Drawing Near to Those Who Are Far
About the Guest
A dangerous prayer? Or a step of faith toward great adventures? When Jennie Allen and her husband, Zac, told God they would do anything, they weren't sure where He would lead them. Now, having been led to adopt a child from Rwanda, Jennie shares how thankful they are for what God has taught them about trusting Him and how amazed they are by the joy they found on the other side of obedience.
A dangerous prayer? Or a step of faith toward great adventures?
Drawing Near to Those Who Are Far
Bob: One of the things that happened when Zac and Jennie Allen started praying, “Lord, we’ll do anything,” was that God led them to an orphanage in Africa and introduced them to a little boy who they would later name Cooper.
Jennie: During the daytime, we would go see him and visit him in the orphanage; but they didn’t want us to bring him home quite yet because they wanted us to warm up. I’m scared. I’m thinking this is supposed to be magical. “Where’s the magic?” You know? This is—there’s not this mother/son bond at first. I just remember God saying, “You fight for him. You run after him. Don’t quit fighting for him. You keep running after him.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll find out some of the things God might do if you pray a prayer that says, “I’ll do anything, Lord.” Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just thinking I might as well go ahead and leave today. [Laughter] I’m the guy here without an adopted child at home.
Dennis: I think Jennie Allen and I are going to be fighting for the soapbox.
Bob: So, I might as well—I’m just going to go check the sports scores and let you guys talk about what’s going on here. How’s that sound?
Dennis: Well, let me introduce Jennie to our listeners. Jennie Allen and her husband Zac live in Austin, Texas, along with their four children. She’s the author of a number of Bible studies. One called Stuck, and the other called Chase. She’s the author of a brand-new book called Anything—subtitled The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul.
Bob: The dangerous prayer—
Jennie: Yes, very dangerous.
Bob: —because it’s that prayer that says, “Lord, whatever—”
Jennie: Right. “You can have us for anything.”
Dennis: Jennie, welcome back to the broadcast.
Jennie: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: Well, Jennie, you don’t know this about Barbara and me. I do not remember ever having a conscious thought about adopting a child, as a young man growing up, at any point prior to marrying Barbara; but at some point, early in our marriage, she turned to me and told me that, as a teenager, as a young girl, she had this recurring thought, “Perhaps, someday, I could adopt a child and give a child a forever family.”
So, after we’d had four children, when the opportunity occurred while we were speaking at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, we arrived at the hotel where we were speaking. There was a note waiting on us from a doctor. The doctor said, “Please call us.” Well, both of us knew exactly what it was. We rushed up to our room, called the doctor, and found out for sure that a teenage girl was giving birth to a little girl and that the young lady wanted to give her a family. He had said, “My wife and I have been praying. We think you and Barbara”—
Dennis: —“should have that little girl.” We told the doctor, “Let us pray about it.” We did, and we called him back, within 30 minutes. Then, we called our kids and said, “Hey, kids, what would you think about this?” I’ll never forget them cheering. It was “Yay! Yay, Daddy!” That’s how God added to our family.
As a little girl, did you think about adopting; or was this something God laid on your heart later?
Jennie: You know, it did cross my mind. It was a passing thought. I don’t know that I was convicted about it. I don’t know that I saw it as something you would do unless you struggled with infertility and couldn’t have biological kids. I don’t know that I would have thought of pursuing that, as a child—growing up.
Then, I grow up. I’m watching friends choose adoption, even with a capacity to have bio kids. So, it starts to come before you as an option. You know? I think it probably comes before every Christian family as an option—just to come together and pray, “God, is this something You would have us to do?” So, we would pray about it. It’s interesting because both of us really felt peaceful that, “Yes, this is something we’d be interested in.” We were in the middle of having our kids, though; and at that point, did not want to rock the boat.
Dennis: How many children had you had?
Jennie: We had two when we had the first conversation about it. Soon after that, decided to have our third. Maybe, mentioned it briefly; but felt peaceful that we were going to go ahead and have a third bio. I think after three, life was really full. That became something we completely put on our shelf because our lives were completely full. I couldn’t imagine having four children. So, it really wasn’t a discussion. We were done having kids. So, yes, it didn’t really cross our minds a lot after that.
Dennis: So, what happened? Well, I read about it in your book—you had an empty bedroom?
Jennie: Yes. Well, it wasn’t even a bedroom. It was just a bed. We had bunk beds in my son’s room, and there was an empty bed. He actually moved up to the top bunk because he wanted to sleep on the top bunk. Once he was old enough, we let him. Every time, I’d walk in his room, I just kind of saw this empty bed. It was one of the things that—as we prayed this prayer, “God, we will do anything,” —we prayed, “God, You can have this bed, and do you want to fill it?”
Instantly, we both knew that He did. We didn’t know with whom. We didn’t know how He would fill it. We didn’t know where the child would come from. We considered fostering, and adopting internationally, and adopting domestically. At times, I was like, “Maybe we can just fill it with a missionary, home from sabbatical,” because adoption did feel so big to me; and it is.
Dennis: Why did adoption feel so big?
Jennie: Because we were so complete. Our family was working so well. My youngest had just gone to kindergarten. I think it felt like, “Why would we risk the comfort of our family when we don’t know? We can’t control”—back to that topic—
Dennis: Yes; right.
Jennie: —“what happens.” As if our children, our bio kids, were just—
Jennie: —completely under control. [Laughter]
Dennis: One time, we were given the opportunity to help place a baby. We knew of this young lady who was going to carry a baby full-term and place this child in a family. We talked to some friends and asked them if they would pray about the possibility of them adopting this child. I’ll never forget the response. They had a lot of fear around medical issues—around not knowing the background of the child, and history, and all that was packed into the genetics of this child—and said, “No.”
Dennis: They said, “No.” Now, that could have been a part of how God led them not to so that that child ended up going to another family—that was really the right family. By the way, that child did end up in an incredible family. That’s a great story in and of itself; but people have a lot of fear when they deal with the subject of orphans, and adoption, and foster care—about letting children from other families into their home.
Jennie: It had to come to a point for me that this wasn’t about my life turning out comfortable and easy. This was about obeying God, and I wanted to obey Him—whatever. I didn’t want to make a “pros and cons list” about if we should adopt or not because the bottom line is, “Adoption is hard.” It is not—people don’t do it because it’s easy. We did it because God spoke to our family and said, “Fill that bed.”
We had been reading in the Scriptures about orphans and widows and that true religion cares for orphans and widows. We couldn’t escape the conviction we felt to, in some way, minister to the millions of children that are without parents and without a home. So, it didn’t come down to, “We could financially afford it,” or, “We weren’t worried about genetics.” It came down to, “We have enough love for this. We can do this. With God’s strength, daily, we’re going to be willing to adopt whatever child He says.” Actually, the journey for us, led us to a three-and-a-half year old boy in Rwanda. It is my favorite story, up to date, of our lives.
Dennis: You want to know why it’s a favorite story of yours? I want to read you a passage from Hebrews, Chapter 11, verse 6. It says, “And without faith, it’s impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him.” I think the decision to adopt is, first and foremost, a faith-decision before—
Dennis: —God that one must come to, only if God leads that couple to say, “Yes, God, we believe You are calling us to choose this child,” or, “...to choose to adopt a child and graft them into our family.” If it’s not a faith-decision—if you don’t know God’s leading you, you shouldn’t do it.
I’ll tell you why. It hitchhikes off of what you said. Adoption is incredibly hard work. Everybody thinks it’s going to be this picture-perfect little deal, where this child wakes up every morning and comes down to breakfast and says, “Oh, Mommy, Daddy, thank you for giving me a family.” Adoption is a powerful image of a spiritual reality. I want you to think about this for a moment. How did God get us into His family? He adopted us. Now, has that adoption been easy for God? What did it cost Him?
Jennie: Yes, everything.
Dennis: It cost Him His son.
Dennis: We should be waking up every morning and saying, “Thanks, Father, for adopting us,” but we rebel. So, why would we think that adoption would be easy if we’re grafting a child into our family?
Jennie: Well, I remember waking up in Rwanda. You wake up. There are no nets or anything on the windows, and you just hear the birds. I remember it was right after we had met this little boy that, at first, had a hard time accepting me as a momma. I had been fighting for this boy for a year and a half. I had been praying and hurting to hold him, and he didn’t want to be held by me. It hurt!
I’m scared. I’m thinking, “This is supposed to be magical. Where’s the magic?” This is—there’s not just this mother/son bond at first. I remember we were praying at night. I just remember God saying, “You fight for him. You run after him. Don’t quit fighting for him. You keep running after him.” It was so good for my heart to be reminded that God does this for us—that I run from Him. I still wake up and run from Him, daily. After years, and years, and years of knowing the goodness of God, I still run from Him and chase so many things, besides Him.
For me, to see this child and to be inspired to fight for him, I think that is what we need to do as Christians—is to see the crisis of the state of our world and these real little eyes and these real little faces that do not have anybody on earth—and to say, “We will fight for you. We will do whatever we have to. We will sacrifice our comfort. We will sacrifice our finances. We will do whatever we need to do to fight for you to feel seen, and known, and to show you God.”
The way we do that, tangibly—it’s the way Jesus did it. He would walk up first, and He would meet the need—the physical felt-need of that person. Then, He would say, “Now, repent and believe.” I think, as Christians, we’ve got to respond to this movement. It is absolutely a crisis today.
Dennis: I really agree with you. I also have to say that, through the adoption process, God has taught me more about His adoption of me and His pursuit of me—your very point—than any other relationship that we’ve had on the planet. It’s a physical reminder of a spiritual reality that God is pursuing us.
What did God use to break that little boy’s heart and melt his heart into yours?
Jennie: Fanta® slushes from Sonic®. [Laughter] It’s true. I got home—
Dennis: So, it didn’t happen in Rwanda.
Jennie: It didn’t happen in Rwanda. I don’t even know that I’ve talked about this much, not because I’m a closed book about it. It was so difficult, at the time, that I couldn’t even process it. I was just trying, everyday, to wake up and bond with this child and fight for this child.
When we got back to America, all of a sudden, now, he was on my turf. This little three-and-a-half year old—in my mind—I was like, “This boy is going to think I hung the moon, and I am going to shower him with love.” I was the one that gave him food. I was the one who held him. I was the one that comforted him. So, what happened through that, he learned to like me. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, one of the things that occurs in a situation like this is you can’t imagine what it’s like to be holding a child that you’ve chosen—it’s one thing when the birthing process occurs, and they hand you a baby at that point. It’s your baby that you helped create, but there’s something about the adoption process. I can’t even begin to explain it. It’s mystical when you say to another little person, “I choose you!” In turn, they don’t; they push back. They don’t just push back with their wills; they push back with their body.
Dennis: You can tell when you’re holding them—they don’t want to be held. They don’t necessarily want to be yours, right now.
Jennie: Yes, and I mean it was dark. When I look back at that season still, I just can’t even believe we were the same people. Now, he is so attached to me. When we all say, “Who do you want to tuck you in?” he says, “Momma.” I mean, he just—he adores me now—but, man, was that costly to win.
I think it is okay to realize that God’s commitment to us transcended any feeling we had toward Him. It transcended any action on our part. “It’s going to have to be the same for me,” I realized. My love for him was going to have to transcend what he was—his pushing me away. He was pushing me away, and I had to move toward him over and over again. That is hard on a person, but I believe that it was because of God’s love for us that I could do it. I could keep doing it. It’s what kept coming to my mind.
Dennis: Jennie, sometimes, I don’t think we realize the lessons that are there—not just for us, as adults, but also, for our kids.
Dennis: It’s interesting our daughter, Ashley, has now been a foster mother to—I think, four children.
Dennis: I’m not sure the subject of being a foster care mom would necessarily be something she would have thought about if she hadn’t watched—even something that was very challenging and difficult, at times, in our family—but she caught the picture of caring for those who’ll never be able to pay you back.
You had something occur with your oldest—right?—Conner—
Dennis: —who was struggling with his love for some material things at the time, and you took him to Rwanda—
Jennie: Yes, he was the one who struggled with the adoption the most. He recognized he would have to share his room and share a lot of his life. He was the only boy in our family, at that point. So, it was taking a lot from him. While everybody else was praying and talking about it, he was really quiet. It was fascinating, to me, to watch him change as we got over there and saw life there.
Now, I will say this. One of my fears is not esteeming his country enough because I took him from an amazing place. I mean, his country is glorious. They love God. It is absolutely the most gorgeous place on earth. It was prettier than Hawaii. I’ve been there. It’s an amazing country. I love the people. I can’t wait to take him back; but his little orphanage—he ate one meal a day. There were 25 kids for two adults in a room, and his needs could never be met there. They tried. They loved these kids. They are there because of the welfare of these kids, but his needs could never be met.
My son, observing all of this—I mean, it just broke him. At the time, he was into cars. It started with Hot Wheels®. It had transcended to reading car magazines and talking about wanting a Ferrari® someday. He had no idea of the—
Jennie: —money and what he was saying.
Jennie: But it would make me sick when I would listen to it because we’re pursuing this boy that has—he doesn’t even have a soccer ball in this orphanage in Rwanda. It just would make my skin crawl even though I didn’t want to be legalistic about it because it’s certainly not wrong to have a nice car; but I just wanted more for him. I wanted him to dream about bigger things—
Jennie: —than what he could do with $100,000 rather than buy a car. People listening to this, Dennis, are thinking, “A Lamborghini® is a lot more money than $100,000.” I don’t know the exact number. There are people, and he was one of them that knew. “It was exactly $323,000 to get one.”
But my son goes over to Rwanda. When we came back, we go on a little run together. He says, “Mom, things have changed for me. I realize that I’m so blessed to have the education that I have,” because we fed, one day, all of these street boys. They would come up to us and say, “Send me to school. Will you sponsor me? Will you sponsor me?” Now, they barely know English; but they know that phrase because they are looking to be sponsored because all they want to do is go to school.
My son, who’s brilliant—he does so well in school—but he didn’t think to thank God about it. He said, “Mom, I want to use my education to make a difference in this world. I want to do it with all my heart. I want to be thankful that I get to wake up every day and go to an amazing school.”
I mean, that’s the stuff that you can say to your kids over and over again; but until they see with their own eyes—people that live differently than them—that value different things. Now, all of a sudden, he was dreaming better dreams than having a Lamborghini. Again, not that it’s wrong; but I wanted more for him.
Dennis: Alexander Solzhenitsyn says there are two kinds of problems today: “Those that are far away, that we see on TV, and those that are near.” If you want your heart to be changed and you want to see your kids’ hearts changed, you should go near the orphan. I can’t explain it, Jennie, but there is something about going near the orphan.
I’m thinking back now to going to Beijing, China, to an orphanage of children who were street kids—they were outcasts—that had major, physical handicaps. A young lady, who was 17 years old, and orphaned, who was blind, and who had been used by her uncle to sing in bars and make money—her voice was like that of an angel. She’d been picked up and being cared for now, in this Christian orphanage.
I remember being with a couple of other folks. I said—through an interpreter—to this young lady, “Would you sing Jesus Loves Me”? She began to sing that song. It’s like everything else on the planet completely blurs out, in the face of an orphan, and going near their hearts. I know you know what I’m talking about because you see that face every morning, and all day long, and at night. You love that little guy and your family is learning those lessons.
It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to tell your story, here, on FamilyLife Today and to encourage our listeners, “What’s your part in the orphan crisis?” I mean, we’re talking about a legitimate crisis, here in America. There’s close to 500,000 in foster care and over a 130,000 in foster care, who could be adopted right now; but there are not families for them. Worldwide—it’s beyond imagination. There are over 140 million orphans in the world. The only organization big enough is the Church. It’s Christians, like you, like me, who decide they are going to do something. They can’t do everything; but perhaps, they can help one. The message is, “Go near.” If you need help in going near, pick up a copy of Jennie’s book, Anything, because she talks about the prayer that unlocked her God and her soul. I think you’ll benefit from it.
Jennie, I want to thank you for being on the broadcast. I also want to thank you for sharing my soapbox with me because we sufficiently took over the broadcast. Right, Bob?
Bob: Oh, you’re talking to me? I really did not feel like I had anything significant to add. You guys were doing fine. It’s a great story. In fact, I love how you share this story in your book, Anything. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If listeners would like to hear more—learn more about how God answered your prayer when you prayed that you would do anything God asked, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on Jennie Allen’s book, Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call us, toll-free, if you’d like a copy of the book: 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, I think many of our friends are aware that, in recent days, we have begun to lay the foundation for a new ministry that is going to be a part of what we’re doing here at FamilyLife. Our friend, Ron Deal, has joined our team here. Ron is probably the leading expert on the subject of step- and blended families in America. He’s written a number of books on that subject. We want to do everything we can, here, at FamilyLife to help step- and blended families succeed and to thrive. Whatever your circumstance—whatever got you where you are—we want to see you experience all that God intends for you in your family.
With that in mind, this week, when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation, we want to send you your choice of either Ron Deal’s book, The Remarriage Checkup—a book to help you evaluate how you’re doing and see where there are areas for growth in your remarriage—or two CD’s: one, where we have a conversation with Ron about being a stepdad; and another one, where we talk with Ron and Laura Petherbridge about being a stepmom.
You can select your choice of those resources when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, this week, with a donation. Your donations make this program possible. All you have to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation and select the resource you’d like as your thank-you gift; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone. Just mention that you’d like some of the step-family resources. We’ll let you know what’s available and help you make the selection that’s right for you. Let me just say, “Thanks for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.” We couldn’t do what we do without you, and we appreciate your financial support.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we are going to talk about relationships and about dating. Is the way that most people are doing that these days—is it more conformed by what the culture has to say about dating or more informed by what the Bible has to say about that? I hope you can tune in for tomorrow’s program.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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