Eight years ago, my husband and I joined an elite group. It is a group no one wants to be part of. It is the group of parents who have had to bury their children. Some say that the death of a child is a tragedy no one can recover from—that it is the worst grief any parent can experience. It might be. But I have hope, because at the beginning of my own story I was chosen and adopted by God.
I have always been acutely aware that I was blessed in my childhood. I was born into a family of believing parents who loved God and who taught me about Jesus. At an early age I saw the disparity of my life compared to others, and I am truly grateful for my idyllic childhood and for parents who continue to faithfully pray for me to this day. My parents gave me a huge gift, because the biblical truths they taught me were the very things that brought me comfort through some of my hardest days.
After an amazing childhood I found myself at Covenant College. My life continued to be full of great blessings. I met one of those blessings my freshman year: my husband, Troy. We got married and life continued to be easy and comfortable and full of blessings. Troy came to work at Covenant—his dream job. I taught for a few years, and we started to have our four children—right on schedule and according to our plans. We found a piece of land on the back of Lookout Mountain and on those seven acres we built a beautiful house. We got to travel. We were healthy and young. We had wonderful neighbors, a big supportive family, fun friends, an incredible church family, and an easy marriage. We believed that the grass was greener on our side of the fence, and we were incredibly thankful.
The summer of 2005 was typical of most of our summers. We headed up to a lake home in New Hampshire that has been in my husband’s family for three generations. We were happy and excited for summer, and I was pregnant with our fourth “perfectly planned” child. The lake beautifully displays God’s glory in its scenery, and we spent almost every waking moment outside. After a couple of relaxing and fun-filled days in our little paradise, we sat on the beach with a few friends and family members watching the kids run and splash in the water. All of a sudden our four-year-old, Noah, started running funny and cried out. Even at that time, when I was still under the impression that nothing bad could happen to us, I knew something was terribly wrong. Troy ran and grabbed Noah before he could go underwater, and we raced to the front of the house while someone called 9-1-1. My husband performed CPR on my son while I prayed and desperately waited for the ambulance. But even the ER doctors couldn’t save our sweet Noah.
The next days and weeks were a blur. It was a scary and fearful time because we didn’t know what had caused Noah’s death and it took months for the coroner to give us the results: Noah had an undetected heart condition that he should have died from before age one. God had given him to us for three extra years, and we were immensely grateful for those three years. But we were forever changed. There was a gaping hole in our lives. I was definitely more fearful for the health and well-being of our other children, and the grieving process was so wearing. We clung to God like never before and the words of truth that we had been taught for years, along with the prayers of friends and family, carried us and God sustained us. Our eyes and our children’s eyes became more focused on heaven, and we clearly understood, for the first time, what God meant when He said that life is a vapor and that this is not our home.
Because I was suddenly so needy, I was reading the Bible like never before and desperately trying to hear God’s voice. When I started feeling like God was telling us to trust Him and have more children I was confused and scared and I thought for sure I couldn’t be hearing Him right. In our broken state, we realized that it might be wise to listen to God. Shortly after that we found out I was pregnant with our fifth child. We were shocked and confused when, in the midst of another seemingly perfectly healthy pregnancy, I miscarried at seventeen weeks. I remember being overwhelmed with confusion, grief, and doubt. I wondered if God was who He said He was. But at the doctor’s office, the only song that kept playing over and over in my head was this passage from Isaiah 43:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Even in my moments of doubt, I knew the truth—if I rejected God, there was nothing else that could comfort me. And so once again, in our grief and uncertainty, we chose to find comfort in the truths of the Bible. And once again, our friends and family faithfully prayed for us.
In this season of fresh grieving, as I was reading my Bible and praying, I was surprised and very apprehensive when I started to feel like God was still telling us to add to our family. So I decided to make a deal with God. We won’t even get into the theological implications of this, but I prayed, “God, you are going to have to give us a big sign, because I’m not sure I can handle adding to our family and I’m definitely not sure I’m hearing your voice correctly.” And it was then that I started seeing the word adoption, like it was in flashing neon letters. I thought, “Oh, no. Why would God call a wounded, grief-stricken family to adoption?”
But in our total reliance on God and our desire to hear His voice, we started to consider adoption. I’m sure some people thought that we were crazy, or that we were trying to replace our lost children. This was definitely not the case. Adoption was not our idea, but I fully believe that because of our seriously broken state we were much more willing to listen to the sound of God’s voice, and I’m so thankful that we did.
For about a year I was bombarded from every side with information about adoption, and I was feeling more and more compelled to adopt even though it made me nervous. We filled out initial paperwork early in that yearlong process and Troy didn’t understand why I wouldn’t turn it in. I told him that I felt so strongly that God was telling us to adopt that as soon as I turned in our paperwork I was sure there would be a baby for us to adopt. He patiently told the crazy lady (me) that adoption generally doesn’t work that way, and he reminded me that the timeline to match us with a child was two years to possibly never.
Our dear friends and family prayed and after a year of wrestling with God, I finally turned in the paperwork to start the process. Sure enough, four days later we got a call that there was a little newborn baby waiting for us at a local hospital. We named him Drew Jonathan, after Troy’s two college roommates. Jonathan means “Jehovah gave.” Drew came into our lives on September 14, 2008, and he has been an amazing gift. He is full of life and energy, and he is loud and has a spark in his eye that so clearly marks him as a Duble.
But that is not the end of our story. I must have been on a spiritual high after we adopted Drew, because I told Troy that I thought we were supposed to adopt again. Troy must not have been feeling quite as spiritual because he sweetly said, “No way.” But after about a year, without me saying anything, Troy told me he thought we should adopt again. Instead of running out to fill out more paperwork, I told Troy that I thought we should adopt internationally.
For three years we did not fill out a shred of paperwork. In our minds there were three major roadblocks to international adoption: international adoptions take longer, they are more expensive, and how could you pick a child when there are 143 million orphans alive today. In light of these roadblocks (excuses, really), we couldn’t seem to take the initial first step of filling out paperwork. God, knowing us well, and knowing that He needs to make things extremely simple for us, made His will vividly clear.
I got a call from a couple planning to adopt from Uganda. As we talked, I was curious because their process sounded almost too good to be true. They told me they had just met an orphanage director from Uganda in January and they were planning to go over in July to pick up their two little boys. If you don’t know, this is an incredibly short amount of time for an international adoption. They also mentioned that the cost of adoption was significantly less, because they weren’t going through an agency. Our first two excuses were completely shut down. Finally, they mentioned that two other couples from Chattanooga were adopting siblings from the same orphanage and those siblings had a cousin—a five-year-old boy—who they would love to see come to Chattanooga. The couple asked if we would consider adopting this young boy. Our final roadblock, wondering how we could pick just one child, evaporated.
So we said yes. Because if God was going to open doors that wide for us, we needed to walk through them—even if it meant stepping into the unknown. From that point, things happened quickly. It was overwhelmingly powerful to see how God led us to this little boy, thousands of miles away in Uganda. Out of the millions of orphans in the world, God led us to Ezra Derrick and said, “This is your son.” That is what I love about adoption and adoption stories. They so clearly show that God orchestrates everything—it is completely out of our control and we so clearly see our need of Him.
Last summer, we brought our new son to the lake home that has been in my husband’s family for generations. Ezra Derrick and I arrived from Uganda at the New Hampshire lake on August 10, the same day Noah went home to heaven eight years ago. Ezra’s homecoming and Noah’s homegoing happened at the same place, on the same date—God truly cares about the details. We were overjoyed to spend glorious moments of last summer with a son that God had perfectly planned for our family. We have been forever changed through hardship and loss, but we have not lost hope. In the midst of our pain, God has remained faithful. And in the sorrow of loss, God has revealed his never-ending mercy and grace.
Please don’t think I’m saying that everyone is going to have something horribly tragic happen and then will have to adopt ten kids. Yes, there will be suffering in all of our lives on earth, to varying degrees. What I want to communicate is how grateful we should be for our own adoptions. As adopted children of the living God, we have a great comfort and a great hope.
Adapted from a chapel talk delivered by Sarah Howlett Duble at Covenant College in the spring of 2013.