Building Families through Faith
by John Strege
For we walk by faith, not by sight, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians. For good reason, we might add. Rand McNally does not map out lives, leaving trust as our compass.
Illustrative of this is our family story. Infertility issues put up a roadblock that became navigable only when we chose to walk by faith. Embryo adoption, an option that had never been considered before until my wife Marlene suddenly broached the idea, eventually provided us a daughter, Hannah, who recently turned 21.
I think of this often and marvel at how families are assembled by God, beautiful life-affirming tapestries that as often as not, it seems, weren’t in the blueprints drawn up by the parents. Let me introduce you to two of these families.
Rev. Timothy Lawson is a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor, who with his wife Ruth intended to start a family shortly after their marriage. “We found out pretty quickly that the road to becoming a family wasn’t going to be as easy as we hoped,” Ruth said, while noting that adoption had always been a consideration. “When we were at the end of our journey with trying, adoption was an easy and exciting option for us.”
One day Ruth was listening to Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family broadcast and heard about “this incredible form of adoption, Snowflakes Embryo Adoption. How amazing the thought of carrying your adoptive child,” she said. The Lawsons eventually chose this route and adopted three frozen embryos. Alas, they all failed to implant, so they moved on to Plan B, infant adoption. Seven months later, “our sweet son, Micah James, was born,” she said.
A year later, they decided on another domestic adoption and were waitlisted to get onto an official adoption waiting list. A year passed and they were still waiting. “Meanwhile, I felt like the Lord was calling us back to embryo adoption,” she said. “We adopted eight embryos and committed to giving them all a chance at life, and over the course of five years and four transfers, the Lord blessed us with Shiloh Ethan.”
After a short period of time, Ruth felt the Lord was not yet finished growing their family. They returned to domestic adoption and “five months later, our precious Emery Mae was born.”
Finally, their family was complete. Or so they thought. “You know the phrase, ‘when you tell God your plans, He laughs’? Well, that was most definitely true for Tim and me.” On a date night five months later, they discussed another adoption, but came to an “overwhelming agreement that our family was complete with the five of us. Having no clue as to what the Lord was doing, I said, ‘what if I get pregnant?’ To which Tim replied, ‘there’s probably a 99.9 percent chance of that never happening.’
“Eight months later, we welcomed Noelle Ann into our family. The Lord most certainly has knitted our family together in miraculous ways and Tim and I are honored to be chosen as our precious children’s parents.”
Another couple, Courtney and Tim Atnip, has a similar story that began when she was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure after years of attempting to get pregnant. She was only 30.
They began to explore alternative ways of starting a family. Meanwhile, Tim’s aunt had heard a Focus on the Family broadcast on which the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption program was being discussed and relayed the information to the Atnips, who began researching it. “We were both really excited and decided that this is what the Lord was calling us to,” Courtney said. “A chance for pregnancy and the opportunity to provide a home for a child who may otherwise stay suspended in frozen time.”
They eventually were matched with a family and adopted 11 embryos, of questionable quality and viability, their doctor told them. “While we were a little disappointed, we felt strongly that God had called us to provide a chance for these little ones and requested the doctor move forward with the transfer regardless of his concern about their quality,” Courtney said. “He told us not to expect a positive pregnancy result. We politely told him he’s not God and that we were covered in prayer, so no matter the outcome, we were at peace.
“I believe statistics are important simply to keep perspective. But I also believe that God doesn’t care too much about statistics. He cares about people. All people. Born. Unborn. Planned. Unplanned, although He plans for everyone, so unplanned is a very human term. Statistically, Carter shouldn’t be here. But he is.”
It had been a difficult pregnancy, so when they decided to have a second child, they opted for international adoption, from China, and welcomed Abby into their family that was now complete. Or so they, too, thought.
“With two kids at home, Tim and I decided we were probably done building our family unless God made another adoption clear. A couple months before I was to turn 40, I began exercising and trying to get healthier by eating more healthfully. I was constantly falling asleep on the couch and then started having to pass up salad because the thought of it made me sick. I was convinced that 40 was going to be terrible, as my body just felt like it was so tired. Finally, on my 40th birthday, it dawned on me that perhaps I should take a pregnancy test. When that test came back positive, the exhaustion, food aversions and feeling like I was falling apart all made sense. I was pregnant. Paisley was born in October of 2012.
“I’ve always said that I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone, but I also wouldn’t change our journey because the experiences we’ve had and friends we’ve met along the way are irreplaceable. We have three beautiful children and I can’t imagine it any other way.”
These stories are instructive for all of us, a reminder that God’s plans aren’t our plans. Let faith, not sight, be your guide.
John Strege is a sports journalist who works for Golf Digest. He has written seven books, the latest A Snowflake Named Hannah: Ethics, Faith, and the First Adoption of a Frozen Embryo, to be released on January 28, 2020.
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