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We were young. Our first child was 20 months old, and we were about to deliver our second child. We would be living the dream: two loving parents, two children, and maybe even a dog! We were so very close to what we had identified as the perfect family.

But God had other plans. Paul was born with congenital heart defects and Down syndrome, and that wasn’t what we had in mind. Perfect family? Not when developmental milestones were missed, not when there were episodes in church that were embarrassing, not when we were bone-weary from the nearly round-the-clock care that was required. Our dream was shattered.

The next twenty years were a blur, but the lesson we were learning was that constructing the identity of our family wasn’t in our hands—it was in the loving hands of God. God was transforming the identity of our family from what we had desired to what He desired for us.

God placed us at Trinity Christian College, where I served as president and my wife, Barb, was a nursing professor. And even though our roles were to teach by example and in the classroom, we were learning from those God had placed around us. Hundreds of students influenced us as they helped open our eyes to injustice around the world. When they identified the needs of orphans in Africa, their concern became our concern. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that, after more than 30 years of marriage, God used these college students and others to stretch our family’s identity even more, transforming it by adoption.

We became the parents of two orphaned, Ethiopian brothers, ages 12 and 16. We felt almost as old as Abraham and Sarah and just as surprised. And our surprise changed to joy as Getenet and Fekadu stepped into our lives and stretched us into a soccer loving, injera-eating, multi-racial family. Then, less than a year later, their older sister joined us, transforming our family even more. 

What has been our response? We’ve learned that we must follow God’s lead. So we’ve stretched our family across the ocean into the horn of Africa. Most people assume orphans have no family, and while that is true sometimes, we learned that for us there was an extended family—a family that was so stressed by crisis and loss that they simply couldn’t care for youngsters suddenly without parents. Yet that family is now part of our family too—other siblings, cousins, and even grandparents.

Following God’s lead has meant furthering the education of those back home in Ethiopia, frequent phone calls, and Facebook messages. It has meant a trip back there to achieve reconciliation with an elderly grandmother who stepped away during times of crisis yet longed to be united. Through God’s transforming love, it happened. And our family stretched a bit more.  

True, sometimes we look to adoption as a way to further construct the family we wish to be. But better, adoption is a way of opening up our lives to God’s creating the family He wants us to be—the family identity He desires for us. Further, God is always at work, fine-tuning our family identities, stretching them when necessary, transforming them to reflect His intent.

Picture this: a family not of our own dreams, but a family knit together and transformed by God’s design. That’s a picture worth living for!

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