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.
June 16, 2014
January 13, 2010 - Shuaiba, Kuwait
Sarah is asleep in our apartment. The operators in the control room are carrying on empty conversation, the engineers in our trailer are surfing the Internet, but I head out into the plant, alone.
Since we discovered the problem a few days ago, everything has been shut down. I make my way through miles of piping, under giant pressure vessels, past fired heaters the size of houses and pumps the size of a Harley, up several flights of exterior stairs, and into a giant partially-enclosed shed. In front of me is the first-stage compressor, about the size of a large van and costing tens of millions of dollars. We know it's damaged, but we don't know how badly. If it's just the bearings, we'll start up again in a week or two. If it's the turbine blades, we'll all be going home this week. You can't just buy these things off a shelf – each one is built to order, and that could take a year.
All of my co-workers are giddy as schoolboys to get out of this country, where the call to prayer is heard 5 times every day and prostitutes fling themselves at you in the grocery store, and where the local culture is about as lively as the desert around us. But if we leave Kuwait now, the adoption home study we began 4 months before will be a waste. It presumes that we are residing in Kuwait, with a two-bedroom apartment that has room for children. If we complete it before we leave, then perhaps we can update it later to reflect our new circumstances. But if we leave now for another country, or a cheap hotel back in the USA, we have to start over. And it has been difficult enough just to get this far.
I look around, to be certain no one is there, but the plant is empty. Then I walk to the compressor, place my hands on it, and began to pray.
After a few minutes of pleading, I step back, stare at it briefly, then walk away. I stop and look at my hands. You're supposed to wear gloves in the field. But everything is cold, no machinery is rotating, and no hydrocarbons are flowing. Just in case, I take my gloves off, walk back, lay my bare hands on the compressor, and pray again.
The compressor narrowly escaped major damage, and we restarted in week. So we stayed in Kuwait, and hope remained. But that was just one of many trials.
There was the first social worker we found, whose credentials weren’t valid in the United States. We had to work with an Australian, living in Bahrain, who contracted with a Pennsylvania-based agency. The director of that agency demanded that we obtain police background checks from all 30+ countries we had visited, and when we questioned this, she nearly terminated our home study.
There were the Kuwait police clearances, which we obtained by meeting a man in a parking lot at night and handing over the equivalent of $350 in cash. Twice. The documents were free, but we needed someone who spoke Arabic and had the clout to get us into the right office.
There were the 3 new requirements suddenly added by Pennsylvania. Sarah called me at work and offered to burn all our documents. I spent most of my shift scrambling to obtain what we needed.
But as my project approached its end, we still lacked one thing: FBI clearances. Every phone call or email resulted in a dead end. Somewhere out there were cards with our full set of prints and all of our personal information. Our home study was fully written, except for those.
Sarah was the first to give up on prayer. We had prayed every day for 8 months, and things had only gotten worse. It was easier to get through her day if she didn’t first spend an hour crying.
We left Kuwait with our hope and our faith hanging by a thread. The unthinkable was becoming more possible each day: that all of this, our prayers and effort and perseverance against so many obstacles, had been in vain. Were we wrong to even start? Had God abandoned us? Were the relentless naysayers right all along? Did we misunderstand the Bible’s proclamation of God’s love for the fatherless?
If we could only get those clearances… No one needed to know (yet) that we left Kuwait. We had no idea how to proceed from there, but with a home study we would have something.
The death blow came with two emails in June. First, the Pennsylvania-based agency conducting our home study refused to work with us since we were now in Illinois. Second, the official possessing our FBI background checks for immigration refused to share them – because she wasn’t required to do so.
At that point, it was I who lost it. My responses varied from comically pathetic to vile. My world had come apart – intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I had taken some heavy blows already, but on that day I died. Or, more accurately, the God whom I thought I knew died.
Almost precisely a year before, when God had called us to this, our pastor referenced a documentary about sex trafficking, “The Day God Died.” A young women, kidnapped and forced into prostitution, said that when she awoke in a brothel, on that day God died to her. We did not then realize that in order to minister to those for whom God has died, you must have had the experience yourself. Everything we thought we knew about God and prayer and what it meant to follow Jesus, we no longer knew.
All we knew was that it was over.