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Adopted as Daughters: My Story of Loss and Restoration

On November 13, our family celebrated the one-year anniversary of my wife Emily’s legal adoption of our three daughters, Shannon, Lindsay, and Audrey. She adopted them soon after we got married.

Why would a bright, successful thirty-something woman adopt a couple of teenage girls and a (then) 10-year-old? Did their biological mom choose to walk away from them? No, their loving mom, So Young, passed away almost three years ago, and Emily wanted to be a true mom to the girls, as much as she possibly could. Adoption was the logical and loving next step to take.

Beyond the paperwork, however, Emily has been so much to the girls, in every way a “real” mom. I often wonder at how we could be so blessed. It has surprised me how naturally Emily has eased into the parenting role, proving herself as responsible, attentive, hardworking, and loving as any highly experienced parent I’ve known. Surely it wasn’t just my decision to choose Emily that made all of this happen; God must be in it.

Celebrating the adoption is such an odd thing, though. Like so many other celebrations since So Young died, it is complicated by loss. It seems to underscore and highlight her passing, because without her absence, Emily wouldn’t be their mom. And without her absence, Emily wouldn’t be my wife. The list goes on and practically touches on every aspect of our life as a family.

And yet it was God’s will, as nonsensical as it seems. Why? Why would God take So Young away and give us Emily? For Emily’s sake, for her maturation? For mine? That might sound great, but at what cost? Why would God do such a thing?

The truth is that I don’t and might never know why. I am willing to accept that everything might not happen for reasons that we’ll understand on this side of heaven.

The only answer to life’s unanswerable questions is gratitude for the here and now. I know that I am where God wants me to be, and I’m grateful for it. I am indeed so blessed that I’m sometimes reluctant to say it. It seem so obvious to me, so clear and public and on display: Here is my life. Here are my girls. Here is my dear, sweet Emily. I am so grateful, and how could I not be?

I think of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the greatest blessing, marred by the greatest loss. The response of the disciple is a gratitude that motivates everything in life.

This is how God works: I remember waking up my youngest in the early morning of February 28, 2013 and telling her that her mom had died and how we both cried for a long time and there was nothing to say to make it better except that Mommy is in heaven now. Still one word in some way makes it better today: Mom. In the last few months, Audrey has taken to calling Emily “Mom.” She also calls her “Em” for short, like the “M” in “mom,” which Audrey calls “the perfect nickname.”

Emily really is that for her. I couldn’t have made that up. It’s God’s beautiful but inexplicable way of bringing restoration. And a gratitude that motivates everything in life.