Back when Bart and I were dating in college, we had the privilege of working for and forming a relationship with a local, godly family. This family was quite unlike any other family we had ever known. The more we got to know them, the more we enjoyed them and were inspired by the overflowing love, joy, and light heartedness of their large family’s culture. We developed such a respect and a bond with them that by the time we were engaged to be married, we asked the parents of the clan to do our pre-marital counseling- one of the best investments we ever could have made in our marriage. Among many pertinent issues that they probed us to dive into before marriage, one of significant value was to challenge us on our views on methods of family planning.
The more we learned from them and researched ourselves, the more our hearts shifted away from the accepted cultural norms of family planning and expectations. By the time our wedding rolled around, my answer to questions of how many kids we thought we’d have was always, “Lord willing, 4-6”….which was often met with understandable laughter!
As our story goes, with each child born to us, that number changed. Isaac, our honeymoon baby, was born and then we thought maybe 5 was a good number. Then after a miscarriage came Ellie and we said, hopefully 4 children. Finally, on our 6th wedding anniversary Caleb came with all the fireworks of his July 3rd entrance and with full hands we said we were DONE.
Gradually, our hearts shifted away from those early visions and openness of having a “large” family to raise for God’s glory and toward building our careers and investing in the home of our dreams out on the edge of town. Only in reflecting back do I see how we, oh so slowly, slipped into a lapse of calloused, unsurrendered hearts which we all do from time to time.
Oh, to grace how great a debtorCome Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
In ways that only God’s grace can work, He used the trials of 2015- particularly my Grandad’s death and Rachel’s cancer relapse- to jolt us and begin to peel away the layers of worldly callousness that had grown over our once moldable hearts. We began to really think again about what kind of life we were building. Was it one that was founded on the wisdom of the rock solid foundation of God’s kingdom principles or were we investing ourselves too much in the things of this temporal life? I believe it was on the heels of this reflection and repentance that we had an unexpected wave of thoughts come over us.
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”Luke 12:15-21
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
In light of the “mistiness” of life paraded before us, our appetite to pour our resources into things that won’t last began to dissolve. I didn’t want to spend my life “building bigger barns” and continually redecorating them. We began to see with fresh perspective a desire planted in our hearts to spend our lives investing more deeply in human souls- the only thing that is eternal.
And so that summer, thoughts began to stir in us that maybe we should re-open the conversation about Caleb being our grand finale. To be honest, I selfishly wanted to shut those thoughts down immediately. Afterall, we were done with diapers, naps, tantrums, and strollers. Caleb was 5 and about to start kindergarten. But the thoughts pressed in and with the callouses softening, we finally put our fleece out (Judges 6:36-40) and surrendered our future plans to God.
By God’s grace and the advice from our pre-marital counseling, our previous experiences told us that having more children was only to be a matter of timing. So, with fear and trepidation but also hopeful anticipation, we decided we would put our family size in the hand of God and let the Lord decide if another human soul was to be created. Our “fleece” was also known as a string of fertile days in June and if needed, another in July. I marked those dates on my calendar, sure I would need them for my first doctor’s appointment, and we only told a couple of people about this unexpected detour we were taking. We figured it was now or never!
Much to our confusion, we barrelled into another hot, August school year feeling peace about our surrender to His plans, but wondering what that was all about. School started for our family and with it, the confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant. Admittedly, we were a little bummed. I thought surely we had sensed the nudging of the Lord to open our hearts to more life in the King family, but maybe we were wrong?
As any educator knows, the first few weeks of the school year are super exhausting. I was partly relieved I wasn’t struggling through my usual 1st trimester morning sickness. Needless to say, time moved on and so did the burden to get pregnant. We didn’t have a pretty bow to wrap up that detour- it just kind of hung there, unresolved. It was just this weird sort of surrender we felt He had called us to lean into but never really had clarity beyond that.
Photos from July 2016 :: Our family in South Carolina, Esther’s 100th day in Qingdao SWI
Flash forward 3.5 years to just 2 weeks ago- Esther’s heart cath. As I had said in my previous post, I spent a lot of time and energy meditating on Psalm 139 before, during, and after her procedure. Those Scriptures became so alive to me in a new way as I praised God for the beautiful way He knitted and formed her heart in her mother’s womb. I thanked Him for the way He used something broken, like her single ventricle heart, to lead her to our family. I worshipped Him in light of the knowledge that a little ring, called a pulmonary stenosis, was saving her life and keeping her so healthy. I offered my gratitude that this beautiful toddler calls me Momma and looks to me to meet her needs- what a privilege!
When we got home the next day, as I was journaling and thanking God again for the news that we had received from the cardiologist, I had another weird thought come over me. I began to be curious to know more about the process for how a heart forms in utero and the timeline therein. So I turned my curiosity to google. The nerd in me loves to learn these kinds of things. The Believer in me loves to learn these things in light of the knowledge of the intimate ways God is involved in Creation.
As one who believes that God was sovereign over the design of Esther’s inward parts- particularly her heart in all of its miraculously functioning “abnormalities”- I was especially curious about approximately when her heart started to beat. My heart and my head wanted to know when the unique and beautiful sound of her throbbing heart first broke into this world. It didn’t take long for me to learn that only 21 days after conception, her blood was flowing. Then around 8 weeks, her heart had partitioned into the 3 functioning chambers she has now. It’s truly a miracle!
One weird thing I often do when I learn dates of things or see pictures of things Esther was doing in the orphanage is to go back and look at my old google photos and see what our family was doing on that particular day. It always fascinates me that we lived halfway around the world from her for 2.5 years, unaware of the existence of the other; but the Lord watched both of our lives unfold and brought them together in perfect harmony. When we were first matched and I found out her birthdate, I looked back at past photos. What were we doing that glorious day she was born, you ask? Well, the King Fam was making DubSmash videos of course. This seems so fitting as much as she loves her music!!!
King Family DubSmash Video Fun in Carmi, IL: 4-26-16
The hospital where Esther Bei was born in Qingdao, China: 4-26-16
It goes without saying that as I was following this rabbit trail of investigation over the formation of her heart, I was curious about the dates that her heart would’ve been forming in her mother’s womb…and curious if I could figure out what our lives looked like at that time. So, back to my research. This time I went to a website called “babyMed” and typed in her birthdate, thinking I could easily calculate to figure out the approximate date of 21 days post conception, then 8 weeks, etc.
Esther overlooking the city of her birthplace: Qingdao, China
What I discovered has unveiled an entirely new sense of awestruck wonder about the plans of God. Honestly, I can’t get over it and I don’t want to. When I read the information on the babyMed website, formulated from Esther’s birthdate: April 26, 2016, I suddenly had bells going off in my brain….those dates looked very familiar….but it couldn’t be!!!
Being the weirdo that I am, I still keep a paper and pencil daily planner/calendar for our family life- my Mom gets me a new one for Christmas every year and I love it. Also, being a complete weirdo, I save them ALL. So, it didn’t take 5 seconds for me to hop up, dig out my 2015 planner and find those dates. The last week of July had stars on them- my secret code- our fleece of fertility for another King baby.
Instead of opening my physical womb at the end of July 2015, God opened another woman’s womb all the way across the globe in China. At that time, He began knitting together our Esther Bei. What we didn’t understand was that when he said “no” to us during our surrender, He was planning for us a greater “yes” that we couldn’t have conceived of. He was opening our hearts to raise a baby that would come to us in a beautifully unconventional way- almost 2 years before we said yes to adoption. And just about the same time that baby’s heart was forming in the secret places, we were accepting the disappointing news that I wasn’t pregnant and wondering what that was all about.
“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:27-28
Aren’t His ways just amazing?! He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good. We sag our shoulders or shake our fists at the heavens because we don’t understand the plan. We get angry because we can’t always control the plan and from our perspective nothing good could come; but our God knows what He is orchestrating. His timing is not our timing, but it’s better. No surrender is ever in vain. When we let go of the reins and trust Him with outcomes, even when life doesn’t go like we originally imagined, I think we can trust Him to surprise us with His secret plans. He’s a good, good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to those who trust in Him.
April, 2017: We told the kids about our desire to pursue a path of adoption with a family game night…… meanwhile in China, Esther celebrated her 1st Birthday!
April 2018- Esther celebrated her 2nd Birthday in Qingdao while we celebrated Easter and were anxiously awaiting a match to our “missing piece”