I often seem to have the most interesting encounters in libraries. We had been home from China having adopted our two new daughters just a month or so before. My other children were feeling the need for a new supply of books, so I made the decision to (try to) take everyone to the library. That everyone would be my nine children at home, ages 15 down to 6, including our new 8 and 10-year-old daughters who spoke very little English. Our library was often frequented by the international students who attended the nearby university, and as a result, had a pretty decent selection of children’s books in Mandarin. I had shown my daughter who could read Mandarin where those books were and then went off in search of the 6-year-old to see what they were up to.

Soon, my new daughter comes to find me, followed by a Chinese gentleman and his 1-year-old daughter. Now, my daughter speaks very little English at this point, the Chinese man speaks only a little more English but has a phone with a translation app, and I can speak about ten words in Mandarin. We have a slow and stilted conversation, where I discovered (I think) that he was from the same province as my daughter, and that they were in the area so his wife could attend grad school. My three Chinese daughters have visible special needs, so it is not unusual to be asked questions in public. I’m pretty adept at fielding these questions . . . in English. I am not so adept at fielding them in a foreign language that I only know very tentatively. At the end of our conversation, the man looks at me and asks why I adopted these girls. Implicit in his question was the question of why these girls with obvious special needs. I paused for a moment, trying to figure out how on earth I could answer his question in a way that I would be understood and not just sound like an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon. I knew I had to stick with Mandarin. I realized I knew the words for what I wanted to say, and (finally) answered, “Yesu ai wo, wo ai tamen.” That would be, “Jesus loves me, I love them,” in English.

There is something very clarifying about having to communicate in a language where you only know the most basic of words. I think this is especially true for someone such as me, who loves words, and always figures that more must be better. To have only a few words at your disposal means that you have to really think about what you mean. I have written thousands and thousands of words about adoption and why we have adopted, but when it comes right down to it, probably the best, shortest, and the most accurate answer is the one I gave in Mandarin that day in the library.

David Platt writes, “It’s important to realize that we adopt not because we are the rescuers. No. We adopt because we are the rescued.” I understand the deep truth of this quote now, but I’m not quite sure I truly understood it when we began our adoption journey.

When we started, I knew I loved being a parent, and I really wanted to parent a child who no longer had parents. But I also had the added motivation of rescuing a child. I could be the rescuer because I had it all together. I was a really good parent as evidenced by the fact that my five children were happy and well-behaved. I knew what I was doing. I was good at it. I had things figured out.

My spiritual life was pretty much the same. I knew God loved me, that Jesus died for my sins, and that this meant that I had my eternal insurance plan all taken care of. But deep down, the real meaning of what this meant was a little lost on me. I was always the good girl, doing what was expected and what I should do. Sure, there were those little sins, but they weren’t huge. I didn’t need a big savior, because I wasn’t that bad.

And then the son we adopted entered our lives. The son we wanted and were also “rescuing.” The son who didn’t want us or to be rescued, and would have much preferred that we had left things as they were. The son who had suffered too much loss and hurt in his short life. The combination of his personality and past trauma and my personality and assurance that I was right was toxic . . . to both of us.

As my son and I butted heads, I realized some things about myself. I was not the loving, competent, good person I had thought I was. What I saw in myself, though never acted upon, terrified me. “Good” people did not have those thoughts and feelings. I did not know who this person was or where she came from. I did not like her. In my worst moments, I inwardly blamed my son, even though it was not his fault for bringing out what was there lurking under the surface all along.

And yet Jesus loved me. He loved me enough to take all that mess that I discovered inside of me and cover it all up with His goodness. Jesus knew all of that about me even before I did, and loved me anyway. Jesus rescued me when I was still grotesquely ugly on the inside. And it was this love, this amazing, extravagant love that allowed me to love my son, in all of his hurt and ugliness.

In a sense, while I set out to rescue my son, it was my son who allowed me to see my true need for God’s son, Jesus, and thus I was rescued. I do not adopt to rescue children anymore. No, I adopt to love them, because Jesus rescued me and loved me first.