I’ve never been a fan of horror stories of any kind. I remember when I was pregnant with our second child and preparing for our first completely natural birth, I made the decision to avoid or redirect conversations in which women told their purposely sensational and unpleasant natural birth stories. I also don’t enjoy any kind of horror unfolding on a screen before my eyes; I find nothing entertaining about it. Whatever is good, true, pleasing, lovely…think about such things.
When we told people about our plans to adopt a child several years ago, some responded by unloading horror stories on us. I don’t know if their intent was to get us to reconsider, or just to share what they knew about the topic. Either way, we are now on the other side of quite an adoption journey, but it is not one of horror. Though we did experience some horrific things with K, that doesn’t define the experience as a whole. What unfolded during the 3 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days during which K lived with our family is a story of grace.
As I’ve said before, adoption is a beautiful thing. It can also be a very complicated thing. The path God called us to was unique, as is every adoption story. So if you choose to read on, know that our experience does not project itself onto any other family. This is simply our experience, and we want to share it with you in praise of the only One who can rescue.
Where I left off in sharing our story with you two months ago, Mason had just enrolled K at our local elementary school. From what we can deduce, she quickly began testing the limits with her teachers. Were they in authority, or was she? At least once, she emerged from the school bathroom with her head, hair and face dripping with hand soap, knowing she did something inappropriate and testing to see if the teachers would enforce the boundaries of social propriety. (If there is a limit, she will test it to see who’s boss.) For K, this test probably looked like approaching a teacher or two and repetitively saying something to the effect of “I discipline you? I spank you?” Spank. It’s not a word generally welcomed by the public school system. K equated the word with training and was wondering if anybody cared enough to train her in this new institutional environment. At least one adult with whom K spoke became alarmed by this talk of discipline, as well as by the bits and pieces of the story which they knew – the tent, the odd situation of Mason dropping her off and picking her up, the unusual fact that I was never seen with her, K’s obvious mental and emotional evidence of longterm abuse and neglect.
So a school official who did not understand her history (the cause of her harmed mental and emotional state) filed an abuse report against us. An investigation followed. Though it was painful to be accused of causing the very hurt we worked so hard to heal in her life, we know that God ordained each of these events. We appeared in court a few days later at an emergency shelter hearing. The hardest part of all this was that we had aggressively sought emergency shelter for her since February 4, the day we found out she was coming back to us after the two-month respite. Now, mid-March, none of our efforts to find safe placement for her and preserve the rest of our family’s safety seemed to matter to the department officials who wrote up the cold, out-of-context report about our family.
We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. As uncomfortable and frightening as parts of this process were, the Lord was with us. A children’s home society that had formerly rejected K (when we called them in desperation in February) accepted her into their temporary care. With the state now involved, help came swiftly. She was taken to a city a few hours away, presumably to a therapeutic foster home, and several days later I received a call from the staffing specialist at her new school. She was full of compassion for our situation and expressed understanding over the phone, after hearing only a few minutes of K’s life story, about why we could not keep her in our home any longer. She respected our years of experience with her and wanted to glean every helpful piece of knowledge she could from us as the school began to create an educational plan for her. The school psychologist also reached out to me with a similar attitude of compassion and love, walking me through a series of mental and emotional questionnaires about K that would help them provide her with the right services as soon as possible. Through these phone conversations, I was encouraged that God had surrounded her with loving, caring professionals who had a special ability to understand her unique situation.
As days and weeks passed with no word from the private agency we hired to help us find a therapeutic home for K, Mason and I felt the Lord was preparing us to terminate our parental rights. I’m grateful He gave us time to process this idea before the case plan conference last week. Expecting I might need a notepad, I brought one along and recorded some of my thoughts.
It’s raining outside the Juvenile Justice Center, and we are back down to three children. We prayed together before terminating our rights, considered delaying it to keep pursuing private placement, and God gave us peace to release her completely into His hands.
The lawyers told us they’d spoken with one of the case workers this morning, and that as harsh as the report sounds – full of accusations of abuse and neglect, stating lies in black-and-white lacking any and all context – they know it’s not all true. They indicated that they can see the whole picture of what we’re dealing with and how difficult this decision must have been for us, and that the report just says what it has to say. We were stuck between a rock and hard place, one of them explained, because if K had hurt one of our other kids, both children would have been involved and possibly both removed from the home. The report coldly portrayed us as abusive, neglectful parents. But God knows the truth. We swore under oath in the courtroom that we understood what we were doing in terminating our rights. This past month has been painful, but in retrospect it was also the most swift and affordable path possible to bring K to a fresh start. We serve a loving God.
This is a unique case, we were told several times. There is not a provision for this sort of case. For one lawyer, it was his 3rd case in 90 days dealing with an aggressive adopted child, each leading to the surrender of the parents’ rights. I told him that perhaps God is telling him something; maybe he could be the one to add a clause or process somewhere to smooth the way for families in this situation! He also said he had never worked with parents who showed our level of interest in the child’s future. We simply asked how the department’s permanent placement process works, how she’s doing, if the foster mom is willing to adopt (she isn’t), and what the future could hold for K if she is not adopted again by a certain age. These questions made the social workers quite uncomfortable, as they aren’t accustomed to caring parents, either.
So there we sat in the Juvenile Justice Center, dressed in our Sunday best, the pleasant expressions on our faces showing not delight in the proceedings but peace in knowing only God could have brought us to this place. It was confusing, but it was His doing. As we sat in the courtroom to affirm under oath that we knew what we had signed, I looked around at all of the faces: the social workers who refused to make eye contact with us, the judge, the police officers, the attorneys. I realized in that moment that each of these people had become a part of K’s story. God was working through everyone there to bring closure to this chapter of our family’s history and to deliver K to the next chapter of her life. He saved her life, and He will never leave her.
The wheels have been set in motion to find a permanent new home for K as soon as possible. Barring a miraculous crossing of paths down the road, we won’t be able to update you about her anymore after this, friends. So many of you have cheered, cried, prayed, laughed, and walked with us these past few years as we loved her through a transitional season of her life, the season for which God ordained her to be with us. Thank you!
As Mason and I walked out of the Juvenile Justice Center together into the pouring rain, it felt cleansing and healing. Our home is healing. We are settling in all over again, coming down from the heightened level of stress that seemed to define us for the past few years. Our three children are growing and recovering from what they absorbed, although they were miraculously protected. Eden still mentions K from time to time and draws her in her art projects. We purposely talk about her and pray for her so it doesn’t become as if she never happened. This is a story for our grandkids, and our kids’ grandkids, to know. The big lesson we came away with was to keep attempting great things for God and keep expecting great things from God (a phrase borrowed from William Carey), but to never assume that we know how it will go, and to never predicate our obedience on a certain outcome.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6