to my surprise, by the 5th day, the social worker called my wife and said, “Come, pick her up.”
June 6, 2018—THE BUSIEST DAY OF MY LIFE
On the morning of June 6, I went on a field trip with my daughter’s class to The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. While chaperoning and checking out the dinosaur bones, a pastor/friend of mine returned my call about a possible youth pastor position. This was a job I had already turned down thinking I was returning to NH, but I called him back with my tail between my legs and said, “I’m staying in CA, let’s talk.” I told him we had a busy day and that we’d talk soon. (I would later commit to this opportunity). After returning home from the field trip, we pulled our three older kids out of school early, brought them to a friend’s house, and we travelled down to LA to meet this adorable newborn. We arrived in the NICU to find the absolutely cutest baby girl who was as sweet as can be. She was so tiny, hardly had any hair, and her deep, dark eyes locked onto ours. It was true love at first sight.
She was still hooked up to a lot of cords and we were briefed on her situation. She was not born premature, but rather, was possibly exposed to a chronic, life-threatening illness. Because her birth mother had gone to one prenatal appointment, the doctors were aware of this illness. And when it came time to deliver, they performed an emergency C-section in order to avoid crossing blood and bodily fluids. But it would take more time and multiple tests to determine if she had contracted it or not. After spending time in the NICU bonding with our precious child, signing papers, and receiving instruction from the doctors and nurses, we brought her home. After returning home, I had to go pick up our older kids and bring them with me to a youth group event where I preached on depression. That was a non-stop, jam-packed, busy yet absolutely exciting day. We decided to name her Vera. A few days later a friend brought over a meal for us. Her mother-in-law—a pastor’s wife—was with her and said to us, “Maybe God extended your stay in CA so you could adopt this child as well.” Knowing the complexities of the system, Laura and I looked at each other with our doubts. We weren’t really thinking of adoption. We were still looking to get home in another year.
THE CRAZIEST YEAR
The next year would also be insanely busy. I did accept the youth pastor position and we moved 30 miles southwest to a new community just over the border into Ventura County. Our foster family agency had a division in this county, so we were seamlessly transferred, and we were introduced to a whole new set of social workers. Because of her potential exposure to the illness, I had to take her down to UCLA (in rush hour traffic) for checkups and testing. Long story short, she needed five tests and the last one needed to be negative. Praise God, they were all negative! But we had to continue going to UCLA until her mother’s antibodies left her system. Her birth mother was not in the picture at all. She gave some names for possible fathers and we had to go in for some paternity tests—all negative. As our sweet little girl began to grow and take on a lot of adorable baby chub, it became clear that she needed services as she was behind in certain milestones. She struggled to crawl and sit up at the time most babies do. We set up physical and occupational therapy for her—both every week. Between visits from the social workers, doctor appointments, and therapy sessions, we had never been so busy or had so many people in our home. But it was all worth it. We were thankful that she tested negative and that all the therapy was very helpful. Through it all, Vera was a trooper. She was always so tender and happy. Halfway through the year, her birth mother had committed a violent crime that landed her in jail and basically ended any chances of being reunified.
November 24, 2020—PARENTAL RIGHTS TERMINATED
As time went on, Vera grew cuter taking our breath away at times. She would sleep on her back holding onto a foot and partially covering her face with her blanket. She was somewhat late in talking, but loved to sing along to Into the Unknown from Frozen 2 which helped her formulate words and eventually talk. She was such a sweetheart and on the shy side, especially with people she didn’t know. If she knew you, she wouldn’t stop talking to you. She especially likes to talk to her uncles. At dinner, she sits at the end of our family table. The six of us would often look at her and all say in unison, “We love you, Vera!” And she would cover her face and just cry. Even her self-consciousness is endearing. As time went on, of course Covid was somewhat responsible for delaying both our daughters’ cases, but LA County is notorious for its long, drawn out adoption process. Their system is overflooded and its just the way it is. Our older daughter, Nina, was finally adopted on August 7, 2020—just two months shy of four years since her placement with us. When we decided to become foster parents and committed our lives to Nina, we never thought that it could take that long! But in hindsight, we’re so thankful that God is in control.
Although our plans were frustrated, his were not. He had a plan all along.
Now three months after Nina’s adoption, Vera’s parental rights were terminated. For both girls, rights weren’t terminated until the third attempt. We understand that this is always a tragic reality, yet in the paradox of it all, it also establishes the need and opens the door for her to be adopted into our family. We simultaneously grieve and rejoice. It’s interesting that both our girls have so much in common. When you read their files side by side, their stories are almost identical. Because their mothers were MIA and their fathers unknown, we didn’t have any visitation. Our social workers reminded us often how incredibly rare that was. It’s also uncommon for one’s third and fourth placements to move toward adoption. We know many foster/adoptive parents who had five to ten placements before adoption was possible. I’m so thankful that they have each other.
June 14, 2021—ADOPTION PAPERWORK
Two weeks after Vera’s third birthday, we signed adoptive paperwork. My mom—or Mémé, as my kids affectionately call her—visited us in May and was able to celebrate Vera’s third birthday with us. They had such a precious relationship. Mom had a unique way of bonding with all her grandkids and making them each feel so loved and special. The three of us walked down to the donut store together that morning and we had more family over for cake later that day. Again, most of foster care is waiting and waiting. Once you reach a significant milestone in the process, you initially get excited and then you very quickly collapse in discouraged as you wait and wonder, “What is going on? Why is this taking so long?”
Finally, seven months after parental rights were terminated, we signed the adoptive paperwork. This is one of the most exciting parts of the process as the child’s name is officially changed and she is technically no longer in the foster care system, yet it is not the final step. After signing, you need to wait some more for a finalization hearing where a judge declares it all to be official. But we were thrilled to sign the paperwork and so was Vera! We look back on that day with such delight and wonder as we remember how Vera acted. Nina did something similar when we signed papers for her. Our crazy girl became somber and held her head up higher. Well, Vera surprised us by skipping her TV time (all by herself) so that she could be an active, adorable participant in the signing process. She listened and observed intently and had the biggest smile on her face. I often say that maybe one of the reasons God allowed our girls’ adoption processes to be dragged out so long is so that they will actually remember it. I remember when my mom adopted me. It is a significant, identity-shaping moment.
December 7, 2021—FINALIZATION
Do you know what we did next? That’s right, we waited some more. And finally after six months, we were given a date for her adoption to be finalized—December 7th. The children’s courthouse is still closed because of Covid. When we adopted Nina last year, we filed the paperwork ourselves with a notary and then were notified when it was finalized. It all seemed rather anticlimactic, but par for the course. With Vera, we at least were given a link to a video conference. We finalized her adoption on a Webex meeting with the judge and some family members were able to join us from around the country. It was a special moment when the judge asked us to commit to being Vera’s parents and reminded us that she had all the rights and privileges of our biological children. And then she declared that Vera was a LeDuc!—something we had been sharing with Vera for a long time now. She would tell people in the cutest voice, “I’m going to be a LeDuc,” and “My name is Vera Grace LeDuc.” Although we thought that the video conference was better than simply filing paperwork, we still thought it was less than our hopes and expectations.
But even in that disappointment, God knew what was best.
Nina’s first attempt at finalization was cancelled last minute because the children’s courthouse shut down due to Covid on her original adoption day. Covid would now play a role in Vera’s adoption also as my wife and I both had it that week of her finalization. So, we are actually thankful that it was online. We would have had to cancel if it was in person at the courthouse. God knows best. Unfortunately, Mom passed away suddenly and tragically just six weeks before Vera’s adoption. As I grieve, lament, and reminisce, I’m reminded that my mother taught me the grace and grit of unconditional love as she adopted me when I was five years old. It was becoming a foster/adoptive parent that helped me appreciate the gravity of my own adoption—something I took for granted most of my life. My Mom and I have had some amazing conversations over the past couple years about the tragedy, beauty, and challenges of adoption. One time she told me, “Adoption makes permanent what already was.”
In his book Reframing Foster Care, Jason Johnson writes, “In the end, it’s the mercy of God that He doesn’t reveal to us everything that will unfold in the foster care and adoption journey the moment we first say yes to it. All the hard would be too unbearable and all the good would be too unbelievable.” I can’t help but feel that he wrote that specifically about us. It’s been quite a difficult journey, but we are thrilled that God has lavished his grace upon our family by allowing us to adopt two precious girls. We moved to CA to train for the ministry and then to return home. Instead, three years in CA turned into eight and in those five years, God blessed us with two beautiful daughters—that’s more valuable than a diploma. We never thought that in our move to CA, our foster/adoptive journey would be longer than our seminary experience. William Cowper’s words have proven true in our life: “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings upon your head!” Oh, to look back in hindsight and see that in the saddest moments of disappointment, God was working to bless us immeasurably more than we could ask, imagine, or plan! If he didn’t drag out our first adoption, we never would have had a second one.
I’m thankful for my Father who loves me enough to inflict pain and disrupt my plans. In our plans, we need to leave room for God’s disruption—in every trial, my Mom reminded me that God was in control. My ability is limited, his power infinite; my knowledge is shallow, his wisdom inexhaustible; my desires are mediocre, his goodness is measureless. I am thankful for his meticulous sovereignty. I have this hope, that not one ounce of my suffering—or waiting—is in vain, but is purposely ordained and sovereignly designed for my good. “That’s the awe-filled secret concealed within affliction,” writes Harold Senkbeil, “God is right there in the middle of it.” When we try to take control of our lives and our plans are too specific, we are making two grave mistakes—we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and we are selling ourselves short of the better plans God may have for us. His plan is better! He is more committed to our good than we are!
Our family is now complete. We are now free to leave the state of CA. And we have a long road ahead of us. The five bonus years that God planned for us were more formative than we could have ever imagined. It was worth the wait, for he is working in our waiting. Our plans deteriorate like most things in this broken, fallen world. But God’s plans are set in stone. You might say, “They make permanent what already was.”
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