June 23, 2014
"You can't go to work like this. You can't start out the day this angry."
"Why not? We have every right to be angry. I don't know how else to be."
"It's not over yet," Sarah pleaded. "Maybe God will still come through for us."
I glared at her. “We're screwed! God hates us," I declared.
Sarah was right: that is not a good way to start your day (or your spouse's day). But I had a point. Six months after the collapse of our adoption attempt (and our 4th miscarriage), we had restarted the process. While waiting on Ethiopia, we were unexpectedly able to adopt a baby boy from Texas. But two months after bringing him home, an answer to our prayers now appeared to be a cruel curse.
Judah’s birthfather had been threatening to stop the adoption as soon as our little boy, then named Jakori, was born. At first, I took it for empty boasting. But he didn’t stop. By Christmas, we were afraid. At the end of the year, we spoke with our agency’s attorney. The birthfather was taking us to court. The attorney made it clear that we would lose – and lose Judah. We were billed $300 for the conversation.
We were defenseless. Neither we, nor his birthmother who courageously carried him for nine months before placing him with us, would ever see him again. And with that, we would be finished – emotional and financially.
Where was God? We previously thought He had forgotten us. Now, He had remembered – and sent us on a suicide mission.
We had always been taught that to connect with God, you should read your Bible and pray. I found the Psalms to be relatable in their raw honesty, but otherwise reading the Bible seemed like an exercise in cognitive dissonance. And when I did pray, all that came out was profanity and outrage. At a class on prayer, Matt Woodley asked, "Why don't we pray?" and I replied, "I feel like I'm standing in front of a 10-story building completely engulfed in flames – and in my hand is a squirt gun.”
But in the weeks that followed, Church of the Resurrection embraced us in ways we had never experienced before. I met with Father Gregory (now serving in Cambodia), and instead of offering trite answers he listened, prayed, and told me told me only what he heard from the Lord. Friends came from all over Chicago to a prayer night for us at the old Ministry Center. Margie Fawcett led a liturgy based upon 2 Chronicles 20, and then – when we couldn’t find the words to pray – Brett Crull led almost two dozen people in praying for us.
Externally, nothing changed. Legal bills rolled in each week. Judah’s blood was drawn for a paternity test, and he screamed as if he knew that it was not only a needle prick, but a key step in tearing our family apart. When I held him, I wondered if he would ever know who I was, or who Sarah was.
By Ash Wednesday, we imminently awaited the order to return Judah to Texas. As we sang, “Lord, Have Mercy,” I couldn’t get the words out without weeping. Scenes from the past two years replayed in my mind, a montage of loss, pain and futility. Now we awaited the end. Father Kevin’s sermon, “The Spiritual Disciplines You Didn’t Choose,” was either written specifically for us or was a product of the Holy Spirit. Listening to his prophetic words, I suddenly recalled the Civil War movie Glory.
A regiment of African-American soldiers (the Massachusetts 54th) is given what amounts to a suicide mission. They realize that they cannot possibly take the fort they have been ordered to attack, and that they will all die in the attempt. But they embrace their mission and fight bravely, proving by their deaths on the battlefield what no one believed of them. If only on that night, I was able to accept my mission as I understood it: to love Judah for a few more days and then say goodbye forever.
Two days later, we received the most astonishing news: there was a zero percent chance that the man trying to take our son away from us was his father! No one had expected this. Some called it a miracle. All we knew was that God had delivered us. Suddenly, we could imagine a future with Judah. We would see him grow up, watch him learn to walk and run, hear his first words. It remains the happiest day of our lives.
And as we rejoiced, we realized something: God had been there, only not in the ways we had been taught to look for Him. God was present to us through the Church. When we couldn't believe, they had faith for us. When we couldn't pray, they prayed for us. The Church literally was the hands and feet of Jesus, embracing us and healing us.
For the first time in my life, I truly believed what the Bible says: that the Church "is the body of Christ." We all profess it, but it couldn’t be literally true – could it? Maybe the Church is meant to be like the body of Christ. Perhaps it's a metaphor, or an ideal for which we should strive? But I know the Church is the Body of Christ because I've experienced it.
Judah-Jakori Douglas Roney was baptized into that Body of Christ on Pentecost of the following year, wearing a white tuxedo that his birthmother chose.