On a quiet wintery morning three days after Christmas, I sat and wept at the screen reflecting news I’d known was coming for weeks: the Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a bill that banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans.
Originally even the 46 families in progress were barred from bringing their little ones home.*
One family had been waiting for four years to adopt the brother of their already adopted Russian son. But now the door to the broken Russian foster care system slammed shut. I can’t imagine the agony and despair these families must be facing, what that family will say to their adopted son when he asks when his brother is coming home.
Intellectually, I accept that this is the inevitable result of neo-nationalism and rampant corruption in the Russian pseudo-democratic political system.
I know it because I studied it for four years in college.
I learned the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet and how there is much lost in translation from the original Anna Karenina. I absorbed its history and culture. I lived in its northern city for a semester in the middle of winter (what was I thinking?). From a purely intellectual and political perspective, it makes sense.
But it shouldn’t make sense.
It shouldn’t make sense to further exploit the most vulnerable in society for political gain.
I wept at the injustice of it all that morning, thinking of these heart-broken families. When my thoughts turned to our own dobraya dochka, our sweet little girl, my breathing labored from the soul-pummeling reality that she may already be trapped in an over-crowded orphanage somewhere in my beloved Rodina, my (second) Mother Russia.
In these moments of despair, I am flooded with a memory as crisp as if it were in real time, reaffirming that God is working behind the scenes. It is the last day of my first year at an evangelical summer camp and, in the sea of teenage hands outstretched in worship, I am simultaneously drowning and weary of thirst.
The bands starts playing a song I’d heard earlier in the week, but hadn’t listened to until now.
Every strum of the guitar sends cool ripples over my parched soul.
When the drums join in, I feel the tectonic plates at the very core of my being dance over one another, unleashing waves that crash harmoniously to the song.
At this point I am begging for a drink, my mouth as dry as a hospital gown against bare skin. Even as I sip from my Nalgene, I know that this water will never quench my thirst, so I dare to ask God – this distant relative I hardly knew – to pass me a glass.
But God doesn’t give me a glass of water.
He sends a tidal wave. As it quickly approaches, I feel a sense of calm, an overwhelming reassurance to be not afraid. I know it is time to join in the song, and I sing:
Father God I wonder how I managed to exist without
The knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care
But now I am a child, I am adopted in your family
And I will never be alone, for Father God you’re there beside me
When the chorus approaches, the first mist of the wave sprinkles the crown of my head, christening me into a deeper communion than the one I received as an infant. Then on some heavenly cue, I unleash my arms, raising them along with the chorus. The wave touches down, washing over me in celebration of my adoption into God’s family. My thirst has finally been quenched.
I knew then that as I had been adopted, I was called to adopt.
But at fourteen years old, the calling seemed misguided. It would be many, many years before adoption would be feasible. I didn’t see why God was inking this on my heart so early on in my life.
Now that a decade has passed, I understand God was incrementally preparing me to adopt one day. I remembered late nights studying vocabulary flash cards, the lonely months in frozen-over St. Petersburg, the fleeting dream where I first saw my child’s face and awoke weeping.
Yet the doors had now suddenly closed.
The weekend after the ban was signed into law, my husband and I headed to church nonchalantly, not thinking twice about it being Epiphany.
But God didn’t forget.
The pastor shared a story of a church that partnered with an orphanage in Ukraine every Christmastime. At the combination of “orphanage” and “Ukraine,” I seized up, blinking as rapidly as high-speed windshield wipers to clear away the torrential rain blurring my eyesight.
I tried justifying holding back the tears.
I didn’t want to ruin my mascara. I didn’t have any tissues. I didn’t want to be vulnerable in front of others.
The pastor described how Epiphany is the day when we celebrate God first inviting Gentiles — represented by the three Wise Men who visited the Incarnate God in baby form — into His story. Using my long hair as a veil to cover my tear-streaked face, I tried to hold it together. But when the pastor described how Epiphany is our adoption day, the dam in my soul burst, unleashing the ugly cry.
You know that cry — it’s the one that swells your eyes a crimson red, peels your nose from repeated blowing, and pounds your head from the salty tears streaming steadily.
It’s the one God sometimes uses to get your attention.
That Epiphany morning, God got my attention. He reminded me that He’s working behind the scenes, and that legal barriers and political maneuvering and even the gates of hell cannot prevail against Him. And in the midst of that ugly cry, I witnessed the beauty of that everlasting promise.
* A week after the Russian president originally signed the law into effect, the government announced that the law won’t got into effect until 2014, meaning that the 46 families in limbo will hopefully complete their adoption process and bring their children home to the US by the end of this year.
[Photo: gemsling, Creative Commons]