THERE, BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I

Reflections on Life and the Law with James Forrest

I recently traveled to the heart of Africa, the penultimate trip in a long journey that will culminate in the adoption of our new son.  The purpose of my trip was to not only meet a baby boy who had been just a dream—just a figment in my imagination until I saw him at the orphanage and he reached for me—but to also finalize paperwork and appear in family court in our new addition’s homeland of Ethiopia.

While Ethiopia is so different from the US in so many ways, I was reminded how some things are the same wherever you go—as in how pressure-packed a court appearance can be.  Just a couple of days into our trip, we had to face up to our task of appearing in family court upon completion of 18 months worth of paperwork, field visits, and anxiety.  During the process, three different agencies of the Ethiopian government must approve the prospective adoption, and the judge must have a thoroughly completed file to be able to approve the union of the new family.

The way it works on court day is that several couples appear before the judge simultaneously, in order to manage the influx of prospective adoptive parents (something that led me to balance the agonizing thought of so many orphans who need parents).  In this scenario, my wife and I became aware that some of us would be completing the final steps necessary to complete the adoptions of our respective children during our next trip to Ethiopia in June, while others would find out that they were simply “walking the plank” toward a denial, based on a missing form or oversight.  As this realization, and the anxiety that goes along with it, crept into my head, I thought of that old saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Thankfully, when the time came for the judge to consider our file (completed with great diligence and thoroughness by our agency) and ask us her questions, the grace of God was with us.  One of my takeaways from this experience was that it gave me a great reawakening to the pressures that my clients face during court cases or commercial disputes, and how, like the agency did for our family—thoroughly preparing us in advance for each twist and turn of the adoption process, executing each and every detail with an acumen that was awe-inspiring—my work can not only protect my clients but give them great comfort and relief during these times.

As we walked away from the court building, I had to contain the outward expression of the joy and relief I was feeling out of respect for the many Ethiopians who, due to extreme financial hardship, were arriving to facilitate the process of giving up their own children for adoption.  There, but for the grace of God, go I, indeed.