In my final post, I mentioned upcoming guest writers. Today we have an awesome story by my cousin Jonathan, who is Art and Judy’s son. I read this with an emotional lump in my throat.

Thanks so much Jonathan and Jenny for sharing!


God’s Plan

By JONATHAN

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This was my high school graduation verse, what seems like a lifetime ago. But it has rung true many times in life, often in ways I haven’t even noticed. But for my wife Jenny and me, it is now so clear that God’s plans were far better than our own, as seen by the way in which he has given us our children. After many years of waiting, hoping, praying for children, often with aching hearts, it was God’s grand design to give us our children through adoption. Not that we were unhappy or felt our life was incomplete. As DINKs living in southern California at the time, we were having a blast (D.I.N.K. – double income, no kids). Plenty of freedom to explore the beaches and countless attractions that make southern California a destination for people all over the world. But we wanted to share this life with others – children we could call our own. Well, here is a brief (maybe not-so-brief) attempt to share how God brought it about.

Part I – A Boy Named Ayden

Baby Ayden

Ayden, born June 27, 2004

I had been in the pastoral ministry for several years now, serving at a WELS church in Garden Grove, CA – King of Kings Lutheran Church. We lived in the middle of Orange County, about two miles from Disneyland, and ten minutes from our favorite beach where many an afternoon was spent on the sand volleyball courts and beachside restaurants. In the summer of 2004, I decided to go back to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for some ongoing education at “summer quarter” – a good way to sharpen the tools of my trade. Jenny came with me, since we would be staying with friends from Hartford, WI, where Jenny taught and I served as vacancy pastor in the late 1990’s.

By this point, we had gone through all the preparations for adoption, working with an agency in southern California. We were officially “approved,” having jumped through all the necessary hoops required for the agency to start sharing our “profile” with birth mothers who were seeking adoption for their children. With her artistic and creative touch, Jenny had assembled our “profile,” which is basically a binder full of information that birth mothers review as they decide on adoptive parents for their children. I still enjoy looking through it periodically, reading the letter Jenny composed about us, looking at the pictures, and wondering what might be going through the mind of a mother who was reading it, pondering to whom she would entrust her child’s life.

Back to the matter at hand – summer quarter at the seminary and what that has to do with Ayden’s adoption. After church on a June Sunday, we flew to Wisconsin, where the next day I started what I thought were going to be three weeks of classes. At the same time, we spent several days catching up with friends from Hartford, laughing much, and also grieving and celebrating at the funeral of a longtime and beloved member of the church where we had served in Hartford. Ironically, it was as we were leaving to attend this funeral that Jenny took the phone call that informed us we had been chosen by a birth mother. What a strange mix of emotion that stirred within us at that funeral and celebration service! Ah, Marv, you will always be remembered for more than you would have ever guessed!

Over the next 48 hours or so, information came in bits and pieces. We learned that the baby had been exposed to substance abuse, but little was known about the potential long-term implications. We wrestled with how and if to proceed. While I was attending classes, Jenny did her best to gather information that would help us move forward. It didn’t take long before we decided that if the Lord was opening a door for us, who were we to close it? And what reason could there be not to trust he would work things out? So the choice was made, by us, but really by God. Now, we just had to figure out how and when to get back to southern California for the birth of our child, which, as things developed, came much sooner than we expected. Thankfully, the resourcefulness of a member of our church in California who worked for Continental Airlines enabled us to get a flight on very short notice, and at a very low cost! Ah, Tracy, how you are appreciated, as yet another example of the kindness of others throughout the adoption of our children!

So on Sunday, June 27, 2004, our son was born, and we were 2000 miles away, having dinner with brother Phil and Kim in Jackson, WI. The next day, after only one of the three weeks I planned to attend summer quarter classes, we boarded a plane in Milwaukee and flew back home to California to meet our child. I will always remember telling one of my summer quarter professors that I wouldn’t be able to complete his course because I had to fly home to meet my child and his mother! Ah, Professor Zarling, the look on your face! And perhaps the best brandy I ever tasted was the one I had that day when I stopped by Professor Tiefel’s house to let him know I wouldn’t be completing his course, either, and we shared a drink to celebrate the reason why.

We arrived home in California on Monday, and the next day, went to the hospital where Ayden was born. Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach is a beautiful hospital, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I had visited church members there numerous times. Now my son was born there! Since this was an infant adoption, we would have a chance to meet the birth mother. Even more, we would be meeting the biological father that day, as well. This is not very common that adoptive parents have the chance to meet both biological parents. Heidi (the birth mother) was recovering in the hospital, and Jason (the biological father) had taken a bus from their hometown in Idaho to be with her and meet us.

Bringing Ayden home

The night we brought Ayden home from the hospital

In my entire life, I can’t think of a more surreal day than that Tuesday, June 29. I couldn’t even begin to describe the feelings we had as we drove to the hospital, knowing that we would be meeting the parents of our son, and then coming home with our baby boy! What would we talk to them about? Would it be uncomfortable? What if they don’t like us? What kind of people will they be? What will they look like? Am I even awake right now, or is this just a strange dream? No dream. We arrived at the hospital, met the social worker from the agency that was helping us through the adoption process, and proceeded to the birth mother’s room. I remember waiting out in the hallway until we got the “all clear” to go in. While we were waiting, a man walked by and entered the room – clearly not a hospital employee. We looked at him, he looked at us, and we all were pretty sure who each other was and what we were all doing there. He had a cup of coffee in his hand. And when he entered the room, I whispered to Jenny, “I think that’s the father of our child!” It was.

We entered the room. And suddenly, the nerves loosened. Conversation came naturally, and flowed freely. By the way, Ayden was not in the room, but in the nursery. Heidi had already signed relinquishment papers. We talked freely to them both. What lovely people! Heidi: bubbly, enthusiastic, spiritual, deep, loving and kind, confident in her decision. She said that our commitment to raise our child in a Christian environment and have the child baptized as an infant was a key in her choosing us. Jason: kind eyes, soft-spoken, with a smile that puts others at ease, wouldn’t hurt a fly, and sensitive to those around him, as seen by the fact that he took a bus from Idaho to southern California to be with his girlfriend for the birth and to meet the adoptive parents. Both Jason and Heidi were older than one might expect – Heidi in her mid 30’s, Jason in his upper 20’s. This wasn’t a couple of teens going through the ringer for the first time. They both had a past rich in experience, both good and bad. And like all of us, they had made their fair share of mistakes. We thank God daily they chose not to compound those mistakes by ending the life of our child in the womb!

So what do you talk about with the biological parents of your child? I don’t recall everything that was said while were there in the room with them. And I don’t know how long we were there. It’s one of those experiences where 30 minutes could have been two hours, or two hours might have been 30 minutes. Being pragmatic as I am, I prepared a few questions as conversation starters, knowing that this might be the only time we would ever see these people. What are some things you’d like Ayden to know about you when he gets older? What did you like doing as a kid? What are your favorite pastimes? Water-skiing, that’s one I remember, probably because I grew up in a town that claims to be the birthplace of water-skiing.

Whenever we scroll through the pictures of Ayden’s birth and adoption on the computer, there are several pictures for which words cannot express the feelings that accompany them. They are the pictures of Heidi and Jason, together in the hospital room, where we met and spoke. Such kind expressions on their faces; such a peaceful look; and the gentleness in their eyes! Oh, how I look forward to sharing this story with our children in its totality and depth! Oh, how I look forward to showing them the pictures of their biological parents, and explaining how God used them to give us our greatest earthly joy and pleasure! I can only imagine what these pictures will mean to our children as they grow older!

After the extraordinary experience of meeting Ayden’s biological parents, it was on to the hospital nursery to meet our son. What could top this! The staff was so kind, so helpful, and so understanding of our unique situation. To think, one day earlier we had been in Wisconsin – it seemed like months ago! Now, we were looking down at a baby boy with bright orange hair – our baby. We held him; we went through some things with the nurses, none of which I remember. We received a bag with some hospital goodies that would come home with us – none of which I remember. Jenny dutifully absorbed the information that was being passed on to us, while I could only stare and wonder how blessed we were in this moment of time. I couldn’t think of a happier moment in my life.

I probably didn’t drive over 45 mph on the freeways on the way home that day. It was a bit strange at home that week, because we didn’t really want anyone to know we were back, since we were supposed to be gone for another two weeks. Here we had the greatest news to share, but didn’t really want people to know yet, so as not to cause a stir among our congregation. We preferred to tell the story once to as many as possible, instead of trying to explain everything a million times over. This wasn’t easy, though, since the parsonage we lived in was basically located in the church parking lot. There were a few who knew, though, who “sniffed out” that we were home early, and that something must be up. I remember stopping by the Raymonds’ house – he was the principal at our school at the time. At first, I went to the door alone, and tried convincing Amy that I got “kicked out” of summer quarter at the seminary. She wasn’t buying it. Then, Jenny came in with Ayden in her arms, and many smiles, hugs, tears, and rejoicing were shared.

Other than them and a few others, and of course family back in the Midwest, not many knew right away – not until the next Sunday, July 4. People were surprised to see me in church that morning, since we were supposed to be gone yet in Wisconsin. Jenny and Ayden didn’t attend the service in the sanctuary – it would have caused too much of a commotion. She hung out in the multipurpose room and waited until after the service, when I explained why we were back earlier than expected. In my five years of ministry at King of Kings, this was one of my favorite moments. Following the service, after thanking the guest preacher, I began my announcements by saying, “Many of you know that Jenny and I have been going through the adoption process…” Eyes looking back at me widened. I have no idea what I said after that. It was at that point that Jenny walked to front of church to join me, with Ayden in her arms. This event and the adoption of our children in general bonded us to the congregation we served like nothing could. The fine Christians of that congregation will never be forgotten for how they supported us, embraced us, and rejoiced with us, throughout the adoption of both of our children. In a very real sense, it wasn’t just Jenny and I who adopted Ayden (and later, Addison). Our entire church did. And this would make leaving that church so difficult several years later when I accepted the Call to Woodbury, MN.

That night of July 4, some friends took us to an Angels game. They insisted, saying they wanted to take Ayden to his first Angels game. No idea who they played; no idea who won. I do remember fireworks after the game – very loud. Ayden slept through it all.

Ayden's baptism

Ayden’s baptism, July 11, 2004

The following Sunday, July 11, Ayden was born again through water and the Word, and made God’s child through Holy Baptism. Someone asked me after the service how I could hold it together while baptizing my own child like that. I really don’t know. Perhaps, by that point, my emotions were too numb to realize what was even going on. This child, whose future was so uncertain just days before, was now a citizen of God’s kingdom! That Sunday afternoon, Ayden’s sponsors, along with some close friends and family, gathered at our home to celebrate. I recall sitting under the avocado tree in our yard, taking it all in, wondering why God should choose to be so good to us. The only thing I could come up with is grace. Ayden was home now, with his mother and father, and in the arms of his heavenly Father.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach 2005

Part II – A Girl Named Addison

A little more than a year later, we began the adoption process again. As far as we knew, it would be a similar process as last time, but likely longer. (Ayden’s adoption went unusually fast. Many couples have to wait years.) So once again, we wanted to be efficient on our end of things. Little did we know that the Lord had already set things in motion for Addison’s adoption to be even faster than Ayden’s. Indeed, Addison was already in the womb of her birth mother when we decided to adopt again.

We attended the initial orientation meeting at the adoption agency on July 27, 2005. Having just gone through the process, we felt like we could give the presentation ourselves. Two and a half weeks later, we went with some friends to their condo in Palm Springs for a few days’ getaway. Other than me getting sick, it was a great time. But while we were there, we missed a phone call from the adoption agency. Upon returning home and hearing the phone message to call the agency, we didn’t think much of it, thinking it had to do with setting up a home visit or some other part of the adoption process. We were wrong. Instead, we found out that Heidi was pregnant again and “wanted to know if Jonathan and Jenny would be interested in adopting again.” Our answer was an obvious “yes”!

Once again, many questions were floating through our minds, many of which could not be definitively answered right away. The agency did not have regular and clear communications with Heidi, who still lived in Idaho. We did find out a couple things, though, over the next few days. Like in the previous pregnancy, the baby was exposed to substance abuse during the pregnancy. We also learned that Jason was once again the biological father. (People are amazed to hear how it worked out that our adopted children share the same biological parents – both mother and father. They are truly “brother and sister,” and it’s neat to see the similarities as they grow and develop.)

Heidi was once again planning to come to southern California to have the baby, which was welcome news for us. Having an out-of-state adoption was much more complicated (and more expensive), since it required the involvement of a second agency. One important detail that we didn’t yet have, though, was the anticipated birth date. The impression from the agency was that it was a matter of months. Little did we know!

The next few weeks were spent fast-tracking through the adoption process, while also trying to pick up bits and pieces of how the pregnancy was going in Idaho. When we hadn’t heard anything for some time, we contacted the adoption agency to see if there was any new developments, hoping to find out the anticipated birth date. What we heard back was more than we bargained for! We learned that the due date was October 29 (my birthday!). But because of late term pregnancy complications that could put Heidi at risk, she was being airlifted from her little town in Idaho to a neonatal ICU in Great Falls, MT. The next day, Thursday, September 22, 2005, Addison was born in Great Falls, weighing in at a robust 4 pounds, 13 ounces. And once again, we were many miles away, 1258 to be precise!

Baby Addison

Addison at NICU in Great Falls, born September 22,2005

Because Addison was born about 6 weeks premature, she remained in the NICU for some time, until she could breathe and eat on her own. Until we had some idea of how long she might be in NICU, we waited to leave for Montana. We also needed the extra days to finalize adoption proceedings with our agency in California, and also enlist the services of an adoption agency in Montana, which was Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Montana. So much for not having the out-of-state adoption with all the complications that come with it! But we didn’t care. We just wanted to get through whatever was necessary to adopt this child, and because of the circumstances, we needed to do it in a hurry!

Unlike last time, the developments of the adoption process were not unknown to the rest of our congregation. I remember going to the house of our church president, and informing him that I would have to leave for Montana on short notice, and I wasn’t sure when I’d be back. I’m so thankful for the support and understanding of him and so many others in our church, along with the faithful service of my associate pastor and other church staff, who picked up the slack in my absence.

Before we got to Montana, Addison had not only the care of the fine staff at Benefis hospital in Great Falls, she also was held and cared for daily by a woman named Christian Madsen. The Madsens would regularly help LSS of Montana with short-term foster situations. Christian even kept a daily journal of her visits to see Addison in the NICU. It’s called “Addison’s Cradle Care Journal.” Here is the entry for Wednesday, September 28:

“11:00 a.m. I meet you for the first time! You are a beautiful dark haired girl and I’m told your name is Addison! I return to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at 11 p.m. to hold and feed you. You aren’t very interested in eating, but you do enjoy cuddling. I am excited for your parents and brother to arrive and have the joy of loving you in person.”

Christian, you weren’t the only one! Oh, how dear you are to us, and how precious this journal of Addison’s first days! The Madsen’s played a larger role in our trip to Montana, as you will soon read.

After church on Sunday, October 2, we left for Montana (with 15 month-old Ayden along, of course). That first day we went as far as Las Vegas, where we intruded on our good friends Matt and Heidi Guse for some supper. We stayed until Ayden’s bed time, at which point we settled him into his car seat for the long overnight trip north on Interstate 15 through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and into Montana. We arrived the next day early afternoon, and checked into our hotel, Great Falls Inn, which was ideally located next to the hospital. Needless to say, we were very excited to get to the NICU and see our daughter! Our social worker from LSS met us at the hospital later that day. After getting washed and gowned, Jenny went into the NICU first, while Ayden and I stayed in the hallway outside and looked through the window. Then our social worker tended to Ayden while I also went in, and saw Addison for the first time – tiny, sleeping, arms stretched upward over her head (her common sleeping pose as a baby), in a pink outfit, and with a little pink bow on her head. To say it was love at first sight is an understatement.

Ayden with baby Addison

Ayden with his sister Addison

Because of the time lapse between Addison’s birth and our arrival in Great Falls, there was no contact with Heidi (and Jason) this time. Once she had recovered from the delivery, she returned to her home in Idaho. However, we received messages from her via the adoption agency, assuring us she was once again at peace with her decision, and thankful for our decision to adopt Addison.

Addison stayed in the NICU for a few more days after our arrival, during which time we stayed next door at the Great Falls Inn. Once the doctors were satisfied that her lungs were strong enough, and she was taking food, she was released from the hospital. However, we were not able to simply hop in the car and start driving south – at least not past the Montana state line. Because of how things happened so rapidly, many of the adoption requirements had to be met, which were further complicated because of the involvement of two agencies and two state governments – Montana and California. Most of this I didn’t really understand at the time, and even less now. I just knew this stuff had to be taken care of, most of which was done behind the scenes by the two adoption agencies we were working through. It had to do with getting the two state governments to work out a state-to-state guardian transfer. Since the courts don’t finalize an adoption until months later, the adopted child is technically in the custody of the agency until that time. And since we were working through two agencies in different states…well, that’s about as far as my understating goes, especially 5 years removed. But I do remember thinking it a bit ironic how complicated this was when people would cross the Mexican border every day seemingly without consequence. But none of this really mattered to us. We just enjoyed the time in Great Falls, in light of why we were there. The time forced me to trust that things were being covered just fine back at my church while I was gone. It was great to have this time with Jenny and Ayden, and now Addison, our newest addition. It was God’s way of allowing things to be out of my control – a lesson I continue to need at various times in life.

So, with an undetermined amount of time to kill in Great Falls, Montana, we did whatever we felt like doing, together, as a family. Much of our time was spent at the home of Greg and Christian Madsen, with their two young boys, Lars and Gunner (what unique names!). (Remember Christian, who held Addison in the NICU before we arrived in Great Falls?) The Madsens were a kind Christian family who would periodically serve as foster parents for LSS. Once our 3 days were up at the Great Falls Inn (the agency put us up at that hotel for 3 days), we packed our bags and moved in with the Madsens for awhile. They lived in a beautiful old house, known as the “Quigley House”. I remember the plaque outside their home, describing the historical significance of the place. I don’t remember what the historical significance is, perhaps because for us, the house has more of a personal significance. We basically had an entire floor to ourselves – the third floor and some furnished attic space.

A few things that stick in my mind from our time in Great Falls:

• Sunny, crisp fall weather in a part of the country we had never been. It was nice to spend some time in a seasonal part of the country; reminiscent of growing up; days when you could smell the season.

• Time spent exploring Great Falls parks.

• The front porch at the Madsen’s house, where Ayden loved to crawl around and explore and play with Lars and Gunner.

• The amazing collection of Pez candy dispensers that lined much of the shelf space in the Madsen’s house. And their dining area that was reminiscent of a 1950’s diner / malt shop.

• Going to a college volleyball game at the local university where Greg Madsen was a professor.

• Eating at Applebee’s our first night in Great Falls – insignificant, but meaningful when placed in the context of what brought us to that place.

Addison's baptism

Addison’s baptism, October 5, 2005

Since we would be making a long trip home, we decided to have Addison baptized there in Great Falls, where there happened to be a WELS church. We made arrangements for a private baptism, since we didn’t know how long we would be in town. So on Wednesday, October 5, Addison was born again of water and the Spirit, and made a child of God through holy Baptism at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Pastor John Ruege did the baptism instead of me, this time, even though he invited me to do it. I remember not having any decent clothes along for such an occasion, and the pictures taken that day prove it! But the important thing is what was unseen – the beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness now being worn by our 13 day-old daughter.

Day after day came and went in Great Falls, and while we were enjoying our time there and felt very at home in the Madsen’s house, we were also anxious to get home. When it looked like things were wrapping up with the behind-the-scenes adoption process, we decided to pack up and hit the road. We went as far as Dillon, MT that first night, which is the first main town on the interstate in southern Montana. The next day, we set out for the long haul home. I remember being on the road when Jenny took the phone call from the agency telling us we were officially cleared to leave the state with Addison. (We didn’t mention that we had crossed the state line a few hours earlier.) We celebrated our clear conscience with a meal at Cracker Barrel somewhere in Idaho. After spending 8 days in Great Fall, we arrived home on Wednesday, October 12. Four days later, I preached for the occasion of our school’s 40th anniversary service at King of Kings, and also was able to celebrate the affirmation of Addison’s baptism as part of the service with our church family. Now, Addison was home, too, in our house and in God’s kingdom.

Huntington Beach 2005

Huntington Beach 2005

Reflections and a Few Concluding Thoughts

I am so thankful that cousin Di asked me to share the story of Ayden and Addison’s adoption. I have often wished that I would have kept a more detailed journal of those times. I remember so many details and thoughts and discussions during those days and weeks and months surrounding their arrival in our family. If only I had recorded them at the time, just for our own sakes and that of our children some day! But this has forced me to go back and recall those fond memories, at least as much as I can. And with Jenny’s help, I think much has been remembered. (Perhaps too much for the purposes of a blog?) Of course, there are many things that I left out, as well. I don’t believe enough words exist to capture everything adequately, and that’s ok, because the joy of how God gave us our children can’t be captured with words.

Jenny, Ayden, Addison

Jenny, Ayden & Addison, August 2010

Di, I also appreciate your perspective in your last blog about the things that happen in our life being part of God’s greater plan for us. When I think about how God gave us our children, I can go back and trace the line that connects so many dots that eventually led to Ayden and Addison being our children. Let me share just two:

• Those who know us well know how much Jenny and I enjoy volleyball. Jenny coached high school volleyball in Huntington Beach while we lived in California. It was one of her fellow coaches, Caroline, who suggested the adoption agency we connected with. Her parents adopted her through that same agency. Caroline was a good friend to us in California, and kept things lively with her “southern California girl” personality. It was great for us, and especially for Jenny, to have her as a friend around whom she could be herself. And she was a pretty good volleyball player, in addition, when I needed to put a team together! She was among the many “non-church” friends we made while living in California, who also celebrated the adoption of our children.

• I don’t know if there was ever a “moment” we decided that adoption was the right choice for us. I tend to think it was somewhere in our hearts pretty much the whole time we went through the process of trying to figure out our inability to conceive a child. (That’s a story in itself!) But that process ultimately led us to see how God had other, better plans in mind for us – “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Looking back, one “moment of clarity” on this journey came when we worked with a well-renowned fertility doctor in California. I won’t mention his name, other than to say he was highly regarded for his work in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). After going through various tests and medical procedures, especially for Jenny, this doctor met with us for consultation and said our best (i.e. most likely to succeed) option was In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). This didn’t surprise us. We were familiar with IVF and what it entailed, and knew that many people had been successful in conceiving through IVF. However, we also knew that there were other options with ART. And Jenny and I had faith-based misgivings about IVF. Without trying to condemn IVF or his line of work, I tried to explain this to our doctor. But he wasn’t willing to accept our faith-directed decision making. The only thing he was willing to offer was IVF, and we knew that there were other options available that he simply wouldn’t explore with us. This was both a turnoff and a great disappointment. We felt like the reproductive medicine door was being slammed shut, and by a highly regarded professional in the field, no less. I remember driving home from that visit with a lump of disappointment in the stomach, knowing that Jenny felt the same. But looking back, I think that is where the seed of adoption took root in our hearts and heads. It soon became sort of a cathartic experience, because it helped us accept and embrace adoption as the path that God was preparing us for all along. So where God closed one door, he opened another (or, in this case, two). So, thank you, insensitive doctor, for unwittingly helping us along the path God had already chosen – for us and our children.

At the beginning of this, I cited a Bible passage from Jeremiah about God’s plans for his people. I had to chuckle when I read Di’s last blog entry, where she cites that same passage. (Great minds think alike?) How wonderful it is to reflect on our lives and see how that passage rings true in so many ways. That’s the case for every Christian, no matter what our personal story may be. I happen to like ours, and looking back we wouldn’t have wanted God to give us our children in any other way. I pray you can say the same about your own life and all that fills it.

Thank you again, Di, for “coaxing” me to write this and share our experience, which is really just another of countless stories of God’s grace in the lives of his people.

Blessings in Jesus,

Jonathan

Family

Jonathan, Addison, Ayden and Jenny, Minnehaha Falls Park, 2010

Advertisements