“The sun was brightly shining on a hot August day three years ago as I stood propped against the rail of my back deck. While just beyond the deck sunshine flooded the world, I was immersed in deepest shade. I leaned far over the rail, reaching past the shadow cast by my house until my fingertips touched the sunlight’s glimmering edge.
How badly I wanted to be in the sunlit world, but I didn’t have the physical mobility to navigate the deck’s stairs. I remained in the shade.
An injury seven months prior had stolen many abilities from me such as walking and stairs. At my feet lay the shards of my life, my dreams shattered like pottery on concrete. Grief drenched my soul.
Of all my dreams, I’d most hoped to adopt again, to give love and a family to a young person who needed just that. In the face of my disabilities, this seemed further out of reach than the sunlight.
That shaded deck was my shroud on that hardest of summers as I mourned my broken dreams. Would I have still mourned had I known what was right around the corner?
For, before the summer’s end, those very same pottery pieces of dreams that lay smashed at my feet would be picked back up and formed into something new: beauty forged from the broken.
The very dream I thought most impossible was about to come true. Before August closed, on our doorstep would suddenly appear a young man named Joe who needed a family just as much as we needed him.
Becoming Joe’s mom would teach me so much about love and perseverance in hardship. I would learn that disability does not mean inability and that even when our own lives have significant challenges and pain, there is always the opportunity to love those God brings across our paths.
But really, the story of how Joe came to be our son began 16 years before that fateful summer.
It was during my teenage years that the dream of one day building my family through older child adoption began to take root in my heart. I’d always loved children, and when I began to be aware of the staggering number of children in foster care who need forever homes (over 30,000 in Canada and hundreds of thousands in the USA), it just made sense to me that when the time came for me to have my own kids, I would have them through adoption.
Late one night when I was about 18 or 19, as I was falling asleep, I felt in my heart a certainty that one day I would adopt a daughter. I imagined her to be 10 years of age. I did the math in my head and concluded I was perhaps 10 years away from being at a point in my life where I was ready to adopt. That made me realize the possibility that my future daughter might already be alive on this earth. From that moment on, I began to occasionally pray for this unknown child, and as I did, the dream of adoption grew inside my heart.
Around 10 years later, that dream indeed was realized when my husband, Eric, and I adopted our first child, our daughter Samantha, in 2010.
Samantha’s ‘Welcome Home Sweet Home Day’ was five days before her tenth birthday. An impish little girl with sparkling brown eyes, long brown hair, and an adorable smile, I immediately fell in love. She was so tiny, just 47 lbs, but had a giant personality and was so cute.
Eric and I loved parenting Sam, and carried a dream of adopting more children, but as the years passed it seemed less and less likely due to my health issues and physical disabilities.
Because of a car accident in my young adulthood, I live with extreme chronic pain, limited upper body strength, gastroparesis (dramatically slowed digestion that causes stomach issues), and difficulty with verbal communication (l have limited speaking ability and mostly use augmentative communication tools to communicate).
By January 2016, it had been an epic 16-year battle for my health. I was exhausted from the many years of pain and struggle and had become quite frail. Unfortunately, like a ship in a storm that has been battered by high waves, that was just when the hardest wave appeared. That month, a subsequent injury suddenly took my ability to walk. It was a time of incredible difficulty, months of fighting to keep my ship righted so I didn’t go down in the storm.
It was a big adjustment to using mobility aids like a wheelchair and (after several months) a walker, and most of all I was devastated to lose so much independence and function. Now, three years later, I’ve regained some mobility and have learned many strategies to function in an adapted way. But those early months were dicey.
In those darkest of days, I was taught powerful lessons about choosing peace and embracing joy in the face of hardship. But it wasn’t easy.
Eric and I made Samantha’s wellbeing a top priority during that turbulent time, keeping her routine as consistent as possible. She was in school during the day while Eric worked and then during the evening he took over tasks like laundry and cooking supper for the family. For over two years our church brought us a weekly meal (that was a lifesaver), and once a week my parents drove Sam to her hip hop dance class.
While it was heartening to see Sam continuing to grow, our dream of adopting again seemed permanently on hold.
Nonetheless, the dream refused to completely die. Summer rounded the corner, and I spent hour upon hour in contemplation on that deck that I couldn’t get off of on my own. If anything, the more I contemplated, the stronger the dream grew. I kept thinking our next child would be a son, and then I would grieve that son I was sure would never come.
At this time, I also began to feel a deep sense of fear, not for myself but for my family. How well I knew life could change in an instant, that accidents and great loss do happen. I’d lost so much through my two accidents and had lived a trial by fire for years. What if I suddenly lost Eric or Sam?
It got to the point that every time they left the house, my mind would wonder if I had just said goodbye to them forever.
One day in the middle of August, I felt God asking me to release this fear and trust him with my family. I couldn’t bear to do this. I knew that trusting God with what was most dear to me, my family, did not mean something magical would happen and my family would now be protected from potential harm.
And even though I also knew me feeling afraid would not prevent an accident, I wanted to hold onto that fear because it gave me a feeling of control in a world that had shown me firsthand that horrible accidents do happen.
Furthermore, once before I had done a similar act of surrender—and almost immediately after my world was catapulted into great pain.
As a young woman, I’d wanted to make a difference and I dreamed of going across the world to provide humanitarian aid. One night at sunset, I went for a walk and told God I’d go wherever he wanted me to go, maybe to an orphanage far away to help care for babies. I never did get to do that: less than three days after that fateful prayer, I was in the car accident that severely injured me, changed the course of my life, and has caused me to have pain every day since.
It took me many painful years to realize even though that accident happened, God did still answer my prayer. I do not believe God caused that accident, but I can look back and see how God was with me through it all, how his hand has been on my life, and how the place I was called to was my own hometown.
But on that mid-August day three years ago, as I wrestled deep inside myself, my spirit screamed that I could never just let go of fear’s false sense of control and tell God I trusted him with my family, no matter what happened.
It was a battle inside my soul. At the end of the day, utterly spent, I finally let go and told God I trusted him with my family. Whatever happened to my family going forward, I accepted it. Immediately the fear left.
Little did I know, something big indeed would happen for my family. Just like the prayer of long ago that occurred right before the life-changing accident, this prayer too immediately precipitated a life-changing event.
However, this time instead of a terrible accident, a long-held dream would suddenly bloom.
I was sitting in the shade of my back deck filling out paperwork for Samantha’s older biological brother, a (then) 20-year-old named Joe.
Joe had lived with a caring foster mother for the past 7 years. As Joe has cognitive disabilities and required ongoing care, even though he was now an adult, he would continue to live in her home where he was comfortable and happy. However, he required legal guardians who would be entrusted with things like paperwork and the decisions needed for his care.
Eric and I had been asked to be Joe’s guardians and we were happy to assume this role for him. While the siblings had lived in separate homes for many years, after adopting Samantha we felt it critically important for them to maintain their sibling bond. We had visits with Joe nearly every month for years even though he lived an hour away from our home. Joe had become extended family to Eric and me and we cared deeply for him.
For a while, I had entertained dreams of adopting Joe, but I knew he was happy in his foster home, bonded with his foster mother.
As I sat on the deck, I emailed some friends about Joe, writing something along the lines of, ‘Joe will continue to live in his foster home, but we will be his guardians. I feel sad he is not with us, but I trust that Joe is in the home God has for him.’
Less than one hour after I wrote that email, Joe’s foster mom texted me. Devastatingly, she was no longer able to provide care for her foster children. Joe was at summer camp until the next day, but after that he could not return to her home. Effective immediately, Joe needed a new home.
As he was considered a vulnerable dependant adult, the government stepped in to find him a home. They asked if we would take Joe—we had less than a day to decide or he would be sent to the only group home available on short notice, even though it was in another town and not fitted to his needs.
It was the most overwhelming decision of Eric’s and my married life. We’d spent a year preparing for our adoption of Sam, including intensive home evaluations, but we had absolutely no preparation to suddenly add a man with disabilities to our family. Eric and I are cautious planners; we don’t just make sudden major decisions to our family without careful thought and planning.
On top of this, it was such a difficult time in my life. How on earth could we add on the care of an adult with needs?!!
And yet, we didn’t immediately say no, but decided to carefully evaluate if we had the capacity to provide a good home for Joe.
While my own physical ability was very poor at the time, Joe didn’t need physical care any more than any other 20-year-old. His disabilities are all cognitive, so he wouldn’t need help getting dressed, being transferred into bed, or pushed in a wheelchair etc.
My struggles with mobility would also not hinder him from community activities: he’d come with supports, such as a government-funded aide to take him out several times a week for activities and to teach skills like riding the bus and how to grocery shop.
We already had a solid family routine down, too. For example, Eric was already regularly cooking supper. Would it really be so hard to cook for one more person? We already read Sam bedtime stories, would it be so hard to have one more kid curled up listening to the same Harry Potter story?
Further, while I was physically disabled, my cognitive abilities have always been strong, and this was where Joe needed care. He needed a parent to advise him, help him follow his routine, access services, and advocate for him. And of course, to love him. The many years I’d spent struggling with my own disabilities had taught me invaluable skills in these areas. Things like never giving up in hardship, how to proactively face a challenge head-on, and strong advocacy skills had become my strengths. And living with such deep pain had softened my heart, created in me a deeper desire to love others who also hurt.
Most of all, while things in our family were very unconventional, there was a huge amount of love.
We realized that theoretically we could do this and the very same day we’d been asked, we said yes. However, it was all so overwhelmingly unknown.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Then, in the darkness, I clearly felt God tell me this was his plan for Joe and our family. That we were to proceed with a strong yes and Joe would be moving in. It wasn’t like I heard an audible voice, just more of an impression in my spirit, but I’d never felt more sure of anything in my life.
So, in the face of the improbable, Joe immediately moved in. We called the day he moved in ‘Welcome to the Nest Day’ and each year we celebrate this special anniversary with presents and supper at his favorite restaurant, just as we celebrate Sam’s ‘Welcome Home Sweet Home Day.’
While Eric and I began as Joe’s guardians, what we really wanted was for him to be our full, legal son. Joe took some time to think about it and a year ago he came to us to tell us he wanted to be adopted ‘like his sister.’
The adoption order was approved last December on Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas), a particularly special day for our family since Eric’s parents were born in Holland.
Nearly three years have now passed since our family so unorthodoxically gained a son. Joe, now 23 years old, is happy and thriving. He takes piano lessons, has friends, has learned to ride the bus, studies guitar, earned a taekwondo black belt through Paralympics, and was accepted into a program at a local university in which adults with developmental disabilities audit university courses while doing modified studies.
I too am doing well. As the years have passed, my mobility has improved. I no longer am trapped on my deck. I first became strong enough to regularly crawl down the stairs to a sunshine-filled world. Then I began to take my wheelchair on the bus which re-opened the world for me.
Following an experimental treatment a year ago and with intensive physical therapy, I began to use a cane and then to walk slowly down my stairs. Last August, almost two years to the day since Joe joined the family, I took my first halting steps without a cane. I can walk short distances now, but still use a power wheelchair when leaving the house. I have great hopes of continued gains in mobility.
As I look back on the past three years, I can barely believe how far we’ve come together.
I could end the story here on this happy note, but that wouldn’t be the full story. Truth be told, it was not easy adding a young adult to our family and there have been some incredibly challenging days.
Parenting young people with disabilities who didn’t have it easy in their early years and who live with the effects of severe trauma while living with my own disabilities has challenged Eric and me in ways we never could have fathomed. My very soul has been raked across the coals numerous times over the years.
And yet the truth is that just because challenges exist, they in no way mean you are not in the exact place you are called to be. Some things are worth not giving up on when the going is rough.
Challenges can either break you or be the catalyst for growth. They can be the basis for opening our hearts to show deep compassion and love.
When it comes to parenting older children and youth adopted from trauma, there may be very difficult challenges—but a million times over, those challenges are worth it because of the high value of these young people.
I believe there is no better way to spend the days I have so generously been given then by loving young people who, through no fault of their own, have been scarred by the horrors of early trauma. To get to play a role in helping them heal and know love is the greatest of privileges. Every small step and tiny growth mean so much.
Just moments ago, as I sat writing this article in the shade of my back deck, Joe bounded through the house looking for me. He wanted to show me some stickers he’d been given. ‘Mom! Mom!’ he excitedly called out. Getting up, I left the deck and came to him. He had the biggest smile on his face, and so did I.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenna C. Hoff of Edmonton, Alberta. You can follow her journey on her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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