Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dr. Adoption

Growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, I spent Monday nights of my formative years with TV’s Little House on the Prairie. As I stared in traumatized disbelief, Caroline Ingalls labored to give birth, birthing my desire to adopt in the process. Dreaming in my youth of becoming the next James Herriot, I attended veterinary school, graduating with a DVM degree. Imagine my dismay to realize, months before commencement, that I’d missed my calling. Regardless, I practiced veterinary medicine seven years, enjoying most of them. Eventually I left the profession to raise our daughter, a curly-haired, extroverted tike adopted from Guatemala; four years later our Chinese daughter arrived. We had no business being at an adoption fair only six weeks after returning from China, but it didn’t stop us. Browsing booths in the exhibit hall, my encounter with Valerie of the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project was as inadvertent as it was fortuitous. There, at that inauspicious table, I stumbled across both my life’s mission and the circuitous path leading our family to a new son and daughter.

In the six years since that November meeting, we’ve added the two older Russian kids to our family. What I saw in Russia and learned in the process was Exhibit A of the gravity of the orphan’s plight. Armed with a righteous sense of urgency, I’ve coordinated nine Lighthouse Project trips to Michigan and Oklahoma, bringing seventy-three different Russian orphans aged 5-15, some of them more than once. As coordinator, I seek families willing to host an orphan for ten days, run a Russian-language Vacation Bible School, and give the bushes a thorough, thorough beating in search of forever families. Such a succinct description of my duties belies the thousands of hours I’ve invested in them, and the phones I’ve worn out in the process. The task is formidable, since most potential adoptive families desire babies. When I succeed, the fulfillment is more than adequate to the effort, since finding families for kids literally saves their lives. Motivating my Russian work is knowledge that no safety net surrounds the kids who age out; in America, orphans without families have opportunities available to them Russian orphans could only dream of.

On the coattails of the Lighthouse Project I’ve met people whose beings brim with the same compassion for orphans; some of these kindred spirits are as dear as sisters to me. Fifty-nine children, including sibling groups as large as three, kids as young as six and as old as seventeen, and children with sundry special needs have forever families. Current events in Russia notwithstanding, I hardly feel finished. God willing, there are many more children, and a few dear friends, to come.

My training for this quasi-volunteer position has been as rigorous, expensive, and all-consuming as veterinary school, provided by three girls and a boy who work to keep Mom on her toes and seventy-three kids whose would-be futures have provoked me to repeated and frenetic action. A full-time position as a veterinarian would be less time-consuming and more prestigious, but since finding my calling I’ve never looked back.