Faith first . . . then hope and love

Jake and Martha's story

By Catherine Wilson

Once Jake and Martha Sanders* had made the decision to adopt, they assumed everything would fall smoothly into place. But instead, the couple found themselves wrestling with big issues: their adoption journey was frustrating at first, and then frightening. 

Just 12 weeks since their six-year-old son’s arrival home, the Sanders reflect on all they’ve learned through their experience. 

“You hear other people’s stories,” says Martha, “and you get your mind set on what you think adoption will look like, but we’ve been surprised by some things. We know we’ve been called to adopt – it’s the right thing to do. And we know Eric was meant to be here . . .”

“But at the same time,” adds husband Jake, “there’s been serious stresses too.”

Martha recalls, “All that was getting us through at the beginning, or me anyway, was total faith that this really looked like where God had us [going], and we needed to trust Him.”

As Jake and Martha moved forward in obedience, there were also glimmers of hope. Today Jake and Martha can look back and see pivotal moments where God was at work, providing the encouragement they needed to take the next step.

A sluggish process   

“My favourite book of the Bible has always been James,” Martha explains, “because it’s about putting your faith into action. A few years ago, when our four biological children had all reached their teen years, the verse about taking care of widows and orphans just wouldn’t leave me alone. The Lord seemed to be pointing us to adoption. I always look to Jake for confirmation – whether I’m hearing right – and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

The Sanders first contacted their provincial adoption agency in November of 2008, but their many phone messages went unreturned. It seemed that the only way to ensure progress on each step of the adoption process was to show up at the office in person. By April of 2011, Jake and Martha were almost ready to give up. 

Martha recalls, “We went to [Focus on the Family Canada’s] End the Wait seminar to see if there were other ways to adopt in our province. In some ways it was discouraging . . . but it did also encourage us to hear the other couples who had persevered, no matter what the struggles, because it’s the right thing to do. The message that kept coming through so clearly was, It’s not about us. It’s about, Can you be a blessing to a little person?

After returning home, Jake phoned the provincial head office for social services, outlining the couple’s two-and-a half-year struggle to keep their adoption moving forward at their local agency. Within a week, a social worker was sitting at the family’s kitchen table finishing up the paperwork. Three months later, the Sanders were informed that they had been matched with six-year-old Eric.  

Anxious first encounters

The Sanders’ introduction to Eric was far from reassuring. Martha recalls fretful hours spent mulling over Eric’s description from his file:

“Our social worker had a three-inch-thick binder on Eric, and the paperwork looked really scary . . . the issues he was coming to us with. Eric was a hurt, angry little boy with ADHD. We really wrestled with what it was going to cost us to do this. But when we considered, What did Jesus do for us?, we found the courage to proceed.”

The Sanders had three visits with Eric – an intimidating process that included a brief initial meeting, an afternoon together at a water park, and a weekend together – all under the supervision of several social workers. The most difficult part was the weekend at the hotel. 

“We were supposed to entertain Eric in the city,” Martha explains, “but we’re farm people; we didn’t know that city. That was a real stress, because Eric’s tantrums were really bad – he would have one in a store.”

On the second morning, Eric had a meltdown by the hotel pool. With the social worker watching, Martha had to pick him up, carry him up the stairs and hold him until he calmed down. Martha recalls her growing sense of desperation:

“By the afternoon, we were all in tears. Eric was being really awful to Alex, our 14-year-old son, and I was beginning to think, This adoption is not a good idea. We can’t put this pressure on Alex

“I went over to talk to Dora, our 18-year-old, because she is very level headed. I asked her, ‘What am I going to do?’ She said, ‘Mom, you are doing fine. You guys can do this.’ Her comment was the turning point for us – the confirmation. It changed my whole outlook. We thought, He’s ours. He’s coming home!

A new boy 

Although the first few weeks together were hard, the Sanders now see Eric very differently. To them, he is nothing like the little boy described in their social worker’s files.  

“It does still feel like an adjustment period, but it’s getting so much easier,” says Martha. “The warm fuzzy feelings are there now. We struggled with that – that we didn’t have affirming feelings right away that Eric was ‘the one.’ I think we were both surprised that they weren’t instantaneous, like some people have.”

There have been other surprises too, but the Sanders’ adoption journey has turned a significant corner; now most of the surprises are pleasant ones. 

“Eric is warm and funny, and he’s got the most beautiful grin you’ve ever seen,” says Martha. “I'm teaching Eric at home and he is learning very quickly. When he came, he didn’t know his alphabet or his numbers. Now he’s beginning to read. He’s a very bright little boy.”

“A lot of the big behaviour issues – the ones that worried us when we saw Eric’s file – we’ve found a lot of them are learned behaviours,” says Jake. “In the past, his temper got him whatever he wanted, but he’s learning that won’t work anymore. In three months, we’ve seen his anger dissipate a lot. 

“We knew about Eric’s ADHD beforehand. It makes him a going concern, but he fits so perfectly into our home because he’s got energy. We all tend to be a little bit hyper . . .”

“But what we didn’t know,” adds Martha, “was how well he would relate to farm life. Well, he can’t get enough of it – he loves everything about living on the farm. And another surprise is that Eric is so much like Jake. He came to us more like Jake’s son than you can imagine . . . his temperament and interests. It’s uncanny. For us, it’s confirmation.”

And as for Eric’s turbulent relationship with Alex . . .  

“At first Eric didn’t want anything to do with Alex,” says Martha, “but now he loves to play with Alex, and they play for hours – it’s fun to see.”

The Sanders liken their adoption to a marathon. At times, notes Martha, they still feel far from the finish line. 

“When Eric gets mad, he’ll say things like, ‘I’m out of here; I’m gone,’ or ‘I wish I wasn’t here.’ It’s hard not to be hurt by that. We wonder how much he’s trying to push us away, because he’s afraid we might push him away. I can’t wait for the day when Eric fully realizes he belongs with us. Every once in a while he will ask, ‘I’m here forever?’ And we’ll say, ‘Yes you are.’ I can’t wait to get to the day when it’s not a question – it’s a statement.”


* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor for Focus on the Family Canada.