‘We sat at our kitchen table making a list titled, ‘How to spend $25,000!’: Couple adopts baby girl thanks to game show contestant earnings

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“My husband, Aaron, and I had known since before we married that we wanted adoption to be part of our family’s story.  However, we had always just assumed we would have biological kids first and adopt second for no particular reason other than that’s the ‘norm’ it seems. And I, like most women, am aware there’s a factor of the biological clock to be taken into account when thinking about pregnancy and giving birth. God had another plan for our family, however, and He took us on a crazy faith journey that I wouldn’t believe if I didn’t live through it.

Husband and wife smiling holding dog in front of Christmas tree
Courtesy Holly Brown and Aaron Brown

Our road to adoption has an unusual start. Aaron loves pop culture and consequently the summer TV show, Hollywood Game Night. On a whim a couple years ago, he filled out their online application to be a contestant on the show. He received an automated ‘We aren’t currently accepting applications, but we will keep yours on file to review later.’ We both wrote it off as a polite dismissal and months later, when his phone rang and it showed a Los Angeles number, he answered it expecting to talk to a telemarketer, and instead found himself interviewing for the show.

Man points to himself on TV when he won $25,000 on game show
Courtesy Holly Brown and Aaron Brown

Several rounds of interviews later, and he was flying out to LA to have a final interview and find out if he would get to be a contestant and play for $25,000. Well, he did!… and he won! So in October of 2016 we found ourselves sitting at our kitchen table making a list titled ‘how to spend $25,000!’ We started praying about how to be good stewards with the unexpected blessing, and we kept making the wish list. On an unrelated note (or so we thought), we had decided we were also about ready to grow our family. We began hearing about a local Christian adoption agency literally every single week. It happened so much that Aaron and I talked one night and said ‘Oh you’ve noticed it too?’ That led us to start asking God if He was trying to direct our attention to adoption, and after several days, we both felt that we were supposed to look into adoption.  We decided to explore one or two agencies or adoption methods a month, do our research, and then we would pick an agency from there.

The very next day we were sitting in church and our mouths dropped open as we heard our pastor say, ‘Today is Adoption Sunday, and we have a table in the lobby with representatives from a local Christian adoption agency. If you’ve ever considered adoption, stop by the table.’ To make it even more ridiculous, it was the same adoption agency that we had kept hearing about in the weeks leading up to this! We sheepishly, excitedly and nervously stopped by the table after the service and left our names for further information. We still didn’t know if anything would come of it, but we knew our next step was to talk to this agency. After submitting our initial application that included listing references, we found out the director of the agency knew and loved one of our references. At that point, Aaron said:  ‘It’s like God is saying- you may not know what to expect or how all this will turn out, but I have every detail orchestrated. He knew years ago that our paths would cross with the agency director. He keeps giving us reminders that He is in control and has a plan.’ We had no idea how God would work in even greater ways over and over again.

Early on in the process, I needed to get a physical done for part of the paperwork requirements. A month earlier, my primary care doctor had severely questioned our decision to adopt before trying for biological kids. So for the physical, I decided to go to a new doctor. On that visit, during the first couple minutes when I was with the nurse getting my vitals taken, she asked me what I was there for. I told her I needed a physical for paperwork in our adoption process, and she responded with genuine warmth for us. So much so, I was a bit surprised at her level of excitement! Shortly after that, the doctor came in, and she also expressed excitement for us. As the appointment was ending, the doctor left, and I was with the same nurse again as she finished up the paperwork. I remember sitting there feeling so thankful that this visit had gone so much better than my last one when the nurse began to speak to me again, quietly, saying, ‘You might have been surprised with how excited I was that you said you and your husband were adopting. Years ago, I was in a different place and was going through an extremely difficult time. I was pregnant and chose adoption. A wonderful family, much like yours, is raising my son and I’m so thankful for them. I don’t regret it. I know it was the best choice and the right choice. So even now, I’m thankful for families who choose to adopt.’ Honestly, tears come to my eyes even as I write that. She didn’t have to share with me that day, but she did. And in that moment, God whispered once again that He was directing our steps. I got to the car and sat in awe. God redeemed that doctor’s office moment and overwhelmed me with the exact encouragement and hope that I needed at the perfect time.

At a later point in the paperwork process, I had been reminded through some conversations and readings of some of the really difficult realities of some adoptions. One Wednesday night in particular, I talked to Aaron and said, ‘I know God is leading us through this, but it’s just a lot right now. A lot of money. A lot of risks.’  I even remember talking about how the place I work didn’t have a paid maternity leave policy. As the primary earner in this season, that weighed on me as well. That night Aaron walked me through all the ways God had encouraged and provided for us thus far, and being reminded that God was in this long before we knew about it was exactly what I needed.  It was a great reminder, but I was still having to fight back fear. I wish I rebounded immediately from feeling overwhelmed, but most of the time, it takes a few days of surrendering those fears repeatedly to the Lord. This was no exception. The next day, I was sitting at my desk, and I saw a ‘special update’ email from the HR department at my company stating they have updated their maternity leave policy and would now be offering a paid maternity leave! My jaw literally dropped. But that wasn’t all… Additionally, they were introducing an adoption reimbursement program effective immediately that adoptive families, upon finalization, could turn in receipts of adoption expenses and be reimbursed up to $6,000.

I can’t make this stuff up.

I called Aaron in tears. I have said many times since that day that God taught me so much in one email. I hadn’t even considered that God could or would change an HR policy. I hadn’t even thought of praying for that. But He did. And He chose to announce it that day. For the sake of time, I won’t recount all the other ways God clearly provided throughout the adoption process, but know that He kept giving us reminders every step of the way. Also, let me pause here and say, most adoptive families are waiting for months and even years. In many ways that’s one of the hardest parts of the process, if not the hardest part of the process. Because of this, we had told very few that we were in this process because the timeline is so varied and can be incredibly long. With adoption, there are no formulas.

We were prepared to wait many months, but Aaron’s phone rang three weeks later. Aaron then called me and said, ‘I just got the call.’ I, not catching on, simply responded with, ‘Oh, who called?’ He said, ‘the adoption agency.’ I responded, (still not catching on – because it had only been three weeks!!) said, ‘Oh what did they want?’ He chuckled out of disbelief: ‘Holly, I got THE call. They might have a match for us. When can you come home? They said they wanted to talk to both of us.’ My brain simultaneously went into overdrive and shut down. I got home 15 minutes later and we stared at each other in shock for a minute and then took a deep breath as we talked to the director. We found out a birthmom in another state was interested in us. She had narrowed it down to us and another couple. Then we heard an even greater shock. She was due in 6 weeks and wanted to meet us.

We made the drive the following week to meet the birthmom. At one point on the drive, I looked at the clock and realized only 40 minutes had passed instead of the 2 hours I had thought! The time DRAGGED so slowly for me. Aaron is always more patient about everything and just told me to get comfortable and try to sleep.  It didn’t totally work, but we just kept driving, and 9 hours later, we found ourselves running into a Target to change clothes, buy a ribbon for the plate of cookies we had brought, and go to the bathroom before driving down the street to the restaurant. I can’t really put into words the level of excitement, nerves, and trepidation walking into that restaurant. We had prayed a lot that we wouldn’t feel pressured to ‘perform’ or ‘prove ourselves’ but that instead we would simply be a loving example of Christ in those moments. I would be lying if I said there still wasn’t twinges of hoping the birthmom would like us, but truthfully, God worked mightily and we genuinely were more nervous about showing her love and sincerity in appropriate ways than anything else.

We walked in, met the case worker, and found ourselves sitting in a corner booth. A few minutes later in walked the birthmom, who for simplicity from here on out, I’ll just call M. The dinner was more enjoyable than we could have imagined. M and the caseworker were wonderful. M was gracious, kind, funny, and easy to talk with. We shared favorite foods, movies, interests and normal, everyday things. The dinner went by quickly, and at the end, M told us that she felt really comfortable with us and would like to move forward with the adoption plan for us to be the parents. The only way to really describe that moment is to say it was staggering. To be looking in the eyes of a beautiful and courageous woman and be told she will be entrusting you with the most precious gift of life is staggeringly humbling.

We got home and started a whirlwind of preparation. Our goal was to be ready a week or two before the due date in case baby girl decided to come early. If only we knew. Due date came and went. Finally 7 excruciatingly long days after the due date, we got the call. Not that she was coming, but that the doctor was going to induce the next day. Aaron and I packed the car and hit the road. We got to my aunt and uncle’s late that night. I didn’t mention earlier, but yet another way God provided was that my aunt and uncle lived about thirty minutes from the hospital M and Baby Girl were going to be at! We were at the hospital by 9 a.m. the next morning and the real waiting began. Baby Girl was in no hurry to make her entrance.

At 4:25 a.m. the following morning, our daughter, Eliza, was brought into our room and we fell in love.

Newborn baby who was adopted by parents who paid for her with winnings from game show
Courtesy Holly Brown and Aaron Brown

(The floor had graciously given us a room down the hall from M.) We were able to stay the two days at the hospital and it was incredibly special to be there with Eliza and M. We were discharged Saturday afternoon, and we went to court to finalize the adoption the following Wednesday. I want to respect M and the privacy of that morning at court, and so I’ll simply say this. We did not take for granted that for us to even be at the courthouse meant M had chosen the most difficult, loving, selfless and courageous action a mother can make for her child.  She loves Eliza fiercely and we are so thankful she does. M gave us the sacred gift of becoming parents, and the magnitude of M’s sacrifice cannot be put into words.

Father holds newborn they adopted with $25,000 they won on game show
Courtesy Holly Brown and Aaron Brown

In a perfect twist that only God could have orchestrated, we arrived back at home on the same night Aaron’s episode of Hollywood Game Night aired which was amazing since that’s how our journey to Eliza began. Adoption is beautiful and good and right. But it’s also complicated and hard. When you’re living it out, those two sides don’t cancel each other but rather sharpen the reality that the other side exists. Each person involved in adoption, the birthmom, the adoptive parents, and even the beautiful children, encounter both sides at some point.  My husband said in describing our adoption journey, ‘Sometimes the hardest decisions are the best decisions,’ and I’ve found that to be true time and time again.”

Mother and father smile holding adopted daughter they paid for with money they won on game show

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Holly Brown, 33, and Aaron Brown, 31, of Texas. Follow them on Facebook here and their website hereSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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