Is grace greater than your weakness? As Christians, we think we believe in God’s grace. We think we understand that it covers our sins, doubt, and failures. We want to accept that His Grace is greater than our limitations, too.
But then daily life happens, and we forget about grace. We try to do things on our own. We think we must be strong enough. And as we fail over and over, God’s grace is constant – picking us up, dusting us off, and helping us try again.
Today’s guest is living in this reality.
“So, parenting’s really hard. It’s really hard and I think all parents will tell you that they mess up every single day. We mess up every single day for sure, my husband and I, but I don’t know if it’s different for us,” Renee admitted.
She owns her own public relations and graphic design business, which is already a lot, but she and her husband are also the parents of two boys. Solomon is 13. Malachi is 3.
Both are adopted from Ethiopia, which is not what Renee ever expected.
“About a year into marriage, my husband and I both had been praying about children. We just didn’t know that we had both been praying about children. I just assumed I was praying about children the old-fashioned – go to the hospital, have them – that kind of way. But my husband had been praying about adoption. So, when we both figured it out that we were both praying about children, but just praying about them in different ways, we had to sit down and talk about it. My husband had really been led to international adoption, so I just really had to think about it and follow his heart, and I’m really glad that I did,” Renee said.
Renee and her husband went through the long process to adopt from Ethiopia, which took about four years to bring both boys home. They had lots of paperwork, government fingerprints, fees, home interviews, transracial studies and more to complete.
Their First Son: Solomon
They also had to wait to be matched with a child, and that took a long time. Finally, they were on the waiting list for a child as young as possible. They were expecting a baby or toddler. But God had a different plan.
“From time to time, our agency would put out Facebook messages or emails about children on the wait list that didn’t have a family matched with them because there wasn’t a family who said they would take those parameters, whether it be age or special need or whatever. So our oldest son was a waiting child for no other reason than he was 9 years old, and that was it. He was healthy. There was nothing else going on. He was just 9 years old, and so when we read about him, my husband and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Well, why shouldn’t we consider this?’”
In 2013, despite all their expectations for how their family would form, they brought their first son – 9-year-old Solomon – home. And through God’s great grace, he thrived in their care.
“I think with every child who goes through some sort of trauma early on, there’s going to be bumps and hiccups along the road, but for our oldest son, it’s been pretty steady, meaning we’ve had some issues that we’ve had to work through, naturally, but he attached to us very, very well right away. He’s picking up on English great. You wouldn’t know that there was anything different about him unless you hear his accent,” Renee said.
When they were ready to add to their family, Renee and her husband wanted to adopt again from Ethiopia. This time, they felt like they were prepared to bring home another older child. They told their agency that they felt confident going down that path again. If there were older children who still needed families, they believed they were ready to adopt one. Again, God’s plans were different.
One day, Renee got a text from her social worker. “She texted me a picture and it’s of this little baby, 14-month-old little boy.” Renee replied, “What’s this picture? What am I looking at?”
“He’s yours,” the social worker said.
And Renee said, “What? All right. Okay.”
In 2015, they brought home Malachi, who was only 2 years old. Because of the trauma he’d experienced before his adoption, his transition was not as easy. But God’s grace has been overwhelming.
“He’s 3 now, but because of his story, his attachment to me has been different. So, he constantly needs Mom, and he’s constantly fearful of Mom leaving him or not coming back. I think that I don’t often have patience for that,” Renee shared, “I’ve had to pray a lot, ‘God, in spite of me, in spite of my impatience with this situation, please heal his heart.’ And we’re slowly but surely seeing signs of him recovering from the trauma that he’s been through, and so that’s kind of a living, breathing example every day of God’s grace, of him working in spite of my shortcomings.”
Trauma, Race, and Grace
God’s grace is not just helping with Malachi, though. It’s showing up in each day as they learn to parent two boys with painful pasts.
“There’s a constant tension and dynamic of what’s adoption related and what’s just kid related. So, I as the mom put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I’m protecting their little hearts because their little hearts have been through so much already. So in doing that, I mess up a lot. I mess up a whole lot.” Renee acknowledged.
“Every day I have to say, ‘God, I have fallen short once again. Can you just lift me back up? Can you help me get through this?’ Because there is no other way other than accepting his grace.”
As Renee and her husband learn to be the parents their boys need, they also find themselves navigating other topics they didn’t expect.
For instance, they are now the parents of a teenaged African American boy. As race discussions and tensions rage through the nation, they’re walking a path with a unique perspective.
“Before my boys, I didn’t have a reason to understand racial tension necessarily. I didn’t. I was ignorant to it because I’m white and I live a white life. Most of my friends at the time were white. So now that we’re at where we’re at, our world’s a lot more diverse. Our inner circle is a lot more diverse. I have a heightened sense of awareness to everything that’s going on, and my heart breaks frequently because my oldest son is 13 and we have to have conversations with him I never imagined having to have with my teenage son.”
And what’s even more difficult is that other Christian friends around them can’t understand how tense and turbulent the situation really is. It’s a lonely and excruciating battle to constantly fight. But Renee has learned some important advice to help Christians who want to understand better: Listen.
“If you have somebody in your life who is hurting because of the racial issues in our country right now, listen. You don’t necessarily have to agree with whatever they’re saying, but you need to listen and you need to validate their feelings,” Renee advised.
Unofficial Ambassadors for Adoption
In addition to parenting their boys and journeying through issues of race and privilege, they are asked a lot of questions, and God’s grace equips them to answer with humility and wisdom.
For instance, when someone asks them what Christians should know about adoption, they have a pretty standard response.
“We tell everybody we don’t believe that God calls everyone to adopt, because there are other ways to care for orphans here in our own country and all over the world. But I do think if you do feel like God is calling you to adoption, you just need to be aware that it’s not going to be easy. Parenting, first of all, is not easy, but parenting an adopted child, there are different circumstances that are involved with that and you kind of have to put on a tough skin. If you’re not going to be able to put on that tough skin and just kind of plow through some of the junk you’re going to have to plow through, then it might be really challenging for you,” Renee mentioned.
But some questions they receive are more difficult to process. How do they answer the more probing questions about their sons?
“Last week we were in my hometown, which is a small town in Northeast Ohio. Our 3-year-old snuck out of the hotel room without us seeing him, and he got his finger stuck in the door. So it was really bad. He had to go to the hospital, and so we rushed him to my hometown hospital. My husband took him back to triage and I took care of the check-in process. The receptionist at the check-in process said, ‘Now what would you call his race?’ And I thought, ‘What would you call his race? Did you see him?’ There’s things like that that we get asked often.
We get asked really odd questions about their history and people wanting to know, and I think it’s all well intentioned. They want to know our sons’ stories. They want to know how they both became orphans in the first place. We have to be really firm with that and say, ‘Those are their stories. We protect them. We hold them inside of us, and when they’re ready to share their stories, they will.’ Just because it could be harmful for us to just be sharing their stories everywhere, and then one day they wake up and say, ‘Well, we don’t trust Mom and Dad with this information because we couldn’t trust them with that.’ There’s just a lot of little things like that that I just wish people who are well intentioned would stop and think. These are kids. Would you want me coming up to your biological child asking you, ‘What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in her life? Well, tell me about it.’”
Grace is Greater
Despite the complicated, probing questions and the inability to understand the racial pressures their boys will experience, Renee has seen grace through her Christian brothers and sisters. Their church helped raise the funds they needed to bring the boys home, and they provide a support group for adoptive families. She’s hopes that as adoption becomes even more prevalent, that children’s ministries will begin educating and equipping their teams to walk alongside the adoptive parents as well.
In everything she’s experienced and processed as they became the parents of Solomon and Malachi, Renee realizes she’s not the same person she was before they started.
“I think that I didn’t understand darkness before we adopted,” Renee explained. “I didn’t understand that there were things going on in this world that were bigger than me. I think my understanding of the world has changed. I think my compassion towards others has changed. I think a lot’s changed.”
As her knowledge of the evil in the world grew, so did her comprehension of God’s grace. But there’s still doubt and struggle and a constant need to return to God’s goodness. This is especially true now, in her day-to-day life as the mom of her boys.
“When we are in the weeds of trauma and loss on a daily basis, I doubt God frequently. I question Him. Why aren’t my boys fully healed yet? When is it going to be easier? Why did you sign us up for this God? Isn’t there an easier way?” Renee asked. “He always reminds me whether through a song or a verse that this is all temporary and God is slowly redeeming the brokenness. God is the architect of my boys’ lives, and I have to remind myself of that. His timing and his plan is always perfect even if I think the healing isn’t coming fast enough.”
One verse she often repeats out loud is 2 Corinthians 4:17:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Through their adoptions and the realities of raising two boys with damaged hearts, Renee has realized with clarity and certainty, that her efforts simply aren’t enough. Her own strength will fail her over and over.
But God’s grace is absolutely greater than her weakness.
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