Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day

A mom and dad awaiting baby on adoption day.
Before: Adoption Day Wait At O’Hare Airport

There are good reasons people choose not to adopt. I heard a lot of them. But this week, we celebrate adoption day.

Don’t Force The Duck

Think he’ll like the duck? I wondered aloud.

No idea. We’d never done this before. Jim was as clueless as I.

But I had followed the agency directions and all the pick-up-your-baby rules. The Britax car seat was firmly strapped in the back seat and the paperwork was in hand. Bottle, formula, blanket—check, check, check. My sister met us at O’Hare with the orange-beaked, yellow fella to mark adoption day.

The experts said it would be best to let him wear the clothes he was in and use the bottles they sent and slowly ease American formula into a blend with Korean. They said all the new sights and sounds and smells would be jarring to this six-month young sensory system. They said, Ease in.

No. I wouldn’t force the duck.

They Broke Her Heart

But let me back up. Before we met A#1 at the airport, we heard lots of reasons why we shouldn’t adopt.

The one I remember best came two summers before adoption day. My husband and a good friend, Jo, sat around me on the cafe veranda. I’m not sure how we landed on the topic of adoption. But suddenly here we were.

My friend Caroline’s adopted children both went bad. They rebelled in their teens and never did seem to accept her and Tom as their parents. They broke her heart. Even though they were treated like their own flesh and blood children, it just didn’t work out.

I’m not Pollyanna now and I wasn’t then. Nor were all my hopes of happiness hitched to the adoption cart. All the sessions with our adoption social worker guaranteed some measure of realism. Still, this was a bitter pill.

It happened to my college roommate Pat too. Her adopted son John never seemed to bond, even though he was with her from day one. He said vile things to them, left home at 18 and never came back. Pat said he’s only called a handful of times in all the years since. And then, only to ask for money.

Sobering isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of her words.

No, adoption just doesn’t seem to work out.

No Illusions Of Adoption Grandeur

That bubble-bursting conversation wasn’t the only one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Our social worker, our friends, and our own knowledge of adoptions gone sour insured we were under no illusions of adoption grandeur.

But no illusions does not mean no hope. Not living life like I wrote it frees me to take part in a far grander story. The hard and heartache in this chapter does not mean adoption wasn’t part of God’s plan for our family.

Still, a grand story with a hope and a plan don’t make living it easy. A#1 tests my mettle and I test his. This National Adoption Month, I admit, it’s been harder than I ever imagined.

Mom and dad with baby on adoption day
After: First Day as a Family of Three

Make No Mistake

Do heartache and pain mean we made a mistake? Do conflict and strife mean we misread God? Does trying and hard mean we’d all be better off if we’d chosen not to adopt?

Absolutely not.

Because adoption is forcing us to trust, causing us to hope and teaching us to love. And last I knew, those three were the only lasting things: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is the adoption month message that came.

But it’s not just for those directly impacted by adoption. It’s for all of us who second guess decisions made in good faith whose results are far harder than we imagined. Maybe it was a decision to get married, to bear children or to remain a faithful friend. The message is for all of us who, for Christ’s sake, love right on.

For us sinful, disobedient people who keep on loving and, as we do, come to know and love our Father better. Our heavenly Father had a chosen, child named Israel who spurned him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the hand, but they never knew that I healed them (Hosea 11:3). And, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 10:21). To love this way, those who do not repay, is the love that God rewards (Matthew 5:46).

So my adoption month message for us is a question:

Could it be that the love you give with no earthly return

is the most godlike thing you will ever do?

Don’t Force. Trust.

I didn’t force the duck on November 2, 2005. And 16 years later, on November 2, 2021, I didn’t force a hug.

I can’t force golf, chess, or good friends and I can’t force dental floss, haircuts or good books. I can’t even force the veg. Once I was a royal tastemaker, but now I’m a short order quesadilla chef.

In all these things, I must trust that my God will meet all of this son’s needs without me pushing my way. In other words, this adoption, this son, and this God—his way is perfect—are forcing my force-it, control issues.

Could it be that one big reason God formed our family is so that that I’d quit thinking I can force my way? So that I’d trust that the perfect Father—whose own children resist and rebel, who spurn his love and break his rules—is completely able to lay hold of a heart?

A#1 wasn’t much of a snuggly, stuffed animal guy. But this beloved son is fond of the duck. Sixteen years after we met our stoic, six month-old A#1 at the airport, I snuck into his room to take a picture of Duck

I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck.

Don’t force the duck has become my reminder to trust. The duck is my reminder that God can lay hold of hearts without me.

I know this adoption story isn’t over.

Stuffed animal yellow given on adoption day
“The Duck” 16 Years Later

Afterward: Two Quotes from Two Articles About the Good and Hard of Adoption

  1. There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4). -Russell Moore, Adopted For Life, Ten Years Later
  2. Some adoptions cause quite a bit of pain and grief in the lives of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. But just because there’s conflict, it doesn’t mean that the adoption wasn’t meant to be…God uses all things, especially conflict and struggle, to work together.. and bring about a good “end.” -Mark Gregston, Pitfalls Of Adoption

Make Like A Bee: Extract Some Good

Bee clinging to flower

Can what is effortful be graceful, too?

I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.

Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.

Exertion And Elegance

A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.

Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.

The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.

Meek Like A Bee

But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?

Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and that it is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.

For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).

Bumble bee extracting nectar


How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.

We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.

How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?

Spiritual Bees Extract Good

If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.

In his 400 year-old classic, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, Matthew Henry compared the meek to “spiritual bees.”

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…

So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.

Susanne and me, just after the spicy-sweet sample

The Sweetness

Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.

But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.

Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.

Exertion, elegance, meekness, sweetness. Fresh joy. Good.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 29:19

We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:3b-5, The Message

Held By God: 12 Joni Eareckson Tada Quotes on the 50th Anniversary of that Dive

He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.

Joni Eareckson Tada

When Abbi Met Joni

Mom had left her copy out.

So when I found The Unforgettable Story of a Young Woman’s Struggle Against Quadriplegia and Depression with that puzzling picture of a pretty young thing with a pointy paintbrush trailing out of her smiling mouth, this 13 year-old reader was intrigued. And I picked up Joni. I read about her carefree, Maryland life. I read until her paralyzing  dive the July when Joni was 17.

“How awful!” I shuddered and determined never to dive again.

Then I put Joni down.

We were to meet again five years later at an college missions conference in Urbana, Illinois. Joni was all the buzz in our dorm so I tagged along with my roommate to a breakout session featuring a middle-aged Joni. We stole in that classroom and as I staked my claim on a rare square foot of hardwood still vacant, I scanned the transfixed faces all around me. I remember thinking, I don’t know Joni like they do. My adolescent impression of Joni as  portent and victim still held sway.

But not for long.

If Joni can…I Can

As she sat strapped in her wheelchair, tenacious faith and God’s strong grace poured from Joni’s lips. By the end of that hour Joni had moved from tragic victim to epic hero of the faith. Joni’s dive changed my life.

That summer, I signed up for the most grueling job of life. My campers were eternal souls living in disabled bodies and with damaged minds attending a Joni And Friends affiliated camp. And while I did it out of love for God, I also took it on for Joni.

A few years later, now married, degreed and employed, I began a ladies’ book club. Our first pick? Joni’s own, When God Weeps, subtitled, “Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.” Then it was Holiness in Hidden Places and A Place Of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God’s Sovereignty. Beside my bed now? A Spectacle of Glory.

And if you happen to live nearby and want to borrow a Joni book- please, just drop a line.

If Joni can give thanks, I can too. If Joni can trust God, I can too. If Joni cares for them, I can too. If Joni loves Jesus that much, I can too. 

The Dive That Drives Us To God

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the dive that paralyzed Joni and brought hope and courage to so many, countless lives, If Joni can give thanks and trust God’s love from her wheelchair, with her cancer and chronic pain, surely, by God’s grace, I can too. 

We all struggle in various ways. We all suffer and have heartaches and backaches and pain . Some of us grumble and turn against God or reject His power or refuse to believe He is love.  Some of us wrestle with the mysteries of suffering, pain and God’s sovereignty. All of us want to know our suffering matters to the Almighty.  Joni has suffered and still suffers,  with chronic, sometimes excruciating pain.

But Joni trusts that God is weeping with her, suffered for her, and she joyfully presses on. Joni  speaks and writes and breathes for the glory of God.

So even though I’ve already posted about my heroes and quoted Joni before, this post is all of gratitude to God for my hero in the faith, Joni Eareckson Tada.

These dozen quotes from Joni might help explain why.

  1. “Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.”
  2. “Like a black, velvety cloth set against diamonds, your disability provides a remarkable backdrop that magnifies patience, perseverance, endurance, and an uncomplaining spirit. These Christlike qualities that God longs to cultivate in your life are amplified against your obvious hardships. Your chronic condition is obvious to others—but what God wants to make your perseverance and lack of complaint.”
  3. Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
  4. Contentment is realizing that God has already given us everything we need for our present happiness. It is the wise person who doesn’t grieve for the things he doesn’t have, but rejoices over the things he does have.”
  5. “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”
  6. God’s children are never victims. Everything that touches their lives, he permits. The irony is, you can’t imagine a more victimized person than Jesus. Yet when he died, he didn’t say, “I am finished” but “It is finished.” He did not play the victim, and thus he emerged the victor. Forget the self-pity…victory is ours in Christ. His grace is sufficient. Know this truth and it will set you free.”
  7. Only God is capable of telling us what our rights and needs are. You have to surrender that right to Him.”
  8. “God uses chronic pain and weakness…as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.”
  9. True wisdom is found in trusting God when you can’t figure things out.”
  10. “I’d learned that you can’t wear a crown unless you bear a cross – that if our Savior had learned obedience through suffering, we should expect the same.”
  11. “You don’t hear any cheers or applause. The days run together―and so do the weeks. Your commitment to keep putting one foot in front of the other is starting to falter…Perseverance. Determination. Fortitude. Patience…Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. Look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest . . . so don’t give up!”
  12. “Let affliction have its perfect work. The result? Nothing short of the unspeakable splendor of Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

“Heaven is just around the corner.”

That’s a quote from the last page of A Place Of Healing, But it’s not the last word. Joni follows it up, faithful, friendly and forthright as ever, with a favor- for us:

Would you do what so many of us who are paralyzed or too lame or too old or disabled can’t do? Would you open your Bible to Psalm 95:6, read it aloud, and then do what it says?

I can’t kneel, but if you can, do.

Kneel before the Lord God, your Maker and mine. And while you’re down there, if you fell so inclined, thank Him for being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni.”

Yes, Lord. Yes- thank you for being so good to us by being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni. 

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:6-7