Some people think the baby of the family always gets what they want. But really, as the baby of the family myself (sort of, I have a twin sister who’s eight minutes older) I seldom got what I wanted, only what was passed down to me from my older brothers: clothes, toys, books. (Books? No, they never read, not books or my blog, so I can knock them here and they’ll never know. Did I mention I’m better looking than them?) When you only ever receive hand-me-downs, you stop asking for what you want and, in a way, stop wanting.
They say it’s the middle child that struggles with their identity, at least that’s what I remember from The Brady Bunch (Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!). For me, though, I always tried to follow in my brothers’ steps, doing what they liked. I started playing tennis because my brothers did. It was something Steve, the natural athlete, wanted and what Brian really tried to be good at. I was somewhere in between. Tennis was something I just fell into, something I could do with them.
Sometimes you think you know what you want until you get it. I remember wanting my grandfather to take me fishing like he did with Brian and Steve. He was always taking the two of them places. But after one summer afternoon in Arizona and not so much as a nibble, I was utterly convinced that I didn’t ever want to fish again, and I haven’t since. (I do like to eat fish, though.)
So while there were those instances in my youth where wants went unspoken, and other times where I may have thought I knew what I wanted, really there are only two things I’ve been certain of, two things I’ve wanted: playing music and my wife. I was always drawn to music but it actually took breaking up (before we married) for me to realize I wanted no one else but Cindy. I didn’t know what I wanted until I couldn’t have it. But she took me back, because I was what she wanted all along.
Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about the idea of story and how the characters we remember are the ones who knew what they wanted. Sometimes it takes some prodding, a crisis. He describes the inciting incident as an event that forces a character to pass across a “doorway through which the protagonist cannot return,” contending that an ambition forces you to realize how much you have to lose.
Cindy and I met our ambition more than two years ago when we were introduced to a baby boy whose life we sensed God wanting us to impact. We thought we were supposed to adopt him and if that didn’t work out then at least we could help his grandmother care for him. But the two-year process we’ve been mired in has been acutely marked by ambivalence. At times his grandmother wasn’t sure and neither was his mother. I hadn’t been myself. I thought I knew, but like fishing with Papa, maybe I wouldn’t want anymore what I thought I did. And there were many roadblocks that lessened my resolve.
Our children haven’t been what you would call planned. They were all unexpected gifts from God, like flowers I’d bring Cindy in July. Concerning the Monkey—that’s what we sometimes call him because of his dark skin, eyes, and hair and the way he holds onto you when you’re holding him, and it’s what I’ll refer to him as to protect his identity—all the paperwork and planning stood in contrast to how we received our children. I just sort of expected God to work it out, but this has required not only a lot more work but a ton more emotional investment. (Of course, I wasn’t the one pregnant with the others.)
I fell in love with Lindsay, Jacque, and Micah the moment I saw them. With the Monkey I’ve been reticent, not wanting to allow him into my heart so completely. To keep him at arm’s length has certainly been a challenge, even harder than the bureaucratic adoption process.
Perhaps the greatest snag in our plan occurred when I lost my job in October 2008. Children’s Services would not approve our application to foster/adopt without adequate income. This sent me into a tailspin of regret and bitterness that debilitated me. I regretted not playing the game at my job so as to secure it at least until we earned foster approval. And I was embittered that my termination essentially stopped the adoption process. We had to withdraw our application. It took more than nine months to find a new job and during that time, and then some, I languished in resentment.
My new job required me to move to a small town in rural Ohio. For a city boy this has been a difficult transition—definitely not an item on the list of things I know I want. It has meant leaving friends whose love and support carried us. It has involved trying to sell our house in an automotive city decimated by the recession. It has meant leaving the home and school our girls had grown to love.
In all this I’d forgotten what I wanted.
Tomorrow in Part 2 of this post, I’ll talk about the legacy I want to leave and the little-known story of David’s temple.
The reason our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want. —Donald Miller
For more on the Monkey and how God worked on my heart regarding adoption, see my post, Big Brother.