Matthew was placed in our care as foster parents on January 17, 2015. He was one-week-old, still in the hospital. At the time, there were no known parents or relatives who had come forward to care for him. I spent the next three days beside his crib as often as the nurses would let me, praying over him, weeping for him, asking God to let me love him with every ounce of my being. Our family had not entered into foster care with a goal of adoption, but I knew the first time I set eyes on Matthew that I wanted to be his father. Emotionally, he was already mine. Regardless of what the future would hold, whether he would be in our care for a few weeks or a few months, deep in my heart he had become my son.
Within a month, a man stepped forward claiming to be the biological father; within three months his claims were confirmed by a paternity test. The father wanted custody and he began working a case plan. We continued to act as parents on his behalf, all the while steeling ourselves for the possibility - and the goal - that Matthew would one day be removed from our home and reunified with his father. There was an incredible tension in that process. Erica and I stepped into foster care with a desire to play a part in a family's story of redemption. We weren't seeking adoption; rather, we wanted to love kids who needed love while parents who needed help could receive it. We were idealistic and green, but we placed ourselves in the hands of the system.
With Matthew in our home and our hearts, our idealism was challenged immediately. Though the goal was for the baby to return to his parents, we could not deny the bonds that we had formed. I could not deny the fact that he felt like my son, that I wanted to be there for him forever. One of my biggest struggles during that time was learning how to pray. I felt guilty praying for the chance to adopt Matthew, knowing that his biological father was probably also praying at the same time for his baby to come home. At the same time, I felt disingenuous praying for this other man because deep in my heart I knew I did not want Matthew to leave. I finally came to the decision that I would just be honest with my prayers, and trust that God was in control.
As the months wore on, it seemed as if the father would not be able to complete the necessary requirements to gain custody of this child; nevertheless the road was hard. There were emotional mountains and valleys. There were times of weeping and times of laughter. Some days we forgot about the difficult backstory and were able to fully embrace the small moments; other days were overshadowed by bureaucracy and we were left pleading with God for resolution.
After more than 18 months of case plans, risk assessments, hearings, home visits, and paperwork, something changed. In late summer of 2016, Matthew's father decided that it was everyone's best interest - Matthew's most of all - for him to stay with our family. He voluntarily signed over his parental rights, and the foster process turned to one of adoption. For the past 6 months we have been waiting. Signing papers, and waiting. Continuing home visits, and waiting. Hiring lawyers, and waiting. Christmas brought with it an approval letter from the State of Kentucky giving us the green light to proceed. We rung in the New Year with an adoption assistance agreement from the Cabinet. By Groundhog Day we had signed a petition for a court date.
As of this morning, the adoption summary has been submitted to the court. We are within weeks of finalizing the adoption of our son. The oddity lies in this: while necessary and legally binding, the adoption in court is, in many ways, a formality. While Matthew has not yet been given my name, "Jackson," he has been my son since the moment I saw him. While he does not yet have the full legal rights as a member of our family, he has already been living as if those rights have been granted. To be sure, there will be something powerful and emotional about our adoption day. I have little doubt that I will ugly cry all over the place. The finality of that moment will be the realization of all that we have hoped and prayed for, even though we have lived in light of that future moment for the last two years.
One of the greatest tensions in the Christian faith is wrapped up in a concept called "justification." The term refers to a person being made right before God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This right standing with God - salvation - is only possible through faith. The Christian, then, can live every day with the confidence that he/she has been reconciled to God and will receive all the promises of his goodness, both in this life and for eternity. Despite the fact that we can believe we belong to God, and believe he has adopted us into his family as sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, we still live in a world full of sin and brokenness. Today an old temptation may resurface, tomorrow doubt and accusation may creep into our minds, the next day a tragedy will bring us to our knees. Life is hard. Life is painful. Many days leave us pleading with God to come and bring that final promise of heaven right here, right now.
Yet we wait. We have not yet reached the fullness of time for God to bring to completion the work he has already begun. So the Christian life is one of hopeful anticipation. It is a life lived in faith, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. We push forward every day in grace and in truth, seeking justice and loving mercy, holding fast to the promises and unashamedly inviting others into this life. We do this knowing that we have already been granted the status of "Child of God," though we have not yet stood before the judge to receive our name.
As I have walked the path of adoption, this mystery of faith has become all the more meaningful to me. I am already but not yet Matthew's father, facing the challenges of each day as a foster parent, hoping and confidently waiting for That Final Day to come. For Matthew, the day he stands before that judge to receive his namesake will be a joyful homecoming, celebrating what he has already known to be true. Whatever peace he feels, either in that moment or looking back on it years from now, will be nothing compared to the sheer joy and depth of love that will be pouring out of me, his father.
I think the same is true for the way God waits to greet us.