The Christmas Gift

A short story by Kirk Waldenbabychristmas

Though the date was December 14, Rick Shannon was not in a Christmas mood. Carols were playing on his car radio, but as he sat in traffic watching snow shower his car, Rick could only think of the reasons why he could not sing along this particular Christmas.

For one, Rick’s five-year-old advertising business he launched out of his converted garage was skating on ice much thinner than that which was collecting on the roadside signs. Today he had hoped to turn things around. But a meeting with representatives from Home Again, a restaurant chain of more than 600 establishments, started fast and seemed to fizzle at the close.

“We like your work, Rick,” the vice president in charge of advertising told him. “You seem to understand our Christian values. Your ideas may fit now, or perhaps later on. We’ll let you know.”

“When do I need to get in touch?” Rick asked.

“Oh, we’ll get in touch with you. And don’t worry, we will contact you either way.”

Rick had heard the don’t call us, we’ll call you line many times. If things did not turn around soon, he might be looking for work early next year. But it wasn’t as though he had children to feed. He and Joanne had always desired children, since the day they were married nine years earlier. They prayed, they went to every doctor they could find, and still no children.

For the last three years they had worked with an adoption agency. The wait, they were told, would be at least five years, perhaps more. Maybe seven or eight. As Rick’s mood faltered further, he wondered if he would ever hold a child of his own. And here he sat, two hours from home, with traffic moving at a snail’s pace. The snow fell even harder now. Would they close the roads? Would he even see Joanne tonight? He picked up his cell phone to tell her the bad news.

A change in plans
Before he could dial the number however, Rick was startled by a banging on the passenger door. The boy couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18; his hair was black, wet and sprinkled by the snow.

“I’ve got to get to the hospital!” He yelled through the closed window.

Rick looked him over quickly. Was he sick? Wounded? Or was this kid a thief or a carjacker? Rick didn’t have time to pray over the situation. The banging on the door was that of desperation. Rick popped the locks and the kid hopped in.

“Thanks man. I’ve got to get to the hospital. Can you run me by?”

Rick mumbled in the affirmative, asking where he was to go.

“About two miles up ahead. Not far. It’s on the left. You’re not from here?”

“No, Barrier Cliff,” Rick responded, trying to focus on this new situation.

“You’re a ways from home, man. You gonna try to beat the storm?”

“I might try . . .” but Rick was cut off by the chatty young man.

“You’ll need this, that’s for sure,” The kid was tapping Rick’s Bible, which he had pulled off of the passenger’s seat when he jumped in.

Rick smiled at the attempt at humor. He decided he could be friendly, even with all that was on his mind. The kid was talkative, and seemed honest enough.

“Have you read it all the way through?” The kid was inquisitive, too.

Rick nodded. What was this kid’s story?

“I’ve read it through too,” the kid told him. “Just gave my life to the Lord three months ago. And I’ve read like the whole Bible already. Wild what happens when you really need the Lord, isn’t it?”

Rick nodded again, but found it hard to force a smile. Rick was wondering where God was at the moment. Did the Lord even care about his struggles with his business? And where was the child he and Joanne so desperately wanted?

The kid interrupted his thoughts. “Yeah, it’s been a tough time,” he said as if Rick had asked. “But God pulled me through.” He was oblivious to Rick’s lack of interest in a conversation.

“My girlfriend had a baby,” he continued. “That’s why I’ve got to hoof it to the hospital. Couldn’t catch a ride, so I started walking. To see my boy. He was just born an hour ago. He came so fast and my cell was off at work. He’s two weeks early.”

He kept talking; all Rick could do was listen. “I won’t see him long, though. We decided to place him in an adoptive home. She told me I can’t say like, ‘gave him up for adoption’ cause we’re placing him. Our choice. She’s doing the right thing though, I guess. We’re just in high school. I just can’t do much for a baby right now. You think it’s okay, don’t you?” He stopped abruptly, waiting for an answer.

“You two made a wise choice. You tell your girlfriend she’s a brave girl,” Rick offered.

The kid was ready to talk again. “She is,” he said quickly. “She picked the adoption agency, even made the phone call. She liked the people there. She even asked the adoption people to pick the family. Then when they came to—like—talk to us about all of it, they talked about the Lord and He just started changing my life.” The kid was quiet for a moment, then kept going. “Funny, huh? It’s like God reached down and snagged me when I wasn’t even expecting it.”

Finding an answer
The kid’s next question caught Rick off guard. “You got any kids?”

“Uhhhh. No.” This wasn’t a subject Rick wanted to touch.

“Why not?” To go with “talkative” as a character trait for the kid, Rick noted “nosy.”

“It’s not that we don’t want kids,” Rick said sullenly. “It’s just that . . .” Rick’s voice began to trail off. What could he say to a high school kid? “It’s just that it hasn’t worked out.” The kid was silent, for a change. For a few moments, nothing was said.

The kid broke the silence, starting with some small talk. He introduced himself as Mike, and after a while they were talking as traffic broke loose and began to move. They talked about sports, a shared love of baseball and even about their spiritual lives.

Though Mike was young, Rick marveled at his insights. A few minutes later, the hospital came into view. There, Mike directed Rick into the parking lot. “That’s where I can go in. Hey, will you come in with me and see my boy?”

Mike hesitated for a split second. “My parents,” he said slowly. “They uh, they didn’t want—they couldn’t, you know—make it.”

Rick understood. Even if the day wasn’t what he expected, maybe he could help the kid a little. The snow was still coming down; he would need to find a hotel for the night anyway. Rick would call Joanne and let her know he would be home as soon as the roads cleared in the morning.

“It would be an honor,” Rick replied. “Let me give my wife a call.” Rick dropped off Mike and checked the signs for Labor & Delivery. He would find his way there in a little while, he told Mike.

Rick punched the buttons on his cell phone. In a moment, Joanne answered and Rick shared his story of a strange finish to a frustrating day. Joanne listened closely, then had a question.

“Have they already picked an agency?” she asked.

Yes, Rick told her, everything was settled.

A thought
Joanne wasn’t finished.

“What if God wants us to . . . well, if they wanted to pick a couple . . .” Her voice sounded hopeful.

“They’ve already worked it out,” Rick told her softly. “I’d better not get into our situation with them. It just wouldn’t be right.”

“I know, I know,” Joanne said, her voice failing to mask her pain. “You’re right. We’ve just waited so long . . . .”

The conversation ended and Rick went inside. After a few wrong turns in the halls of the hospital, he finally caught up with Mike. Mike stood outside the newborn window, gazing quietly at a tiny bundle on the other side of the glass, wrapped in a blue blanket. Rick walked up beside him and admired the little boy.

Both men, caught up in private thoughts, watched silently for a moment. This time, it was Rick who spoke first. “He’s a beautiful baby.” And he was. Mike responded with a nod.

“And look at his hand. Isn’t it cool?” Mike pointed at the infant’s left hand. And there, between the thumb and the forefinger, Rick saw an unmistakable birthmark. Immediately, he understood what Mike was talking about.

“The nurse told me about it, and when I saw it, I knew she was right,” Mike said. “It looks just like . . .” he didn’t get a chance to finish before Rick jumped in.

“A baseball,” Rick said with a chuckle. “You can almost see the seams in that little hand. It’s amazing.”

“He’s going to be a ballplayer I guess,” Mike said quietly.

“That must be his pitching hand,” Rick said with a smile.

Mike grew silent again. A minute, maybe two, passed.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” Mike explained. “Will you stay?”

Rick said he would, and Mike was gone in a hurry.

A gift offered
Rick sat in the waiting area reading a sports magazine while he waited. He glanced at a clock on the wall. After a half hour passed, Mike was back, walking straight up to Rick and giving him a hopeful, yet piercing stare.

“You said you didn’t have any kids, right?”

Rick started to get an idea of where this was going.

“And since it hasn’t worked out for you, me and Sara—that’s my girlfriend—we want you to have this baby.”

Rick simply stared back, not knowing what to say.

“God does things for a reason doesn’t He? And He put me in your car. We think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Rick looked in Mike’s eyes and saw nothing but honesty and conviction. A surge of elation quickened his pulse. He thought of Joanne, and all of the years of waiting. He thought of calling his attorney and getting the process moving immediately, before any minds changed.

Rick could drive home through the snow, get Joanne and be back by mid-morning. As soon as the adrenaline began to flow however, Rick was struck with a sense that he needed to slow the pace.

“We can’t do that,” he said without conviction. “You two made your plans already. Someone is probably waiting by the phone to hear about your baby boy.”

“We can change it,” Mike said. “They said whoever got picked wouldn’t even know until we sign everything. And the adoption people said we could change our minds.
That’s what we’re gonna do. It’s okay.”

Rick thought about Joanne and the long wait they had endured together. And now, it could be over. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”

A gift given
The kid had no problem with that, and Rick called Joanne. Something kept gnawing at Rick as he went to the phone, but he dismissed any thoughts. God had worked the whole thing out, hadn’t He?

During the phone call with Joanne however, the uncomfortable feeling returned. Their miracle would be another’s loss. They both knew it. Tears flowed as they came to their decision. Rick had to tell Mike.

He found him still in the waiting room, with a smile on his face. It was difficult for Rick to look him in the eye, but finally, he did.

“We just can’t do it,” Rick said, dropping the truth like a hammer. “Believe me; we want to with all of our hearts. We really do. But if we say yes, another couple is going to be disappointed, even if they don’t realize it.”

Rick continued as the emotions began to well up in his voice. “Your offer . . .” Rick paused and tried to compose himself. “It was the greatest Christmas present we could hope for, and I’m not saying ‘no’ because of you.” Rick finished as a tear rolled down his cheek. The kid looked like he was about to cry as well.

“But you—or I guess the agency—has already chosen the couple they believed God has for your boy. We’d better not change things at this point. Our day will come.”

With that, Rick thanked the kid again and turned toward the elevator. He knew he had to move quickly. He wouldn’t hold up much longer. Rick shuffled out into the parking lot with his head down, got in his car and found a hotel a block away. He hardly slept.

The next morning the roads cleared and Rick headed home to Barrier Cliff. Though hardly jovial, Rick still felt a small sense of joy as he drove into his neighborhood. The day before, he had spent his time dwelling on the missing pieces of his life. Today, he was reminded that he had given the gift of a son to a couple he would likely never know. Though he and Joanne would continue to wait for a child, he would remember this Christmas for a long time. A reminder of what Christmas is all about, Rick thought.

A reminder of the gift given
The few remaining days before Christmas passed without Rick and Joanne talking much more about Mike or the baby. There were things to do, and they were heading to Joanne’s parents this year—tomorrow—on Christmas Eve.

Joanne was running down her list of things to do before leaving town. “Did you get the mail today, Rick?” On the list was the need to pay bills before the end of the year, hence the needed trip to the mailbox.

“Naw, but I’ll get it,” Rick said. Rick eased down the icy driveway, watching his step. A sigh of relief went through him when he pulled out a stack of letters and saw no bills. There was however, a letter from Home Again Restaurants.

The envelope was thin, which rarely meant good news. Rick opened it, expecting the standard two-paragraph rejection. Instead, he saw two pages of correspondence.

The first sentence was all he needed to see: “Congratulations, Mr. Shannon. We look forward to partnering with you as we roll out our new advertising campaign.” From there, Home Again’s vice president followed with an announcement that their advertising buy would be 45% higher than earlier estimates. Rick’s idea had carried the day.

“Yes!” Rick barked as he pumped his arm—trying to keep his balance as he raced up the driveway toward the front door.

“Christmas is here!” Rick yelled as he came in the door.

“Great!” Joanne said, not understanding Rick’s excitement. “Phone is for you, Santa Claus.”

Rick picked up the phone, handing Joanne the letter. He gave her a thumbs-up sign as he said a quick “hello” into the receiver.

“Mr. Shannon?”

“Yes,” Rick replied as he attempted to catch his breath.

“That must have been Joanne. I could have told her,” the voice at the other end explained. “This is Paul Jensen from the Hope Adoption Agency, and we have a small Christmas present for you.”

Rick’s heart skipped a beat, or maybe more as Mr. Jensen kept talking. “He’s eight pounds, four ounces. You can come and pick him up here tomorrow, just in time for Christmas.”

Rick was nearly speechless, trying valiantly to put words together. “Yes . . . Sure—We . . .”

“Well, the baby was born last week and we were able to move things more quickly than we thought,” Mr. Jensen said. “He’s a cute boy. And I remember from the biographical information you turned in that you said something about being a baseball fan. You won’t believe this baby’s birthmark . . . .”

Building a Culture of Adoption: It Starts at Home

by Sarah Saccone, Program Director, Lamb of God Maternity HomeOption

So much has changed in the past 30 years with regards to adoption, especially as it relates to maternity homes.

In past decades, a woman would disappear to a maternity home cloaked in all of the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock. She would then re-enter her community, carrying a huge secret, and in many cases not even knowing into what family her baby was placed.

Although things today are completely different there are still misconceptions from some of our biggest family influences and in the media.

There is a great deal of confusion between private adoptions and foster care. Also, many beliefs that are deeply rooted in families that play a crucial role in what a woman in crisis knows and feels about adoption.

In today's society, pregnancy out of wedlock has become the norm. We as pro-lifers know that life is ALWAYS better than death and strive to work with women to aid them in making the best decisions for their babies and themselves. Sometimes women feel that the best form of parenting they can give, is to lovingly choose an eager couple to take on the job. It is OUR job as maternity home leaders to make absolutely certain that a woman making the courageous decision to place her baby is comfortable, supported, and well informed in our maternity homes. We have found that this can be a tricky task.

There is so much that goes into finding the perfect balance of honoring women who choose to parent and honoring women who choose to place. Below are ten ideas on how to make your maternity home more friendly to women who are making the decision to place their babies for adoption.

  1. Use positive adoption language. Stay current with the words and phrasing that honors adoption as a heroic choice. Examples of this are placing or making an adoption plan vs giving up, parenting vs keeping, birth parent vs real parent.
  2. Vet those coming into the home. Screen volunteers to be sure they are pro-adoption or at the very least, able to keep their opinions to themselves. Have regular training for staff so that they can speak about adoption with respect and ease.
  3. Use personal experiences and stories with extreme caution. Allow each woman to experience adoption in her own way. She does not need to know that you were married at her age and made it work or that your cousin adopted children overseas who have significant challenges or that you watched an adoption story gone wrong on television.
  4. Discuss clearly with each resident, upon admission, about their thoughts on parenting and placing and their ability to honor others’ decisions. Uphold an environment of respect for each mom's decisions and teach birth moms how to be advocates of their decision.
  5. Baby showers are lovely but can be painful. While adoption-minded women may enjoy having baby items to send along with their child’s placement, there may be more appropriate ways to “shower” adoption-minded women (i.e. new pajamas, perfume, educational supplies.) Perhaps, there should also be the opportunity to opt out of the shower all together. Consider holding baby showers in a neutral location.
  6. Note visual cues within the home. Look around your home at the photos, quotes, and artwork. Is it strongly suggestive of mother and child? Does each room come pre-stocked with baby items? Be sure that the message the home is promoting implicitly communicates support for adoption as a possible outcome.
  7. Think of ways to make a woman who placed her baby feel loved, special, and honored when she comes home from the hospital. For example, a welcome basket, weighted Teddy Bear, or necklace with baby's name engraved may be appropriate gifts.
  8. Match the adoption preparation with the parenting preparation. While women who are parenting go to parenting classes, women who are placing go to support groups. Bring in adoptive parents and adopted children to give their testimony. Find appropriate education and support for their decision. Create or use appropriate curriculum for each population.
  9. Be mindful and empathetic. Don't gush over a resident’s baby right in front of a woman who is placing. Know that this will happen often so it doesn't need to also happen with their mentors and most trusted influences.
  10. Acknowledge birth mom’s joy, loss, suffering, and strength. It's ok to talk about adoption! Women who choose adoption should know it will be the hardest decision of their lives and one that brings them much joy and strength. Rituals and other supportive procedures at key moments help to honor the individuals involved.

SarahSacconeSarah Saccone serves as the full-time Program Director for Lamb of God Maternity Home, daily giving witness to her passion for women in crisis pregnancy through the gift of adoption.Utilizing her Bachelor degree in Sociology from California State University of San Marcos, she worked as a counselor of homeless youth in a shelter-home atmosphere for nine years. She has served on the boards of several mental health non-profit organizations, been a long time volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and spent time teaching children in East Africa. She resides in San Diego, California.

At the Intersection of Faith and Despair

Stopby Ellen Foell, Esq.

I was preoccupied and never noticed the stop sign at the intersection when I breezed through it. My newly licensed teenager could not resist the temptation: "Uh, Mom, that was a stop sign and it applied to you."

Jamming on the brakes, I stopped a hundred feet into the intersection (as if that would have done any good). My heart was racing in spite of the fact that there were no other cars coming; it had thankfully not been a near miss. I was perplexed that, in my inattention, I had completely failed to notice the intersection or pay attention to the stop sign that applied to me.

Since then, I am twice as careful to not only stop at intersections, but to linger (to the annoyance of my children). I look up the street, down the street, behind me, before me, and beside me, determined to never again go through one without paying attention to the stop signs. One never knows what might be coming.

I tend to do the same thing -- go through the stop signs without noticing the intersection -- in my spiritual life. Thankfully, that's usually when the Holy Spirit says to me, without as much sarcasm as my children: "Um, that was a stop sign, and it applied to you."

These intersections, are as important, if not more so, than the physical intersection I cruised through. And the most significant intersections are where despair and faith meet. Sometimes, I have the wisdom to see that it is an intersection, and as I approach, I stop, looking in all four directions. At other times, I've already rolled through the intersection, and it's not until one, two or three hundred feet past the stop sign that I realize that, not only was that an intersection, but it applied to me. That is typically a holy moment... when despair and faith intersect.

Learning to Watch in the Intersection

Many years ago, my husband and I struggled with secondary infertility, unable to conceive again for four years following the birth of our daughter. We made frequent visits to the obstetrician's office, and eventually decided it was time to visit an infertility expert. There had been too many cycles of hope and despair, too many cycles of expectation and disappointment, and not one cycle that had ended in pregnancy. We would cycle through more disappointment as we waited for our appointment on Oct. 10, 1997.

The night before my appointment, my husband kindly asked if I wanted him to join me for the appointment. Being a strong, self-sufficient woman, I pooh-poohed the idea and told him he should go ahead and go to work. I could handle whatever the infertility doctor could throw my way.

As soon as I walked into the office, I sensed I was in trouble. It may have been the rapid heartbeat, or the tears forming as I walked down the hallway, eyeing the happy pictures of the success stories all along the walls. Somewhere along the 45-minute drive to this office, I had morphed from a hopeful and confident woman to a woman afraid and sad that our happy family picture would never grace the doctor's office walls.

The visit took all of 30 minutes. It just seemed wrong that, after waiting and trying and hoping and praying for four years, our future could be assessed in half an hour. The gentle, warm, and gracious smile, giving me the solution to our four years of heartache was actually a somewhat cold and matter of fact: "Well, I would recommend that you pursue adoption."

No further tests necessary. No diagnosis. No smile. No gentleness. No reassuring hand on my shoulder. No further wisdom. The expert clearly had nothing to offer to salve my heart, let alone cure the infertility, so I left.

Through tears I found my car and stood there, pounding on the hood of the car, thinking, "Where is Phil when I need him?!" I was angry with my husband, angry with myself for telling him not to come and go to work, angry with God that He was nowhere in sight -- and I had not even told Him to go to work!

I leaned against the hood of the car, knowing I had no other choice but to further lean on God. At the moment, I hated having nothing else to lean into. My trust and faith in Him at that moment was more an act of desperation than a joyful surrender. To whom else could I go?

To Faith from Despair

It was not long thereafter that we started the process of adoption, although we had a mere 53 cents to invest in the long and expensive process. We had already been told at the county that the likelihood of our being successful candidates through the county adoption process were nil. Again, no warm gentle understanding smile or explanation.

And so we began our journey of international adoption. We settled upon an adoption agency and began the home study. Our only country selection parameter was that it could not be Thailand, since I had lived in Thailand for two years and had frequently seen couples staying at the guest house, hearing their stories of waiting years for the adoption process -- rife with obstacles and delays -- to finalize.

Then came the day in January that Phil and I came to an intersection.

We received a call and an email from two different people. Phil was checking the email on our third floor computer while I was in the kitchen checking phone messages. The phone message was from friends who had heard of our desire to adopt and wanted to fund the adoption, start to finish. The email was from a friend in Thailand who knew of twin boys needing an adoptive home.

We were each receiving these pieces of incredible news alone and ran to tell the other, meeting at the landing. Had we not come to the intersection of that offer of funding and children needing a home, I don't know that we would have ever considered Thailand as a country from which to adopt.

This was one of those intersections with a stop sign that we knew applied to us. We had to stop, take notice, look up, look down, look ahead and behind. God was up to something. We could pursue this and ditch our original route with its parameter of avoiding Thailand, or we could take a new direction. We chose the new direction.

Again, we ran into disappointment. Tests run on the boys showed that one was HIV positive and the other twin was HIV negative. We did not want to separate the brothers. We could not fathom the heartache of our family to adopt a son and then lose him to AIDS. We brokenly said "no."

Where was God headed with this? Only a few weeks later, our friend emailed with a request that we prayerfully consider another set of twin boys. Our prayerful consideration was short but an enthusiastic, "Yes!"

Ten thousand miles past the intersection and eight months later, we flew to Thailand to pick up our sons from the orphanage. Few words can describe the intense wall of heat that greets a traveler stepping onto the tarmac in Bangkok. It didn't matter. The plane ride was an excruciating twenty-seven hours. It didn't matter. The airplane food was...well, airplane food. It didn't matter. Our body clocks were twelve hours behind. It didn't matter. The adoption review board interviewed us with our entire life story spread out before them. It didn't matter.

They approved us as an adoptive family. Two days later, we celebrated our sons' first birthday, Oct. 10, 1998. We have celebrated many thankful birthdays since then.

But I like to remember their true birth-day, the day they arrived into this world. The day that I leaned against the hood of the car, sobbing in the doctor's parking lot, feeling the pain of aloneness and hopelessness, wondering where the Lord was. How could I have known, then, at that intersection of despair and faith, that, indeed, He was present and at work? At that moment, 10,000 miles away, on Oct. 10, 1997, Thailand time, and 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, my God had already delivered my sons into the world.

Even now, years after I sailed through the intersection, I still slam on the brakes, my heart races and I marvel that, indeed, God is always at the intersection of despair and faith. And the stop sign applies to me. I never know what's coming.

Arranging Adoptions

Bethany2In 1944, Marguerite Bonnema received the shock of her life.

To her surprise, a little neighbor girl revealed her father's strong dislike of his wife's illegitimate baby girl. "He is going to kill [the baby]," the little girl said. Marguerite replied, "Tell him not to kill her but to give her to me."

Arrangements were made - in a hurry. The neighbor mother and baby girl traveled by bus to a train station, where Marguerite and her friend and roommate Mary DeBoer received the child to live with them in their small apartment.

Since then, Bethany Christian Services has been following in these two co-founders' steps, demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus Christ to expectant parents who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and need help. Our goal is to help them explore their life-affirming options and then help them pursue the plan they decide is best for themselves and their baby—whether that is parenting or adoption.

As a Heartbeat International partner, it is our desire to share our pregnancy counseling resources with those who are ministering to expectant parents in resource centers across the U.S.

Our full range of informational resources include brochures, books, DVDs, and educational webinars (some available in Spanish). As a resource to clients, our Lifeline staff is also available to chat online or by phone at 1.800.238.4269. We want to work with you to help bring hope, information, and services to expectant parents in crisis—meeting them anytime and anywhere.

For more information or to order any resources, please visit Bethany.org/Store.

A Gift for Little Tree

 

61A6-Yf2iLBook by Colleen D.C. Marquez

This delightful story tells of an apple tree who is unable to bear fruit of her own—she is saddened as she watches the other trees in the apple orchard bear fruit of their own.

The wise farmer finds a way to help Little Tree not only bear fruit, but eventually become a very beautiful tree in the orchard.

Adoptive parents, as well as those considering adoption for the first time will find the story of Little Tree very inspiring. The book is a parable about adoption and illustrates so beautifully the heart of God for adoption.

 

A Compassionate, Informed Counselor Makes the Difference

crossroad sign 

By Brittany Hudson, Founder of 4TheLoveofAlex.org

I sat in a cramped, overstuffed nurse’s office with clammy hands as we went over the information in front of her.

I had discovered two months earlier that I was pregnant, but when excessive bleeding and cramping sent me to the emergency room, I was hoping that I had somehow avoided an unintended pregnancy. I was referred to my doctor for a follow-up and an ultrasound the next day.

The simple test revealed a fluttering heartbeat and what seemed to be a very healthy little life resting in my womb. My doctor smiled at the monitor as I cried. I really didn’t want to go through this.

I was still swimming in grief over the loss of my husband just 10 short months earlier. My lapse in judgment over seeking comfort in the arms of another man turned into the trial of my life within the trial of my life. How could this be happening?

My doctor scheduled another appointment for me to meet with his nurse to go over my options. The time between visits gave me time to think it through.

She sat there and consoled me as I cried. When I rallied, she started talking. “Are you going to keep your baby or are you going to terminate the pregnancy?”

My mind spun with her statement. How could the same thing change terminology within the same sentence, simply depending on my ‘choice’? How did a baby become something that I could just dispose of?

I wish I was a fly on the wall for what came next. “No, I am seeking adoption for this child.” I said, looking down at her paperwork. I watched her face go chalky as she drummed her fingers on the desk. She slowly turned her chair around to the rack of information behind her, knowing she didn’t have anything to offer me. Her sighing told me what I already knew. I was on my own.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have anything for you to take. I have never been in this situation before. Why don’t you go on the internet and see if you can find an agency in the area.” Her nervousness came through her voice as she tried to avoid direct eye contact with me. I left her office after a few exchanges and a follow-up appointment scheduled.

I left with nothing but a card with a date on it.

The internet seemed daunting. Who was reputable? Who was in my area? I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this before. Could I trust an agency? What if they wanted to make me sign something right away? What are my rights?

I found a site and read what they had to say, but I then discovered I was at least 14 hours from their nearest location. They referred me to Bethany Christian Services, where I called and left a message for someone to return my calls. I then prayed to God that I wouldn’t be lied to or talked into something I wasn’t ready for.

Facing the fact that I was pregnant was hard enough. Even though I knew what I wanted to do, I also know that it would have made a world of difference to have someone who knew me come alongside to tell me about what I’d decided before I had to launch headlong into a dialogue with an adoption agency.

I wished the nurse had known as much about choosing to parent and parenting through adoption as she had about abortion. It would have eased my mind and helped curb my fears.

My adoption went just fine. In fact, it went as well as I could have hoped, even though it was very difficult to go through.

The things I’ve learned for myself, and the experiences I went through have come together to form a ministry for the woman who chooses adoption for her unborn child. I give these women what I wished I had—a listening ear, independent guidance, direction, and the very real hope of restoration in Christ in the midst of an unintended pregnancy.

The women I’ve mentored so far have all come from agencies who see the value in coupling an expectant mother with a birthmother who has lived the experience of an unintended pregnancy for herself.

There is peace in being able to relate to someone and help them see there is a life after the trial. It is my joy to see that God uses the most painful things in life to create something beautiful. And He does so wonderfully.

A Dog's Tale

by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counselfinal logo

For years, our children begged us to add a dog to the mix of our already busy family. Finally, when our twin sons were 11 years old, we relented and welcomed Gabby to our family.

When we picked her out at the animal shelter, Gabby was still a puppy—active, untrained, mischievous, and always hungry. It had only been about three weeks since we brought her home, when that puppy energy and our busy family life collided.

Before we left to spend the evening at the local zoo, I planned ahead and put a 12-quart pot of beef vegetable soup on the stove—out of harm’s reach, of course—on the back burner where Gabby couldn’t reach it. Everything was going according to plan, as we came home, ate dinner, and the boys headed upstairs to get ready for bed.

The situation went south, however, when I was interrupted from cleanup detail by two boys needing tucked into bed. Without thinking to put the soup back to its proper location on the back of the stove, I answered the summons. But no sooner had I entered their room, than the three of us heard a loud crash and an unmistakable yelp!

We arrived on the scene to see Gabby, standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, lapping up beef vegetable soup as quickly as she could. There was soup everywhere—on the cabinets, under the refrigerator—some had already spread to the living room carpet. It was a nightmare.

To make matters worse, I instinctively scolded the dog, which caused her to lie down—right into the soup. My follow-up rebuke led to the next mishap, as she stood back up and shook her entire body, flinging soup into every conceivable nook and cranny that hadn’t already been tainted by the initial spill.

Since the entire mess was really their fault (they had asked for the dog, right?), I yelled at my sons, “Go straight upstairs to bed!” Paul pitifully asked, “Mama, you aren’t going to send Gabby back, are you? I’ll help clean up the mess, Mama. Don’t send her back.” One withering look from his frustrated mother was all Paul needed to dutifully trot off to bed.

Instantly, I felt terrible.

And so, in the wake of this disaster, I found myself gingerly navigating my way through a soggy bog of soup and upstairs to my boys’ room to apologize to them, reassuring them of my love and care for them. At the same time, I had to ease their concerns about Gabby, who they now assumed was on her way back to the shelter.

I said, “Boys, you need to know that Gabby is part of our family now, and just because she does naughty things, it doesn’t mean we are going to send her back. Things don’t work that way when you’re a family.

As I soon found out, I was totally unprepared for my sons’ reactions. Sam reminded me that I’d signed a contract with the animal shelter, so of course I wouldn’t take Gabby back. True enough, I supposed. But Paul nearly broke my heart when he piggy-backed on Sam’s appeal:

“Yeah, just like you signed a contract with the adoption agency in Thailand that promised you would take care of us and keep us even when we do naughty things.”

In that moment, I was struck with just how sad and pathetic it would be if all that held us together was some kind of paper-and-ink contract, signed many years before.

Still trying to take all this in, I answered, “Boys, a contract is not what makes us a family. Love makes us a family—God’s love, and the fact that God has chosen us for one another.”

IEphesians 1:5n that moment, I wanted to convey a sense of security, a sense of belonging, a sense of family—even a sense of uniqueness in having been chosen and adopted that far out-weighs any sin, imperfection or mistake. My family is not my family because of paperwork, contractual agreement or any other impersonal force. My family is my family because we love each other.

And isn't that what our Heavenly Father has been trying to teach us all along? His acceptance of us, His children by faith in Christ, is based on His love, and His love alone. Just like my love for my children, God’s choice of us is no mere contract, or impersonal set of paperwork. It’s deep, personal, and real—even to the point where “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

By taking on flesh and dwelling with us—and by dying in our place and defeating death for us—Jesus identifies with us in such a deep, personal way that Hebrews 2:11 says, “He is not ashamed to call us brothers.” In other words, we’re family, and since we are, we have no need to appeal to contracts, paperwork, or performance.

Our status as God’s family, His sons and daughters, is infinitely secure because it’s based on the love of the God who always makes good on His promises. This faithful God is the God who is eternal, infinite, all-powerful, and extravagantly near.

Each one of our children—three adopted and one birth child—was placed into our family by God Himself, and we are constantly affirming each one with the words, “You are ours. God has chosen you for us and us for you.”

In the same way, I hear my Heavenly Father say, “You are mine. Nothing changes that. I have chosen you. You have been adopted as my daughter, and I love you.

“Even when you spill the soup.”

National Adoption Awareness Month

national adoption month

Each year, November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month. While all adoption-related issues are important, the particular focus of this month is the adoption of children currently in foster care.

The first major effort to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in the foster care system came in 1976, when Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis initiated Adoption Week, an idea that grew in popularity and spread throughout the nation.

President Gerald Ford later made the first National Adoption Week proclamation, and in 1990, the week was expanded to a month due to the number of states participating and the number of events celebrating and promoting adoption.

During the month, states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals celebrate adoption as a positive way to build families. Activities and observances across the nation, such as recognition dinners, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events shed light on children who are in need of permanent families.

The month also includes National Adoption Day, traditionally a Saturday, which is observed in courthouses across the nation, where thousands of adoptions are finalized simultaneously.

Even in non-election years, elected officials at all levels are supportive of efforts to build adoption awareness. Both current officials and candidates should be receptive to invitations to participate in events with family appeal.

November is the perfect opportunity to make sure adoption is easy to talk about at your organization. One way is to order a subscription for one of Heartbeat's recorded webinars. Effectively Presenting Adoption to Every Client is a great resource for approaching the topic of adoption, and Parenting Choices complementsThe LOVE Approach Training Manual well while specifically addressing adoption. This kind of training is critical because, as Brittany's testimony makes clear, A Compassionate, Informed Counselor Makes the Difference in adoption.

Building a Culture of Adoption: It Starts at Home holds some practical tips for discussing adoption in a Maternity Home setting. 

We encourage you to embrace National Adoption Awareness Month and serve as champions of adoption every day!