God is the preeminent storyteller. I wouldn’t say I know better than God—His privilege of determining the end from the beginning certainly gives Him a unique advantage—but had it been up to me, I would have made this story much simpler.
In his providence, God saw fit to bring my family on a long, arduous journey filled with many upsets and surprises—one that required that we cling tightly to Him always or else crash into an abyss of despair. As if our emotions were on a torture rack, we were pulled apart, stretched to the brink of our faith. The utter desperation required us to be ever so dependent. And I thought seminary was going to be the greatest test of our resolve! Busy yet uneventful, the monotonous days of a foster family blend together. Nevertheless, every so often a significant day comes along and gives your story momentum. I’ve already written about the reasons I am committed to foster care, my own adoption story, and how COVID-19 postponed our adoption date, but I would like to share the story of our first adoption in its entirety—a story that spans 1,382 days, just shy of 4 years. Hold on tight . . .
June 22, 2016—THE PROCESS
In June of 2014, we moved our young family from NH to Southern CA so I could attend seminary with the plan to return home to New England AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. We had three children ages 4, 3, and 2. Literally halfway through my seminary experience, God implanted a deep desire within our hearts to be foster parents. We met other foster families at church in Santa Clarita and their stories invariably left a lasting impression. We learned of the incalculable need in Los Angeles County due to a complicated, over-flooded system and a disproportionate number of foster families. We could not ignore it. We were overcome, drawn in, and determined to help. Even in the midst of a rigorous seminary life, we completed the certification process in 6 months. My wife was especially motivated by baby fever! After training for forty hours, filling out a giant stack of papers, passing our background checks, child-proofing our house, updating some safety features, and completing our interviews—we made it. We became certified foster/adoptive parents. We were told early on not to have any expectations. There are no guarantees in foster care. Until an adoption is finalized, we were warned, anything could happen. Anything.
October 26, 2016—THE PLACEMENT
Although our hearts were dead set on a newborn baby girl, we stepped up to an emergency situation and cared for two little sisters for 3 months. I was at work the night my wife received the call. After confirming with me, she snuck back into our children’s rooms and cried over each of them contemplating the changes we were about to welcome into our home. The intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and inadequacy caused her to throw up her dinner. Our time with the girls was stressful yet sweet and they transitioned out of our home on September 13th to eventually be reunified with their mother. After they moved on, we began to pray and ask the Lord to provide a newborn baby girl for our family. We waited and waited anxiously for what seemed like forever—6 weeks. We overreacted to every vibration and ring tone making sure we did not miss THE call. Finally, one evening as we were preparing to have some friends over for dinner, my wife was all finicky about her phone because it would not charge. At 5% battery, she received a call from our foster family agency asking if we were interested in a 2 week old baby girl. Of course we said YES! as they knew we would. Unfortunately her recent foster parent had suffered a stroke.
So, when our friends showed up for dinner, we informed them that they were in for an exciting evening. After dinner we put the children to bed. Then a social worker from DCFS stopped by to hand over our little angel—the sweetest little thing with TONS of hair! When she placed her in my wife’s arms, she said that she had been sleeping for the past 5 hours. She eventually woke up, made eye contact, smiled at us, and steadily sucked her tongue (she never needed a pacifier and we still catch her doing it as she falls asleep). We all passed her around, held her, and doted over her. She came to us with no name. All of her official paperwork read “Baby Girl.” We name her Nina that very night. When our children woke up the next day and met their new little sister, it was more thrilling than any Christmas morning I can remember. It was love at first sight. Also, the social worker mentioned that our beautiful girl was “either Mexican or Native American.”
November 26, 2016—THE AMBULANCE
After a month of bonding, some of us in the house became sick. At some point Nina started to have a cough which progressed rather quickly into difficulty breathing. The retractions by her neck and ribs became more and more severe. Her eyes were clearly communicating that she was in respiratory distress. Being after hours, we took her to urgent care and they immediately rushed her in an ambulance to the ER because her oxygen levels were so low. Sobbing, my wife rode along and held the oxygen mask over her. She was diagnosed with RSV and then sent back home. There we stood in the exact same situation as before—absolutely terrified, helpless, and unable to help her. She clearly could not breathe still.
We immediately called our primary doctor’s hotline and were instructed to take her to a different hospital. After calling a friend to watch our children, we rushed down there. This ER also diagnosed her with RSV but immediately admitted her to the NICU where she spent the next 5 days. She was hooked up to oxygen, an IV, and continually underwent invasive breathing treatments and deep suction. Thankfully, her breathing was brought under control. Our poor baby received extra special care from all the doctors and nurses. It broke our heart to see her tiny body endure so much as she was connected to so many machines. But she was a fighter. This was the first glimpse we got at her fortitude. We never experienced anything like this with our other children. Although it was a difficult time—at 7 weeks old—it was a sweet time of profound bonding between mother and daughter without the distraction of the other children. A year later she would spend another 4 days in the NICU battling RSV/pneumonia.
April 14, 2017—THE LAW
Aside from the RSV, our days with Nina were uneventful yet spectacular. She became an integral part of our family and a constant joy. There was no difficulty in the bonding process. We all adored her; she adored all of us. She had this precious smile that would melt your heart every time. We called it a “full-body smile” because it incorporated all of her. My wife and I would attend the court hearings in L.A., but we learned rather quickly that this was pointless. The drive down and time in the waiting area were excruciatingly long and there was never any tangible progression in her case. We were informed at some point early on that this was possibly an ICWA case as she was presumably Native American. This was on the heels of the infamous Lexi case in 2016, which was going on in our community during our certification process. Her story affected people’s perception of foster care to the point that we would often be asked, “Are you sure you want to do this? Have you heard about Lexi?” Her foster parents were friends of friends. It was close to home, but we never thought ICWA would affect us . . .
But on this day in court, we received the distressing news that absolutely shattered our souls. It was emphasized to us by the judge, the attorney, and the county worker that they must place her in a home on her reservation. “We are so sorry,” they said. “There’s nothing we can do; it’s a federal law.” They explained that she should have been placed with her tribe initially, but they could not find an available home. We were then informed that she will most likely transition out of our home by July. Right there outside the courtroom as we met with the attorney, I tried to hold it together as my wife broke down sobbing uncontrollably. After 6 months of blissful bonding, it was the most devastating news we’d ever received. Our idyllic world came crashing down. After the slow walk to the car, my wife broke the silence with her frustration. “I hate this!” she cried as we got in. The thought of saying goodbye just didn’t make any sense to us, but we asked others to pray with us for a miracle. We wholeheartedly believed God could intervene on our behalf, but also believed His ability to care for her was more perfect than ours. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” We were literally torn apart in this paradox. “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him.”
August 29, 2017—THE TEST
Meanwhile, I graduated from seminary in May. Then sometime in July we received the dreaded news—they found a placement for her within the tribe. We were absolutely crushed and wondered if God might be opening the door for us to go back home. But there was an interesting catch—a sliver of hope. The tribe immediately requested a paternity test. They would not take her unless the relation was verified. Her connection to the tribe was determined by her alleged father who was a member of the Mojave tribe. We had the test as soon as possible so we could get the results. The test was sent to the tribe who had the father’s DNA already on file. Then we waited and waited. We were nervous, hopeful, and just excited that after a year, something was actually happening.
Then we received a HUGE ANSWER TO PRAYER via text message! My wife saw that it was from the county worker and knowing what it contained she braced herself and read the wonderful words. “He is not the father.” He was not the father! We have never before received such amazing news from a text. My wife jumped up and down and screamed so loud, the children came running into the room to make sure Mom was o.k. They found her on her knees sobbing joyful tears of praise. Oh what relief came over us! We couldn’t believe it. The pendulum had swung. We were plucked from the slough and placed high in the clouds! It was eventually determined that Nina’s case was no longer an ICWA situation. No, it did not mean that adoption was certain, but by God’s lavish grace we had just surmounted the most significant hurdle in our way. It was the balm we desperately needed for our weary, broken souls. We would stay in CA to see this through. Just one more year . . .
May 15, 2018—THE DELAY
A year had passed since my graduation. Bear in mind that we ached to go back home as soon as possible. Both our families live there and I had an internship waiting at a church we planted years prior. We had already spent an extra year in CA after my graduation and were so ready to move. Termination of parental rights—a necessary step if adoption is to take place— hardly ever occurs on the first attempt. But because we had never even received so much as a phone call from any family member, we were certain it was going to happen and looked forward to the possibility of moving back home toward the end of that summer. We even went to court but it was appealed and postponed for another 4 months. We were crushed again. We had been in CA for 4 years and being away from home longer seemed unbearable.
At that point we began to consider the bigger picture and what God might have planned for us. “Not my will but Yours.” We decided that God may be calling us to care for another child. My wife got word of a newborn baby girl in the NICU from one of our foster support groups. She called the social worker immediately to express her interest and continued to call everyday to check in on the status of the child. And so, they eventually called her back and said, “Come get her.” We brought her home at 6 days old. That same day, I received a call from a pastor friend to talk about a youth pastor position. Rather than give me a place to hang out until our adoption went through, they desired to invest in me and and for me to invest in the students. Over time, we would commit to that ministry. When we brought our new baby home, a friend said, “Maybe God is prolonging your first adoption because he wants you to adopt this child as well.”
January 8, 2019—THE TERMINATION
Well the termination of rights did not happen on the second attempt either in September and was again postponed another 4 months. Apparently her birth mother was difficult to track down and notice was not deemed proper. They had to do their due diligence and clear a few more addresses. Although disappointing, it was not as bitter as the last time. At least at that point we were caring for another little girl and I was busy in ministry. We had accepted that the door home remained closed and we were all in where God brought us. It was like God waited until we let go of our plans before answering our prayer. On January 8—two years and three months into our case—parental rights were finally terminated. Third time’s the charm. We were overjoyed as this opened the door for permanency. The adoption process is like jumping through a series of hoops. Every one you get through is a major accomplishment filled with joy and excitement, but that momentum is quickly lost as you crash into another obstacle. And then all you can do is wait.
October 15, 2019—THE PAPERWORK
And wait we did. At long last, after 10 months—much longer than we expected—we sat down with the adoption worker and signed the adoptive paperwork. Normally this would have happened quicker, but there were some clerical errors in the paperwork that needed correcting. The signing was fairly quick. Technically after the signing, Nina was no longer in foster care and her name legally changed, but we still waited for our special day in court where this would be finalized formally—signed and sealed, declared by a judge. As we joyfully filled out the adoption paperwork—three years after placement—our adoption worker pointed out that we had faced “every possible delay.” And then we waited some more for our adoption finalization date.
March 16, 2020—THE CLOSURE
Then 2020 happened. You can imagine how thrilled we were to receive a letter in the mail early in March with an adoption date scheduled for just 2 weeks away. We were relieved to finally see the consummation of this tumultuous journey. Of course we immediately announced the news to everyone. We made all of the customary preparations—invited friends and family, arranged a photographer, bought Nina a special white dress, had signs made with dates on them, and planned a celebration.
Then the unimaginable happened. Literally two hours before our hearing was to take place, as we were getting the five kids dressed and doing their hair, we received the call. The children’s court shut down and all hearings were cancelled due to COVID-19. We missed it by two hours! We were dumbfounded. In an instant we went from soaring with excitement to crashing hard in the dust of disappointment. Sweet tears of anticipatory joy quickly turned to bitter tears of sadness and confusion. Then came the unexpected laughter as we threw our hands up in surrender. This grief was further compounded when they gave us a new date—February 2, 2021. Almost an entire year later!
July 24, 2020—THE NOTARY
The “stupid crona-birus”—as Nina likes to say—has certainly brought its unique set of unprecedented situations spurring innovation. We were following the news of other states allowing adoption through Zoom, but we had mixed feelings about it. Of course we longed for finalization but it seemed so anticlimactic to us. We wanted our special day in court. We began to hear from friends that L. A. County was offering an option for families with uncontested adoptions. We did our research and discovered that we could waive our right to an in person hearing by filing the adoption paperwork ourselves with a notary. Our foster family agency put it together and brought it to us. Rather than going to the bank or UPS, we wanted a personal connection. So I went on Facebook and asked if anyone I knew was a notary. We heard from a close friend at church that one of his bosses was a notary and was willing to help us out. Frantically we dropped the kids off at my sister’s and took Nina to this local business. My wife cried on the way there—a mixture of bitter and sweet tears. The whole thing felt rushed. It was much different than we anticipated and we didn’t give ourselves the time to process everything. But we just wanted to get it done as soon as possible. We wanted her to be ours. We could not wait till February.
We show up at my friend’s work and realized that in our haste we forgot my wife’s ID. We apologized, rushed back home and then returned. It was the strangest thing to be signing our final adoption forms this way in a construction office with a friend of a friend. He noticed that our licenses had the same date on them. This was a sweet reminder of when we first moved to CA six years earlier overwhelmed with culture shock and seminary. Now here we are signing adoption documents. Nina asked for a lollipop from the jar on the desk of the notary. I said, “Maybe, but he only has root beer left because nobody likes root beer.” He smiled and told us that actually they were all root beer because they were his favorite. After everything was signed and notarized, he said, “Well this morning I prayed that I wouldn’t waste my day. Now I am doing Kingdom work!” A surreal moment for all of us.
August 7, 2020—THE FINALIZATION
I would check in with the court a few times after we filed the paper work. I was put on hold for a long time and often the person on the other end of the line was not very helpful or congenial. They simply said they have no way of knowing when the judge would receive or process our paperwork. But on one day in particular I came home for lunch. It was just my wife and I at the table and she asked me to pray. Of course I prayed that Nina’s adoption would be finalized soon.
When I got back to work my wife asked me to check in with the court again. So I called. This time was different. I was not put on hold. The individual who picked up was friendly and transferred me to the person responsible for processing adoption paperwork. I introduced myself and he said, “Hey, I just finished processing your paperwork. It’s done.” Then he hung up. No further explanation. No instruction. No congratulations. So I called right back and asked for the man by his first name. When I got back on the line with him I explained that this was a significant moment and I wanted to verify what he said. Before I only gave him my name. We didn’t verify the case number or child’s name. “Sorry,” he said, “You just have a very unique last name and I recognized it.” After verifying the case number and Nina’s name, he said, “Yes, it is done. Finalized. Today is her adoption day. Congratulations!” I immediately called my wife, texted my closest family and friends, then went home and met our Nina at the door with flowers and balloons. That night we celebrated at dinner with my sister and her family. Although it was radically different than our expectations, we were all so happy that this journey was over.
August 7, 2020—The Beginning
This day officially marked the completion of a long, exhausting journey, the closing of a chapter, the realization of our hope, the culmination of our faith—but it is just the beginning. We have the rest of our lives together. Nina will continue to be a part of our family just as she has been since the day she was placed with us. She is ours. God knew she always was. And she always will be. We remind her often that we will never let her go. There is nothing she could say or do that would make us give up or stop loving her. I tell her that one day she will wear another white dress and her name will change again and that her mother and I will be there to walk her down the isle. The Giver of life writes the best stories and He has stitched our together forever.
This story could have been much simpler, but then we would have missed out on the details—all the painful upsets that made us tremble and all the surprises that have made our faith steadfast and immovable. “All glory to be to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think.” I could have a written a simpler story, but it wouldn’t have been as life-changing for us. This was an adventure of a lifetime FOR a lifetime. It was wrenching, but the damage to our hearts only increased our love for our baby girl. I vividly remember 6 years ago, as I lay in bed the night before we sold our NH home, holding tightly to Jesus’ promise that those who leave their houses and families for the sake of the Gospel will receive a hundredfold in this life (Mark 10:29-30). We moved to CA for seminary and never imagined this journey would include the addition of 2 darling daughters to our family. But God did. Throughout the past 4 years, many people have said to us, “She is so lucky to have you!” Our response has always been the same—”No, we are the ones who are blessed by this precious gift.” A hundredfold. For what is more precious than a life?