Adoption was always a someday, when we get more settled, conversation. When our youngest son, C.J., was 18 months old, we sold our townhouse and bought an RV to chase Matt's dream of being a full-time musician. That was a good time and a hard time. Another lesson and faith growing experience for us both. When we got off the road, we rented a house for almost 2 years while we tried to survive on Matt playing late night gigs and me working at a day spa. Then a friend of ours offered Matt a good paying job in the tech field for his new company. We bought a house and things seem to be looking more stable.
Somewhere around that time, my sister and her husband had been helping a single mom of several kids who each had a different father. They helped her get an apartment, a job, and connected her to a church. But she still struggled with her desire for a relationship, and found herself expecting another child without a man around, yet again. She went into despair and shared her grief with my sister, who then shared with her my desire to adopt for many years. She was interested in talking to me, so we set up a meeting to speak over the phone. She asked me a lot of questions about my family and I listened to her heart. At the end of the conversation, she said, "If I decide to give my baby up, I would give him/her to you!" My heart was hopeful, but also guarded.
Shortly after, I visited with my next door neighbor who was expecting her first child. She asked if I knew any childcare workers in town. I told her I didn't, but would ask around. I was homeschooling my then 5th grader, 2nd grader, and kindergartner. But I kept feeling nudged in my spirit that I should offer to watch her baby. I thought this would give me the opportunity to see if I'm up to adopting a newborn baby, and save up some money for the adoption fees. We worked out our arrangements for me to babysit for her 5 days a week. She was due in November and planned to return to work in January. I grew excited that once again it seemed that God was preparing the way to adoption!
Just before Christmas of that year, our friend's business went under and Matt found himself unemployed. This was when our country hit a recession and Obama was extending the unemployment timeframe. Thankfully his salary had been enough that we could live off his unemployment with the help of my babysitting money. So what I thought was provision to adopt, was actually provision to survive! But it didn't matter because the mother had decided to keep her baby anyway. After I have reflected on this part of my story, I realize that if there had not been the prospect of adopting someone's baby, I may never have agreed to watch my neighbor's infant for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week when I was homeschooling my 3 boys. And we would have missed out on some of our most fondest memories of watching baby Nolee the first 2 1/2 years of her life. We will always remember how she would stand up in her crib after a nap and yell, "BOYZ!" Until one of them would come to bring her out to be with the rest of us.
While adoption was once again put on pause, God had other lessons he wanted us to learn. It was to learn to wait on him and to trust that he is a God who provides! At the beginning of unemployment, my husband felt strongly that God was telling him to wait. So Matt watched possible job opportunities pass by and waited until he heard God say go. It wasn't until the last month of his 18 months of unemployment that he interviewed to be the ministry directer at Dream Center Peoria. The job payed $10,000 less than his previous job, but this was the job he felt he was waiting for. He went from musician/worship leader, to tech guy, to ministry directer for kids. Working at DCP is what pulled our family outside of ourselves. We connected with a world that we had never seen up close before. Where there is true poverty in pockets and in souls. Where people are broken and children are in need of affection in the worst way. During that time, I thought maybe I wasn't meant to adopt. Maybe I needed to be available to love on some of these kids. But sadly, you begin to see that the short visits are not enough. Those kids needed a permanent home and families they can count on.
After Matt was there for two years, the Executive Director position was opened and offered to him. His salary went up to what it had been before, but his mind and emotions were constantly drained. There was so much need and not enough of him to go around. We just didn't discuss adoption anymore. God was teaching me a new lesson about the importance of my role as wife. I had put so much focus on being a mom and homeschooling my kids before, and God knew I needed to fully understand why he created the woman to be the man's helpmeet for our family to be really effective. He worked on my critical tongue and helped me to see that how I viewed my husband was how he viewed himself. My role as wife to the Executive Director of DCP was just as important as the job itself if I did my job well. I was learning to trust in God's timing and rest in his authority over my life.
During the first year Matt worked as the Executive Director of DCP, he received a call that a young man was looking for shelter. DCP only housed women and children. When Matt shared this information with me, we both felt we shouldn't just dismiss it. We sat at the table to pray it over, and I distinctly heard the Lord say, "Take him in." That was all. Just, take him in. So we asked where he was and let him know we would be coming to pick him up.
At that time, we had our first Japanese exchange student who had been with us only 1 week of his 4 week stay. We did our best to explain to Ryunoske that we were going to pick up a friend who needs a place to sleep. We all hopped in the van and rode together to get the young man. We will call him "Mark". I'm sure Mark felt quite confused to see a family and an exchange student coming to bring him home with them. We had never met before this encounter! After we set Mark up on an air mattress in the basement, we asked what his plans were. He really didn't know, other than he had an interview at a gas station later that week. After we had a few days with him, we felt that this was an opportunity to offer him more than just a place to stay. He didn't have a license, or a car, or savings, nor did he know how to acquire those things at the age of 27.
After our exchange student went home to Japan, we sat down with Mark, and made our offer to him to live with us under some conditions. He had to agree to have weekly meetings with us to work on setting goals for himself, and he had to honor our rules for our home. He agreed and we slowly began to build a trust based relationship.
Honestly, Mark will always be my first adopted son in my heart. I grew to deeply care about his life choices, his heart, and his future. Maybe too much! But that's what mothers do, right? It was strange to go through the feelings of adding a new son in my heart who was really a grown man. But Mark was really a sweet and tender hearted soul who just had not been given any guidance as to how to really be a man. He made it easy to love him, and at times easy to be frustrated with him, but mostly because we knew he was capable of so much more. He lived with us for 8 months, and had accomplished most of the goals he had set at the beginning. Matt and I were really proud of him and saw a lot of growth in his character in that short amount of time that he lived with us.
I think during those years of outreach ministry, the idea of adoption just seemed distant to me. My kids were getting older, and when my eldest hit the teen years, I had another whole huge lesson to learn about letting go of control and yet again, trusting God more! But this time with my children's hearts and not so much with finances. (That's another whole series of posts to come in the future!)
After working as the Executive Director of DCP, Matt was offered the position as National Director of the Morning Center, which is a pro-life ministry. Once again, he had an increase in salary, but also an increase in responsibility. He no longer gets to work with the kids or with the clients in need. He is more upper management and has a new level of stress to carry. When he started that position, I did approach the adoption subject again, but he felt he mentally had to wrap his mind around his new tasks. I understood, but I also felt the clock ticking. I think I just stopped hoping it would ever really happen.
Then we had one more stretching of our ability to welcome a new addition to the family. After we had our first Japanese exchange student, we had two more 1 month stay exchange students. Before our 3rd student arrived, the director of the International Exchange program, Miriam, shared that she had 4, year long students arriving in 3 weeks with no place to live! My mind told myself 'we don't have room!,' but my mouth said, "Tell me about them".
There was only one student from Japan and since our boys had grown to love the Japanese culture and were slowly learning the language, that was the one we wanted to know more about. Miriam sent me his file, and I let her know once again I'm only thinking about it! When I read his file, that pesky holy spirit spoke to me clear as day again! I immediately felt my heart well up and knew Takumi needed to live with us. I read it to the family over dinner that night, and the kids grew in excitement about all the fun they would have for a whole year! I had to go to our public school to get permission for him to attend there. I had lived a block away for 10 years and had never set foot in their doors! As a homeschool mom, I liked being unknown by my local school district. I had this unrealized fear that they would want to check in on me. But I bravely walked in, met the Superintendent and asked to bring an exchange student to the high school. He flatly said no and explained that they had had bad experiences in the past with exchange students, so they just won't do it. I was really taken back. I honestly thought this would not be a big deal. I told him the program I worked with was very involved and responsible and so was I. Later that day, my husband went in to speak with him and at least got him to agree to talk to Miriam. But again he told her no, and that the school office would be closed the next 2 weeks!
I just could not understand. I felt sure that God had asked us to say yes, so what was the deal? Miriam decided to be willing to host Takumi for the year so that he could come to the U.S., but our plan was to try one more time once the office re-opened.
The day I knew the High School office was opened, I went for a walk to pray first. I felt nervous and also a little peeved. I've been paying taxes to this school for years, and never benefited from it. I thought, if he tells me no again, I'll let him know how upset I really was! I prayed for God's will to be done and for him to give me the words to say. I had only spoke with the Superintendent before because the HS Principal had been on vacation. I remember walking into the HS office and asking to see the Principal. He invited me into his office and offered a seat. I started out with the question about letting an exchange student attend their school. I told him that I understood it was very last minute, but it was also a last minute decision for our family to agree to as well. And after prayer and discussion we felt led to say yes, but we can't say yes without his yes. He listened empathetically at first, and then informed me that 3 other people had already been in asking the same question, and the Superintendent had said no to them, so he will have to say no to me as well.
I know God gave me my response because I am not quick with responses, especially when I'm nervous! Somehow I put two and two together and said, "I am those three previous requests. They were all from me." I'll never forget how he gave me a long look and then threw his hands in the air and said "ok, let's do it. You can host your exchange student!" I actually started to tear up as I overly thanked him. I don't think he knew what to think of me, but he said he could tell I was "good people" and he knew he wouldn't need to worry. By the end of that year, every teacher and staff member knew and loved Takumi.
I walked home with a skip in my step and was reminded that when God asks us to do something for him, he will make the way clear! Takumi became another son and brother to the Larson family! We have so many fond memories of playing games, learning each other's languages, and having heart to heart talks. He went home this past June of 2018. We all cried to see him go and promised to keep in touch. My middle son, Davis developed a special bond with Takumi and also a desire to experience Japan himself. He had applied to become an exchange student for this past summer, and was able to stay with our first student's family in Tokyo. They gracefully made sure to meet up with Takumi a couple times during Davis's stay.
It was just a few weeks after Takumi left that I had a moment to myself and decided to watch something on Netflix. I came across a documentary called "Find Me". It was about a few families adopting special needs children in China. I couldn't stop the tears streaming down my face, nor the longing to answer that call God had placed in my heart back when I was just 11 years old. In the last 8 years our horizon has been stretched by watching an infant to toddlerhood, embracing an adult man still needing guidance, and taking in a 16 year old exchange student who struggled to fully express his emotions due to a language barrier. We have been stretched to fully trust God to provide and to obey his call, and our time to step out to pursue adoption is now. I sent my husband a text that day simply saying, "We need to adopt a little girl". His text reply was, "Let's do it!" When my husband says "let's do it!", he means let "US" do it together. He is all in, and I could not do it any other way!
And so here I am... finally, publicly announcing to all who know me, kind of know me, and don't know me at all... WE ARE ADOPTING A LITTLE GIRL!!!! And I just know, as God has shown me again and again, that what he has asked us to do, He will make the way clear!