When our first child, Grace, turned two years old, we knew we wanted to adopt from South Africa again.
We updated our paperwork and began a process that would eventually stall. God had other plans. The South Africa program had changed, and it was clear it was not the right fit for our family. Our hearts were broken; we felt deep pain emotionally and financially.
Six weeks later, as we were dealing with the fallout of our disappointment, we decided to attend an adoption resource exchange. This is a gathering of paper-ready adoptive families who are looking to build their family. In the theater, images of paper-ready children were presented. Profile after profile of children looking for their forever family filled the screen.
Then we saw them: two African-Canadian beauties on the screen in front of us. I turned to my husband, Mark, and he looked at me, and we both knew these were our children.
At the time, we knew the twins faced medical challenges. We didn’t know the extent of their health history or birth story, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t naïve. It was understood there would be some complications. But God seemed to lift whatever would have prevented us from moving forward, despite what some others advised.
Neither my husband nor I were saved when we were married. We experienced many years of infertility and subsequent treatments when we were first married. Nothing worked. It was a hard road filled with deep loss and grief. A pivotal moment on our journey to Christ happened at this time. It was as if God was prompting us by his Spirit, “Do you want to be pregnant, or do you want to be parents?”
We came to the deep realization that we wanted to be parents. So we stopped all fertility treatments and started on our road to adoption. We registered for the South Africa program. We had excitement. We had joy. We knew that in a matter of time, we too would have a child.
God worked on us significantly during our time in South Africa, as well as in the first couple of years parenting our daughter. Mark and I were saved and baptized around the same time, and that in itself is a gift of grace. We would need Christ for the unseen future ahead.
The twins we saw on the theater screen were Violet and Emma.
It’s not known exactly what stage of gestation the twins were born (probably 22 or 23 weeks). We know that when they were born, their eyes were fused shut. Their legs were as skinny as a woman’s pinky finger. They needed lines and tubes everywhere. Their skin was so fragile and transparent that their small bodies were wrapped in plastic to protect their skin. They were kept in the dark, with very little stimulation.
Violet was born first, Emma second. Both weak, Emma especially. She was too frail to breathe, and had to be revived at birth. We believe her birth mom must have pleaded for the doctors to intervene, as babies at this gestational age are not usually revived.
Once the girls were stabilized, they were transported to our local children’s hospital. Not long after their birth, it was obvious there would be many medical challenges. This probably contributed to their birth mother choosing not to parent them.
A Heart Worth Reviving
The birth of the twins is a miracle, especially for Emma. At one follow up with a NICU physician, I asked about age of viability for resuscitation. We were told that the general age of viability is 24 weeks.
“It was a good thing that the girls were born at a different hospital, where the emergency staff didn’t know any better than to resuscitate,” the physician said. “Because if they had been born at this hospital, they never would have revived Emma.”
I was shocked, and my heart sunk.
“Why wouldn’t you revive her?” I asked.
“We wouldn’t revive her,” the doctor responded, “because she would turn out like this.” And pointed at Emma.
I sat speechless.
Yes, it is true that Emma faces many worldly limitations. She cannot walk, she cannot talk, she is incontinent, she cannot eat food by mouth, and she requires many medications. And yet in all of her disabilities, she is happier and experiences deeper joy than many Christians.
People flock to Emma. They aren’t afraid of her. Her rigid body, the occasional drool, her squawking, her wheelchair could all be barriers, and yet God shows himself through her smile. It is a beautiful smile that makes you treasure simple pleasures, and refocus on the main priorities in life.
She is sunshine, smiling at all times. Always happy. Despite those who shake their heads and think the world would have been better off had she been left to die, or who now see her as a burden on our healthcare systems, she radiates true quality of life.
I have always thought that Emma lives with her eternal reality in perspective. It is like she knows this earthly body is temporary, that her limitations will all be but a memory when she meets her heavenly Father — and that they are earthly experiences that glorify him. But one day, she will run free.
Our daughter Violet currently has a diagnosis of global developmental delay. She has poor vision and delayed motor function. But God is doing a mighty work in her, too. She can write her name, is learning letter sounds, and just learned to ride a bike.
With the love of her family, a supportive community, and her Father in heaven, she is developing out of her diagnosis.
Violet evidences that God creates a rainbow of people to meet the varied needs of our society. Our Violet, who academically may not be the strongest, has a gifted heart for people. She is sensitive and loving. God has given her the gift of service. She loves people deeply, and is very nurturing. These gifts aren’t always valued in our production-oriented society, but they are valued by her God.
Sustaining Grace for Mom
God is using these precious lives to do a mighty work in the heart of their mama.
We have faced many hospitalizations in the past year. Emma was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, and as cold and flu season hit, she went septic several times. We were emergency transported to our children’s hospital three times.
One of Emma’s ICU stays was particularly scary. Before we knew of the adrenal insufficiency, her little body was breaking down, and we didn’t know what was happening. She was on a breathing tube, and her little body looked lifeless.
I sat beside her, keeping watch. Praying. Feeling particularly weak and vulnerable. I thought of my babies at home, my husband, my responsibilities. I felt lonely and I felt angry at the superficial nature of so many lives. It was my flesh speaking.
In that moment, a mom’s heart tears slowly. It’s in times like this where I think of Matthew 16:24 and bearing crosses. This is my cross. This is where I have felt neediest.
Strength from Above
And it was in that moment that I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, as if Jesus himself were speaking, applying God’s word to my situation:
Terri Ann, this is exactly where I want you. I am inviting you to live in the deep end.
You have spent many years of your life in the shallow end. You wade there, in your own strength. You focus on what you need, what is important to you. You say you believe in me, but you don’t live that way.
I want you to know me, I want you to need me. I want a deeper relationship with you. So, I am inviting you to the deep end. When you get here, you will try to keep your head above water in your own strength. But in time, you will tire. The waters will overcome you. You will feel like you are drowning.
That is exactly where I want you. You will call out to me, and you will see me, broken for you. There I will give you comfort, security, and buoyancy for the rough waters. The rough waters will not go away, the waters are still deep, but you can rest in me, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The darkness will not go away, the deep waters will not narrow, but you will feel me in a close and intimate way. You will see me in ways you have never before. You will see my plan for your children. And you will have me.
God loves to celebrate overcomers, and that’s what I see in my daughters.
The girls have overcome premature birth.
The girls have overcome abandonment.
The girls have overcome brain hemorrhages, cardiac arrest, intubation, heart surgeries, hernias, intestinal infections, stomas, aspirations, feeding tubes, eye surgeries, colon blockages, therapies upon therapies upon therapies.
To say the girls have overcome insurmountable obstacles is a huge understatement. We are so grateful for the team of medical professionals that have given themselves to serve our children, but it is with the deep love of a sovereign, all-protecting God that they are thriving today.
He provided. He had a plan. He was orchestrating this all for his glory and for our good and joy.
Every human life is valuable. We must encourage the medical community to do their job to help save lives, and then let our God do his job. He has plans for all his children. We do not decide who is viable and who is not. We are rightfully heartbroken and deeply affected by the widespread horrific abortion practices in Canada and the United States.
But are we ready to act? As a Christian body, are we pro-life enough not only to picket Planned Parenthood sites, but to support biological mothers and fathers in parenting the children they do not feel equipped to parent? And are we prepared to support families (financially and otherwise) who choose to adopt these precious children? Will we serve them in sacrificial ways?
God skillfully and wonderfully created Emma and Violet, and they are living out their purposes, to the glory of their Creator. They are a beautiful example to me, my husband, and to all of us.