When We Want
OR “Sometimes the Adoption Process Can Feel Like This”
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
I grew up watching the Road Runner cartoons—the two-minute mini-episodes, in which the big-nosed, big-eared Wile E. Coyote obtains ridiculous gadgets from the mail-order company, the Acme Corporation. He uses these devices to try to catch the quick-footed Road Runner, but they invariably backfire. Wile E. always ends up fried to a crisp, squashed completely flat, or stuck with his head through a boulder.
Yet—driven by desire and fortitude—he always rebounds and chooses to come back for more. Creator Chuck Jones has rightly said that Wile E. is a “living, breathing allegory of Want.” As an outside observer, though, his seeming stubbornness always troubled me and garnered little empathy.
That is, until we tried to adopt.
We started the Chinese adoption process in January of 2006 and were told that we would be united with our daughter within a year and a half. But we chased paper longer than most, since Peter was born in England and we were married there. Because my parents were living with us and had to obtain clearance as well. My mom’s chemotherapy erased her fingerprints, which the FBI found suspect. My dad’s cerebral palsy made his fingerprints unreadable by the USCIS computers, so we had to take him into downtown Chicago to prove he didn’t have a secret life of crime.
But finally, in the summer of 2006, our paperwork was sent to China.
There to sit.
For almost six years.
As you have likely observed, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote follow the laws of “cartoon physics”—meaning that the regular laws of physics are bent and twisted for comic effect. Sometimes Wile E. will hang in the air until the moment he realizes that he is defying gravity. Then he will plunge to the ground. No amount of frantic airborne running will save him. He might even fall past a rock that he himself has dropped only to be squashed by it. And when Wile E. paints the image of a cave on a sheer rock face, the Road Runner can run right into the cave as if it were real. Wile E. cannot. Wile E. will run full speed into the wall of stone and will be flattened.
The laws of “adoption physics” seem similarly designed.
In May 2007 the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) tightened its regulations on adoptive parents in an effort to loosen the growing logjam of paperwork in their office. New applicants must have a body-mass index below 40 and a net worth above $80,000. They cannot take medication for anxiety or depression or be over 50 years old. In other words, they must be young, trim, financially secure, and happy. As best I could tell, on a good day and for the time being, we still qualified. But we were hanging on by our fingernails.
Then in November 2007 the CCAA made another policy change. It reversed its longstanding No Concurrent Adoptions Rule to allow families stuck in their logjam to pursue a second adoption while continuing to wait. So in December when our case worker, presented us with the concurrent adoption option, we dove head first.
We chose Ethiopia. Started decorating an Ethiopia nursery. Researching Ethiopia travel. Reading Ethiopia books.
But when our agency was finally ready to help us with the Ethiopia paperwork, it was July 2008, and our case worker dropped a new bomb in our laps. A risk statement for us to sign. Peter and I read in silence the three page list of possible-horrible-things-that-could-happen-if-we-adopted-from-Ethiopia. The main one being that China could throw our paperwork out the window. For race reasons.
“I think this is a deal breaker for me,” I said. Peter agreed.
When the case worker came back, Peter explained, “We still believe we’re meant to adopt from China. And we don’t want to rock that boat.”
“Do we have any less-risky options for a concurrent adoption?” I asked.
“Domestic would be the easiest and most foolproof,” the case worker said.
I had researched domestic adoption as well. I knew that it is neither easy nor foolproof.
But we dove in anyhow. Head first.
In another episode we find Wile E. Coyote buried in the thick text: Karate Self-Taught. Finishing his study, he peeks over the book and his brow furrows in determination. He dons a white karate suit and black belt. Then he bows to his first opponent, a tall cactus, and hops toward it—boing, boing, boing—arms poised to attack. With one swoop he chops it clean in half, amazed at his own power and strength. He turns to the camera with a grin. Ready to try again.
“Beep, beep,” he hears and races to hide behind a rock. His actual target is on its way.
“Beep, beep,” he hears again. And Wile E. leaps from behind the rock and karate chops the front of the Acme truck. The screen is filled with brightly colored stars. Then back to Wile E., hand still stuck in the hood. His face registers all the pain, shock, and horror of a coyote betrayed yet again by his own longing.
And as the truck passes by, we see in its rear the perky, grinning Road Runner who gives a taunting, “Beep, beep.”
One Thursday shortly after my mom died, I checked our voicemail, and our friend Kathy’s animated voice was the first I heard. “I’m sorry to leave a message,” she began. “I know this is a painful topic, but it’s urgent.” I grabbed a pen and started jotting down the particulars—started painting the image of a cave on a sheer rock face—as Kathy explained that a friend of hers took in babies when the mothers are in crisis.
“Last week when I was at her house,” she went on, “she had this adorable baby and the fifteen-year-old mother wanted to place the baby for adoption, so I told my friend that I knew the best possible parents ever—you guys, of course—but she told me that the baby’s father wasn’t sure, but then she asked me about you because she has lots of contact with birthmothers. Then on Tuesday she called and told me that her friends…”
I pressed “9” to save the message and went on to the next.
“Me again; your machine cut me off; anyhow, I was saying that these friends of hers adopted domestically, and the birthmother of their daughter is pregnant again. But the family can’t take the new baby, so the birthmother still needs to find a family. I’ve been praying about it all weekend, and I have a really good feeling about this. Call me!”
“Peter!” I yelled down the stairs.
“Yes?” he called from the kitchen.
“We need to call Kathy!” I yelled. “She thinks she found us a baby.”
At that point, she was our third friend to think so.
Over dinner, Peter was apprehensive. “I’ll call her, but we can’t get our hopes up.”
“I know,” I said.
“It most likely won’t come to anything,” Peter said.
“I know,” I said.
“I’m just afraid that you’re going to…”
Of course, he was concerned that I would trip and fall over the cliff again. That I would be flattened by a rock that I myself had dropped. I had before. Throughout infertility. After three miscarriages. Each time the China delay grew longer. After our dinner with Debbie. After another unsolicited adoption call lead to nowhere.
But I assured him, “I’m fine. Just call.”
We huddled over the speaker phone and listened as Kathy repeated her story with even more enthusiasm and more heavenly assurance that this was the baby for us. She gave us the phone number of her friend, Cheri.
Cheri confirmed Kathy’s story and gave us the number of her friends. “Let me do the talking this time,” I said to Peter. “It might be good if they hear from the potential mother.” He agreed, and I dialed.
When a man answered, I explained, “My name is Kelli Worrall. My husband Peter is here too. We got your number from Cheri Boyd. We are hoping to adopt and Cheri told us about the situation with the birthmother of your daughter…”
“Oh, yes…um…” Long, heavy pause. “…that situation has been rectified,” he said.
I was stunned. Frantic airborne running ensued. Peter gestured at me to say something. But gravity was kicking in.
“I’m sorry,” the man said.
Peter jumped in. “Ok, thank you. Good bye.”
When he hung up, I just kept staring out the window.
“Are you ok?” Peter said.
“‘The situation has been rectified?’ Really? What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know if I can keep doing this, Peter,” I said. “I feel as if—over and over—we are the butt of the same…bad…joke.”
And—true story—as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I thought of Wile E.
And I did “keep doing this.” Even when months later a birthmom did choose us. Took our $3000. And disappeared without a trace.
Even when for six weeks we provided a safe home for a precious baby girl, who was “probably going to be adoptable.” Then got the call, days before Christmas, that her fourteen-year-old birthmom, also in foster care, had changed her mind. Wanted her baby back.
Even when we were on our way to the hospital to pick up a newborn. And got a call that this birthmom decided to tell this birthdad about the baby after all. And he was on a plane from Memphis to sort it out. And we turned around and drove home with a still empty car seat in the back.
But why? Why get up and try again?
Because Want that deep drives us to do daring things. Because it is possible, if difficult, to be both desirous and submitted—to hold both longing and contentment in our heart—at the exact same time. Isn’t it? Can we say, “I would like things to be different, but by Your grace I am okay”? Didn’t He say, “Take this cup, Father; yet not my will, but Yours be done”? Because learning to live in that tension is what being human this side of Heaven is about.
And because it isn’t only about obtaining the prize. If it were, we wouldn’t keep watching poor Wile E.
It is also about the pursuit. It is also about the free fall and the karate chop and the boulder to the head. It’s about seeing stars and dissolving into a puff of dust and all of the other lessons we learn along the way.