Heather Avis: Where God resides, where His heart beats the loudest is not in those easy comfortable places. So if you want to hear God’s heartbeat more fully, understand Him more fully and sit in the worth and value of life and humanity, then you have to be willing to step into those hard places. You can have easy, that’s fine, but you’re missing out on the heartbeat of God if you do that.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Heather Avis and you’ll hear more from her and her husband Josh today on Focus on the Family as we recognize World Down Syndrome Day. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today, we want to share the story of one couple’s journey to build their family through adoption and to shine a positive light on Down Syndrome and to hopefully inspire you to prayerfully consider adoption and how you can come alongside an adoptive family to provide some help. Adoption is close to God’s heart. He plans our days and knows our future when he formed us in the womb. I mean, Psalm 139, it says your eyes saw my unformed substance. In your book, were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet, there was none of them. What that says to me is God knew us before we ever even existed. I find that amazing. That’s a promise to each one of us. And God creates us and numbers our days and our job is to trust him in the process.
John: That’s one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 139. We’re going to have resources like Heather’s book,The Lucky Few, and some additional helps for you at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we can send a CD of our conversation to you as well. Our number is 800-232-6459.
And Heather and Josh Avis are the proud parents of three children. That’s the story we’re talking about today.
Jim: Heather and Josh, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Heather: Thank you so much. Just happy to be here.
Josh Avis: Thanks for having us.
Jim: Well, what an amazing story. Um, I always like to get a bit of background, you know. Jean, whenever I’m watching a sporting event on TV, she goes I would be so much more into this if I knew the people who were playing. And so you’re the players and for the sake of my wife, I want to know more about you. And I think the listeners can connect with that in such a deep way. How long have you been married? What formed your marriage? And where did God play a role in just you two coming together?
Heather: Yeah. We just celebrated 15 years last month. And we met - so technically, the real story is I was 13 and...
Jim: When you met?
Heather: ...When we met.
Jim: You didn’t get married?
Heather: No, no. I didn’t get married at 13, but I...
Jim: You’re going back to biblical things.
Jim: That’s not, actually, normal today. OK. So you met at 13 because you’re neighbors or what?
Heather: So Josh is older than I am, and I have an older sister and he was friends with my older sister. They met...
Heather: ...In high school.
Jim: She’s very proud of the fact, Josh, that you’re old than she is.
Heather: Yes, much, much older.
Jim: OK. So you’ve known each other when you were, really, kids.
Josh: We grew up together.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Heather: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: That’s kind of rare today I would think.
Heather: It is. It is. And I just see God’s hand on us and I’m so thankful. So then we got engaged when I was 19 and got married when I was 20, and I just imagine any one of my children at the age of 19 saying hey, I’m going to get married. I’m like, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.
Jim: I’m impressed that...
Heather: That feels very young, right?
Jim: ...Impressed that you, actually, even - your parents let you drive at 19.
Jim: We’re trying to refrain our kids from even driving. But, no, that’s good.
Heather: So we just see God’s hand on it, that in the last 15 years we’ve grown together, closer. And we know the opposite could have happened and we consider God’s grace there.
Jim: So those first couple of years of marriage, was it all bliss and fun? Or what was happening?
Josh: I think so. Some people say their first year is hard. Ours was - um...
Heather: It was pretty fun.
Josh: Yeah. It was like an extended honeymoon. We actually got married the senior year of our college year. And after we graduated, instead of getting real jobs or going after grad school, we moved to Hawaii and spent six months in Hawaii.
Jim: Who had that idea?
Heather: It was both of us.
Jim: OK. For all the 19 year olds listening, you may want to do that. That sounds like a good thing.
Heather: Well, there’s not very many times in life when you can say what next. And we had, really, no responsibilities. And so we did one way plane tickets, lived in Hawaii. We didn’t know how long it’d be. It was six months, moved back home, which is southern California for us. And then I got a job as a teacher working towards my teaching credential.
Jim: What age were you teaching?
Heather: Well, I was 22 when I got my first classroom and I was teaching seniors...
Heather: ...In high school.
Jim: I was thinking maybe kindergarten because that’s the best year, right?
Heather: Right. No. It was - the question was how old are you always. And the answer was old enough to be your teacher always, but just barely.
Jim: Yeah, right (laughter). That’s fantastic. The typical theme, then, you’re married a couple years. You’re having some exciting times. You’re without kids yet, so you’re feeling a bitFootloose, right? And you can go to Hawaii for six months and kick around. What was your favorite island? Someone’s asking that through the microphone.
Heather: Oh, Maui forever.
Jim: Maui forever (laughter).There you go, in case somebody’s going. So Maui’s your favorite.
Josh: Shout out to Maui.
Jim: (Laughter) And - um - you start thinking about children, right?
Jim: And what happened?
Heather: Um, we - yeah - we just decided it’s time to start our family. And we’d been married four years. And we had a really great first four years. Because we got married so young, we traveled a ton. I think we’re both very adventurous spirits. And we thought we’ll try to get pregnant and we’ll get pregnant. I think that the majority of people stepping towards parenthood think that.
Jim: It’s pretty formulaic, in other words, right? You get married and then...
Heather: Exactly. Yeah, there’s no reason for it not to happen for me.
Jim: Right. We even sing songs about that, right? First comes marriage,then comes love, you know, however it goes.
John: Obviously we don’t sing that song a lot.
Jim: I didn’t have to very good teacher. I needed a better teacher. But that is - there’s a rhythm to that.
Jim: And so you guys are expecting it’s going to happen for you, but it doesn’t.
Heather: It doesn’t. Right. So a few months turn into more months, turn into years, and we just find ourselves on that grueling path of infertility.
Jim: Heather, you expressed in the book, I think beautifully, a couple of instances where, really, I guess, put a spike through your heart. One was with a student who came to you and had some serious - a serious situation. And even getting involved with that kind of was a - kind of a double-edged sword for you, right? What happened?
Heather: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I’m sure people were getting pregnant before I was trying to get pregnant...
Jim: Yeah, right (laughter).
Heather: But in that season, it really felt as though everyone around me was pregnant. Um, it was unbelievable how many people we knew who were pregnant. And every time we found out, it was just like a little bit of a stab in my heart, even when it was people I loved very dearly, which, including my sister got pregnant at that time when we were trying so hard. But the kicker was always a student. And I had this idea in my head that I had done everything right - um - that I had made the right choices. I had gotten married first. We had a really healthy marriage. We were establishing careers. Uh, we were doing all the right things...
Josh: We had a plan.
Jim: Faithful to God.
Heather: Faithful to God, yeah. And it was - the fair thing was next we get pregnant and it should happen very easily because that’s fair, right? And so then when I would have a student - I had one girl who was just like a - she just had a chip on her shoulder. She had had a really rough upbringing. And I had kind of taken her under my wing during the school year and she came to me during my planning period just in tears. And she just said Mrs. Avis, I’m pregnant and my parents are going to kill me. And I didn’t think I could get pregnant because I already had an abortion. And she was 15.
Jim: Oh my goodness.
Heather: And it was just like oh, my word. And so she’s crying and I’m crying, partly for her, but mostly for me. Like how is this possible, God? This girl’s pregnant? This one here? Really?
Jim: And that’s so honest. I love that, in your book, the way you express that because it’s very human.
Jim: But you’re sitting there consoling this 15-year-old thinking how could she be a mom, I’m sure. Lord, I’d be - I’d be the good mom. Why am I not getting pregnant? Um, Heather, there’s so many women that face that. And if we can just take a little detour here and talk about that emotion. Certainly, men, we have it in a different way when we can’t conceive as a father or a husband, but what does that feel like? Describe that hallway of darkness.
Heather: I think a hallway of darkness is a really good description. Another visual is I always felt myself, like, I had this plan and then it burned up and so a pile of ashes, and then a fan and the ashes just being blown everywhere. And how do you get that back, like how do you collect all of that? It’s gone and it will never be what you hoped it would be. And it’s incredibly lonely because it’s one of those things that until you know it, you just can’t know fully.
So I had had friends prior to that time in my life who had had miscarriages and of course I’m sad for that, but then after going through infertility, the way that my heart would break for them or for anyone who’s going through it. So people who haven’t been there mean well, come alongside you, but a lot of times it just is irritating because it’s not - there really isn’t a right thing to say. It’s just a season of I just need to be really sad and I need you to say I’m sorry, and maybe not even I’m praying for you. Like, there were those moments of just tell me you’re sorry. Give me a hug. Don’t give me advice. Don’t try to be helpful. It’s so lonely and painful. And when you’re in it, you just are there. It’s the darkness around you. You can’t see it. And so what I’ll tell people who are in that place that I recognize that, that they’re there and they might be feeling the same way I was feeling,but there is another side. But you have to go through it. You have to sit there. You have to be in it and let God’s grace meet you there and then you’ll find your way out. There is a way out.
Jim: But there’s no emergency exit door.
Heather: No, exactly.
Jim: Before I move to you, Josh, to talk about the husband in this moment, one other question for you in this regard, Heather, is your relationship with the Lord because I’m sure that was strained to some degree. I mean, again, you talked about your formula. You got married young. You had a wonderful four years. You’re moving ahead. The next logical step is to be blessed with children. And it didn’t work out that way. Did you have some bitterness or did you have a discussion with the Lord? That, Lord, I don’t know why.
Heather: Right. Yeah, lots of...
Jim: Come on. I’m a good person.
Heather: ...Lots of discussions.
Jim: Kind of this quid pro quo. And so much of the church, we’re trapped in that a bit, you know, that we think that if we do these things, Lord, you do this. That’s not the formula, is it?
Heather: It’s definitely not. And there were lots of moments. There were lots of shaking my fist at God, hysterically crying, just totally angry moments. And - um –I feel like the ultimate lesson that God really impressed on my heart in that season - and I grew up in the church - this idea that God is God, period. It seems real simple, but just this idea that his goodness and his faithfulness and his love for me do not hinge on my ability to get pregnant or not. They are what they are. God is God.
And so to hold that truth - you have to be in this place where I’m going to hold that truth real tightly and I’m going to be really angry and frustrated and it has to be both and. And it’s an intermingling of all these emotions that feel like they’re conflicting, but God’s grace is so much bigger than that. And I really felt like he met me - I can look back and feel like he met me only with gentleness and grace - almost like this arm around me knowing it’s going to be OK. But he’s also not going to be the person that’s like, try this and I’m praying for you. It’ll be OK. Just the arm, just...
Jim: Just the arm.
Heather: Just the arm, you know, like, just this is hard. Here I am. I am God.
Jim: Well, I’m mindful of a woman listening right now. She’s at the front gate of this journey that she’s about to walk where you were years ago. And that is painful. And it is a process. And the benefit, as you described so well, is that after that process, you hopefully will have a - a deeper reliance upon God...
Jim: ... and a better understanding of God. So Josh, being the husband, I’m sure you’re thinking OK, here we go. This will be great. What was the emotion like for you finding out that you can’t have children as a couple?
Josh: It was - Heather mentioned earlier that we have been blessed and there’s been grace upon us as we got to grow together. So it was a time where we really leaned in to each other. And...
Jim: So it didn’t tear you apart?
Josh: No, not at all. And I felt that the arm that Heather’s describing in a way that showed up.And I remember sitting in our kitchen - we had this little, tiny mountain home. And I remember it was - as if he - God was saying to me what’s next is better. I have something for you. For whatever’s coming next is going to be far better than this. But it was really hard to keep saying that to Heather. And sometimes it would just come across as - we’re just gonna - the solution is coming, and she didn’t want to hear that. Sometimes it wasn’t words. And - but I - I rested in that God had this firm foundation that he had given us that this - something better’s coming. And I have such a distinct memory of sitting in the kitchen and saying that to her and truly believing it. But there was a lot of other conversations where it was - it was - you just had to sit in it. And I would just say - um - to a lot of the husbands out there that suggestions and solutions aren’t going to be helpful right now. Just sit in it - sit in it with your wives, sit in it.
Jim: Well, yeah. And Heather, that had to be, I mean, I know discussions I’ve had with Jean when I’m saying here’s what I think the Lord’s telling us and she’s not thinking the same way (laughter). You know, that can be a hard conversation in your marriage. How did you manage that when Josh was saying something better’s coming when you’re feeling like you’re at the bottom? How can you say that?
Heather: Yeah. No, that’s how I managed it. How do you - how can you think that (laughter)?
Jim: I can hear it!
Heather: Why would you say that? That’s not - I don’t want to hear it. Um, but again, it’s just - I keep going back to the grace piece of it because I wasn’t, like, this great, holy person. I was angry and frustrated and bitter and I didn’t want to hear it. And that’s OK. I feel like it was OK to be those things and to feel that way. And there’s another side to it. And I got to the other side of it, and I could look back with - um - fresh eyes and good perspective. But you just –there’s just not an easy way out of hard things you, know. And infertility is one of those - there’s lots of hard things people go through. But there’s just not an easy way out. You’ve got to be in it. And God’s grace is sufficient for all of your bitterness and anger and resentment and it’s seasonal.
Jim: Boy, it is. And you never know at the beginning that that is true...
Jim: ...Until you get there and then you realize it is.
John: And our guest today on Focus on the Family, offering encouragement for the struggle are Heather and Josh Avis. And Heather has written a book calledThe Lucky Few. Just curious-- during this season where there is kind of a monthly reminder that oh, we won’t be having kids any time soon - um - did you all buddy up with a couple? Did you talk? I’m thinking, Josh, as you’re sharing, I just didn’t - we went through season of infertility and I did not talk about it with anybody else. I mean, did y’all share that and have people along with you for that?
Heather: That’s a great question. No one’s asked me that before. And looking back, it’s such a foggy time. I think - um - like, my memories are people saying things like we tried for a year or we tried for two years or we tried for five years and got pregnant in an encouraging way, but that was the most discouraging thing someone could say to me because a year in trying to get pregnant, it’s like dog years. You’re like, wait a second, I think that’s a hundred years, at least, is what that feels like. So I don’t know that we did have - we had lots of people being prayerful. We had lots of great support. Our family was really supportive. We had wonderful pastors who came alongside really gently and just lifted us up in prayer and let us know they were doing that. But in terms of someone who had gone through it, no, but also because we were very young and not a lot of people we were doing life with were...
Jim: Were in that spot, yeah.
Heather: ... struggling with infertility, yeah.
Jim: It was happening, which had to, again, put a load on you emotionally. Everybody else is being blessed, why are we not?
Josh: Just relax. Just relax. It’ll happen.
Jim: I can feel that...
Josh: Go shopping or, yeah, there was always a quick answer.
Jim: So how many months or years do you move through this part of the trying and the tears and, you know, just the realization that maybe it won’t happen for us? How long did that last before you started thinking maybe there’s another way to go?
Heather: I think it was about two years, right? It was about two years of trying to fix it, trying to make it work. And we never went as far as in vitro fertilization. Um, but we tried everything else and got to a point where - um - I had had a test done that affected my body really negatively and my OB-GYN just saying, like, I think that’s it, basically stamping me with infertility, and the only way you’re going to be able to conceive is through IVF. We could try that, was it.
Jim: That was your last option.
Heather: That was it. And we knew that that wasn’t going to be a road that we were going to travel down. So that really felt like OK, that’s it. Now what? Because my desire to be a mom was still very much there.
Jim:So let’s turn the corner, though. This is where you begin to think maybe adoption is an option. How did that idea start within the two of you?
Josh: Yeah. Well, we always thought about adoption, but what we - what we thought we were going to do - we go back to that plan - was we’ll have our own biological kids and then we’ll adopt. And so with Heather teaching in the special ed and in - she worked with a community of kids that were just amazing and had - some of the kids were in foster system, some of the kids - um - we had seen that and then we - so we just thought we’ll do - we’ll have our own kids and then adopt. And so then...
Jim: Sounds like a good plan.
Josh: ...Here we are. So, yeah.
Heather: So we were at that crossroads. And it was there - we knew we wanted to be parents. We knew we were going to grow our family. So IVF or adoption, that was, really, the only way that was going to happen. And IVF wasn’t an option, so it was adoption. And - um - I think there were a few weeks that we were doing - we were mourning and then I think that I was ready to adopt before Josh was. I remember being online - and this was 10 years ago, so things are very, very different - but Googling international adoptions and trying to figure out which is the fastest, like what is the fastest way I get a baby in my arms.
Jim: Wow. Yeah, no, that’s fair.
Josh: We wanted a baby. Give us a baby.
Jim: I get it. Some might go whoa, but I get it.
Heather: Yeah. And so we - I think I was ready, maybe, a month or so before Josh was. And so we’re like, OK, let’s do this, let’s adopt. Now what? And we didn’t know anyone who had adopted 10 years ago, not one person. So we’re asking around and it turns out one of my - I was a teacher - so one of my teachers aide’s son had adopted. And she said why don’t you have dinner with them? And this is a couple that loves the Lord fiercely and - um - just, like, exude Jesus. And so they invited us to their home. Total strangers, said yeah, come on over. We’ll answer any question. And we go to their home. And they open the door. And there’s these two rowdy boys running around the house. And - um - I don’t know what we were expecting, but when we left, we left realizing this is just a family.
Heather: Like, wait, what we just experienced was family (laughter).
Jim: That is a beautiful statement. Really. That is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard about adoption. It’s just a family. That’s choking me up. So that’s great. What’s next? So you walk away from that evening with your new friends and they’ve, probably, encouraged you that adoption is a good thing. What’s the next step?
Josh: Uh, well, we asked them a ton of questions, and so they started pointing us in direction. And so I think we still create a plan out of what we were going after. And so part of that was, well, if we can go after a private adoption agency, at least we’ll have some control over age and -
Josh: Yeah - and the health of the baby...
Jim: You can check the boxes.
Jim: For those that don’t know, we’ve done foster. So you have a list of things that seem...
Josh: All these options.
Jim: ...Bizarre, actually.
Heather: It’s wild. It’s very bizarre.
Jim: You know, would you accept head knocking children...
Jim: ... children that set things on fire. I mean, it’s an interesting...
Heather: It is a very...
Heather: ...And a very interesting concept to get to check the boxes.
Jim: So you were checking all the boxes that said healthy..
Jim: ...well adjusted.
Josh: A healthy newborn baby.
Heather: We wanted a newborn. So, yeah, as little as possible, preferably day one. I’m in there for the labor and delivery (laughter). Like that’s the dream.
Jim: And that’s a good thing. I mean, it’s a natural thing.
Heather: Sure, sure. And we’re first time parents, too, so we just didn’t know. And first time - we were just dipping our toes into the adoption world and trying to understand God’s heart in adoption. And when we started down the adoption path, our goal was grow our family, not know more about the Lord, not see his heart for orphans. None of that. It was all selfish, just I’m going to grow my family.
Jim: I’m so glad to hear that because when I read your story, you two stand next to the Lord, in terms of extending your home and your love and your parenting to strangers, I mean, in the beginning. Where did you go? How did you do your first adoption? What motivated you to adopt the child you adopted?
Heather: Yeah. So we end up at this private agency, the family that we had had dinner with us, who invited us in their home, was the agency they used. And it’s in L.A. And while private adoption is expensive, they’re a little more affordable. And we want that healthy infant. And so we did the whole process, checked off the list and we end up - um - leading our - a group in our church on a trip to Romania to do a summer camp for youth in Romania. And it had been our third summer, and so we’re so excited about this, but at the same time, I’m wanting this phone call so that I’m not going on the trip, like I’m waiting until the night before. Please call me. Because when you’re in - people who are waiting, adoptive parents know that a call comes and, usually, it’s that day, sometimes you have a weekend, maybe a week - right? - to prepare for this baby and you drop everything, your life changes. But you can’t live that way when you’re in the process, at least, we found that you had to move forward with life, live life normally as you could, but ready to drop it all.
Jim: No, I get that. I mean, you got to hold it loosely.
Heather: Yes. You got to hold it loosely. And so I send my social worker a little email. Hey, we’re going to be out of the country just so you know if we don’t answer our cellphones or don’t check email. Go to Romania, spend this week at this camp. It’s amazing. God’s doing awesome things. We go to our hotel room...
Josh: You asked her how it was going.
Heather: Oh, in the email I said how are things going. She emails back. And we open it. I’m in Romania. I open up the laptop. And I see an email from her and my heart drops - any time I see her name my heart drops, like, where’s my baby. And then I remember she’s just replying to my email. So she says something like, thanks for letting me know. Things are really slow. We have a couple of babies with Down syndrome placed in - with our agency. It’s always hard to find placements for them. Your profile’s been viewed once. Hang in there, love her name.And instantly God did something in my heart - um - when I read those words babies with Down syndrome, and it was instantaneous and it was - I was not excited about this. I wasn’t like yes Lord, let’s step towards this, it’s like no, no, no, no, no. And I got down, and our team was waiting for us, we were going to go to dinner, and I - and, like, Josh and I lagged behind. And he’s like, what’s going on? I tell him. And I’m waiting for him to say oh, no that’s not what we’re going to do. And he goes yeah, I think we should pray about that.
Jim: Can I ask you a tough question? Were you hoping he would say “What? No, let’s not do that?”
Heather: Yeah. I was hoping that he’d say no, we’re not waiting for those babies. Like, she’s just telling us that happened so we’ll wait for our baby.
Jim: And Josh, I got to ask you, I mean, what - why did you respond with what you responded to? A lot of couples listening to us now are going why? Why would you do that?
Josh: I mean, I’m getting choked up hearing her talk about - these are my kids, so just hearing her explain it that way - um - it gets me choked up. I think - uh - I’m just a firm believer everything happens for a reason. And so if this was the reason we were going and this is the direction we’re going, then let’s step in that direction, so yeah.
Heather: Yeah, I think a lot of people look at our story - so there’s these two little girl with Down syndrome and the short of it is - we adopt one of these children with Down syndrome. And from the moment we read that email to bringing our daughter home, it was mostly us saying no or us saying I don’t think so, but we’ll keep stepping this direction. And so we weren’t these amazing holy saints. We were fighting what God had laid before us, fighting against it and God kept meeting us with OK, let’s keep moving forward. All right. That’s nice. Let’s keep moving forward.
Jim: Well, and I so appreciate that honesty. And we are at the end of this day, but I want to come back - I mean, people are going what, you can’t stop now! (laughter) But I want to come back and really understand your heart, your relationship with the Lord, what he was speaking to you because I think a lot of people, even believers, this is a tough decision. But it’s an awesome decision if those two can go together. And I so respect what you have done. But I’ve got a ton of questions. And we want to hear about how things have grown. You now have a family of three. So let’s come back next time and pick the story up right here where you’re adopting your first child who has Down syndrome. Can we do it?
Heather: Yeah, let’s do it.
Jim: OK. Let’s do that.
John: And along the way, if God has used this program to, maybe, move the needle of your heart to say yes a little bit even, to adoption or helping somebody adopt, let us know that. Call us and tell us and we can put some resources in your hands and pray along with you in that.
Jim: In fact, John, I want to mention Wait No More, which is a program that Focus started a few years ago. Dr. Sharen Ford heads that up on our team. And it is the opportunity to adopt out of foster care or, maybe, just do foster care or respite care, as they call it. Jean and I have done both. It’s very rewarding. It is very challenging. But it’s something that leans in the direction that our guests are talking about today. And there is no greater call in my mind than take care of the widow and the orphan. And this is that orphan portion. And if you have a desire, if what Heather and Josh have talked about today has stirred your heart to say maybe we can do more-- yes, you can. There is so much to do. So get a hold of us for Wait No More as well.
John: Details about these and other helps at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-A-FAMILY. And Jim, you mentioned Wait No More. Let me just say, Wait No More is a program that has had such great effectiveness. But your prayers and your financial partnership with us are crucial for that outreach. And I’m going to encourage you to make a gift of $50 or even $100 or more to help us with Wait No More to challenge and equip more parents and families to grow through foster care.
Jim: In fact, $50 will put a child into a home. That’s the metric that we have here at Focus. Fifty bucks. Is that amazing? And my hats are off to Dr. Sharen Ford who does this day in and day out here.
John: Well, make your donation, get a CD or download of our conversation today and tomorrow as well and get a copy of Heather’s bookThe Lucky Fewat focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time. We’ll hear more from Josh and Heather and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.