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What True Perfection Looks Like

Three years into my adoption process, and I felt like I was getting nowhere. I completed my training—which was long and grueling. There were house inspections, fire inspections, health inspections. There were fingerprints and financial disclosures, too. I filled out questionnaire after questionnaire after questionnaire about very personal matters–not to mention pouring over a long, long list of really scary behaviors older kids up for adoption might exhibit , and I had to rate those behaviors from 0 (I cannot 

live with this behavior) to 10 (I can live with this behavior).

There was the prepping of my home–from getting rid of all the stuff my ex left behind when he moved to China–a move motivated by a desire NOT to co-parent with me–to transforming the second bedroom in my house to a child’s bedroom. I did not know the child or children that would be in the room, so I had to make it kind of generic. I bought two extra long twin beds because in my mind there would be two children: Siblings—one six years old and one seven years old. I updated the bathroom, so it was a bit more modern and in better working order. I bought a couple dressers and colorful bedding.


Then there were the case studies. My social worker, a wonderful and supportive woman named Jennifer, would send me case studies of kids in foster care, kids she thought would be compatible with me. I read them all–over three hundred. Suffice it to say that these beautiful children did not end up in foster care because their lives had been easy. Suffice it to say, too, that each time I read a case study I got my hopes up, envisioning myself as a parent. I was so ready to express my maternal energy.


Yet, there I was, walking my dog Mabel on a muggy July morning before work and feeling very frustrated because I still had not adopted a child. I was so tired of wondering why this hadn’t happened for me yet, and I had a bit of a tantrum.

“I am done!” I exclaimed out loud–not caring if the neighbors heard me.

“I have given up a lot of my life–over three years–and I am not getting anywhere. I have been waiting for what I want. I am done. I am done. I just want to be a mother. I just want …” I began crying.

“I want– I want the perfection of the Holy Spirit in my adoption.

The Perfection of the Holy Spirit

I am not sure where that idea came from, but in the midst of my little tantrum, I found something to hold onto–a prayer–and I held on tight.

I said that prayer on my steps as I walked Mabel.

I wrote that prayer in my journal; I recited it on my prayer beads.

Essentially, I just surrendered myself into it–and I gained quite a bit of relief because I did not have to think about all the details of the process or the case studies or the waiting. I turned to this prayer every single time I began to think a negative or frightening thought about my adoption and, thankfully, I felt a new sense of ease and enthusiasm.

Within the month, Jennifer advised me to leave her agency and register with my county department of social services. According to her, being single was working against me; I was being passed over by placement agencies in favor of couples. “I know you are more prepared and more capable than many couples, Jill, but you have a better chance with fostering to adopt.” I did as she said and was assigned to a new social worker, a warm and amazing woman named Mary.


In October, Mary called to tell me about a ten-year-old girl named Angel who was in foster care but already legally free and available for adoption. “No way,” I thought. Not a ten-year-old girl. I wanted siblings–ages six and seven. Luckily another thought came: You asked for the perfection of the Holy Spirit, Jill—and you don’t know what that looks like. I really could not argue with that logic. I did not know what divine perfection would be for me, so I committed to explore the possibilities. In November I met with Angel’s care team; then in December I met Angel. By the end of January, she moved into my home. Our adoption was final a year later.


Human Perfection

Since that time, I have come to understand our human version of perfection is rigid and dull. It reduces the layered richness of human existence into a flat liner. People mistake neatness, symmetry, or efficiency for perfection, and we think something or someone must be flawless to be perfect. Divine perfection—the perfection of the Holy Spirit—will not reduce itself to our measly expectations; instead, it invites us into its magnificence. I am deeply and humbly grateful that I accepted that invitation eight years ago.

And so it is.

Jill A. Lahnstein is a mother, a teacher, a writer, and a jewelry artist. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her teenage daughter Angel and their little canine sidekick Sunny. She has spent over 20 years teaching English to college students. Most of her experience has been with those students who are first-generation, economically disadvantaged, or disabled. She fervently believes that every moment–inside the classroom and outside the classroom–can be a healing moment.


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