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This is day 16 of 31 Days of Supporting the Special Needs Family. To view the story behind this series and the series contents, please visit the landing page. Today we have military wife, published author, and mom of three Michelle Cuthrell sharing her story of special needs adoption.
Before we ever brought our son home from China, we called him “Superman.”
Maybe it was because we come from a house full of boys, or maybe it was because capes and superheroes are just part of our Cuthrell culture. Or maybe it was because big brothers 1 and 2 had already reserved Batman and Spiderman as their preferred superheroes of choice, and we were running out of options for superheroes popular enough to feature their own line of bedding that didn’t clash with Batman and Spiderman in the room where all three boys would soon sleep.
One of three.
But the first time we viewed the medical file of the 2-year-old little boy with the white arm sling living half a world away in China, God made it clear – this was our son. This was our Superman. And Superman, like Clark Kent himself, was “special.”
Clark Kent was an alien child retrieved from a foreign space ship. A child who wouldn’t have spoken his adoptive parents’ language, understood yet their culture or possessed the same social abilities as those who had been born in Kansas. A child “abandoned” by his parents, discovered without a birth certificate, adopted without any knowledge of family genetics or medical family history, and made to be a “Kent.” A child with urgent medical needs – with an allergy so severe it could literally kill him.
If Clark Kent had landed on the front door of one of the world’s orphanages, the photo listing professionals would have marked him with an asterisk for “special needs.” And immediately, hundreds of families would have scrolled right past his name. And they would have missed out on beholding firsthand the wonder and the metamorphosis of the man the comic world would soon know as “Superman.”
It took just one family to help Clark Kent turn his “special” into his “super.”
It takes just ONE AWESOME GOD working through ONE IMPERFECT FAMILY to turn EVERY CHILD’S “special” into his “super.”
Because EVERY life matters to the incredible God who created it.
Three years ago, as my husband and I prayed about the idea of adoption – “typical” child adoption – I stumbled upon a friend’s Facebook page. For months, I had watched in awe through the lens of Facebook as Mary and her husband had adopted multiple children from around the world – all of whom were deemed “special needs.” This woman had done what I at the time would never have considered for myself and had grown a loving, diverse family – one who was touching many others daily – through the gift of adoption. Though I thought it was amazing, I knew the family also faced many medical and logistical challenges, and if I’m honest, I also thought to myself, “Beautiful, but not for me.”
I mean, special needs were difficult. Special needs were demanding. Special needs required lots of medical appointments and who knows how many hospital visits and possible operations. They required research and compassion, binders full of medical charts and lists of necessary medications. They required a flexibility I don’t naturally display and a patience I too often lose. And they required me to look in the face of my perfectionistic, people-pleasing, Pottery Barn decorated fantasies to view life – real life – through the eyes of a child who was PERFECT in the sight of God.
Special needs adoption, I thought, would really disrupt my very comfortable, organized, fairly easy, color coded, one-parent-per-child planned-out life.
Which is probably exactly why God gave it to our family as His greatest and most revealing gift.
In October 2011, as I cuddled our youngest superhero and yearned to grow our family, I opened my Facebook page. There on my newsfeed, I saw Mary’s Facebook status for the day. It said:
“Jesus didn’t consider the issue of your extreme special needs, your history, your medical records, and He TOTALLY didn’t whine about the cost. He gave it ALL to adopt you. If God equipped Christ for the ENORMOUS cost of your adoption, how much more will He enable you to follow in His path to pursue adoption? THIS IS THE HEART OF GOD! HE WILL PROVIDE ALL OF YOUR NEEDS ABOVE AND BEYOND ALL YOU CAN IMAGINE.”
God didn’t consider the special needs asterisk on my personal file before He made me His child. He didn’t consider the work. He didn’t consider the cost. Instead, He sacrificed HIS PERFECT son to adopt a nit-picking, overly-scheduled, O.C.D. control freak who frequently micromanages the Savior she claims to call Lord.
Almost any other special need would have been easier to manage than my list.
But even in the face of all MY special needs, God chose me. He accepted me. He adopted ME. And here, HIS precious children around the world who had “needs” like all of us do but that many of us fear were looking for someone to do the same. Orphans around the world needed a parent to love them with the heart, eyes and mind of God Himself, using the exact same example that He already provided, drawing on the strength He always promised to give.
And the thought struck me – who better to adopt than the adopted?
For hours, my heart and mind raced in chaos. I grappled with this idea that the same God who had adopted ME might not just be calling perfect parents and patient families to adopt some of His most precious and special children; He might be calling me – in my selfish, comfortable, flawed and imperfect state. He could be calling us.
I showed my incredible husband Mary’s post the next day, and that night, after praying about our calling to adopt, we found out that Steve Jobs, “who was adopted as a child,” died, all of which spurred us to begin asking ourselves: Who is waiting on the other end of our willingness to say “yes” to KNOW he or she is super? What Superman is just waiting for a family to sew him his first cape and teach him to fly? Where would technology be without the family of Steve Jobs?
Where would METROPOLIS be without adoption?
And there on that night, God planted in our heart a passionate, unquenchable desire for Superman – a boy whose profile we wouldn’t stumble upon until months later on a random Web site of international waiting children who, because of their medical special needs, had not been able to be placed in their home countries.
Today, Superman IS the third superhero in our family. And he’s more super than we ever knew he could be.
From the moment he joined our family in December 2013, Superman immediately fit right in – as if he’d been separated from us at birth and had rediscovered his long-lost parents and brothers after two long years away. As if God himself had chosen him for our family from the beginning of time. And after three short weeks in China falling head over heels for this little boy we now hardly remember was once “special needs,” we couldn’t even remember or DESIRE our once “easy” life without him. No life is easier than the one this little boy saturates with his precious, innocent, absolutely overflowing joy.
Superman is the JOY we never knew we were missing. He’s the laughter in our sometimes challenging military life, the perspective provider in the midst of our first-world American woes. He’s the one who never stops running, never stops moving, never stops cuddling, never stops persevering – despite every physical and cultural limitation that has been thrown at him. And he never stops reminding us of the beauty of the incredible God who can look at even us, through all the imperfections we can see in ourselves, and, through the lens of His son, call us “perfect.”
I have never learned more about the unending grace or passionate love of God for his adopted children than I have by loving a child I could no longer picture my life without. The idea that God might love me even a tenth as much as I love Superman is simply unfathomable.
But just because life is BEAUTIFUL with a special needs child in our home doesn’t mean life is always EASY.
With Superman’s medical conditions, we stay busy with doctors’ visits and pre-op appointments. We’ve spent months completing paperwork for our insurance company referrals, and we’ve spent hours on the phone following up with medical professionals to get our son the care he needs.
Every day is faster than a speeding bullet. And sometimes the only birds or planes we see are those we view from the waiting rooms of children’s hospitals and doctors’ clinics in multiple states.
But our LIVES have never been as full, and our FAMILY has never been as imperfectly super.
We, in our prideful, sinful nature, thought we were actually called to adopt Clark Kent for the sake of a future Superman and the Metropolis where he would make an impact on his world.
We soon found out that God’s greatest gift wasn’t a family for Superman; it was a Superman for our FAMILY.
We may be perpetually wading knee-deep in poop, and we may be modifying fork lifting, pencil writing, ball catching and instrument playing until the end of time.
But in that end of time, it is the Kents and the Cuthrells who will have received the GREATEST gifts.
Army wife Michelle Cuthrell is a writer, motivational speaker and author of Behind the Blue-Star Banner: A Memoir from the Home Front.
Michelle, her husband and their three boys currently reside in North Carolina, where Michelle is a full-time Lego constructor, a certified fort builder and a part-time Editor in Chief of Good Catch Publishing. She advocates for special needs adoption at Of Capes and Combat Boots.