I love to struggle. I love difficulty. I love to suffer. I am happier when things are hard. I wish God would teach me some things the hard way. I like pain.
No sane person says things like this. No one without complicated issues asks for suffering or seeks out struggle. By nature we want things to be simple, easy, pleasant. We just don’t like pain. Does that make us weak or worldly? No. It makes us humans. It makes us like 6 billion other people. But as we experience life most of us can say that struggle comes, whether we invite it or not. Pain itself does not define us or make us into anything. It is what we do with it. It’s how we respond in those seasons that determines who will come out on the other side.
Most of you who were around iGo this summer know that Charity and I traveled to Kazakhstan to adopt our son, Sam, this spring. We left in early March and returned on May 31st after three months out of the country. It was not at all what we expected it to be, and we missed a lot of things here in the process. We missed the team leader/JSI retreat and College Base Camp along with lots of other things in other areas of life.
We arrived in the middle of a pitch black Kazakh night to a little man, O, who greeted us at the airport in Russian. He spoke Russian and Kazakh, but very little English. He took care of us for those first few days in country. He got us settled in our little hotel room 30 minutes outside of town, got us to the baby house to meet a bunch of little people, and helped us get moving in our process.
Meeting Sam was an overwhelming experience as we were introduced to eight children in one day and asked to choose our child by the next day. We saw so many things in the children that we were not ready for, and the whole situation was more than we were prepared to handle. Walking through this emotional process also brought so many things to the surface in our own lives: thoughts and attitudes that were ugly, petty, and so selfish. Not only were we scrambling through the “child matching” process, we were being confronted with some very deep-seated issues of our own that had to be dealt with.
We were eventually matched with Sam, though, and began the next couple months of waiting, paperwork, interviews, court dates, more waiting, travel documents, and more waiting. We basically visited Sam at the baby house twice a day and waited for other people who we did not know or understand to do things that we did not know or understand. We just went where they said to go, did what they said to do, and went back and forth from blank stares to confused grimaces.
April 29th was Sam’s “gotcha” day, which means the day we took him home from the baby house. We still lived in Kazakhstan for another month, but Sam lived that month with us, eating shashlik, hanging out around the Linen statue, and going grocery shopping every other day.
Looking back on it all, the best way to sum up our experience and our lives as a result of it comes from Proverbs 20:21: “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”
What we see spelled out in scripture and have learned from experience is that when you labor and wait and struggle for things, they are so incredibly valuable. Our journey to Sam and with him since is something we will never forget, and the images and smells and people still seem so vivid, but we have learned so much more about faith and about the author of faith through this than we could ever have read or heard.