My husband, John, and I always believed that if we weren't getting pregnant, there was a reason. And to us, adoption seemed like the obvious reason. We figured that God had a different plan for us down the road, and we were OK with that. We had full lives and ministries, were active with our church and were all around really happy, content folks.
John and I became involved in the pro-life movement early in our marriage. And my interest in pro-life issues had begun to seriously grow ever since my second and third years of law school. Stemming from my pro-life passion was an eagerness to advance the cause of adoption.
I learned about a Christian woman named DeeannaMarie Wallace. She had been involved in adoption for decades, both personally and as a calling to help other kids and families. She and her husband, Randy, had nine kids, seven of whom were adopted. She had mentored and supported countless Christian families throughout the adoption process, and her name kept coming up whenever I spoke with anyone about adoption.
Deeanna was developing a reputation as the Christian go-to lady on adoption. I needed to connect with her. Through a series of phone calls and various connections, Deeanna invited John and me to their home for dinner.
Unknown to us, that night would change our lives forever.
John and I held hands and said grace around the dinner table in Deeanna and Randy's modest home. Joining us were their five girls, who ranged in age from 5 to 15 and represented every size, shape, color, ethnicity and background. Several of the girls were already adopted; others were in the Wallace home through foster care.
"There are orphans right here in Hawaii who need adoptive families," Deeanna told us passionately. "They're trapped in foster care, and the church really needs to get involved."
We looked at their girls. Here they were, former legal orphans in our own state, our own community, our own neighborhood.
Throughout the course of the night, we learned that these girls had experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. Unspeakable, harrowing things were done to them by their birth parents, whose job it was to take care of and protect them. We also learned that if a child is in foster care long enough, eventually the birth parents' rights will be terminated, and the child will become a "legal orphan." And then that child will sit and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
These kids wake up each day wondering if they'll have to pack up again and move to another foster home – for any or no reason.
And there they'll sit, and if a loving adoptive family doesn't come into their lives, they'll turn 18 and "age out" or exit the foster-care system. Those who do will likely become adults who belong nowhere and to no one.
Deeanna told us, "Every year in the United States, more than 20,000 youth age out of the system. And not surprisingly, the statistics show that many of them end up in prison or at homeless shelters and receive government aid, and they sometimes have kids who also end up in foster care.
"In Hawaii," she continued, "there are 2,500 kids in foster care. And hundreds are waiting to be adopted."
John and I were stunned. There were children needing families in our own backyard? Could this be true? We were two reasonably smart people who'd been completely ignorant about a really big problem. Near the end of the evening, Deeanna showed us a picture of some friends of hers – a military family who had six children, all through the blessing of adoption. Deeanna said we reminded her of them.
Honestly, I thought she must be nuts to think that.
My head was spinning. John and I were Christ followers. We knew that God's Word spoke frequently about God's heart for orphans and the Christian's duty to care for them. We had talked about adoption before, and we were always open to it, but we'd never pursued it seriously. We thought maybe it would happen after we had birth children. As pro-lifers, we'd always said we'd adopt any baby who would otherwise be aborted. That was a no-brainer.
Why would these kids in foster care be any different? How could we do nothing about what we'd heard? We'd been so blessed. We had room in our house. How could we turn our backs on kids in need?
We weren't sure what we were going to do, but we knew we had to do something. Hearing about the needs of these kids awakened John's sense of protection. He's a military man, after all, and he couldn't just sit back and not take action. He had to do something!
I kept thinking about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Remember the story? Jesus told a parable about a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who gets attacked. He's beaten, robbed and left for dead.
I sensed that God was challenging us, asking us if, like the religious men in the parable, we'd just pass by and do nothing. Or would we be like the Samaritan, who did something about the person in need right in front of him?
John and I talked and prayed about it a lot.
Talking and praying abstractly about the things that break God's heart is one thing. Seeing and hearing needs up close and personal – in your face, literally – is clarifying. There was no way we could see what we were seeing – precious faces, voices, and lives of real kids in desperate need – and go back to our comfortable life unchanged.
There was no noble decision making; it was just crystal clear to John and me that we were going to do something. We were completely on the same page, something we paid close attention to. It wasn't a hard decision; it was the obvious decision, set right before us. When we looked at the pros and cons, the obvious pros were that we were doing what Jesus commanded His followers to do and being who He commanded us to be. There weren't really any cons that could compete with that.
We were excited – thrilled, really. And scared. But we believed as we trusted the Lord with all our hearts, leaned not on our own understanding, and acknowledged Him in all our ways that He was directing our path (Proverbs 3:5-6).
After much discussion and prayer, John and I decided that rather than providing temporary foster care, we would pursue adoption through foster care. We'd concentrate on helping the kids who were almost certainly going to need an adoptive family. And we thought we'd care for a younger child, maybe a toddler.
To qualify as adoptive parents through foster care, we had to take an eight-week foster-care training class, complete a home study and make sure our criminal clearance and medical records were current.
We felt as if we were just plodding along, no longer bubbling with excitement, but we truly believed we were where God wanted us and were being obedient to Him. Each Thursday I dreaded the training class. We really didn't think we'd be foster parents anytime soon, but we both felt that God wanted us to be there.
Then came the home study or, as John calls it, the full-cavity search. This sweet, young woman came to our home and asked us all kinds of intrusive questions.
"Tell me about your childhood," she'd begin. "How often do you talk to your parents? Did you ever experience abuse as a child? How will you discipline? How's your marriage? How often do you floss?" OK, that last question wasn't part of the interview, but it felt as if she wanted to know absolutely everything about us. Though I understood why she needed to ask so many questions, it just felt wrong for her to be so nosy.
Going through this kind of interrogation was stressful. There was so much on the line. We kept worrying, What if we answer something wrong?
But at the end of the day, this pain-in-the-neck part of the process was doable. We didn't enjoy it, but we got through it. And I believe God used it to change and grow John and me and prepare us for what was ahead. Put another way: If you can't handle the process, the kids are gonna eat your lunch.
If you're a type-A control freak, like I was, adoption through foster care (or adoption of any type) is going to be very, very difficult. You have no control. This was hard for me. But through it all, God taught me much more deeply that He is in control, and I need to learn to trust Him with my life.
The truth is, I learned many of those lessons through flat-out failure as I floundered and fretted the entire time. Instead of praying, I worried. Instead of trusting, I called Deeanna constantly with a steady stream of complaints about the process. Instead of waiting onGod, I called social workers and guardians ad litem (the special lawyers appointed by the court to represent children in foster care) far more often than I should have, which probably wasn't productive. Too often I lived in the stress of it all instead of living in the peace God provides for such situations in life.
Thankfully, God is patient and kind, even if we have to learn the hard way sometimes.
During our time of preparation to adopt, Deeanna made a very good suggestion.
"Well, Kelly, if you're going to be parents, you might want to get some practice. I know a baby boy in foster care who needs respite care," she said.
She went on to explain that the boy's foster mom was leaving the island on vacation and couldn't take him along. The foster mom needed someone to take care of him for a few days.
Hmm, practice, I thought. Not a bad idea.
To be honest, I didn't really think we'd need practice. This was a baby, right? How hard could it be to take care of a baby? Amazingly, I think John and I still had very unrealistic ideas about what it takes to be good parents – something I've noticed is quite common for couples without kids. After listening to "Focus on the Family" for years and hearing countless sermons on parenting, we were quite confident, thank you very much, that we would do quite well.
No, we would never be lax on discipline; we'd never issue countless empty threats without consequences; we'd never let our lives revolve unhealthily around our children's wants and desires. We would do things right from the start.
As I think of those early days, I just shake my head at our arrogance and thank God for His patience.
It was August, and we wouldn't be bringing a child home until the following spring according to our timetable, so we weren't in any hurry. But thankfully, even with our unfounded parenting confidence, we realized that we could, in fact, use the practice. Practice sounded sensible and logical. I called the foster mom, Debbie, mentioned that my friend Deeanna told me about her need, and offered to help.
She suggested I come to her home in Kaneohe on the other side of the island to meet her and the little guy, Daniel. She told me that he wasn't quite 6 months old and had been born with symptoms of crystal methamphetamine addiction. His birth mother was a teenager who had used drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy. This little guy, Debbie told me, screamed for hours on end, especially every time he was in a car.
She said he was receiving occupational and physical therapy because he was developmentally delayed in many areas. She also said that his doctor and state child-welfare officials were concerned about possible brain damage resulting from his birth mother's drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, so they had scheduled a brain scan to better understand the extent of the damage.
With Debbie's trip coming up soon, we made arrangements for my visit. I drove to Kaneohe, praising God for the beauty of the islands and for the chance to help this lady I didn't know.
I also had absolutely no idea what the Lord was about to do in our lives. In a word, I was oblivious.
After some initial pleasantries, Debbie pointed to the middle of the living room and said rather flatly, "There he is."
He was unbelievably cute, with his brown eyes and brown skin. He was just lying there looking up at me.
"What's his ethnicity?" I asked, curious about what ethnic combination would produce such a gorgeous baby.
"He's Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino and Chinese," Debbie said.
"May I hold him?" I asked.
"Sure," she replied.
I was smitten with this little baby boy. I melted into baby talk and handled him as if he were porcelain. And as I held him close to my chest, he fell asleep on me, as if he were finally home where he belonged, with the mother he'd been waiting for.
His foster mom expressed great surprise that he fell asleep on me, and as he slept, I probed her to learn everything about him. It was as if the lawyer in me was cross-examining a witness. I needed to know every detail about the past, present and future plans for this boy.
At the end of our visit, I learned that this boy sleeping on my chest needed a "forever family." His foster mom seemed very conflicted about not being able to adopt him, which felt awkward for me because now I found myself desperately wanting this little guy whom she seemed to want, too. Debbie had several birth children, including two teenage girls and another baby boy from foster care whom she was planning to adopt.
She felt that Daniel needed to be with a family that had more time to devote to his special needs. She also felt she wouldn't be able to give him the attention he deserved, even though she cared about him.
While Debbie was talking, something awakened in my heart in a dramatic and inexplicable way. This little baby boy was vulnerable and alone, and his future was uncertain. I wanted to fix all that. This sleeping, beautiful boy whose heart was beating next to mine became my child in my heart and mind.
Of course, I was fully aware that these feelings meant absolutely nothing in legal terms. Even though Daniel's birth parents didn't seem to be in the picture, I knew they had legal rights until the courts officially terminated them. I also knew that child-welfare officials were in charge of Daniel's care and might have plans of their own for him.
I didn't want to leave Daniel, and he whimpered a little when I did. I told Debbie I would call her that night about the respite. I also let her know that if Daniel needed a family, John and I wanted to be that family. I lobbied her to put in a good word for us with the social worker. (I was an officially registered lobbyist, after all.) I thought that would help since she had just witnessed how quickly Daniel and I bonded.
When I got to the car, I called Deeanna even before calling John. I told her I loved this baby and wanted to be his mother. We discovered through conversation that his social worker, who would make the decisions about his future, was someone Deeanna knew quite well. I begged her to put in a good word for us, and she agreed. She also gave me the social worker's name and number and told me to call her right away because we didn't know what plans might already be in the works for baby Daniel.
Next I called John.
"Honey, I think I just met our son," I said, absolutely giddy.
"Tell me, tell me," John insisted.
"Daniel is so delicious, and he needs a family. He just slept in my arms. We really bonded. I can't wait for you to meet him."
"I'm in. When can I meet him? I can't believe this is happening! He might be the reason why we've been getting ready!" John's excitement only fueled my own enthusiasm. Our ninth wedding anniversary was coming up in two days, and we made plans to visit baby Daniel on that day.
As John describes it, he became a daddy the moment he met our son. His heart fell hard, too. Father and son seemed to have an instant connection. We didn't know at the time that this doesn't always happen. From that first moment, John was the most hands-on, gentle and loving father I had ever seen. It was so beautiful to watch, and seeing him in that role made me love him even more. He could never get enough time with Daniel.
Incredibly strong feelings of affection, longing, caring and protection replaced the feelings we'd had of just plodding along while we attended the training classes and completed the home study. It was an emotional roller coaster. John and I had been at the bottom, and now we were on cloud nine.
Because we felt sure that we were meant to be Daniel's parents, we sensed a tremendous urgency to make that happen. Even though we knew intellectually and theologically that God was in control, it was a constant battle to walk that out in a practical way. Sometimes we did well; sometimes we didn't. It's hard to be patient when you're so ready to adopt a child you've fallen in love with. That night after our visit with Daniel, John and I agreed that we wanted to adopt him. I still needed to contact the social worker, and I was very, very nervous.
Since I was calling the social worker at night, I expected to get her voice mail and leave her a message. Instead, to my great surprise, I got a live person. My heart was beating fast, and I felt as though the entire future of our family depended on my lobbying abilities at that moment. I had to make the case and make it well.
Her name was Veronica, and though John and I didn't know it at the time, she would play a huge role in our lives and future.
I apologized profusely for bothering her in the evening, letting her know I only meant to leave her a message. First, I explained that we had met this baby boy who needed an adoptive family, and that we were doing respite care for him. Then I told her that he had really bonded with us, and we wanted to be his parents.
"We already have a few families in mind for him, and he still needs a brain scan," she explained nonchalantly to me.
My heart sank. Other families? What other families? We already knew and loved Daniel. He knew us. We had bonded.
I started to panic.
"Have you been to your training classes?" she asked, giving me a glimmer of hope.
"Yes! Yes, we're almost done with training, and our home study is complete," I quickly responded.
That moment was a forceful reminder of the importance of timely obedience to the call of God. What would Veronica have said if I hadn't answered yes? But our preparations, combined with Deeanna's and Debbie's support, apparently convinced Veronica to consider our plan on the spot. Without ever saying she had changed her mind, she just started talking about the official next steps we needed to take.
The call ended well. Veronica exercised due diligence by reviewing all our home study and licensing documents and talking to Deeanna and Debbie. Just days after our conversation, she called to say she was approving the plan to spend the next few weeks transitioning Daniel to our home, where we would proceed with what was called an at-risk adoption.
At risk meant that even though we could proceed with the adoption plan while caring for Daniel in our home, several legal steps were still pending that might jeopardize the adoption. The risk was that the adoption might not work out and that our hearts would break into a million little pieces.
Quite a risk! This at-risk adoption was an unbelievable experience that led John and me into a deeper trust that God was firmly in control. I'm not saying it was easy. We had given our hearts to Daniel, but we still had to surrender to the sovereignty of God because we had absolutely no control over the future. We knew about all the uncertainties of adopting Daniel, but it was impossible to guard our hearts from crushing disappointment if things didn't work out. Thankfully, God knew our naïveté and vulnerability, and He provided grace and mercy in abundance.
The next few weeks were a blur. The transition plan was to have Daniel gradually spend more time with John and me while he continued living in the only environment he had ever known. Eventually, he would be spending so much time with us that leaving Debbie's wouldn't be such a horrible shock to his little system.
I drove 45 minutes each way nearly every day to hold my son, who almost always slept in my arms. I began to hate one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America because I only wanted Daniel home with us and never wanted him to sleep anywhere else ever again. John and I prayed for and worried about him whenever he wasn't with us.
And then the day came when we would make that drive one last time. No more going back. No more sharing our son. He would finally be home forever. He, and we, would wait no more.
It was a surreal experience. In a few hours, our family of two would be a family of three – even if it wasn't legal yet.
John and I prayed and gave thanks to God for what was about to happen. As we drove to Debbie's, we drew closer to each other in our giddiness. When we finally arrived at the house, we quickly packed up Daniel's things. Debbie seemed conflicted about his leaving, perhaps knowing it was right but feeling sad nonetheless. We thanked her and her family for the role they had played in Daniel's life and ours.
When John and I got in the car with our new baby boy, just the three of us, we were elated and couldn't wait to put distance between the past without him and the here and now with him. We had a son! He screamed the whole way home, but that didn't faze us; we just wished we could make him feel better. We were so excited and a little scared, but mostly just thrilled to truly begin this next phase of life. We had no doubts whatsoever that God had made us a family. We already loved Daniel so much.
We took pictures of the first moment Daniel entered his new home. We were tired. We were happy. We were a family.
As grateful as we were and are that Daniel's birth mother chose to give him life, her choice to use drugs and alcohol while pregnant frequently made us angry during those early days as we saw Daniel suffer the consequences. We went through a constant process of choosing to forgive her and being grateful for her choice for life.
The drugs and alcohol Daniel had been exposed to in utero caused significant developmental delays. He wasn't hitting the typical developmental milestones for infants. And he had another serious physical challenge. Every muscle in his little body was tight and taut, and he had enormous sensory-stimulation issues. He would often scream at the slightest touch, as if the sensation was magnified far beyond what he could tolerate.
But it also seemed as if he knew he needed to be held. As long as I held him, he was happy, but if I put him down, he'd scream like nothing we'd ever heard before. We'd always held him at Debbie's home, not only when we first met him, but through the entire transition period. When we took him home with us and real life set in, we had to set him down, have him nap, get him into a routine, and so on. But putting him down led to the high-pitched screams that shattered our nerves and seemed as if they could shatter glass.
Our nerves weren't the only things that shattered after we brought Daniel home. Once again, our cushy life crumbled before our eyes. We went from deciding which movie to watch or which coffee shop to visit to caring for a small, screaming, completely dependent baby. All new parents know the feeling. And those with colicky babies or babies exposed to drugs or alcohol know the amplified feeling.
As I mentioned, Daniel wanted me to hold him at all times. Suddenly I had no other use for my arms. Thanks to the flexibility of my employers, I was working from my home office now, talking to folks on the phone, and carrying Daniel. (Tragically, I didn't know about baby slings until later.)
Why couldn't I put him down and watch him coo like babies I'd seen on television? He would sleep soundly on me for hours at a time, but the second I'd try to put him down, he would immediately wake up and – you guessed it – begin screaming.
As you've probably gathered by now, I'm not a natural with some of this parenting stuff. In fact, any supermom-types who are reading this may be completely baffled by what I'm about to confess: Daniel's constant screaming and his need to be held at all times were killing me.
I was home all day with our new baby boy while John was at work. He received countless calls from his frazzled wife telling him how hard everything was – the physical therapy, the occupational therapy, the appointments, but mostly the screaming. I was a wreck. But John was consistently there for me during this time. He would encourage me over the phone, letting me vent and assuring me that things would be OK.
Shortly after we brought Daniel home, my mother flew to Hawaii and met her grandson for the first time. I had put Daniel down for a nap, and, of course, he was screaming. She assured me he would stop screaming and eventually fall asleep if I didn't give in but let him cry it out instead.
The screaming went on for hours, and Daniel never stopped. When we needed to leave the house, I finally had to pick him up. The minute I did, he stopped crying.
I remember calling John one day in tears and asking him, "What if this never changes?" He tried to reassure me and calm me down. Don't get me wrong. We were madly in love with Daniel. I remember how, despite everything, we'd wake up every morning wanting to see him first thing because we'd missed him during the night. Just writing this makes me chuckle.
And John … well, you never saw such a great daddy. He rushed home from work every day and couldn't get enough playtime with Daniel. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
After a couple of months, Daniel started to become more independent and scream less. I was so thrilled. Finally, he could entertain himself, and I got my arms back. I was beginning to feel normal again.
Occupational therapy helped tremendously with Daniel's developmental progress, and after several months, he was on track.
A therapist would come to the house to work with him, and I did baby massage and other exercises with him regularly during the day. Daniel began to catch up developmentally, hitting age-appropriate milestones like sitting, crawling and grasping at objects.
Soon we were developing what seemed like a more normal schedule. In fact, when I read about baby development, Daniel seemed to be ahead of schedule in reaching certain milestones related to independence.
John and I were cruising along in life, feeling pretty happy once again. We took lots of walks, pushing Daniel in the stroller and thanking God for our happy little family.
Once you enter the adoption world, it's common to stay connected with those who have journeyed with you or have journeyed through it themselves. Deeanna became one of my best friends, and we were in touch with her regularly. We tried to help with her desire to educate other prospective adoptive parents and support those who'd already adopted. This was Deeanna's passion and calling in life.
A key part of that calling was to help provide the very specialized training and support these adoptive families would need to effectively parent their hurting and challenging children. To accomplish this, Deeanna would occasionally invite experts from the U.S. mainland to come to Hawaii to provide training for families.
On one such occasion, a woman who had successfully parented many incredibly challenging, even violent, children came to the island to encourage and train adoptive families. She wasn't a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, but as an adoptive parent, she'd lived through the joys and traumas, rather than just watching others do it. In the process, she had learned some incredibly important lessons the hard way.
Our informal network of adoptive families took turns hosting her for meals, and John and I were scheduled to take her to lunch one Sunday afternoon. We were tired and really, really, really didn't want to do it. But it was one of those times when we needed to keep our commitment no matter how we felt.
Of course, our precious Daniel was with us, and he sat on my lap holding his bottle while John and I chatted with the woman about our experiences to date.
She asked me how long Daniel had been holding his own bottle.
"Awhile, I guess," I said proudly. I went on to say how great this was, especially since he'd had some developmental delays.
Then I explained that Daniel had finally become more independent and would do things on his own, which was such a relief after having to hold him constantly. Since the woman was an expert on adoption, I went on to tell her about Daniel's background and how the drugs and alcohol in utero made him extra sensitive to touch. I also mentioned that his foster mom didn't touch him very much because it made him scream, and who wants to make a baby scream?
She looked quite serious, as if something was really wrong, and continued to ask me questions.
"Does he look back and check in with you when he crawls to touch something?" she wanted to know.
"Not really," I said.
"Does he turn to show you something new he's discovered?" she continued.
"No, not really. He's gotten very independent, and it's a lot easier this way," I replied.
After a few more questions and a few more answers, she finally said, "You folks are headed for trouble."
I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. She went on to tell us that those symptoms indicated that Daniel wasn't appropriately attached to us, and because of what he'd been through, he might have an attachment deficit.
Attachment deficit? As in the reactive attachment disorder? Pure panic set it.
"Don't worry," she said. "He's young enough that you can help him become securely attached fairly easily. You'll have to therapeutically parent him, though."
What in the world did that mean?
She went on to give us advice that would have sounded like psychobabble had we not seen attachment problems up close and personal.
She said that only John and I should hold Daniel, and that only I should feed him (not even John!). She told us that we should never let him hold his own bottle; he needed to depend on me to provide him with what he needed. He needed to be able to bond with and trust me. And then came the kicker: I needed to hold him and be face-to-face with him for almost eight hours a day!
My first thought was, Are you kidding me?
How in the world was I supposed to hold him for eight hours a day? We'd soon find out. We left the restaurant that day feeling unsettled and upset. In fact, I was gripped with fear and sick to my stomach. It's hard to describe the dark cloud of dread that enveloped us. We prayed and reminded ourselves that Daniel was still young. We could fix this.
The truth is that God did a great thing for us that day. He reminded us what happens to kids when they don't get the kind of start in life that He wants them to have.
It seemed like crazy advice that would only make our life harder in the short term. Instead, by God's grace, we took this woman's words very seriously. It was hard, but it was doable. We did what she said. Honestly, we were scared not to. I finally discovered the miracle of the baby sling, so at least I had my arms. And after several months of this therapeutic parenting, we saw a difference. Daniel began to make good eye contact, and he was much healthier emotionally, more engaged and more connected to us. He checked in with us if he were on a mission to do something. He shared his new-toy joy with us as he made new discoveries.
I still had to battle reasonable and unreasonable fears – reasonable fears that we'd not done enough to help Daniel become emotionally healthy, and unreasonable fears that at any moment he'd suddenly detach from us. John and I alternated the roles of worrier and assurer, and back and forth we went, supporting each other through the fear along the way.
The time approached for Daniel's adoption to be finalized. We were beyond thrilled that the court would make final what we knew in our hearts: We were a forever family. As part of the normal process, we needed to schedule two more meetings with Veronica before adoption day – one at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and one at our home.
Foster parents don't have a lot of rights or privileges. But once the road is cleared for an adoption to be finalized, foster parents have quite a few more privileges, which include learning everything about the child they are about to adopt. So Veronica arranged a meeting with John and me at her DHS office so she could tell us things about Daniel's history that we didn't already know. She wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we were getting into and were fully committed. At this point, nothing would have changed our minds about adopting Daniel. This was simply a DHS formality from our perspective.
When we arrived at DHS on the day of the meeting, Veronica led us to a plain, small conference room with a round table and a few chairs. She told us to wait in the room while she went to get Daniel's file. Veronica returned a few minutes later carrying a stack of folders that completely filled her arms up to her chin and almost fell from her hands. How in the world could a 1-year-old have a file this big? I wondered.
I wouldn't have to wait long for my answer. Veronica explained that Daniel's birth mother had also been in foster care. His maternal grandmother had been connected "to the system" and had received some government services. The file was big because it contained generations of sadness. Sad choices. Sad outcomes. Sad people. The whole thing was just so sad.
We learned that both Daniel's birth mother and birth father did drugs – marijuana and crystal methamphetamines – and they had dropped out of high school. His birth father was known to child-welfare officials as a homeless street kid from a neighboring island who now lived in Waikiki on the streets.
Daniel's maternal uncle was a teenager and was in foster care. At the moment, however, he was missing after running away. Neither child-welfare officials nor his foster parents knew his whereabouts. Daniel's birth mother seemed to have disappeared; officials weren't able to contact her by phone or in person. They couldn't tell us any more about her current situation.
After that meeting, as John and I reflected on all the sadness in this family, we were grateful that God was going to break the generational cycle for our son, and we resolved to do everything in our power to help.
Veronica came to our house for our final meeting before the big court day. As she walked to the kitchen table to set out the last bit of paperwork we needed to complete, she bluntly told us a rather weighty piece of news: Daniel had a great-aunt on the Big Island. John and I stopped dead in our tracks.
"She wants to adopt Daniel," Veronica continued, never changing her inflection.
It was as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. I couldn't breathe. I grabbed my stomach and gasped. John was just frozen.
"But we talked through it," Veronica continued. "She's a foster parent, too, and she understands how awful it would be if someone took her little one from her. She doesn't want to hurt Daniel by taking him away from y'all, since he's settled and secure. She was glad he's in a good home and has a good future in front of him."
We wanted to give Veronica the biggest hug in the world. Just like that, as quickly as the fear had come, it was gone. Veronica had done what she believed was in Daniel's best interest. Of course, a judge had to concur, but the recommendations of DHS would hold significant sway in the process.
With relief, we signed the papers so that Daniel's adoption could be finalized.
When adoption day came, the joy was overwhelming. We arrived at the courthouse early, all dressed up.
Family court is an extremely dark and depressing place, filled with brokenness and despair. Divorce, child custody, child support, child abuse, domestic violence and termination of parental rights are daily staples. Adoption finalizations are a ray of light in this dark place, and everyone from the security guards to the court clerks and judges are usually happy to participate in this life-changing event. But we had a no-nonsense judge who walked us through the legal recitals and requirements and eventually banged her gavel declaring the adoption final, just 11 days after Daniel's first birthday.
It was over. The relief was hard to describe. We were now a family – officially. And we were a happy one! We loved being with Daniel as much as we could. We were amazed at how much we loved him, and, like all first-time parents, we wondered how we could ever love another child as much as we loved him.