08 Mar From Gideon to South Korea
December 1, 2010. I still vividly remember the night I fell in love. Actually, it wasn’t so much of a fall as a drift. I drifted into love. We were in the parking lot of Fletcher-Early, and it was snowing softly, like magic. Shivering and laughing nervously, we talked for hours. Literally, two hours, in the cold and in the snow. My roommate, Kate, was expecting me for ice cream an hour before that, but I completely lost track of time and she thought I died.
Brian gave me my Christmas present that night, a binder containing the 196 printed pages of a series of messages to each other we called The Novel. The Novel chronicled our story from just-met to best friends, and it was all but complete. Only one last message would be written after that night, ending with this quote from C.S. Lewis that summed up The Novel in its entirety: “My jottings show something of the process, but not as much as I’d hoped. Perhaps both changes were really not observable. There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”
That was our love story in a nutshell. A slow, gradual transition from best friends to, eventually, husband and wife.
And truly, we would describe our adoption story as much the same.
I guess, if you had to put a timeline on it, you could say we always knew we wanted to adopt together. Mostly because I had given Brian an ultimatum before we started dating, telling him I’d continue to be his best friend either way, but if he couldn’t see international adoption in his future, I couldn’t see dating in ours. Fortunately, Brian had also long envisioned his family as looking a little different, so immediately following our wedding, we began attending adoption conferences, meeting with families who had adopted, and saving every last penny we could.
Fast forward seven months. Curious eyes and the wrinkliest forehead you ever did see peeked out from an oversized blanket that made his already 4-pound body look somehow even tinier. I was charge nurse on the Behavioral Health unit, and it was a quiet, sleepy Christmas Eve night shift. 3:00 a.m. had me drinking coffee and scrolling mindlessly through my social media feeds. Suddenly, my tired eyes met his curious ones in that single, remarkable picture posted on Love Without Boundaries’ Facebook page, and that was the moment it happened. I fell in love with a little boy named Gideon.
I say I “fell in love” knowing full well that sounds crazy. I worked on a psych unit, and my psychotic patients told me I was crazy for loving a tiny orphan on the other side of the world. But I showed his picture to Brian, and he fell in love too. He, too, experienced that sudden, deep feeling of peace and knowing, the one we could only ever liken to the moment we knew we would spend the rest of our lives together, to that moment in the parking lot in the snow. Brian surprised me with a monthly sponsorship of Gideon for our first anniversary, and I still count it as one of the best gifts I ever received.
In the following days, we waited eagerly for our sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly updates, highlighting Gideon’s progress in his health, his development, and his smile. Oh, that smile! We shared the little snippets of his life with friends and family, who began to ask about him as though he were ours. We prayed for him nightly, and we placed his picture proudly on our mantle, for all the world to see our precious, precious Gid.
Eleven months later, Gideon died. Tragically, unexpectedly. From a simple, horrifying respiratory infection. I had only seen Brian cry a handful of times throughout our relationship, but we both wept openly that night. It felt insanely ridiculous, to be honest, mourning over a child we had never seen, never held, never met. We were grieving deeply for a little boy who lived on the other side of the world and who never even knew our names. Giddy had stolen our hearts, our souls, and our dreams. We might have known we wanted to adopt, but we didn’t know it like this before. He was the first tiny face to our story. He was the one God used to break our hearts for more than adoption — for orphans. And not just for Gideon, or even our future children, but all of them.
After that, God seemed to go silent on our adoption story for a long time. We still had 2 years to wait until we were even old enough to adopt from any international country, but in hindsight, we are thankful for those painful months of finishing grad school and waiting to start our adoption. For it was in those months of silence that God would break our hearts for something much bigger than adoption.
See, we believe God calls us — as Christians — to care for orphans, but we believe that caring for orphans extends far beyond simply opening up your home to a child in need of a forever family. Caring for orphans means working together to eliminate the need in the first place; it means working together to preserve families and preserve cultures whenever possible. The adoption culture in the American church is beautiful, but also really, really ignorant at times. This has led, in so many heartbreaking cases, to human trafficking masquerading as orphan care, to families adopting children who aren’t really orphans, because someone saw an idea for a business. This has led to a “savior complex” of rescuing children as a mission, to completely forgetting that this tiny human has seen more loss in the first few months of their life than many of us will ever know. Adoption is beautiful, but it’s born out of utter brokenness, and as Christians more than anyone, we should be breaking down barriers and providing resources to keep families intact in the first place, whenever it’s best for the kiddo (and it usually is). We wrestled for a really long time, knowing the deep longings in our hearts for a baby, but eventually we came to rest in the fact that we would gladly give up our image of our future family if it meant we could be part of a world without orphans. We wanted to be part of a long-term solution, not part of the demand.
Back to the story. Fall 2014, we quickly found our agency after one conversation, and we still think they’re freaking rockstars, y’all! We met Lydia, one of their directors, at an adoption conference, and she told us about this program in Taiwan called Home of God’s Love. She said it was for young couples, with no kids, and because it was run by a Christian mission organization, the kiddos usually had lots of love and care prior to their adoption. Oh yeah, and it was only $15,000. From that moment on, we set our sights on Taiwan!
The day after Gideon died (four months later), we ran into an old pre-marriage mentor of ours, and he invited us to the final “date night” of the current pre-marriage group so we could have a free date and encourage some of the younger couples about to get married. We got to the restaurant super early, so we sat down across from the only other couple who was even earlier than us — Josh and Jessica. We weren’t quite sure what to talk about with these strangers, but when Josh said he and Jessica were finishing up at Asbury so they could move to Taiwan to work with orphans, Brian got the wise idea to tell them about our plans to adopt from the same country. I literally almost kicked him under the table, because we still had a year until we were even old enough to apply! It was waaaay too early to talk about. But when Josh said, “Oh yeah? Home of God’s Love?” I almost fell out of my chair.
15 months later, I was sitting in a Panera, waiting on a catering order for a client. I had transitioned out of nursing and into a wonderful company, and I was really early to pick up lunch for one of our partners. All of a sudden, I had this deep urgency to contact Jessica. I immediately brushed it off — after all, we hadn’t talked to Josh or Jessica since that one dinner over a year ago. There was no way they’d even remember who we were, and that would be weird.
But I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. Over and over that week, I felt this urgency, but I ignored it, intentionally staying busy so I could forget this strange feeling that I really needed to talk to her. Finally, on Saturday night at 8 p.m., we were at a wedding and sitting at a table with a couple we didn’t know and who clearly didn’t want to chat. We were bored, and I had mindlessly opened Facebook. When I saw I had a new message, I immediately started weeping and ran to the car. It was from Jessica.
She said she didn’t know why, but over the past few days she just couldn’t get us out of her mind. She told us she was thinking about us, praying for us, and wanted to tell us that she felt we should keep our hearts open to a boy. An agency once told us that 85% of adoptive families won’t even consider a boy, and in fact, it has only been in the past 2 years that boys are no longer considered a “special needs” adoption. But after Gideon, we certainly didn’t need another reason to want a boy! Though we were (are) very much open to a girl (you cannot choose gender with Korea), this was another face to our adoption story, a face we could hold on to. God was working again.
We quickly began building our friendship with Josh and Jessica, who will be moving in a few short months to live indefinitely in Taiwan. So many other crazy and more-than-coincidental things happened, much like Jessica and I feeling the need to talk during the very same week after 15 months of no contact. And the more they shared their hearts for Taiwan, the more convinced we were that this is where God was leading us. We had this image in our minds of our baby being loved and held and prayed for by Josh and Jessica before we even met them.
On Christmas Eve 2016, we were visiting family in Pennsylvania and attended a Christmas Eve service. During the worship at the very end, the church showed clips of missionary families around the world, singing Silent Night with members of the churches they had founded in their native languages. When they got to the church in Asia, I cracked. Tears streamed down my face and I tried to hold back the full-out weeping I felt rising in my soul. We hadn’t planned on starting the adoption process until the end of 2018, but I felt in that moment that we were ready. It was time. Excitedly, I contacted All Blessings just a few weeks later!
But they told us the Taiwan program was closed. My heart sank, then broke. The loss I felt was unfathomable. This was our dream, our vision, our plan. When we pictured our baby, we pictured them being born in Taiwan. We pictured Josh and Jessica. God had seemed so clear, and yet, here we were, back to where we were 2 years ago, feeling as lost and overwhelmed as we had felt attending our first adoption conference and not knowing where to even start.
I frantically made phone calls to agencies across the United States, anyone who was willing to take a 26-year-old Kentucky couple with no kids and this seemingly arbitrary connection to Taiwan. I ended up on the phone with a lady named Jo, who, in her sweet patience but brutal honesty, told us we would not find what we’re looking for in Taiwan. Home of God’s Love was the only infant program she knew of for couples under 30, and All Blessings had the only relationship in the country. With the door finally closed, I called All Blessings. It was 4:40 on a Friday, and I knew they wouldn’t answer, but I was desperate and hurting and confused.
But they did answer. Raven answered. Though All Blessings “technically closes” at noon on Fridays, she answered the phone. And I can’t even begin to explain it, but I immediately felt this overwhelming peace. After hearing a small piece of our story, she explained that their South Korea program was the most similar to Taiwan, both demographically and culturally, and she felt we would be a good fit for their program. Though we had managed to save up $15,000 on one income in 2 years, while cash-flowing Brian’s grad school, the cost for Korea was triple what we were expecting with Taiwan. It felt scary and momentous and like we might be jumping off the deep end. But when we submitted the application the next evening — and “happened” to meet another couple in the same program, with our same agency (but we didn’t meet them through our agency), another 24 hours after that — we felt the deepest peace. Though it was anything but what we were expecting, we realized the long road had led us to South Korea. We quickly found a tiny adoption community of people we already love who are walking beside us through this process, and the more we learn about Korea, the more we’re convinced this is exactly where we should be.
And now, exactly 31 days later, we have finished our home study visits and all of our paperwork, and are (hopefully) just a few months away from being matched with our little son or daughter! God is good.
Diane Troyer (Mom)Posted at 20:37h, 09 March
I love to hear the details….many of which I didn’t even know! Be assured that Dad and I are (and have been) praying for you two and your adoption journey. 🙂 We love you!
Amber StehlikPosted at 17:33h, 10 March
Baahhhh I cried like three times reading this! LOVE LOVE LOVE your adoption story.
Josh WilliamsonPosted at 21:38h, 10 March
It’s awesome to read the complete story of how God has brought you along this path! We are so proud to know you guys and so thankful that God brought us alongside you to play a very small role in your journey towards adoption. And who knows how God will allow you to impact Taiwan’s waiting kids down the road. Our prayers are with you!