My name is Matt Clarke and I would like to share some of my thoughts, opinions, and experiences as a father.
My wife, Rachel, and I affectionately refer to it as “The Morn of Blatant Honesty.” We had recently decided within about a month of dating that we would get married. We were 19 and laying under a futon in a spare bedroom of her gigantic, and ghetto, apartment. We were laying it all on the line. Our Non-Negotiables. Our honest opinions, thoughts, and emotions. Everything we knew would affect the other in a marriage. It took 7 early morning hours. As I recall, it was kinda fun. But there were some things, as Rachel’s future and forever husband, that I needed to know. Specifically, she was not willing to have biological children. “If you want biological children, you need to find a different chick. I’m going to be adopting my children.” From my perspective, I just wanted to be with this amazing woman. We didn’t even have to have kids for me to be happy. “Ok,” was my response. And it was honest. Getting on board with adoption was an easy step for me. I didn’t have my heart set on kids that would look like me, or God forbid, act like I had as a child. If I were a woman, I can’t say that I’d be too excited about the pregnancy/birthing process either.
About six and a half or seven years after our Blatantly Honest Morning Conversation, and about the same amount of time being married without kids, we began talking and researching and seriously pursuing adoption. Private, International, Domestic, Open. All of them. Then we hit a snag. Some personal issues in me that had been in the recesses of my life, unexposed to Rachel, surfaced. We decided to wait on the pursuit of children in the interest of working on us so that any future kids would have a healthy home to enter and a healthy marriage to observe. In the ensuing 8-12 months, Rachel was offered a job at a new school. As a Special Educator, a new job also meant new people working with her in her classroom. Long story shorter, one of the women in her class brought up foster-to-adopt as another option. We, at this point were ready to pursue children again and we met this woman’s friends who had adopted, through the foster care system, 4 single babies, no child who had entered their home had ever left. If you are familiar with the foster system, these people were akin to unicorns. Generally, as a rule, children leave. After spending some time with them, a puzzle piece fit. No other type of adoption really fit us like foster-to-adopt. We decided to go with their agency, Kornerstone – a tremendous, warm, caring Child Placement Agency serving in the Texas Foster System as misisionaries, believing that uniting children with loving and stable families is more of a ministry than a job. After training and a little more waiting, we were finally on the open list, able and ready to receive placements.
My first time being a father was when two little Hispanic sisters, six months and eighteen months, came to live with us for 5 months. They arrived the Friday before school began. With both of us being teachers, this was about the most stressful time to receive a placement. That Monday, our first day of school, Rachel and I were sitting on the couch, eating cereal and she looked at me and said: “How are you doing?” *Burf* She almost threw up as soon as she asked the question. For all intents and purposes, we were in the trenches for the next five months. Both of us lost weight. Both of us were exhausted. Sleep was now inconsistent at best. And to be honest, the best we could do was try to survive. To go from 0 kids to 2 overnight was…intense. We loved them though. They were funny, and gentle and we now got to watch children develop and grow right before our eyes. I got an extra special treat. I got to watch Rachel be a mother. I got to see something amazing, brand-new, never-before-seen. It brought us closer. I describe how fatherhood affects marriage with the following analogy: When you marry someone, you each enter the same room. You each walked through different doors. But inside the room, there are 3 doors. The one you entered through, which leads back to your family; the one they came through, which leads to their family; and a third, which is locked. Neither of you can open it. Your family can’t open it. There’s not even a hole for a key. And then, you and your spouse have kids. The third door opens. Now you and your spouse get to interact and watch each other do something neither could do before, Parent.
Five months, nearly to the day, the girls went back home, to a kinship (relative) placement. It was unexpected. We had no idea how close they had been to leaving. Or how devastating. We put them in the car, unsuccessfully holding back tears, and then went inside and bawled. I mean, ugly crying. It hurt more than I expected. I didn’t know what to do. I sobbed so hard my entire body was sore the next day. We spent most of that night with friends who knew us well, and had gotten to know the girls and they allowed us to let it out. We smoked lots of cigarettes and drank a little too much but there’s not really a rule book for how to deal with losing people who have grown to be a part of you. I don’t know exactly but it kind of felt like an amputation had taken a limb from each of us. We took a little time off, traveled, albeit to Galveston, but a break is a break and that was fine. Both of us, Rachel more vocally, and I more quietly, had a taste of parenthood and were ready for more. I, as I generally always am, was hesitant and a little nervous to take more, but I missed the girls. And I wanted to know who God would bring us next. Curiosity killed the boredom, right?
On April 1st, he brought us a 4 year old boy and his 2 year old sister. They were coming from a disturbing, intense, and messy situation. Rachel loved them at first sight, but said from the beginning, as she had with our first two girls: “These are not our children.” She has always been intuitive (don’t get on a plane if she tells you not to) and she knew that we should enjoy them while we had them, but these were not the children God wanted us to keep. The kids always grow on me. They were with us for a year, once again, almost to the day. They were great. Huge personalities and funny – boy, could they make us laugh! We knew about 2 months or so before they went home that they would, in fact, go home. Somehow, it was easier this time. Maybe because we had time to process their departure. Who knows.
While they were with us, God decided to place a forever son with us. Isaiah. Legally, his name was (and until the adoption is finalized, still is) Baby Boy. Try explaining that to people who ask: “And what’s his name?” You get some interesting looks. He had been abandoned. He was African-American. Two promises God had made to Rachel 5 years earlier: Rachel would receive an abandoned, Black, baby boy and name him Isaiah. Currently, he didn’t have a name, so we could name him Isaiah when we adopted him. Our unification with Baby Boy was quick. I got a phone call on a Friday saying we were chosen to adopt Baby Boy. The lawyer flew up that next morning to meet us. CPS called us the next Monday to schedule a visit with Baby Boy. We were available Thursday. We drove down to Houston to meet him*. And he was placed with us the following Monday. 11 days from call to placement. Now, for the clincher *: Baby Boy was 4 months old at this point and had been living in a foster home in Houston since being released from the hospital. Generally, in the case of a child not being named as a result of abandonment (unfortunately, too common), a foster home will call the child by a name other than Baby Boy, for obvious reasons. In the visitation room in Houston’s CPS office, we were holding our “baby boy”. Rachel asked the caseworker: “I know his name is technically Baby Boy, but since he’s been in a foster home for four months, what has the foster family been calling him?” “Isaiah,” was the response. I was holding him and uncontrollably laughing and crying. The Lord had fulfilled his promise to Rachel. We knew. We knew he was ours. We have had Isaiah since November first and he is a couple weeks from his first birthday. He is amazing. I understand what women mean now when they say a baby is so cute they could just eat ’em up. I used to think that was weird and uncomfortable. Now I get it. He is an incredible boy. Huge. Dimpled cheeks. Solidly built. Gentle. Happy. Strong. A boy who smiles easily and laughs hard. He will be fast and hyper. But more than that, he will be a defender of the weak and a voice for the voiceless.
Being a father has affected me spiritually in only a small number of ways that I can express. It has deeply affected me in ways I cannot. It has increased my faith in God. I think most parents realize, and it’s scary, how little control we actually have. I find myself actually praying, and needing, God to provide for me – physically, emotionally, spiritually. And every time I have asked him, he has. It has been a slow process (my fault, not God’s) to realize that 1. He is always Good and 2. He is always in Control. Those two truths represent the true character of God. Practically speaking, through children, specifically abandoned and broken children, God has shown me what is at the center of his heart. Loving anyone unconditionally, for who they are – not for their potential, or lack thereof, not because their past is checkered or their future is bright. Loving them not for what we can get out of it, because, as Jesus showed, love and sacrifice are not mutually exclusive – they are inextricably linked. We love not because the people we love deserve it, but because our love, as Christ’s ambassadors, transforms, redeems, rebuilds, restores, renews and ushers the Kingdom into our communities on Earth. I have grown exponentially deeper in my relationships with God, my wife, my children, and my friends. I have become more open. I let more people in. I am continuously working on being more honest, vulnerable, and real in my relationships. I am a better witness because God has called me and my wife to build a family out of the world’s misfits; out of the Lord’s children cast aside by our empire. We have been called to give them identity and purpose through Christ. We are called in our little niche to be a symbol that represents what the Kingdom looks like. All I can do is witness and testify to these things when someone looks curiously at our mix-and-match family and says: “…so where do they get their curly hair?” I wouldn’t do this, I don’t know how anyone could stomach doing the hard, wonderful, rewarding, pain-staking and deeply emotional work of foster care and adoption without the marrow-deep love, guidance, and relationship of Jesus Christ. So, naturally, God is easily the answer when someone asks why we do what we do.
Through my experiences as a father, God has, and continues, to reveal his character as Father. A father is one who nutures with reckless love, patient discipline, a consistent sense of humor, who gathers his children close to his chest, ocean-deep, and says: “I love you. You are mine. You are mine because I claim you in my name. You are mine because I want you to be mine. You are mine, simply, because you are mine. My love for you is too big to rest on your behavior. It does not depend on your goodness. It does not depend on your badness. My love for you is so big that I don’t even know it’s limits because everyday I love you more than I did the day before. And every night I think, I can’t possibly love you any more than I do right now. And then, when I wake up – I do.” When my time as a father is done, I want those children, whose father I have been, to be able to say, even if they don’t remember my name or what I look like, I want them to be able to say that they were loved like that.
I believe that how God is building my family has deep and eternal significance. I believe it has transformative power in countless lives – mine included. I have a limited understanding and severely limited wisdom but what I have I have been given by Christ so that through my relationship with him, children will be given new identities and claimed by families so that the Kingdom of God, and all it’s Earthly extensions, will be advanced. I am far from a perfect father, but the grace of God is enough. Enough for me and enough for His children.
Let them come.