An Adoption Story
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, so in City Folk this month, we bring you a story of God’s redeeming, fatherly love.
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child, and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”- Galatians 4:6-7
Early in their marriage, Jack and Whitney Jirak had discussed and liked the idea of adoption, but were not sure if they were ready to dive into it. The birth of their first child, Annie, came after a long time of waiting and a miscarriage. After Annie was born, they went through a very long, difficult, and unsuccesful process of trying for another pregnancy. As Jack quickly warmed to the possibility of adoption, it was harder for Whitney to accept. “It felt like I was hearing, ‘We’ll never get pregnant again.’ There was a lot of grief in that.”
Many more discussions followed, as well as many more hardships and discouragements in pregnancy. Feeling the emotional weight of it all, Whitney decided to go on a silent retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers as a way to step back and return to the Lord in the midst of grief, loss, frustration, and challenges. “I was only going to rest. Adoption wasn’t the focus of my retreat.” But as she drove to the monastery, God spoke to her in a new way. She saw a boy, probably about fifteen years old, walking down the road from a church, and she was suddenly overcome with what she describes as a maternal love for him. She began to cry. This unconventional communication from God caused her to questioned her instincts, wondering if God was leading her into a retreat to consider adoption more fully rather than to solely provide rest.
While in solitude and silence, Whitney decided to check her phone, something she usually avoids while on retreat. There she found an email from a college Bible study leader from whom she hadn’t heard in years. In that message, she described to Whitney that as she was on her own journey of adoption, she felt the Holy Spirit telling her to reach out to Whitney and Jack to “invite them into adoption.” It was clear that the Lord was working to impress this calling on Whitney’s heart. “I was looking at this message like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Suddenly I felt pregnant. Not physically, but I felt pregnant. I hadn’t been that excited in months. ‘God is so good to us, we’re having a baby!’ It was so definitively clear. I heard the words ‘This is the way in the desert’ while on the retreat. I thought that everything behind us, the waiting for a child, was our desert time and now this is our way, this is what He has for us. Such a joyful thing. I felt immediately wonderful about and connected to adoption. God healed through that.”
Two weeks later, a seemingly perfect opportunity appeared for a potential adoption. Jack and Whitney were excited to be moving forward so quickly. But then the mother miscarried. After that, Jack says that they fell into a time of sadness and, to some extent, depression. It was after this that the more detailed decisions of adoption began to demand their attention. Jack and Whitney struggled to decide between a domestic or an international adoption, feeling like they were “cutting out all of these other people.” They had doubts about a domestic adoption being more likely to be an open adoption in which the birth parents are very much a part of your own and the child’s life, and questions about how God could work that out for them. Eventually, they decided on domestic, feeling that with each loss, God had been preparing the way for them and growing and teaching them in ways that they hadn’t expected but ultimately needed. Jack says that it was a time of “God breaking down our barriers.”
Jack and Whitney had put the word out that they were looking to adopt, and a friend who happened to be a nurse passed their name along to a patient that was pregnant and looking into finding a family for adoption. Just a week later, she gave birth to a girl at Kennestone Hospital. Jack and Whitney went to meet the mother and baby and to spend time with her. Whitney was actually the first to feed her. They had been told that the birth father was no longer involved with the mother or the baby, but after they left the hospital, the father contacted the mother and insisted that he be involved in the baby’s life. “We didn’t want to prevent him from being a dad, but the mother wanted us to fight him for the baby. After the paternity test, we decided not to fight him on it anymore since he had family supporting him,” Jack shared. “About a week later, we received a call from the mother. She told us that the father had changed his mind and the baby had been placed with another family. That felt like the last straw. I lost it. My reaction was just complete rage at God. I got in the car and I just remember screaming. Why did we even have to find out she was placed with another family? It felt like a twist of the knife.”
At that point, they struggled with the idea of moving forward with adoption. And then they found out that Whitney was pregnant. Whitney shares her feelings at the time, “I was wrung out, strung out, tired, and confused. I had already let go of the idea of having our own child. Were we supposed to be done with adoption? Now I’m going to have to grieve not adopting. Of course we were happy and thankful about the pregnancy." But then in Juen of that year, they lost the baby. The Jiraks describe this as being one of the worst experiences of their lives. "It was terrible. And then we felt like we were in the plagues," Whitney says. "Weird stuff kept happening, adding on to the difficulty of it all. Different things kept breaking- the car, the air conditioning, the dishwasher. It felt like something was after us, like spiritual warfare.” During the pregnancy, Jack went on the City Church men’s leadership retreat, but felt still very angry about the ups and downs of the adoption process and didn’t want to talk about the pregnancy. However, on the last morning, Jack felt God talking to him again. Talking about the Lord’s Supper, he heard God say to him, “It is a joy to share in my suffering.” The weight and power of understanding what that meant was overwhelming. “It was very freeing for me. I was able to release the anger. Communion is both sides of the coin: freedom and suffering.”
Exhausted, they decided to take a month off and revisit everything after a time of rest. It was yet another trial on their journey, but they pulled close to each other and made it through a terrible season. Jack and Whitney also felt very supported by the church and their families. It was a few months later that City Church put on a BBQ fundraiser for their adoption, as well as another family in the church who was in the midst of adopting. “It was neat to see God bring joy back into the experience," whitney laughs as she remembers. "It was just fun. The church was very wise. The timing of that was huge. It became very bolstering for us.” Jack’s sister and parents organized a massive yard sale and solicited donations for the adoption fees, all unbeknownst to Jack and Whitney. It was the blessing of people’s money, but also time, that served to encourage them in trusting that God was still guiding them toward their adopted child.
Feeling refreshed and rested, Jack and Whitney went to an agency and were chosen by a birthmom. They met her one time and had a great, very positive time with her. Later, the social worker on the case told them that she suddenly couldn't get in touch with the mother. After the baby was born, the mother reached out to the social worker and said that she could no longer go through with the adoption.
After this new loss, Jack’s mom gave them the name of a lawyer in Arkansas who specializes in adoption. She knew a pastor who had adopted through him previously. When Jack and Whitney heard back from the lawyer, he told them that he had an opportunity for them. Flying blind in regard to his process or fees, they moved forward with him. It was through this man that they met Esther.
Esther was due to have a baby boy in a few months, so they met her over Skype to discuss the adoption and to get to know each other. They were nervous about it, but Whitney recalls the walls coming down during that Skype conversation. It felt like family. For a boy, Jack and Whitney had decided on the name Seth, Whitney’s grandfather’s name which means “chosen” or “appointed.” They offered Esther the choice of the middle name. She gave them the name Aji, her own grandfather’s name, meaning “gift.” "The names fit so well. We instantly knew that was his name.” They began planning for their baby boy, their chosen gift.
Seth’s birth mother had not had much prenatal care, so her due date of August eleventh actually turned out to be July sixteenth. She gave birth to Seth an hour after going into labor. Jack and Whitney rented a minivan in the middle of the night to drive straight through to Arkansas to meet the boy that they hoped would go home with them. They spent a lot of time with Esther and Seth over the next ten days. Thats how many days were allotted to allow Esther to change her mind on the adoption if she so desired. “It was an emotionally intense time. A place of such joy and excitement but also sadness for her.” Jack and Whitney spent much of their time in prayer, asking God for this baby boy and for wisdom in talking to Esther about the adoption. They felt God leading them to be very honest with her, to tell her that whatever she decided, they would support. “We love you. We want what you want.” There were many moments of doubt, but this conversation settled upon Jack and Whitney a peace that they carried forward with them as they allowed for time between Seth and his birthmother before they officially adopted him and took him home. Esther is still very much a part of the Jiraks’ lives and they hope to foster a loving, growing relationship between them all. “Seth is a real joy in our family. He does feel like a gift in that sense. Every child is. Adoption is such a beautiful thing because you think about their gift-ness more.”
Seth was born two years to the day from the email that began the whole journey of adoption for the Jiraks.
“This phrase ‘the way in the desert’ that we heard before starting the adoption process- we heard in that ‘This is the easy line to joy, to what we want.’ But, it was the opposite of that in a lot of ways. A very winding, painful, barren thing,” Jack says. “The way in the desert is about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. A lot of winding, a lot of failing. That was my story, our story.”
Whitney shares, “This whole process has radically changed our idea of a 'call'. It doesn’t mean it’s going to go well straight off. Sometimes you’re called to something but there’s a lot of waiting, failing, questions, and revealing so much of our own sin. Sharing in suffering. Being so intimately linked to these birthmoms is eye opening to see how many babies are in need. We’re all in this together. It is so broken. We wish in some ways that adoption never had to happen but we feel grateful for God’s provision in it. I’m so thankful I get to be Seth’s mom. He’s a gift in the sweetest way. I would’ve done ten years of that waiting for my sweet Seth. He’s my baby. Hindsight is a beautiful thing of God.”
It was eight months after Seth was born that Jack and Whitney found they were pregnant with their third child, Elaine. After all of the difficulty in pregnancy, the losses, the ups and downs, this pregnancy reminded Whitney of how lavish God’s love is. He's not only able to meet your needs, he provides lavishly.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1
City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.
If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, email Peach at firstname.lastname@example.org.