The first time she ever saw her new daughter is a memory that is seared into the heart of most mothers. That feeling is no different for me even though the first time I laid eyes on my daughter she was already 10 years old. And belonged to someone else.
In 2001, as a worship leader at the church I’d attended for several years, I was never shy about talking about my life. I’ve always felt that God wouldn’t have put me through all of it – good and bad – if He hadn’t wanted some greater good to come out of it. That summer a couple who had recently transferred to Houston started attending our church with their 9-year-old son. The morning that I witnessed about the miracle of my own adoption, the mother (we’ll call her MR for now) told me the story of the adoption of their son. She began asking my advice on how to best help him overcome some of the pains of his past and I was honored to offer whatever wit and wisdom I could.
In December, the boy’s sister was brought to visit him by the foster family she was living with. She was cute and sweet with big hazel-green eyes that spoke such sadness that my arms ached to fold her in and never let the world hurt her again. I was glad to learn that the foster parents were in the process of adopting her. Soon she would never have to be hurt again because she’d have a family to love and protect her. I hugged her and told her that she and I had lots in common because I was adopted when I was 10, too. We were a couple of very lucky girls, indeed! She didn’t seem to know how to handle being hugged. I thanked God again that He’d seen fit to give her a home to get her out of the cold system that had left her so distant and withdrawn. Little did I know on that Christmas Eve that in just a few short months her whole world would again be shattered.
On Sunday, June 30, 2002, MR and family, including the girl attended church. I was surprised, but strangely excited to see her again. She didn’t remember me at all. After the service MR asked me to pray with her. In the prayer room, out of her son’s earshot, she told me that the foster family was considering returning the girl to Children’s Protective Services (CPS) custody. She had become so violent and aggressive that they just couldn’t handle her anymore. She was “visiting” with her brother while the foster family made their final decision. My heart broke and I asked what I could do. MR asked me if I would talk to the girl and try to help her understand that her life could be better, but she had to want it. I agreed to take her on an outing on July 4th.
We met at the church and the little girl shyly agreed to come shopping with me while her brother’s family went to some boring Boy Scout meeting or something. I told her that I needed help picking out some gifts for a friend and since I didn’t have little girl of my own, I was hoping she’d help me decide what would be best. (Of course, she didn’t know that she was picking out her own stuff.) After a couple of hours of shopping we stopped for lunch at my favorite Italian food place and we talked about life as a foster kid and about how hard it was to be separated from her brother. After lunch we went to Target where she found a sweet little silver necklace she wanted to buy. It said, “Daddy’s Angel.” She bought the necklace with her own money so she could take it home to give to her “new daddy” after the adoption was finalized. It took every ounce of self control I had not to break down and cry right there. She had no idea what was going on in her world and only wanted to be loved enough to be considered somebody’s angel.
It was almost time to meet MR back at the church, so we went by my house because she wanted to meet the crazy bird, Mikey, and Tessa, the wonder dog I’d told her about. This was the first time she would meet my husband, too. No longer nervous and shy, she bounded into the house and smiled the smile that won his heart forever. She sat and talked easily about her love of animals and swimming. We invited her back to visit any time she wanted to play with Tessa or practice her backstroke in our pool. And then it was time to let her go. That night Hubby and I talked about what a shame it was that God hadn’t seen fit to give us a little girl of our own.
The next Sunday MR came to me crying saying that it was over. The foster parents had made the decision and as soon as it could be arranged they would be relinquishing her to CPS. By the following Sunday, it was done. I was devastated by the knowledge that she was about to become a statistic. A child lost in a system with no hope of getting out without a miracle. I knew then and there that I was supposed to be that miracle. Back at home after the service, I told Hubby what had happened. His first question was, “What do you want to do?” My response was swift: “I want her.” And without hesitation, he said, “Then let’s go get her.”
I’d love to be able to tell you that we rushed out right then and brought her home, but that would not have been a mature and responsible way of dealing with the situation. Believe me; the last thing I wanted to be was mature and responsible. I knew in my heart that the little girl God had meant to be my daughter was out there somewhere alone and hurting. Like any mother, the only thing I wanted to do was to get to her as fast as possible. However, I knew rationally that this decision would alter our lives forever. Hubby and I had to make sure that we were willing to take on a child with all the baggage this one carried. For nearly five years it had been just the two of us; free to come and go as we pleased. Were we truly ready to get back into the parenting game? On top of all that, the last thing we wanted to do was to take her and then end up having to give her back like all the others had. We spent several weeks praying about it and investigating the situation more. Finally, with August nearing its end, we knew that we were ready to accept her into our hearts and our home. I called CPS the next morning and learned that getting her home would be an uphill battle.
“Why would you want her? She’s already failed out of two adoptions.” was the first thing out of the case worker’s mouth when I told her that I was interested in this particular child. I’d already spent over an hour in long distance terminal hold and transfer hell just trying to get the case worker’s name. Now, I could not believe what I was hearing. “Why the HELL would you even ask me a question like that right off the bat?” I screamed back at her. I’d introduced myself and explained my relationship with the child. I’d already given her a brief synopsis of my history and life status. She’d listened without saying a word, and then THIS came out of her mouth?? I was furious to say the least.
Knowing that screaming at the woman wouldn’t help any, I took a deep breath and said “Tell you what, why don’t you give me your supervisor’s name and I’ll deal directly with that person since you don’t seem to want to do anything to help me, OK??” Despite my best efforts, it was dripping with sarcasm and venom. Dang it! I really hadn’t meant to sound so rude, so I was surprised when she immediately backed down and decided to start cooperating. She explained everything that we would have to go through to get approval to adopt. She said that she would send me the forms I needed to get started. Two weeks later, the forms still hadn’t arrived and I realized when she wouldn’t answer the phone or call me back that the case worker had no intention of allowing the girl to be placed in our home. She obviously had no idea with whom she was dealing. I picked up the phone and instead of calling her CPS office, I called my local division and asked to speak to the regional director. Finally, things started moving.
At the first meeting with our local people I explained that I wanted my daughter home for Christmas. They looked at me like I had three heads and said that things just didn’t happen that fast. It was already the second week in September and there was no way that we could get everything done and have her living with us in just 2-1/2 months. That was the first time that I said what would become the words that case workers, court clerks, and office staff members learned to hate: Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Tell me who I need to talk to to make it happen.
It took a monumental coordination effort involving three different government offices being required to play nice. And in truth, I think they were more scared of me causing some major trouble than they were concerned about my daughter’s well being. I didn’t care. My goal was to have her home by Christmas and I wasn’t letting anybody tell me that it couldn’t be done. We would take the required parenting classes in one county, have the home and personal investigations done through our local county, and schedule visitations with the girl through the county in which she lived. None of them liked not being in total control of the case. My standard response was: Tough cookies. I want my daughter home for Christmas.
On Christmas day, 2002, the child of my heart came home for good. Though the initial decision period is only supposed to be 6 months, Hubby and I refused to give in and allow her to be removed from our home when we weren’t ready to finalize in that short period of time. There were days when we truly doubted our sanity, but we never doubted that she was supposed to be ours. Nearly 16 months later, on April 7, 2004, we stood in front of a judge and committed to becoming a forever family.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a fairytale ending where we ride off into the sunset with the birds singing and butterflies fluttering as the music crescendos to a rousing finish. It is a hard journey. It is a road that I would not recommend others walk unaware. But it is the right road for us. And even on the hard days, we bless the broken road that brought her home to us.