It was just an ordinary Sunday in January.
It was also the Feast of the Epiphany. And there was a big Ravens game that day. John and I went to a late Mass and then headed to the grocery store. Everyone else was watching the Ravens-Dolphins game, so we had a leisurely shopping trip.
Neither one of us had brought a cell phone.
When we finally arrived home, our voice mail light was flashing. I listened to the message. It was from our social worker. She said she had a referral for us.
That couldn’t be right.
“Who called?” asked John, carrying groceries into the kitchen.
“It’s Catholic Charities,” I said. “And she says we have a referral, but we can’t because we haven’t even started our dossier for China.”
I can’t say I was excited. I was so certain it was a mistake. I dialed our social worker’s number while John started putting the groceries away.
She answered on the first ring.
“Rita, I’ve been trying to reach you all afternoon! I figured you and John were watching the Ravens game somewhere.”
“The Ravens game? Oh, um, right. No, we were just at the store.”
“Well, we have a referral for you!”
You’d think they could keep their families straight, I thought.
“No, you must be thinking of someone else,” I said. “We just finished our home study. We haven’t done a thing for our dossier for China. We can’t be matched with a child yet.”
But she insisted. And then she started telling me about this child—a little boy—as I scribbled the details on the back of the envelope from my younger brother’s Christmas card.
He lived in Hunan Province. He was 13 months old. She said he was adorable.
She was emailing us the file, and we had to make a decision within 24 hours.
I hung up and looked at John. We were both in a daze. I had just started a new job, and John was starting his new job in a few weeks. We hadn’t expected a referral for another six months. Were we ready? Would we be able to take the time off to travel to China? Would I qualify to take family leave? Did we have enough money saved up to cover the fees?
As I look back on that moment, our worries seem insignificant—and even a bit silly. After all, God brought us together with a beautiful son who fills our lives with inexpressible purpose and joy.
But at the time, we were both so nervous that we didn’t rush to open the email. We went about our household chores as we came to grips with this news.
Talking about adoption is one thing. Receiving a referral and realizing there is an actual child matched with you? Oh, that’s completely different.
And we were nervous.
So we took a brief time apart. Then we came together and talked. And we talked about how we were not the only husband and wife to find themselves expecting a child before what we thought was the perfect time. And here was this little boy. We both felt a tug, saw God’s hand at work in our lives, and knew we couldn’t say no.
So we sat together and opened the email—using our dial-up connection so that it must have taken 20 minutes for us to see the PDF. It took less time for the three kings to make their trek than it did for this email to open.
And then, at last, there he was.
He had deep brown eyes, black fuzz on his head, and a worried look on his face. (Here is a picture Leo’s 9-year-old cousin drew based on those first pictures.)
And we knew. This child was our son. All our worries, our questions, our anxieties were irrelevant. Even though we had never discussed boys’ names, we looked at him and knew what his American name would be.
Every year I tell Leo this story, explaining our nervous excitement, the shock over getting the call when we weren’t expecting it, and the thrill at seeing his face for the first time. He doesn’t seem to care, but I know he is listening.
I want Leo to understand how we felt to discover that we were becoming his parents. I also want him to realize the importance of saying yes when God calls.
John and I didn’t feel ready.
We couldn’t see the path that would lead us from Catonsville to Changsha and home again.
But, as it turned out, the rest of the road to bring Leo home felt long—11 months passed before we met him—but we had an easy journey.
Our sons know the next chapters in our family story, so they can’t comprehend the rush of emotions we experienced on Jan. 4, 2009. In fact, the part of the story that may surprise them the most one day is that their parents chose grocery store shopping over a Ravens’ playoff game.
Tonight, as I sit here writing, I hear footsteps on the stairs and a head pops over the railing.
“Mama,” Leo says, “Aren’t you coming up to give me my hug and kiss?”
He and I both know he’s already had one round this evening. But he and I both know I’ll scoop him up and carry him back to bed for another.
So I smile and say, “Yes.” Then I carry him back to bed.
It’s just an ordinary January evening. And we are so very blessed to have him—and his little brother—home.