Photo of Victor’s First Day with Us
Today, January 6th- we celebrate Victor’s “Gotcha Day”-
the day we “got” him, the day he joined our family. Many of you may have read our story last year, but since this was such a HUGE step of faith for our family, and quite an interesting story- if it’s ok with you all, I would like to take a break from all things “coastal decorating and lifestyle” and share with you all our adoption story again…in honor of a very special day here at Starfish Cottage!
A few disclaimers before I continue:
- This is a very, very LONG post, I mean REALLY long- probably the longest post I will ever write, but if you have the time, it’s a great story, so please make time to read it! (I also promise to never write a post this long again!)
- I am not a professional writer, this is merely my humble attempt to record our adoption story, so please grant me some grace with spelling and grammar and punctuation, and everything else in the technical writing department.
- This post will have only one photo- which is very unusual for me, since most of my posts are primarily photographs and less text.
- I am a little nervous to share our story in such a public place, but it is my hope and prayer that it will be a blessing to you all in some way!
So now, for anyone who I have not completely scared off from reading this post, here’s our adoption story:
Part 1- Jumping Out of an Airplane
I know some of you have probably jumped out of an airplane. With a parachute, of course, or tandem with an experienced jumper, or with your spouse or good friend. But I have NEVER jumped out of an airplane, nor do I ever want to! You see, I don’t really like roller coasters, or snow skiing, or any other similar heart-pumping adrenaline-rushing activities.
I am not a big “risk taking-adrenaline-junkie” kinda gal. I am a control freak, I am a planner. I like peace and quiet and familiar, comfortable situations. When starting a new book, I always read the last page first…I just want to know how things are going to turn out (am I the only one??)
So, several years ago while I was attending a ladies bible study at our church called, “Discerning the Voice of God” by Priscilla Shrier, I was a little surprised at what Gods “voice” kept telling me He wanted me to do! The bible study was about how to draw closer to God and how to slow down, be still and hear His voice. The only problem was, every time I started listening to God, He kept telling me the same thing, something I didn’t want to hear.
You see, life was pretty good for me at the time, my husband and I were doing well, our two daughters (11 & 8) were maturing nicely, and life was getting a little easier. I was starting to work again and pursue my passion for interior design. Life was pretty comfy, so why was God telling me we were supposed to adopt a child??
Not only was God telling me we were supposed to adopt a child, but he was very specific, we were supposed to adopt a BOY from the foster care system…really, God!? Are you really that specific!?
For weeks, I tried to ignore His voice, after all, this was clearly HIS voice, since it was never something I would have thought of on my own. Not only did I try to ignore Him, I argued and wrestled and pleaded with Him…my life was comfortable, the girls were getting older and easier, I knew how to do girls…what would I do with a boy?
One day, my husband and I went to lunch, and something prompted me to tell him what I had been wrestling with God about the past few weeks. It was such a crazy idea, I thought for sure he would say I was totally out of my mind and that would be the end of it.
But instead, the EXACT OPPOSITE THING HAPPENED. After telling my husband, he actually looked down for a minute and then looked up with a tear in his eye, smiled at me and told me nothing would make him happier.
He was supposed to say no-way-Jose…he was supposed to say I was crazy. What was going on here? Were he and God conspiring against me?
So, after a few more heart to heart talks, and a few more pleading prayers, this control freak grabbed her parachute and held on to her husband (trembling with white knuckles) and prepared to jump out of an airplane on a crazy new adventure.
Part 2- Drag Marks in the Sand
Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
Sweet story, right? Well this is the story of how God dragged me against my will through the sand…
lovely visual image, isn’t it?
Evidently, we had made the decision to pursue adopting a little boy from the foster care system. Just to reassure myself, and so I felt like I had a little more control over the situation, I told myself we would just take things one step at a time, surely god would throw up a red flag or a road block if he really loved me, right?
Our first step was to call a friend who had some experience with the foster care system, she had been adopted as a girl, and she currently worked as a guardian ad litem. She told us we would have to take a class and get certified as a foster family in order to adopt from the system. So, we scheduled our class, mind you, at this point of our journey I had told NO ONE, no friends or family, because surely this wasn’t really going to happen.
The morning of our class I started digging my feet in the sand. While doing the breakfast dishes, my husband was watching one of his favorite fishing shows on tv (have I ever mentioned how much my husband loves fishing?) in that particular episode, the host was taking three children from the foster care system out fishing for the day. I almost dropped the frying pan on my foot! I asked my husband if this show always features foster kids, and my husband looked at me and told me it was the only time the host had ever had children on his show.
Weird coincidence, right?
Our class was great, but the teacher was a little intense and by the end of it, half the couples had dropped out…maybe this was a sign, but evidently we missed it. Because we graduated with flying colors!
The next step was to fill out a mountain of paperwork, obtain five letters of reference and schedule a home study. This is when a social worker comes to your home, interviews the entire family and determines if you are ok to adopt a child.
Again, I started digging my feet in the sand. This meant we were actually going to have to tell other people about our plan! We were going to have to talk to our daughters! This was starting to get real. Real scary.
Not long before our home study, my husband and I went out to see a movie. As we were walking into the theatre, I was about to give him all my reasons why we needed to stop this crazy train, we walked right by the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay (large, life size photos of local foster kids needing homes) which was prominently displayed in the empty storefront windows adjacent to the movie theatre…I have never seen it there before that day or since then…
Weird coincidence, right?
Needless to say, I decided to forgo the conversation I had planned.
Instead, we sat down with our daughters the next day and told them our idea. I waited…surely they would throw up a red flag, right? Wrong! My two daughters have huge hearts and are wise beyond their years (when they want to be)…we even asked them if we should try to get a little girl or a little boy, and both thought a little boy would be a nice addition to the family. Surprisingly, our girls were thrilled with the idea and we all cried and laughed and our dream began.
Part 3- From Fear to Faith
After our home study, we were put in the state system and started waiting to be matched with a child. Days went by, no call. Weeks went by, no call. Months went by, no call. We had started telling close friends and family about our dream.
I started thinking, is there something wrong with us, why haven’t we been matched? We were a nice family? Weren’t we? We were looking for a little boy between the ages of 3-6. We had decided not to pursue adopting a sibling group, because we were about to really rock our world and thought it might be easier to just adopt one child. The problem is, one child is hard to find, the foster care system is full of sibling groups they want to keep together, but singles are tough.
It was during this time, God started changing my heart. I was moving from reluctant obedience to willing obedience. My prayers changed from please stop this from happening, to please lead us to the right child, at the right time, Lord.
It had been about 11 months since our home study and we had not been matched. By this time, my willing obedience had turned into all out impatience! The girls were starting to ask me on a daily basis, when would we know who our new brother is? My husband and I had a long talk and decided to pull our file from the state system and hire a private Christian adoption agency.
After waiting for almost a year with the state system, we got a call from our private agency within a few weeks with a potential match!
His name was Victor. He was 4 years old and he had no siblings, no father, and his mother had terminated her parental rights when he was 3 due to her addiction to cocaine. There were two other potential adoptive families, and the hearing was in two days…in other words, we had to tell the agency if we were interested in being presented as a potential match ASAP. They sent me two photos of Victor…I must have stared at them for 30 minutes…he was adorable!
So many questions: Would he be our new son? What was the sadness in his eyes? What kind of life has he known? I continued to look at the photos regularly every ten minutes for the rest of the day.
It was the first week of December and already crazy, hectic time of year. But I remember feeling a strange peace about everything. God had been preparing my heart, my fear had slowly been replaced with faith. The seed that had been planted in my heart so hastily had slowly been germinating and growing. I was finally ready!
After we got the call from our agency, I received another call from Victor’s guardian ad litem, “Mr. Ed”, who was his volunteer court representative and had been with him since he was 6 month old. He told me he had just gotten our file, lived in our same small community (coincidence!?) and would love to meet us. He came over that same night and spoke with me and the girls, Greg was out of town on business, so we skyped him in. He told us how great Victor was, a little bit about his rough past, and then paused and told us something really cool.
Mr Ed had received our home study and read it word for word and then was reviewing our 5 letters of reference. Not only did Ed realize that he lived approximately 3 miles from our home, but when he got to our last letter of reference, he discovered it was written by one of his personal friends from his sailboat club! What are the chances…How’s that for another “coincidence”!?
By the end of our meeting, I hoped that surely we had won Eds vote for the match meeting the next day, but it really was my sweet daughters who sealed the deal with Mr. Ed by making Vic the most adorable homemade Christmas card and handing it to him on his way out the door…they already loved him and had never met him!
Part 4- Full Disclosure
The day of Victors match meeting was torture! I mean, we had been waiting and praying and hoping and dreaming about adopting a little boy for almost a year, and we were about to take a huge step closer to our dream!
The call came in right before dinner…we had been chosen as the potential match for Victors adoptive family! Yay! I couldn’t believe my ears- I looked at the photos again. I told Greg and the girls…again, laughter and tears…another precious moment in the life of our family.
And another strange coincidence… that very day that we were matched with Victor was the last day our home study was valid! If we had not been matched, we would have had to pay for and schedule an entire new home study, the coincidences were too many…our match with Victor and all of the circumstances leading up to that day were MUCH, MUCH more than a coincidence.
What would happen next is Greg and I would now attend a “full disclosure” meeting in two weeks where we would find out Vic’s whole story and review all his assessments and medical records, etc… At that point, the ball would be in our court to decide if we wanted to proceed with the adoption. The procedures dictate that you cannot even meet the child before the full disclosure since they want to be 90% sure the adoption will go through before the introduction.
Our meeting was scheduled for the week after Christmas. We had learned that Victor was not in a great situation with his current caretakers. His team was suspicious of physical abuse, and Mr. Ed wanted him out of there as soon as possible. Though we had a wonderful Christmas with friends and family, each of our hearts were with Victor. We already wanted him here with us, but we had to comply with the state procedures.
By the time Greg and I went to the full disclosure meeting after Christmas, God had performed such a mighty work in my heart, I’m not sure if I would have walked away from adopting Victor if he had been born with three heads! There were too many coincidences to be anything other than God’s will for our lives.
Luckily, Victor did not have three heads, in fact, we learned at the meeting that he seemed amazingly normal and well-adjusted considering his past. We met with his entire team that day, some who had been with him as long as Mr. Ed. These workers for the most part had been fighting for Victor for years, trying to get him in a stable environment and loving home with a forever family. You see, its very possible that if Victor had stayed in the system and in his current environment he most likely would have turned out like everyone else in his biological family- on drugs, in jail or dead. I truly believe that the circle of people around the table that day saved Victors life!
Part 5- Laundry, Leaky Pipes and a Ladybug
Now things were starting to get exciting. It was the first week of January, the girls were heading back to school and we knew that sometime in next few weeks we would finally get to meet Victor and start getting to know him better and if all went well, he could come to live with us as early as March!
As excited as I was, the fear was starting to creep in, I mean, REALLY CREEP IN. Were we crazy? Were we making the right decision?
The girls went back to school on Monday Jan 5th, after two weeks of Christmas and kids and company, it was a quiet calm morning and I would finally get to the huge pile of laundry, get the house cleaned up and hopefully settle back into our usual routine.
Around 9:30 I noticed water was pouring out of our laundry room…I had started a load of wash earlier and something must have happened because the water was not draining as usual, instead it was flooding our downstairs wood floors! I quickly grabbed my husband’s WetVac from the garage and started vacuuming up the water, then mopping up areas with every towel in the house. After a call to our local plumber, within two hours the pipes were cleared and I was doing laundry as usual. I had phoned my husband (who was conveniently out of town) and informed him of the minor tragedy and how well I had handled everything.
Over the whirr of electric fans drying the wet baseboards and floors throughout the house, I heard the phone ring…it was Victor’s case worker. She’s probably calling to schedule our first meet and greet, I thought, how sweet…
The case worker proceeded to tell me that Victor’s living situation had deteriorated when they told his foster family that they were not able to adopt him, they were furious and wanted him out immediately! Instead of placing him in a temporary foster home for a few weeks, they were wondering if Victor could just go ahead an come live with us…ASAP…as in…tomorrow??
There was a very long silence on my end on the phone. That was a very big question…can a little boy that you have never met and just heard about a few weeks ago come and live with you forever?
I have no idea what I actually said, but apparently I told her something along the lines of sure, that would be great, then she said she would call me back when they had worked out the details and I hung up.
Stunned, I started to walk around the house trying to process what was about to happen. What do I do now? How do you prepare for something like this? What was about to happen? Was THIS Gods plan?
Standing at my kitchen sink, staring out the window, listening to the whirr of the fans and desperately trying to sort this all out in my mind, I noticed a small black spot on the white linen drapery panels (if you follow my blog, and know Starfish Cottage at all, then you know our home is very beachy, and very white- slipcovers and draperies, etc…so a black spot really stands out!). I walked over to the black spot and to my surprise, I realized it was a little ladybug, a SOLID BLACK ladybug- all black, no red no spots…I reached over to it and it climbed easily onto my fingertip.
The irony was overwhelming. I was just standing in my kitchen trying to process how to integrate a little four year old black boy into our all white world, and suddenly this little black ladybug appears in my all white house bringing me a strange peace that passes all understanding.
I had never seen a ladybug in our home before that day and never saw one since, I didn’t know that black ladybugs even existed, (but after googling the subject- I google everything I don’t know- I realized that they do exist but are extremely rare). God knew that I was so afraid of this next step in our adoption journey, that He needed to send me a very clear sign that everything was going to be fine, just keep trusting him…
so armed with that peace, I opened the back door, let the ladybug fly off my finger and got busy getting ready for our new life!
Part 6- Preparations
The phone call to my husband was surreal to say the least, he was out of town, I had already handled one minor disaster that morning- the laundry room flood of 2015, but this call was a little more intense. I walked him through the phone call and events of the previous 30 minutes…Greg was blown away…for once in his life, I think he was totally speechless. He told me he needed some time to process everything and he would call me back. I totally understood.
Over the next few hours we got a few more details from Victors case worker and started to put together a loose plan for his transition, and by loose, I mean VERY loose…we had never done anything remotely like this. Victor was going to attend his regular daycare the next day, then his case worker and guardian ad litem would pick him up and bring him to our house around 5 pm. That gave us a little over 24 hours to “prepare” for our new addition, and when I say prepare, I mean run all over town like a crazy woman.
Not knowing how most people “prepare” to welcome a 4 year old son they have never met before, I decided to decorate his room! (That’s my natural response to most major life crisis, I am a professional interior designer after all!). We had already decided to convert our Guest Bedroom into Vic’s room, so I found myself an hour later at Pottery Barn Kids purchasing the cutest boys room quilt- (not too juvenile and themey but colorful and fun). A situation of this magnitude required a little retail therapy, so I hit Target next, and picked up some coordinating blue drapery panels and two adorable bedside table lamps. (I also picked up some necessities for the first day, not knowing what all he would be bringing with him, like clothes, pajamas, toothbrush and toothpaste). All day long, I found myself in strange territory- the BOYS department- I had two girls, I knew pink and princesses and ponies- now I was suddenly trying to decide between Sponge Bob or Spider-Man underpants…who was I? What was happening to me?
As word spread over the next few hours (we live in a small waterfront community) donations and gifts started coming in for Victor- gently used clothing items and shoes, toys, books- the outpouring from friends was overwhelming and so appreciated! I had no idea how to do this or what we would need…as it turned out, all we really needed was our faith!
I quickly got started on setting Vic’s room up- it sort of felt like an episode of Extreme Room Makeover…but this, I knew how to do! This, “decorating” was my comfort zone! Somehow, setting up his room made me feel better in my own little way- I knew he would have a sweet space to call his own.
Later that evening, we got a call from a family therapist that had been assigned to our case to help us navigate this transition, but when she found out we had never actually met Victor before, she informed me that this was a highly unusual situation…usually the adoptive family had had several meetings over 2-3 months and were very familiar with each other before the “gotcha day”…we had never even laid eyes on Victor other than two tiny photos! After hanging up the phone with her, I finally broke down…it was too much too fast!
I was so scared! What was going on? How were we going to do this? How do you prepare for this? My husband, once again the strong, wise one said “you don’t prepare for this”, (and then he quoted Nike)- “you just do it”! He reminded me that Victor had never done this adoption thing before either, so he wouldn’t be judging us, and his background was so rough, surely our home would be a better place than where he had been.
Why is it that my husband is almost always right??
I looked at Victor’s photo on my phone and I remembered my visitor earlier that morning (the black ladybug) and my peace came back, somehow I knew it would be ok.
The next day was filled with finishing off his room and other silly preparations. I purchased a dozen small cupcakes, some colorful balloons and a big bottle of bubbles- Mr. Ed said he loved blowing bubbles at his daycare… I was totally clueless!
The head of our adoption agency called an emergency meeting and met with us for an hour before Vic’s arrival to give us a crash course in what to expect the first days and weeks. Her talk might have been helpful, but it honestly felt like a total blur, the hour felt like five minutes, and all I could think about was when would he be here? What will he be like, this new son of mine? I desperately wanted to read a page or two ahead of the story to see what was going to happen…
Part 7 Ding Dong
I don’t know about your house, but at our house whenever the doorbell rings, the chime is followed by loud ferocious barking from our completely harmless 100 pound yellow Labrador. He SOUNDS really scary, in reality, he wouldn’t harm a flea!
My heart almost jumped out of my chest…he is here! We finally get to meet Victor! I said a quick prayer under my breath and walked towards the door. We had learned in our 1 hour crash course that children’s initial reactions on “Gotcha Day” can run the gamut from positive and pleasant to hysterical and terrifying, needless to say, I was hoping for positive and pleasant!
As I opened the door, I saw the most adorable little 4 year old black boy clutching a trash bag in one hand and a basketball in the other, it wasn’t like meeting a stranger, he had a warm, sweet smile and a gentle kindness in his eyes…he felt instantly familiar to me in some way. The image of Victor on our front porch will forever be etched in my memory, I don’t need a photograph- it is burned in my heart, this was my son! I don’t know how to explain it, I had never even met this boy before but I felt an instant connection to him- like seeing your newborn baby in the delivery room for the first time, standing here on my front porch, this was my son.
I held our dog back so Victor wouldn’t be scared…he didn’t know Beau was harmless, and his large size and enthusiasm could have knocked Vic over. Victor came inside with his case worker and Mr. Ed, he shook Greg’s hands said hi to our youngest daughter (our oldest wasn’t home from school yet) and took a look around. We had gotten Victor a few small gifts, which he opened and liked. He had a sweet little personality, he wasn’t upset or scared, he just seemed to be taking it all in. We showed him all around the house, and took him up to his room, which he really liked (on a personal note, I was so thankful he had good taste and appreciated a well-designed space!) then our oldest daughter got home and we introduced her.
As with every step of this process, there was an abundance of paperwork to be filled out, so the girls took Vic in the backyard and blew bubbles with him while Greg and I sat signing papers. I could have been signing away our lifes fortune for all we knew…we were in total shock, but I remember thinking so far, so good. I also remember thinking how cute and sweet he was. We got through all the paperwork and it was time for Vic to say goodbye to his team, and we said goodbye to our agency reps.
Mr. Ed told him to be a good boy and they would stop by tomorrow to check in and see how things were going. Surely, if he was going to get upset, now was the time…but he didn’t. He was perfectly fine! I remember waving goodbye to everyone and closing the door…
now what do we do??