Creating a vibrant culture of life is about not only the unborn, but also the many other at-risk people in our community. Some of the most vulnerable in our midst are children with special needs who are waiting to be adopted.
Those of us who are Christians are uniquely equipped to engage in the high and noble calling of special needs adoption. We see the image of God in the face of every human being, particularly those with special needs. The Savior we follow and the gospel we affirm give us insight into how to welcome and care for those many would consider to be “the least of these.”
Counting the Cost
In the world of adoption, “special needs” often implies “a child for whom it may be difficult to find a family.” Physical or mental disability, a history of abuse or neglect, drug exposure, a complicated social history, unusual medical conditions—these are children who will need more attention, care, and patience than most. Sadly, many of them wait year after year for a family.
Those who follow Jesus should be at the forefront of efforts to care for, support, and ultimately adopt these children. But there are real reasons that not many people adopt a child with special needs. The Bible we read doesn’t gloss over difficult realities, and neither should we. It’s essential that we acknowledge what a challenging road this can be.
My family’s experience with special needs adoption revolves around the youngest of our three children. His story is one of premature birth, medical fragility, extended hospitalization, physical disability, developmental delay, and autism. We love our son deeply, and being his parents can be absolutely exhausting.
Deciding to adopt him was perhaps the most difficult decision my wife and I have been asked to make. Having said yes, we were catapulted into the immediate and total upheaval of nearly every aspect of our lives.
While the oft-cited statistics about special needs families and divorce may be somewhat exaggerated, there is no doubt that special needs parents experience incredible strain on their marriages and their lives in general.
Our family sticks out like a sore thumb everywhere we go. Our days are planned around a never-ending stream of therapy sessions and doctors appointments. Money is often tight. Exhaustion is the norm, especially for my wife. And these are not transient challenges; they may very well remain for a lifetime.
As Christians we have a faith and we follow a Savior that demands truth. And the truth is, special needs adoption can be really hard.
My wife, in great insight and wisdom, once observed, “We are all broken. Some of us just wear our brokenness on the outside.”
That’s one way to explain what it can mean to have special needs. It’s a person who wears their brokenness on the outside for all to see, instead of just on the inside like most people. (Although many special needs are unseen, to be sure.) Brokenness is scary and we tend to run from it. But special needs adoption demands the exact opposite.
Most special needs parents did not choose to live with such brokenness. They gave birth with all the hopes and dreams and assumptions of a healthy, typical child who would lead a typical life filled with the joys and occasional challenges that come with typical childhood. But things played out differently, and now they live in a world they never expected.
But special needs adoption is different because it has the added element of choice. You don’t have to do this! To some degree, you know what you’re getting in to. You’re being asked to consciously opt in for suffering.
Adoption is a lifelong commitment, so it demands a full-hearted embrace of a child’s brokenness. The parent who thinks, “This kid is a mess right now, but I’ll adopt her and fix the problems and then everything will be normal,” is mistaken. Adoption means stepping into a broken situation and accepting the child’s brokenness as your own.
So why would you do it? Why would you choose to enter into a situation that is guaranteed to be challenging and that could well last for years or a lifetime?
This is the crux of special needs adoption, and it is the area where Christians are especially suited to lead. The good news of Jesus pulls us to say yes to hard situations we would normally not consider apart from the Holy Spirit living in us. The good news of Jesus calls us to run toward brokenness, not away from it. Remarkably, it’s in the midst of brokenness that we find Jesus.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)
When you give of yourself to care for one of “the least of these”—when you adopt one of the weakest among us—it is as if you are offering that care to Jesus himself. In ways that we don’t fully understand, Jesus particularly identifies with the weak, the vulnerable, and the undesirable. Jesus is watching when we care for these people. He promises to reward us in eternity.
Daydreaming about eternity
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)
We love our son exactly the way he is. In many respects we’ve come to love his special needs. His feeding tube, the ways he communicates non-verbally, his obsession with picking up and throwing shoes playfully—they are all part of what makes him so unique and loveable and such a treasured member of our family.
But our faith tells us that those things will one day fade away. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. One day, God will restore the world to what he originally created it to be: a flawless paradise of perfect communion with him. We rejoice in that hope and look forward to that day! We can’t imagine the joy of knowing our son in a new and perfect way when he is free of the brokenness that today marks so much of his life.
In “The Life We Never Expected,” special needs dad Andrew Wilson refers to this as “daydreaming about eternity” and writes movingly:
Like the spring thaw, turning sheets of ice into fresh running water, the power of God will extend to every square inch of this world and turn every curse into a blessing. The tube-fed will enjoy home cooking. The wheelchair-bound will go waterskiing and climb mountains. Those who cannot speak will sing and describe and discuss. There will be no need for words like “syndrome” or “degenerative” and no place for DNA testing, Epilim, Ritalin, hydrotherapy, or physical therapy. […] O autism, where is your victory, O cerebral palsy, where is your sting? (p. 135). ( Wilson, A. & R. (2016). The life we never expected: Hopeful reflections on the challenges of parenting children with special needs. Wheaton: Crossway.)
Special needs adoption is hard! But we who are Christians do it because it helps real people in need, because it honors our Savior, and because embracing brokenness is what Jesus has called us to do. We do it because we know it is “light, momentary affliction” that will one day fade away to be replaced by a perfected world with Jesus at the center.
We have been entrusted with this hope; let’s share it with the most marginalized and vulnerable in our community. Let’s run toward, not away from, adopting children with special needs!
For more information: The Georgia Department of Health and Human Services lists online profiles of children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted.
The author is the director of Covenant Care Adoptions, a domestic infant adoption agency that offers adoption as an alternative to abortion.