Focus on the Family Broadcast

Adopting in the Empty Nest Years

Adopting in the Empty Nest Years

Terrie Morrow, who has two children in their thirties, tells the story of how she and her husband, Cal, have adopted a young girl named Abigail out of the foster care system.



Terrie Morrow: Initially, I was angry with God. I was angry with our circumstance. I felt like we had been cursed. But now we’ve gone from feeling cursed to feeling chosen.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Terrie Morrow, and she’s with us today on Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, every so often we happen upon a story that stands out to us, and Terrie’s story is one of those – actually, Terrie and Cal’s story. She and her husband Cal were empty nesters who adopted a young, hurting girl named Abbey. And this really lines up with our Wait No More initiative here at Focus on the Family, which helps Christian families start the process of adoption from foster care. That’s the space we’re concentrating on. Others are doing international adoption. We partner with Steven Curtis Chapman at Show Hope and others. But our emphasis is foster care. And it’s tough. These are kids who have been emotionally bruised and wounded. And they have lots of issues, typically. And we want to go into this eyes wide open. But today’s story with Terrie is going to be a wonderful example of how God can use you, maybe as an empty nester. You’ve raised your kids and you’re saying, OK. What’s next, leisure? You know, calmness? Maybe that’s not what God has for you. Like Jean and I, were doing foster. We’re about to jump back into it. And I think that is a wonderful way to show the love of Christ to these hurting kids. Terrie and her husband Cal have followed God’s direction leading to adopt Abbey out of foster care and her story, as I said, is powerful. And we are going to hear that in just a second.

John: And we’re so glad to have Terrie here. She’s an educator. You’ll hear that heart. And she and Cal live in Holland, Michigan. They have two adult children and, as you’ve heard, a daughter, Abbey.


Jim: Terrie, welcome to Focus on the Family.

Terrie: Thank you.

Jim: Now, this is the first time you’ve done an interview on this, right?

Terrie: It is the first time, and it’s an honor.

Jim: So it is great to have you. And I love your gumption to jump into this area. Let’s kick it off right there. You and Cal, tell us about your life at the end of your child-rearing years. Here you are. You’re planning probably to do different things. You’re still a schoolteacher, right?

Terrie: I am.

Jim: But you were thinking this may be done, right? And what happened?

Terrie: I – we were thinking it would – may be done. Honestly, we weren’t even thinking about it being done because it never crossed our mind that anything different would be coming. What we were doing, we just returned from Maui. We had done a mission trip there two-and-a-half years of God blessing us with a wonderful opportunity to live like honeymooners again, starting our empty-nesting life in just paradise. It was work there in Maui. But it was wonderful. We did not know that God was preparing us and giving us a respite for what was ahead.

Jim: Yeah. And you have two biological children. How old are they now?

Terrie: Currently, our son is 38 – soon to be 38. And our daughter is 34.

Jim: Wow. And just as we’re going to get into the story, how old is Abbey, the one you have adopted?

Terrie: 12.

Jim: OK. I just wanted that because that’s jaw-dropping. You’re going 38, 34 and 12. What happened? But let’s roll it back. Let’s talk about the story. Your daughter was involved in this as well. So begin to tell us what happened.

Terrie: We came back from Maui. My daughter was married in that next year. We found our home in Holland. We never anticipated living in Holland and did not know that’s where we were going to need to be. But she got married. She moved to Tennessee with her husband. And as newlyweds, a young couple, they decided to do foster care. And their first placement as a newlywed, young couple was Abigail who had just come out of a residential treatment center. And the diagnosis at that time of discharge said something like ‘not making adequate progress.’ So in their wisdom, decided to place her with a newlywed, young couple. It was tough.

Jim: Well, you know, that’s good to point out right there. I mean, those are all really difficult backgrounds for this area of foster adoption. I mean, newlyweds, there’s so much going on in their young lives. And then you have these kids that are very challenged. I mean, they have been discarded emotionally. That’s how they feel. They’ve been abandoned in some cases. They don’t understand why always. They don’t know what – why am I different from everybody else. What happened to my family? There’s a lot of emotional trauma that goes into that. So that had to be a confluence of pain for everybody. What happened next?

Terrie: Well, they took her into their home. We met her through Skype at first. And we visited them in February thinking, oh, we’re foster grandparents. I think that means we need to get involved in this life. We did that in an excited way. We were very happy to do that – visited her in February and then again in April. And by the end of April, it became evident that this was really a huge burden for Liz and Kyle.

Jim: The home was in disarray.

Terrie: Oh yeah. A lot of disarray. Abigail was a hurting, little girl with all kinds of behaviors that even experts and professionals in the field had trouble with.

Jim: And what experts will tell you is those kids are expressing those things because they’re in pain. And this is how they choose to alert you to my pain.

Terrie: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, we adults who maybe think differently aren’t understanding that – often, correct? And I’m sure your daughter and son-in-law were struggling with what is happening with this little girl. We’re trying to love her.

Terrie: They were.And so Lizzie was feeling like a failure. Their first foster child, and it wasn’t working out. And she was just sad. And I could hear it on the phone. By June, a decision was made to move Abigail to a new foster home. I went down in June to see Elizabeth as soon as school got out. I went down to visit with her and to see Abigail, knowing they were moving her and very sad that I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to her because she didn’t know she was moving. And that is the story of Abigail’s life at that point. She had already had four – no – that was the fourth of major moves where she didn’t get to say goodbye to the people she loved.

Jim: Oh my goodness. And you and your daughter Liz knew that, but you couldn’t talk about it openly.

Terrie: You could not. No.

Jim: Because she was moving to a new foster home.

Terrie: No.

Jim: So that must have been very difficult.

Terrie: It was very hard. While I was there, I talked with Tennessee to see…

Jim: …The state agencies.

Terrie: Yeah. Of course, remember I know nothing about foster care because we weren’t pursuing it.

Jim: You weren’t licensed, anything like that?

Terrie: No, no– and it wasn’t even in my mind to do that. But Abigail’s therapist had said, you need to keep Cal and Terrie in Abigail’s life to the state agencies because she talks about them. And they are the only people who still come back to see her when she leaves. So what we had said was – because they couldn’t find any place for Abigail to go. They identified her as one of the most difficult in the state of Tennessee.

Jim: Really?

Terrie: Yes. They had nobody to take her. And I said, well, why doesn’t she come home with us? It made perfectly good sense to me, but it did not to the agencies.

Jim: The state was a little more concerned. You weren’t licensed, all those things.

Terrie: A lot more concerned. So I went to her case manager. I went to the regional supervisor. I went to the state – the head of adoption. I went to the Tennessee ombudsman, and I contacted the governor’s office.And I left not making any progress. I had actually contacted an attorney as well. I made no progress, drove home on the phone most of the way home and crying most of the way home because I couldn’t say goodbye to her. I knew they were moving her. And it was really hard (emotional) because I knew this child who is already afraid was going to be placed in another spot where she didn’t know anybody. And under Jesus’ way of thinking, why wouldn’t you put her with somebody who loved her, who wanted her? It didn’t work.

Jim: Terrie, I’ve got to ask you this question because frankly and honestly, sometimes, I struggle because the need is so overwhelming. And my wife Jean has the same heart that you have. And so our discussions, I guess, kind of revolve around what I would say is that emotional heart connection that she’s making and the more pragmatic dad connection I’m making which is, are you sure? Are you sure you’re ready for this? And we don’t have Cal at the table here to give that guy’s perspective. But help us understand why you had such a passion. I mean, I heard it in the tears you just shared. Why such a passion? You have a distant relationship? You’re in, you know, you love your daughter. You can see your daughter and son-in-law in pain that this little girl, only eight, causing such pain for the home, and yet you want to engage. Where do you get that?

Terrie: At some level, that’s a complicated question. But then when I think about it, it’s like, no. It’s very simple. Jesus loved me first. So I love him. And when I love Jesus and you know his Word, Jesus saw the multitude, and he had compassion on them.

Jim: Yeah.

Terrie: I know in all my heart it is because we saw her. She had a face. She had a name. She had a smile. She had tears. And I saw all of them. And I had compassion on her as Jesus tells us to do.

Jim: One of the aspects of your story I felt was so beautiful. And it points to the need that these children have. And it seems so simple to everybody else that is just doing life. You created a special Bible for Abbey, a scrapbook, again, with, you know, limited contact with her. What did you put together? And what did it mean to Abby when you gave it to her?

Terrie: As I told you, I went to every level trying to get Abigail to come home with us as foster parents till they found a home. We couldn’t do it. And I have a good friend back in Holland. And she would often tell me, leave it to God, Terrie. You have to leave it to God. And so one day, June 24, 2013, I surrendered. And I said God I’m done. I can’t do it. I’ve tried everything. She’s in your hands. And her future is yours. But I’m going to pray for her because I know God that someday Abigail is going to come back. And she’s going to look for me when she’s 18. Ages out of the system.

And she’s going to say, why didn’t you help me? And I need to be able to tell her that I thought about her every day. So I picked up a Bible on June 24, 2013, I started in Genesis 1. I read every page of the Bible. And I wrote a prayer on every page of that Bible to Abigail, so that when she found me I could show it to her with proof and evidence – Abigail, I thought about you every day. But I couldn’t get to you. I started then in June of 2013. And I finished it shortly after the first of the year in January.We did not hear anything of Abigail in June, in July. We didn’t hear about her until the end of August. I had a couple of conversations with her case manager during that time, but it looked like nothing was going to happen. They moved Abigail in August from the foster home she was in. She’d been in two months and that was an experienced foster mother, moved her out of that home and they put her out of state in a residential treatment center in Georgia with all adolescent boys.

Jim: In a boys treatment center?

Terrie: Yes.

Jim: This young girl?

Terrie: Yes.

Jim: Because there was no room anywhere else?

Terrie: No room and nobody could manage the behaviors that she had.

Jim: Oh, my goodness, my goodness. So what happens next?

Terrie: Then we found her. And then we began the process of saying, can we just talk to her? Will you let us talk to her on the phone? That took a while.

Jim: This is to the residential center?

Terrie: This was to her case manager.

Jim: The case manager. Right.

Terrie: Yup. And she – I don’t remember totally what happened, but I know that we found her in August because Abigail called my daughter on her way to a residential treatment center. The case manager who picked her up didn’t tell her she was going to residential. Abbey tells us they told her she was going out to McDonald’s. And they drove her three hours away and put her in another state. Abbey tells us when she entered the residential treatment center in the car, she saw what was coming and her heart – she said, “oh no, not again.” So that’s heartbreaking.

Jim: And let me add there, Terrie, because some people don’t understand the language that we’re using if you’re not part of the process. When you talk residential – the states are trying to do the – I believe – they’re trying to do the best they can. It’s hard institutionally to have that kind of heart. And when kids go to those residential treatment center, it’s very sterile. It’s not a home. You’re not staying in a home. You’re staying with masses. And it’s dormitory style and cafeteria. And it’s lonely. I mean, it’s not a place that necessarily embraces a child that this is warm and comfortable and this is home. It just doesn’t communicate that. But I want to be able to say that there are many good people working in the system. They’re doing their best to try to help these kids that are really struggling. And, you know, my hat goes off to them. They walk into work every day trying to help these kids too. But they need people who really care and who really love them. So there you were. She’s in that home. You’ve connected now. What is the next step?

Terrie: We found her. We – it took about two months before they gave us permission to talk to her on the phone, I think. Seems like it was mid-October. So we’re able to talk to her on the phone. And they said if you want to move forward, you have to become foster licensed. So we, in our mindset, fine. We’ll be foster care people, but we’re – and the only way they would go through the foster care process with us because it was ICPC, state to state.

Jim: Right.

Terrie: Very complicated when it’s a state-to-state adoption. But at that point, we still were not adopting her. But that was our little secret. We were going to be foster parents, and then they could find adoptive parents for her. As we prayed through the Bible, it’s very interesting. We start out talking to God about her being created. She’s beautiful. She’s loved. God give her a family. God give her a Christian family. Even when we got to the point of being able to talk with her, it was, God give her a Christian family, a mom and dad who will teach her about you. It was never us. But God was working on us in that Bible.

Jim: Isn’t that interesting?

Terrie: Yes Very.

John: Well, you’re listening to Focus on the Family. Our guest is Terrie Morrow, and she’s sharing a very powerful story. And you can get a CD or download of our conversation and resources. Earlier Jim mentioned Wait No More. We have a lot of helps. Whether you’re ready to step into foster care or you’re just interested in supporting families that are doing work with orphans, we want to help you. And so give us a call or stop by

Jim: So Terrie, you offer this prayer, this innocent prayer – Lord, take care of this little child that you have now fallen in love with, and you want to provide. What were the next steps? Were you and Cal discussing, could we possibly do this? I mean, you can do the foster care, but were you talking about adoption at that point?

Terrie: Nope. Then in November, we went down to see her in the residential treatment center. That was very heartbreaking because she was not the same Abigail that we left. She was very – face was just down and she almost looked ashamed. And she didn’t come up with a bubbly smile. We picked her up and hugged her and cried, and said, Abigail, I missed you. We were only able to spend four hours with her. So we drove down to Georgia from Michigan, spent four hours with her, turned around and drove home and cried a good deal of the way home leaving her there. And that was the turning point of…

Jim: That was it.

John: We need to get her out of there. She’s going to be our daughter.

Jim: That was the – that’s what you heard in your heart. And that’s what you and Cal talked about.

Terrie: Yes. Yes.

Jim: So it’s now a rescue mission.

Terrie: Yes.

Jim: You’re all in– Green Berets. Let’s suit up. We’re going in to get her.

Terrie: Yes.

Jim: That’s awesome.

Terrie: Yes.

Jim: All right. So how was that process? I mean, you went through it. You were able to get her to your home in the foster context, or did you adopt out of the residential treatment?

Terrie: We brought her home. Well, it was a long process.

Jim: How long? – just to give people an idea.

Terrie: That was November of 2013 when we were able to see her, and she wasn’t adopted until October 29 of 2015. So two years before we could adopt her.

Jim: Two years. And I appreciate that awareness because a lot of people think they can come in and, within a week or two, get this done. This is not that kind of a process.

Terrie: No.

Jim: You know, thankfully, the state’s very careful about who these kids are going to live with. And that’s a good thing. But it can be long. And it can be tiring. And you’ve got to be in almost like a Green Beret. You’re sticking to the mission…

Terrie: …Yeah.

Jim: …Until you accomplish it. So that’s wonderful. Give us the story though, the joyful. What happened? She comes into your home. Tell us. Tell us that?

Terrie: Well, I’d like to tell you it start – it did start out joyful because that was in November. We had already started the foster licensing. We were pretty much done with that in December. She was supposed to have been discharged in March, but she was not. She was supposed to have been discharged in May, but she was not. During that time in May, my mother passed away two weeks notice of cancer. And she died two weeks later. So that was very unexpected and hard. So that was God’s blessing that Abigail didn’t come that soon. But we didn’t know that at the time. So she came in August. So yes, it was joyful because it was, like, yeah, we finally won. And she’s home.

Jim: And it’s important I think for people to hear what was that like? You go over months, weeks, months and even a year – what did you see in Abigail, the transition you began to see? She’s going to test you. And what they’re really saying is do you really love me if I do, fill in the blank? If I do this, which is bad behavior, are you still going love me? If I do this, are you still going to love me? That’s what they do constantly almost, to see if you’re in. Can they really believe in your love? Can they trust you? And she pressed that, didn’t she.

Terrie: She pressed it a LOT. So,I couldn’t stay ahead of her. And I like things in order and in their place, so that made it stressful. So she was up at five every morning. And then bedtime, we tried to make it eight, which was her routine. And it was usually 10 o’clock because bedtime was all out war for about a month.She’d throw everything in her bedroom. She’d pound the wall. She would use all kinds of colorful language. After about a month, we said OK. I’m done with this. You’re going to go to bed. Dad’s on one side of you and I’m on the other side of you. And if we have to we will restrain you, but you’re going to stay in this bed. We will stay here until you go to sleep. We put on a Christian soundtrack that was from a church that we were a part of – choir.

Jim: Just to try to calm her down.

Terrie: Yes. To bring the Holy Spirit into our house .

Jim: You know, Terry we are coming to the end of the story. And I want to make sure that we get it – you and Cal, did you survive – obviously you did – but did you have difficulty in your marriage because of the stress that this was putting on you?

Terrie: Yes. Not difficulty in our marriage like fear that it was going to break up or be a divorce.

Jim: Just stress.

Terrie: Stress. Difficulty in communicating, difficulty in understanding and knowing how to manage her, difficulty because neither one of us wanted to be home alone with her. It was scary. Difficulty because in all of this there’s a lot of things that have been a sacrifice in our life, and the biggest one has been missing my husband. I live with him, but I miss him more than anything (emotional). And we’re older. And so I know we’re not going back to what we had. And there were many days where we knew we had to be in. We knew that we could not give up on her. But we didn’t like it.

Jim: How – I mean, I am feeling that. And I understand it because I’ve done it. John, you and Dina, have adopted. How do you get through that? How do you say, OK. This this is bigger than us. It’s clear the Lord, in our case, wants that. It may not be for everybody to do, and we get that. There’s no guilt associated with not being able to step up. It’s good to take an inventory of what you can and cannot do. But press toward what the Lord will make you capable of doing. But this is real. You and Cal struggling like that. I feel it. I’m hearing it in your voice and seeing it in your tears. How do you fight through that and say, OK. This is more important than other things that we’re doing?

Terrie: We read a book before this started, actually the same time Abigail came to our daughter. And it wasLove Doesby Bob Goff. And we know that love does. And we got through it.Initially, I was angrywith God. I was angry with our circumstance. I felt like we had been cursed. But now we’ve gone from feeling cursed to feeling chosen. Having time now that Abigail is doing amazingly well.

Jim: Well, that was the final question. How is she?

Terrie: She’s doing amazingly well because of the prayers of the warriors who have stood on the grounds of the battlefield ahead of us, around us, beside us, behind us. People that were praying for her, people that supported her, that helped her go to a Christian school where she could learn about Jesus and forgiveness and trust.So first, for Abigail, it was commitment. Second, it was love. And then once we’re feeling like we can breathe – because in the beginning, we couldn’t breathe – I’m recognizing life as three dimensions. So how do we get through it? Because there’s a dimension that goes from birth to death. You’re just on a straight path forward. There’s the second dimension that reaches out to others. You get yourself educated. You get experiences. And there’s the third dimension of the Holy Spirit, the dimension of Jesus Christ, the dimension of eternity that I can’t explain. I don’t totally understand it. But what I see is that when I get to participate in God’s redemption of the soul of a child and we get to see that glorious unfolding, that’s what sustains us.

Jim: We could not say it any better. And that is so beautiful, Terrie. What an amazing story. And we’re so grateful for your courage, you and Cal and the family, your two older kids. I mean, it’s wonderful to see you guys all in. And I am grateful for you lifting this up. The repeat here is- this isn’t easy. This isn’t for cowards. But if you’re committed to Christ and you’re willing and wanting to do one of the things he tells us to do 50 times, at least, in the scripture, take care of the orphan and step up and Focus can help facilitate that either in coming alongside an adoptive family, a foster family. The research is it takes about five families to really support well a foster family. Do the laundry for them, maybe do grocery shopping for them, whatever that to do list might be to give them a little break or do respite care. It’s a big word that simply means give them a break. Take the kids for a weekend. Let them kind of reconnect as a family. Those are all things that we can do. And Focus has the directional resources to help you in that way. Thank you, Terrie.

Terrie: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Jim: And to you, our listener, I want to remind you about our Wait No More initiative here at Focus on the Family, what I was referring to there. When you think about it, adoption is a huge decision. It takes a lot from a family, especially an empty-nest couple like Cal and Terrie to welcome a new child into their home. As you heard, there are many steps along the way, many important issues to consider. Perhaps this program has moved you to consider adopting, yourself. You may be saying, yes, we think we can do this. God is stirring our hearts. If you’re one of those families, give us a call. John will give the number in just a moment and ask about our resources for adoptive families. But if God hasn’t called you to adopt, you can still do something extraordinary to help these kids. You can give a financial gift and become part of our Wait No More campaign to help recruit thousands more families. We’re looking for friends like you who can come alongside us and give $50– that’s all it costs, $50, to help find an orphan child a forever family. I hope we can count on you today.

John: And you can make that donation and make a difference in the life of an orphan child when you call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.Or online at And while you’re there, be sure to check out the link for the upcoming Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C. Just as Terrie and Cal and fought to be a voice for Abbey, you can be a voice for the forgotten and abandoned and this conference in January will equip you to do just that. Find out more about Evangelicals for Life at

And be with us again next time as we talk about what women need to know about the power and value of mentoring.


Dr. Joneal Kirby: You are influencing someone already, regardless of if you’re doing it intentionally or not. Someone is being influenced by your behavior, by your walk, by your talk.

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