We checked no.
Well, let me back up for just a moment.
God gave us Alex Harmon over sixteen years ago. He is such a joy. Our plan was to have several more children. Yet in the next six years we ended up losing two babies. I was sad, heartbroken, and done losing children. So after seven years and our one joy, we declared our family complete.
Then God called us to adopt.
But He wouldn’t leave us alone.
Keith and I have always said we’ll go anywhere God wants us to go and do anything He wants us to do.
When we sat down to fill out our adoption application, we came to a section that forced us to pause. We were being asked if we would be willing to accept a child with medical issues, developmental problems, or various special needs. We did what every Jesus-loving person would do, we skipped that section and went on. We didn’t even want to talk about it right then.
To mark no felt wrong and carried some level of guilt. To mark yes required more faith than we could muster up.
Special needs was not something we sought out. We knew it was something we could not handle. So, after much prayer and discussion, we checked no.
Turns out, we were right.
The last six and a half years have been way more than we could handle. Because unknown to us, when we adopted a beautiful baby boy from Ethiopia, he was a special needs child.
A couple of years ago, I heard Beth Moore (Author, Bible Study teacher and Jesus-girl) speak about a girl in the Bible named Miriam. I clung to every word because I had been camping with Miriam’s little brother, Moses, for about a year and God was using this family to completely wreck my life in the most beautiful way.
Remember these instructions God gave to Moses?
Then God said to Moses, “I am the Lord… Now, I have heard their painful cries. I know that they are slaves in Egypt. And I remember my agreement. So, tell the Israelites that I say to them, ‘I am the Lord. I will save you. You will no longer be slaves of the Egyptians. I will usemy great power to make you free, and I will bring terrible punishment to the Egyptians. You will be my people and I will be your God. I am the Lord your God, and you will know that I made you free from Egypt …’” (Exodus 6:2,5-7)
I wish I could tell you that the Israelites believed Moses and praised God, but they didn’t. They were tired, broken and felt forgotten. But God, true to his word, unleashed his plan to communicate His power, His rescue and His glory. And a scared, terrified Pharaoh sent word to the Israelites in the middle of the night to GO! With a great sense of urgency, they grabbed what they could carry and headed out on foot. They left as quickly as they could before Pharaoh changed his mind.
No time to think.
No time to prepare.
As we fast forward, we see the Israelites leave Egypt, end up at the Red Sea and complain that this journey was too hard. They watched as God used Moses to part the Red Sea to provide a way to safety and they saw Pharaoh’s army drown trying to follow.
God saved them … they were free!
They worshiped the Lord by singing praises to Him and dancing.
Then Miriam … took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. (Exodus 15:20)
Where in the world did Miriam and the other women get tambourines?
When you are fleeing for your life, why do you grab, of all things, a tambourine?
The words Beth Moore spoke almost two years ago still ring in my head today…
When faith takes a journey, it packs a tambourine.
When Miriam fled Egypt, she grabbed her stuff and threw in her tambourine. She believed, trusted, and had faith that there would be something to celebrate. And when that time came, she wanted to be ready.
Every step she took, every time she sat her bag down, she could hear the zils on her tambourine jingle … the sound of faith.
Miles, our beautiful adopted son, had a big appointment last March. An assessment. A re-evaluation. A time to see if our hard work was bringing changes to his complex world.
A basic repeat of this day.
I went into it full of hope and anticipation. He has worked so hard the last couple of years and we see progress. I was just certain that we would get a good report.
As Keith got Miles all buckled in the van, I loaded up everything Miles would need to survive the long day he had ahead. That’s when I realized that I forgot something. I jumped out of the van, ran back into the house and frantically dug through my closet. I knew it had to be there and I knew I had to have it to survive this appointment. As I tossed clothes and shoes around, I heard it … my tambourine.
I jumped in the van, tambourine in hand, and stuck it in my bag. Keith looked at the tambourine, looked at me, and smiled. After 19+ years of marriage, he’s learned to not even ask.
I believed, trusted, and had faith that there would be something to celebrate. And when that time came, I wanted to be ready.
Every step I took, every time I sat my bag down—I could hear the zils on my tambourine jingle … the sound of faith.
After a long day of testing, the psychologist appeared in the waiting room and motioned for us to come to her office. As she went over all the results, I silently sat there. I was shocked. Miles’ assessment and re-evaluation results scored lower than before. I looked over at my sweet boy and felt so sad. I hated that all of his hard work didn’t show up on paper, but more than that, I felt like I failed. I took it personal. Caring for Miles is all I do and, on paper, he’s worse than before.
I understand why the Israelites complained and grumbled. It’s easy to feel defeated on the faith journey. When God doesn’t show up the way I think He will, or should, it’s incredibly disappointing. I carried that stupid tambourine around in my bag for 8 hours and I left without a reason to celebrate.
No dancing, just mourning.
No singing, just crying.
It takes faith to trust God will come through, even when you are trapped between the sea and your enemies. — Beth Moore
The next morning, still deeply sad and broken-hearted, I grabbed my Bible and the Lord spoke the most beautiful verse over me.
To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory. (Isaiah 61:3)
I looked up each word in the original text and was reminded just how much God loves me. He doesn’t expect me to hide my humanness. In fact, he was offering to mourn and grieve with me. God spoke that verse to my heart as if to say, “Jackie, if you will allow me, I can wrap or envelope the deep places in your hurting heart with beauty, joy, praise, and victory so that sadness, depression, heaviness will not set in as you work through your grief and disappointment.”
He is so patient with me and is such a good God.
He doesn’t just want me to pack up my tambourine when big things come my way, He wants me to keep it close. He wants me to hear the sound of faith with every step I take. He wants me to celebrate every victory, no matter how small. He wants me to celebrate every time I walk through hard and land on my feet. He wants me to keep my eyes and heart fixed on Him, not my circumstances.
The journey toward faith is hard. It changes you. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by accident. Faith happens when you choose to take your eyes off of your circumstance and you take a step toward Jesus. And you wake up the next morning and you choose to take another step toward Jesus. And step by intentional step, you change … even if/when your circumstances do not.
Keith and I are not on the journey we signed up for, but we are on the journey that God purposed. When God tossed us on this unexpected path of raising a child with special needs, we were not prepared. But God has a way of turning disappointment into delight, sadness into joy, frustrations into blessings, anger into love, pride into humility, pain into peace and fear into faith.
I am so thankful that God ignored our no.
He knew the me Miles would make me to be.
Jackie Harmon is wife to Keith, the a minister at Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas. Together they have two sons, Alex and Miles. Read more about their family on their blog.
Published April 27, 2016