If the Hundredfold is Real, All of It Is for Us
Nate and Ashley have been deeply challenged in their efforts to adopt a child. They share their story and what they have learned about saying "Yes" without condition.
When Nate and Ashley were married six years ago, one thing was clear to them: because Nate suffers from cystic fibrosis, they would have to adopt in order to welcome a child into their lives. The couple entered a local adoption program, an “open” program in which birth mothers review the profiles of prospective parents and choose the parents for their child themselves. Because the orientation to the adoption program included witnesses from couples who had successfully adopted after a couple months, Nate and Ashley hoped to receive a child fairly quickly. But this did not happen. They were in the program two years before the real possibility of adopting a little girl, whom they knew only as “B.” emerged. Because B. was in a foster situation, a long legal process was initiated to determine whether Nate and Ashley would be a good placement for her.
At that time, Ashley had a conversation with Father José Medina at a community day. He asked her how she was feeling about the process, and she told him, “I am trying not to think too much about it. I am afraid that if I put too much thought into it and we don’t get her, I will be really hurt.”
Father José challenged her: “If you love her, you love her right now. And if you want her, you ask for her right now. If you get hurt, you get hurt. But you must stay present and not avoid things, not censor your life.”
Father José’s perspective caused Ashley to begin to pray in a different way. She went from making “noncommittal” prayers to telling God, “We want to be her parents. And more than anything, we want her to find a home.”
A month later, Nate and Ashley learned that the court had decided to keep B. with her foster family, rather than permitting them to adopt her. Father José’s words at the regional Diaconia soon afterward struck them both. Ashley remembers him saying “We cannot censor reality, but all of reality is for us. We can’t censor the parts we want to keep ourselves from getting wounded or hurt. If the hundredfold is real, then all of it is for us.”
It made her reflect: “If life is going to be the hundredfold, than no moment is exempt from that possibility. The way in which I love may not look the way I want it to look, but it is what is given to me.”
Two more years went by before the possibility of adopting emerged once again, when, one Tuesday afternoon this past September, Nate got a call from the adoption agency asking permission to show their profile to a mom within the hour. Unable to contact Ashley, who was with her audiology patients, he said “yes” for both of them.
Twenty-four hours later, Nate and Ashley learned that the birth mom who had seen their profile had picked them and wanted to meet them that night, as she was scheduled to have a C-section to deliver a baby girl the very next day (Thursday). At that meeting, the mother asked Ashley to be her support person for the birth. She also asked Nate and Ashley to choose the name for the baby. They chose “Sofia Marie,” thinking especially of the closeness to Mary they had felt while praying the Angelus with friends from the community over Zoom every day since March.
Ashley was able to be at the birth the next day and stayed with the birth mother in the hospital for the next two days, which permitted her lots of time with Sofia. Meanwhile, Nate was contacting friends and family and telling them about their new arrival. Although the couple would not be able to bring Sofia home for good for about a month, the plan was to have her on the weekends, and Nate worked quickly with the help of friends to obtain all the baby gear they would need. That weekend, Nate got to meet and hold Sofia when they brought her to their house for a few hours.
But on Tuesday, when Nate and Ashley met with the birth mother to work out a visitation schedule, she told them that she was thinking of changing her mind about the adoption. And two days after that, they received a call from their adoption counselor that the birth mom had had a change of heart: she was keeping Sofia.
The news was devastating. It was, Nate said, as though “hopefulness was shattered.” Both Nate and Ashley struggled with the question of “whether there was any point to prayer at all.” And this feeling was echoed by those in their Fraternity who had been praying for them. Many questions were opened up. What was the purpose of prayer? Should we pray for the fulfillment of specific desires?
In the days that followed, two things happened that helped Nate and Ashley to begin to face their sadness and loss. The first one emerged when listening to Mikel Azurmendi’s interview at Beginning Day in which he tells how his concept of charity was changed by his experience with those who are serving drug addicts at Bocatas. Charity is more than the giving of alms; it is emptying oneself of oneself for the sake of another.
“When I heard that,” Nate said, “I thought—that is Christ dying on the cross on our behalf. And that is what I was being called to as a father to this little girl who was never mine. The charity was to open my heart completely and my home to her without this stamp of guarantee that she was mine to begin with.” Not only was this a moment of acceptance of what had happened, but it was also a reminder that “what Christ has done for me, I was called to do for Sofia.”
A second important moment came when Nate and Ashley called Father José two weeks after learning that they would not get Sofia. They had waited, they said, because it was still “so raw. We did not want someone to fix it for us or to put a positive spin on it.” But Father José’s response was different from what they expected. He encouraged them to think about what they were experiencing in light of what had happened when they got married.
Nate and Ashley had gone through a long discernment before marriage because Nate’s cystic fibrosis means that he has a much shorter-than-average life expectancy. “It was a sobering conversation we had to have numerous times,” Nate explained. “Ashley saying ‘yes’ to me meant saying ‘yes’ to all the circumstances it brought, not censoring anything. Father José reminded us that, essentially, in the situation with Sofia, I was being called to the same thing that Ashley was called to when she said ‘yes’ to me. I was being called to say ‘yes’ without censoring any aspect of it.”
Father José also asked them if they could go back and live what they had lived with Sofia again, would they? They both said “yes.” “If given the opportunity again, we would love her all over again, despite losing her,” Nate said.
That question was important for Ashley. She told of how she had not wanted Father José to say anything to her about “reality being positive.”
“I was sad. I was angry. I did not want to see reality as positive. But when he asked the question about whether we would do it all again and I knew my answer was ‘yes,’ it was pivotal. If the situation were all negative and had no redeeming aspect to it, no positivity, then I could not say ‘yes’ to it. I wouldn’t. That is not human nature to say, ‘yes put me through it again’ if there is nothing there that is positive. My ability to say ‘yes’ meant that even if I did not understand it, something in there was positive, was for me.”
She added, “Father José told us, ‘Happiness in this life is accepting the given without condition. There is no love without sadness. The fact that you are so sad is because you loved her.’ Even though we did not get to keep her, we had this beautiful and brief experience of being parents and understanding what it is to love someone for their destiny.”
“I, in a sense, got to experience fatherhood,” Nate said. “Parents normally go slowly through the process of recognizing that ‘this kid I have was never mine.’ In a sense, we got a crash course. Just days after we met her, Sofia was asking us to love her despite not being ours.”
Nate said that recalling Mary’s fiat—which is mentioned so many times in Father Giussani’s Angelus reflections—has helped him. “God only asks for our fiat, our ‘yes,’ he figures out all the rest of the details. It is so liberating for me.”
And the experience has changed how he looks at Ashley. “Life goes on, the monotony takes over. But this opportunity has served as a beautiful reminder of Ashley. I look at her differently. My gaze has changed.”
The experience has changed their community as well. The day they found out about not getting Sofia, friends insisted on coming over to be with them. They talked and cried together, while social-distancing in their garage. It was “a genuine gesture of friendship,” Nate said.
Two months after their experience with Sofia, Nate and Ashley have begun to re-engage the adoption process. “We are open and hopeful again.”❖