I didn’t expect to see him, not then, not ever. At nine years of age, he was much taller and heftier than I would have imagined. The last time I saw him he was a photo in my inbox, an eight-month-old infant, and the adoption referral I had to decline, circumstances being what they were at that time in my life. It was the hardest choice I have ever made. Saying no to a child had always been out of the question, until suddenly, I was in that question. Living that question. Realizing there was more than one right answer.
And there I was, all those years later, standing under the pavilion as he walked right past me in his bright red tank top and running shorts. We were at a reunion for families who had adopted children from the same crèche. The director of the crèche mentioned his name in passing to me, and I instantly felt the air go out of my lungs. My eyes followed him like a hawk while my own son ran around wildly spraying a gaggle of boys with a newfound water gun. It never occurred to me that my adoption miscarriage, as they’re called, would be running around doing the same.
Yet I knew he had found his forever family. Four months after I said no and officially benched myself, putting my adoption process on hold until the recession passed and gainful employment and health insurance returned, I was asked, rather unexpectedly, to speak at a retreat. The topic was terribly ill-timed. Who was I to talk about living abundantly? Sans an adoption, my life felt more like a testament to the poverty of broken dreams. Still, I desperately wanted to say yes to something, so I did. I agreed to speak.
I spent the next several weeks staring at a blank page. I walked by the lake, read inspirational books, and called any number of friends trying to find my voice. But everything fell flat. One afternoon I decided to look up the definition of abundance and realized how I’d been equating it with a certain degree of security, be it a home, a solid 401K plan, or a freezer full of food. My assumption was that somewhere in that security, the seeds of joy took root. Security was simply the soil that allowed abundance to bloom.
But then I thought about the most significant moments in my life: writing a book about men and women who experienced and overcame homelessness; grieving infertility and starting the adoption process; falling in love. None of them had been without adversity. And none of them had ushered in a deep sense of security. Yet all of them had enriched my life beyond measure. I wondered if abundance was something different altogether. Maybe it had more to do with my ability to find joy, to reach down in the middle of challenge and loss and see splendor too. Hope, even.
Right then, I knew I had to tell the story of my failed adoption—and the myriad of ways in which grace had made itself known in those 48 hours. The number of family and friends who all said the same things: trust your instincts; you can say no; we will never judge you. The doctor who helped me understand the prognosis. And the woman in my small faith group who listened to me unburden my heart a week later. She wrapped her arms around me and said, “On behalf of all adopted children, I want you to know you did the most loving thing you could do. You let him go.”
I carried her words with me as I drove to the seminary retreat house. Snow lay silently on the trees as my heart raced. Inside, the room was packed with men and women of all ages. They listened intently as I spun the details of that now nine-year-old’s arrival and imminent departure from my life. I remember his bright, hazel eyes. I remember him sitting up in a high chair, smiling broadly for the camera, his pudgy little toes sticking out underneath. I remember wanting nothing more than to touch his face, feel the warmth of his breath against my neck, taste the sweetness of his fingers.
To my surprise, once I started to describe how I drove to the adoption agency and told the social worker my decision, the bells of the seminary chapel rang out across the campus, one after the other, after the other, announcing the noon hour. I was so lost in the story that I only remember hearing two of them. But an endless number of people came up to me afterwards—a former priest, a woman whose cancer left her unable to conceive, a recovering addict, a teacher—and told me how hearing the bells at that very moment had moved them deeply.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it exactly. But the next day, as only grace would have it, I learned that that little baby boy had been placed with his forever family. It was right there in my inbox, staring at me in big, bold red letters. The adoption agency was congratulating his new mama in their monthly update. It took my breath away. I had prayed so hard for that to happen, for him to find his family and for me to find mine. And that’s when I knew. I knew those bells hadn’t been ringing just for me. They were ringing for him, too.
And nine years later the sacred had found us all over again. No sooner did he walk back into my life than my soaking wet five-year old son ran gleefully into my arms, drenching my shirt and asking me for another cupcake. How could I refuse? Those two beautiful Haitian boys reminded me once again that abundance has nothing to do with security. It has nothing to do with what you amass or acquire, any more than it is the absence of sorrow or loss or pain. Abundance is about believing there is beauty right here in all of our lives—just exactly as they are.