The story of a discernment
Occasionally I get asked for examples of what it looks like to try to discern God’s will for a specific situation. In this post I’ll offer the details of how my husband and I discerned that we were called to do something unlikely and a little scary recently. Oh, and this is the “big news” I mentioned last Friday.
Last May my husband and I read a touching article in our diocese’s newspaper about a single mom who had adopted a 12-year-old child she originally met through the Kidsave Summer Miracles program. We were fascinated not only by her story but by the mission of Kidsave, a wonderful charity that allows kids across the world who are growing up in orphanages to live with American families for a summer. The vacations serve the dual purposes of giving the children a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out of their orphanages to see the world, and also to find potential adoptive families for them (though the children are not told about that latter purpose so that they’re not disappointed if it doesn’t happen). Ninety-three percent of the kids involved in the program end up getting adopted.
“Too bad we couldn’t do something like that,” my husband and I said to each other. We set the newspaper aside and forgot all about it. We tried to, anyway.
In the months that followed, both of us kept thinking about that program. It was odd because neither one of us had ever had an interest in anything related to adoption or fostering or otherwise working directly with children. As I’ve said before, we’re not naturally “kid people” and felt like we had our hands full enough in that department.
“The finger of God is here”
The thought of this program continued to nag at both of us, though we never talked about it. Then, a few weeks ago, my husband sent me a link to this PDF with FAQ’s about the program. On a whim I replied, “Want to do it?” I was half joking, thinking that I would get a quick “ha-ha” reply.
Instead he replied saying that he might like to consider it, but there so many reasons we couldn’t, including the facts that:
- We have four kids under age five, including a newborn
- It’d be tight to afford it
- Our parents would think we’re crazy
- Our car is filled to capacity, with no room for one more person
- Our family of six lives in a three-bedroom house, which doesn’t leave us with tons of extra space (by American standards, anyway)
- Since we surely couldn’t adopt, it might disappoint the child if we couldn’t find a home for him or her
- We’re not exactly Wally and June Cleaver — maybe a kid wouldn’t want to spend a summer in our crazy, chaotic house
- The program requires you to go to weekend events every weekend for five weeks, and we’re already busy
Yup. He was right. Look at all those reasons. We couldn’t do it.
And yet, to use a discernment technique I learned from the life-changing book He Leadeth Me, I asked myself if the “finger of God” was in this situation, i.e. if I had peace about that decision. I did not. I was completely unsettled when I thought of not pursuing this any further.
This prompted me to take a hard look at our reasons, and I came to see that none of them were insurmountable. Yes, we have a lot of little ones, but I’ve been able to hire someone to help me a few hours per week and both our mothers are very involved in our lives, giving me lots of support; yes we have a newborn, but we’ve learned a lot in recent years about how to make the newborn period as unstressful as possible; yes we’re out of room in our car, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world to take two cars when we all have to go somewhere; and so on. I shared these thoughts with my husband and he agreed.
“How does it impact your primary vocation?”
I picked up the phone and called the Kidsave headquarters to chat with a program director. I voiced my concerns and told her about our lives and asked her to tell me if she thought we wouldn’t be good candidates for the program. She made some suggestions about what type of child we’d want to request so that we didn’t get in over our heads, but encouraged us to find out more by talking to the local coordinator here in our area. She said she’d pass along my info and have her call me.
A couple days went by and I hadn’t heard from the coordinator. I wasn’t sure what I should do about that. Then I remembered the first litmus test my spiritual director always gives me when I’m trying to discern anything: “What are the fruits in terms of your primary vocation?” My husband and I have been called to the married life, and a legitimate call from God would only strengthen that part of our lives. Anything that would cause strife or stress or resentment towards one another or our children can safely be assumed to be the wrong path.
Based on this advice, I decided that I would not bang my head against this door if it wasn’t opening. We do have our hands pretty full right now, and it would begin to negatively impact my vocation if I had to spend hours and hours dealing with bureaucracy and chasing down paperwork to hit the impending deadline to participate this summer.
On the third day without a phone call, I decided to pray. Sitting in a chair in my living room on a Sunday afternoon, I crossed myself and began, “Lord, since I have not heard from the local coordinator I will assume that we’re not supposed to go down this path. If you want us to proceed, you will need to make it very obvious so that–”
The phone rang. It was the local Kidsave coordinator.
“Remember that you don’t have a crystal ball”
The coordinator informed me, to my surprise considering that it was almost May, that we had not missed the deadline to do the program this summer. But in order to do it we’d need to fill out a mountain of paperwork, go to a few long training sessions, and have a social worker visit our house for a homestudy.
I was tempted to get stressed and overwhelmed. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY GET THIS ALL DONE BEFORE THE DEADLINE?!?!”
That’s when I remembered another piece of advice my spiritual director gave me: Remember that you don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly where God is going with this. Meaning, though we felt certain that God had called us to apply, we should not therefore assume that that means that God was calling us to host a child this summer. Who knows? Maybe this was a “tow truck driver” situation where God’s whole plan here was just for us to connect with the Kidsave coordinator.
So I decided to just proceed in peace, working on the paperwork as I could get to it, accepting that it may very well happen that I just couldn’t get to it all in time for the deadline; I took comfort in the knowledge that I was living God’s will by simply taking each next step that he called me to take, not assuming that I knew what the final outcome would be.
Long story short, it all got done in time for the deadline. The social worker stopped by with only an hour’s notice on a Saturday, so she got to see what life is really like around here. We didn’t try to present ourselves as people we’re not. I just let her have a glimpse into our crazy, noisy, slightly messy house (complete with my two-year-old hitting her 21-month-old sister over the head with a baby doll right in front of the social worker) and told her that I trusted her expert opinion as to whether or not we were capable of being a good host family for a child.
Last Monday I found out we were approved for the program. Last Thursday we were matched with a child.
I was going through my inbox during naptime when a new email arrived from one of the Kidsave folks. It had an attachment. It all became very real at that moment, when I would see the face of the little person with whom our lives were destined to intersect.
I found out that she’s a 12-year-old girl from Colombia, whom I’ll call “Rita.” When I read through the Word document that chronicled her life story through checked boxes and two-sentence answers to form questions, I started to cry. She’s been through more loss and pain in her young life than most of us can expect to see in a lifetime. When I opened her picture and looked into the eyes of a child without a home, I started crying again.
“Closing my eyes”
Into my mind flooded a whole new set of fears. What if we’re not able to handle any psychological challenges she might have from the difficulty she’s been through? What if we can’t find an adoptive family for her? What if we want to adopt her but can’t? What if we want to adopt her and can?! What if she doesn’t like us? What if we don’t click with her?
A quote immediately came to mind, one that I clung to more than two years ago, when I was assailed by difficulty right before I entered the Catholic Church:
Dear Lord, I do not ask to see the path. In darkness, in anguish and in fear, I will hang on tightly to your hand, and I will close my eyes, so that you know how much trust I place in you, Spouse of my soul.
- Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad
One of the reasons I didn’t blog any of this was because I didn’t want any distractions in the discernment process. This is a big decision that involves more lives than just our own, so my husband and I wanted to make sure we got it right. And now we’re confident that we did.
It’s an interesting experience to be so sure that you’re called down a certain path by God himself, and yet to still have fears. I’ve noticed that on the days that I skip prayer and don’t make much effort to remain close to God, I’m particularly plagued with controlling thoughts and “WHAT IF?!” worries. But, on the days that I pray, I have the peace of knowing, as Bl. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad would say, that God is holding our hands, and all we have to do at this point is to simply close our eyes and let him lead us, one step at a time.
UPDATE: Just found out that Rita will be here from July 2 until August 4.
- Fear and discernment
- Photos and bios of some of the kids participating in the Summer Miracles program this year
- A touching video about a Kenyan Orphanage (not related to Kidsave, but neat nonetheless)
Photo of orphaned child by Michael Mistretta