Playing God

Today I heard many prayers and had to decide whose to answer. Since her birth a year and a half ago, I’ve been closely involved in the life of Baby Hannah, a cute little girl who is being raised by her dear great-grandmother, a member of our ward. Grandma Hannah is an angelic woman who raised 10 children, fled Sierra Leone at the outset of their civil war, and has lived in America for nearly 20 years. Because her health is deteriorating, she’s not able to care for Baby Hannah full-time and has relied on our ward and friends for help; we’ve had Baby Hannah at our home for weeks at a time. Knowing that a long-term solution was needed, Grandma Hannah decided to place Baby Hannah for adoption. At first she hoped we would adopt her, a request we seriously considered until we learned Lori was pregnant with twins. Then Hannah turned to LDS Family Services to find a family that would love and adore her precious. After months and months of obstacles, and set backs at nearly every turn, today the director from LDS Family Services came to Hannah’s apartment to show us the profiles of six families who want to adopt Baby Hannah. Hannah asked me to come help her decide.

The couples wanting to adopt Hannah bare their souls. Their letters read like prayers: lots of explicit promises to do well should we hear their plea. “We will sing to her every night, pray with her before bed, and teach her to love her Heavenly Father.” “We will take her swimming in the summer, and hiking in the fall.” “We have lots of fun traditions, from canoeing on Memorial Day to sleeping at grandma’s on Thanksgiving-Eve.” “‘We love to garden and plant flowers, and will teach her to love them too.” “We are excited to learn about Sierra Leone and will teach Baby Hannah about it’s culture. We tell her how much you love her every day.” Promises of bounteous cuddles and hugs and kisses and I Love Yous are everywhere.

I believed these good couples; they would do as they say. Though all of them were white (no black couples are currently available), each of them has already adopted a black or minority child (because of complicating circumstances, we had decided to consider only families that already had a black child). Seeing their family pictures with their beaming adoptive children made me love these disciples engaged in God’s work. And here they were, pleading for another helpless child, and paradoxically saying that if they spent countless, thankless hours feeding, diapering, bathing, clothing, teaching and training a baby into an adult, their lives would be better. I believed them. And my heart ached for them as I saw the dates they started the formal wait for a child. We weren’t the only ones hearing prayers, I knew.

While I sincerely hoped they could all have another child to shower with love and service, our aim was to find the family that would be best for Baby Hannah. Our paramount concern had to be her best interest, not which couple seemed most deserving. The families provide detailed information, some of which was awkwardly personal: heights and weights, ages, health issues, education, occupations, whether they work full- or part-time, and lots of pictures. I regretted that I, like Samuel seeing the sons of Jesse, look on the outward appearance, and though only God can look on the heart, I somehow knew that all of these people had good hearts. (Their desire to open their hearts to an unknown child of a different race is a good sign — and many of their profiles said they would take children with severe handicaps. True saints.) But I still wondered how just it was to look beyond these saints’ hearts and consider their occupation, weight, age, education and appearance. God doesn’t weigh those factors when sending children. At least I think he doesn’t.

After an hour of reading their profiles and scrutinizing their pictures, and talking about Grandma’s goals for Baby Hannah, we made a decision. The prayers of a couple have been answered. They will be notified soon.

I am so happy for them. May they keep their promises to care and love our sweet Baby Hannah.

Grandma Hannah and Baby Hannah, July 2005

Baby Hannah, December 2004

Grandma Hannah (with Ellie), July 2005

Madeline and Hannah, October 2004

Lori and Hannah, October 2004

20 comments for “Playing God

  1. Akash
    September 2, 2005 at 12:23 am

    Wonderful pictures, she’s a beautiful baby. Thank God for people who are willing to open their homes and hearts to kids like her–and also for the people who handle the administrative end of things.

  2. Mathew
    September 2, 2005 at 2:22 am


    Just when I think you are a hopeless reprobate, you post this;) Nice pictures too.

  3. September 2, 2005 at 4:38 am

    “paradoxically saying that if they spent countless, thankless hours feeding, diapering, bathing, clothing, teaching and training a baby into an adult, their lives would be better.

    This deserves to be on the bloggernacle quote board. Too often we think of unselfish endeavors as martyristic, but that kind of attitude misses the bigger picture that these people clearly see. Nice post.

  4. Randy
    September 2, 2005 at 9:21 am

    Good to hear. We’ll miss baby Hannah in our ward, but it will be good to know that she will be going to a good family. I hope this will be done in a way where Hannah will be able to know of those who have cared for those since she was born when she is ready.

  5. kneight
    September 2, 2005 at 9:44 am

    This is so weird, because we were told that we were going to be one of the families presented to Hannah. Who did Hannah pick Matt?

  6. Adam Greenwood
    September 2, 2005 at 10:22 am

    I got all choked up. Good happens despite everything.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    September 2, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Eric Russell,
    I’ve put it up over at ‘s Featured Comment.

  8. September 2, 2005 at 10:32 am

    Matt, you’ve done a great job explaining the role of a social worker. Each day they are presented with these types of decisions to make. My husband describes it as being put in a position of being God – choosing whom would be best suited to be given the role of parent – being careful you have discovered all the atrributes of the candidates. Sometimes even with the best of efforts it does not work out. Sometimes, a chioce will be made the trasition takes place only to have the ideal couple call and say they can’t handle it, or that they’re getting divorced, or somwone is ill. On a day to day basis the job can be very stressful and your view of humanity is tested.

    I am glad you’ve shared your role in the process. I hope for Hannah and pray for all the families involved. The best of humanity is sometimes found in the adoptive hearts of society.

  9. Mike B
    September 2, 2005 at 11:09 am

    Adoption has blessed the lives of many, many people, my wife’s and mine included. Great article. It brought back memories of preparing our personal profiles, and struggling with the idea that we had to “sell” ourselves to someone. I realized later, however, that the information we provided became fodder for the Spirit to use on the birth mothers of our two sons.

  10. Mike B
    September 2, 2005 at 11:12 am

    Sorry. When I reread my last post (#9), I’m not sure “fodder” is the right word. I think you know what I mean.

  11. annegb
    September 2, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    I want that baby. I want to hug her little body.

  12. September 2, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Could she be any cuter? I’m sure the family that gets her will adore her. I’m also sure that the Lord guides adoptive children to the right parents, having seen several adoptions myself.

    I hope they still bring Hannah to visit her great-grandmother so she can watch her grow, even if she can’t care for her full-time. Of course, I understand that visitation is totally their decision, but I like to think that Hannah will grow up knowing that lovely woman.

  13. greenfrog
    September 2, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  14. Ana
    September 2, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for making me cry quietly for joy today. Enough hurricane tears for a moment.

  15. Seth Rogers
    September 3, 2005 at 11:05 am

    I second everything said already. But I’ll add another: you’ve got a cute little family Matt.

  16. September 3, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for the post! Beautiful! This brought me back to sacrament meeting last week when I visite my in-law’s ward because my wife’s family was visiting. There happened to be a white couple who I assume adopted their (black) little girl in front of us. With childish innocence in the middle of sacrament meeting, my nephew blurted out to his mom, “Next time you and daddy have a baby, I want a brown one like that!” Embarrassing for the parents, yes – but in my eyes a beautiful thing to see him loving for the sake of loving. God Bless.

  17. Jared
    September 5, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    Matt, we will miss Baby Hannah greatly. I am glad to hear that she will be going to a loving family.

  18. mark barrionuevo
    September 11, 2005 at 11:01 pm

    so, matt, what was your final criteria?…i’m also happy she’s being placed with a solid family and in a stable environment…i remember how taxing it was on everyone in the ward even though it was a labor of love…..tracy and i watched baby hannah once, not nearly as much as you and lori did, and i remember debating with tracy about enabling this situation to continue…..i’m glad that she’s finally going to have some stability instead of being tossed from family to family every night, not knowing who she was going to be fed by the next day or whose bed she would be sleeping on or who was going to change her diaper the next time it needed it….

    so, back to my original question: in fighting the urge to not judge on appearances what “appearances” did you finally base your righteous judgment on?

    hope all is well,

  19. Kanga
    September 13, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    To place a child for adoption is a heartbreaking gift of love that only those who do it can understand. Those who are the recipients of that love as adoptive families are not saints, but those who only want what is best for a child. Transracial adoptive families may look different on the outside, but we’re no different than biological families when it comes to how we are truly formed. Forgive me for bristling a bit at the title of your post. I don’t mean to diminish in the least the amazing and difficult work of social workers and adoption counselors. But in my mind, adoptions happen through the same miracle as conception…..they involve a lot more paperwork (which those who have done it know bears it’s own painful version of childbirth) but the Lord is still the one in charge. Our journey just involves more people ;-)

    She is, indeed, a gorgeous girl. I’m sure she will be greatly missed by your family and loved by her new one. Here’s to hoping that she was welcomed with many pictures and video of her birthfamily and initial caregivers at her side.

  20. Barb
    October 3, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    I will be somewhat vague as I do not think it is good to make it easy to identify someone who has not given their consent to be featured. I know of a family that adopted siblings from an African nation to add to their biological family. One of the sons was at developmental age far younger than his chronological age. This family had a brain mapping procedure that confirmed what they had suspected. This child had been a victim of shaken child syndrome. They said coupled with this information, the therapist would be able to know how to better help the child. She had such a love for her innocent child and shared an “out of the mouth of babes” moment with me where this child who could seldom link a few sentences had a coherent conversation showing his concern about being baptized. I am touched by those who sacrifice so much to care for special needs children.

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