“If you were to take a glance at my birth certificate issued just this May, you’d see that I was born on November 6, 1992, at exactly 6 p.m. You’d also see my name, Annie. I hated my name for most of my life. For so many years, I didn’t get a break from the constant reminders from my birth mom that she didn’t want to name me because I was an ‘accident’ that she tried to get rid of, but couldn’t. I’ve heard that I was named by the doctor or nurse, but to this day I still am not sure which random stranger ended up naming me in that hospital room. I also hated being compared to the fictional characters who were also orphans. There was Little Orphan Annie. There was Anne of Green Gables, also an orphan. And then there was me.
It wasn’t until my 7th grade year, when we were assigned a name art project in class, that I looked up what my name meant. I remember typing it in, my heart racing in anticipation to find out just what, if any, meaning my name held. As the screen with results started loading, I remember my 12-year old self seeing a word that I now can see the fullness of: ‘grace.’ It’s by the grace of God that I’m now living in the reality that I am. Ever since the beginning, it’s grace that has carried me. It’s His grace that led the stranger to choose a name for me. It’s grace that kept me from dying from the abuse. It’s grace that kept me fighting and led to me becoming a survivor. It’s grace that alerted the mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect to call upon the authorities to place me into foster care. You’d also see that printed on this same new birth certificate is 10 years old as the age of my mother at the time of my birth. You might ask, ‘How?’ Adoption is how. It’s this same grace I speak of that had my paths cross with my parents.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and with that, I’d like to extend an invite into my life. We all have a story and each one is very different. We get to decide for ourselves how we feel about it and it’s all 100% valid. I encourage you to give ear, like with any topic, to stories from all sides and all experiences. Adoption touches us all differently and cannot be limited to just one, two, or a few feelings. Because of my past, there are days where feelings arise that feel so big. Above it all, though, I feel grateful beyond words that I never have to navigate any of this alone. We all have insight to take in, to learn, to offer, and to share. The mic is being passed around and it’s so necessary.
We are all the products of choices we didn’t make. I was brought into brokenness by broken people who chose to continue that cycle. The day after I was placed into the system, I was sent to a hospital to have a full screening done. This included documenting the marks upon my whole body and hours of questioning. I remember trembling in fear, so uncomfortable because of the physical and emotional exposure that was required of me. It was in a dark hallway at that hospital that God used a nurse – a nurse who shared that she took on her job because her husband was also a survivor of child abuse – to speak words that still echo in my spirit. I can still hear her strong yet gentle voice like it was just yesterday. ‘Annie, the cycle ends with you.’
I was in foster care for 5 years and aged out in 2015. I felt the deep stings of rejection time and time again, a feeling that made my insides freeze up. It was a sting that crept in with no care to where I was, how I was feeling, or who it would come through. I felt unadoptable, unwanted, and unworthy. To cope with the pain, I tried to convince myself that God made me to be somebody who’d never ‘need’ parents or a family. I felt unfit to belong – yet belonging was what my trauma-filled behaviors showed my desperation for. How could I have believed otherwise, though? I had a track record of reasons to believe that family was not a word I’d ever experience. I built walls around me that were getting stacked higher and higher every day, and my thick shell would’ve never alluded to the deepest longing of my heart being for a mom and a dad. Everything within me cried out to be nurtured, taken in, and cared for. I longed to belong.
May 31, 2019, marks the day I was adopted as a 26-year old, as a former foster youth, and as someone whom the system had ‘set up to belong to no one.’ Court, once a place I despised, became a redeemed place where I have now chosen to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). I became a daughter that day in a courthouse that historically operated as an orphanage. Every doubt I had about being worthy of love shattered that day. Before a judge, friends, and family, vows were made to solidify and make legal the power of love to make a family. Belonging became my reality. Forever became a promise. Legacy was formed. My story has now become theirs and theirs have become mine. It is now our story in the making – our God story written into the tapestry of our lives, woven through adoption.
I had known my parents for 7 years before I was adopted and throughout that time, they were present in every part of my life. They entered into my life as the worship pastors at the church I attended while in foster care. A peek at my history with them would show you two people whose love for me never wavered – even on the days I spiraled out of control and through the times I tried to push them away. A vivid memory I have is a night where trauma resurfaced, and for a few moments, it won the battle within me. It was dark and raining out that night. I ran out of their front door without any shoes on into the freezing cold and didn’t stop until I reached the main street. There I stood under a street light, rain pouring down on my skin, and my heart racing as I breathed heavily into the fog. Cars whizzed by and I was overtaken by this urge to just step into the street.
My mind waged war as I wrestled between the fear of my past abandonment repeating itself, and the truth that I had no reason to fear any of that presently. I was suddenly overtaken by the need to be held and comforted by my mom, and in that moment, I knew my history with them had to speak louder than my past. They always told me they weren’t going anywhere, that there’s nothing that would make them change their minds about me, and that I couldn’t mess anything up. I had to choose to believe them. I turned away from the busy road and started walking back towards the house, feet numb from the cold, shivering, and there on the street stood my dad, in the cold, waiting to embrace me. He hugged me as I cried and led me inside as we joined my mom. There she was as always, ready to hold me near. With them, I feel safer than ever. I’ve been told time and time again this truth, but that night I lived out what it meant. They’re not going anywhere.
Adoption was a choice I made. In the state of Washington, anyone above the age of 18 is the one who chooses/declares their parents in court for the hearing. My whole life I’ve felt like choices were made for me because I was constantly reaping the effects of other people’s choices. The greatest choice I’ve gotten to make is in choosing to be adopted by my parents, and the most beautiful thing is that they, in return, have fully chosen me back. It’s the power of choice. Mom and dad, I love you both with all of me. You two are my greatest God-dreams come true and being your daughter forever is the greatest gift I could be given. The way you both love me has completely changed my life. An ancient Chinese proverb says, ‘An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of the time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break. ‘ Everything I experienced in the waiting was worth it because it all led me to you two.
As an adoptee, the power of choice comes to mind as one of the most instrumental revelations I’ve encountered. I have been grafted in. Understanding that I have been chosen and will forever be the recipient of ongoing choosing has been something outside of the box of what I’ve known for all of these years. This mutual choosing between my parents and I has fashioned a covenant that cannot be broken, and for the first time in my life, I am confident that something is forever – and it’s all due to the power of choice being freely made, truly experienced, and completely trusted. It’s a mutual choosing of one another that has been built over the span of all these years and will only continue as we create new memories and traditions. It’s something that I can reflect upon and see solid proof of. A choosing that has always had equal participation. I will forever choose my parents back.
Adoption has made this former orphan a daughter. Adoption has given me my first ‘forever.’ Adoption has guaranteed me a seat at the table. Adoption has shown me that brokenness can be redeemed. Adoption has shown me God’s heart for family. Adoption reminds me that I’m never alone. Adoption has shown me love without limits. Adoption has been woven into the tapestry of the lives of my whole tribe. Adoption has opened my eyes. Adoption has shown me how healing can come out of pain. Adoption has created beauty from my ashes. Adoption has shown me His ability to restore to better than before. Adoption reminds me that I am worthy of receiving love and that I’m called to give love, and so are you.
A few days ago, on my 27th birthday, I received a card with the word ‘daughter’ printed on the front for the very first time. I was always quick to avoid cards addressed to daughters, moms, and dads in the card aisle. I didn’t think I’d ever have a reason to look at them and it caused my heart to physically ache whenever I saw them. 9,855 days was worth the wait to step into a reality that first and foremost comes from the spirit of adoption through Jesus, but now also a physical reality as Earth mirrors Heaven. The journey of brokenness I’ve walked through is being turned into a journey to wholeness, day by day, being restored in a way that only God can.
I longed to be seen. To be noticed. To be embraced. To fit. But most of all, I longed to belong. I dreamed of meaning something to someone. I dreamed of a mom to hold me and tell me everything would be okay. I dreamed of a dad that would protect me from the men who only ever tried to harm me. I dreamed of being a daughter. Belonging was my greatest dream and the common theme in my story because though many other desires came and went, this was one thing I couldn’t give up. It carried me to where I am now because that longing for belonging first and foremost was fulfilled by the only one who could fulfill it, the very one who created that desire in us – Jesus. I was found by a Father. Formed for a family. The same goes for you.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 23,000 teenagers age out of foster care every year, 20% of which will instantly become homeless. Age doesn’t define a child. Age doesn’t decrease the need for a loving home. Age doesn’t limit the ‘firsts’ you can share together. Adult adoption is available in most states in the United States. You could be the first loving adult in the life of a foster child, teenager, or young adult. There is nothing that disqualifies someone from belonging in a family. That being said, it doesn’t at all have to be confined to adoption. I live to make a call to action where everyone can play a part. Make a meal for a foster family. Add another seat to your table. Open your heart to another life. Volunteer locally. Pray for all involved in the foster care and adoption realms. Bring awareness to those around you. Give an aged-out foster youth a home base to land, a love that chooses them in both the comfortable and the uncomfortable, a display of what family looks like, a care that goes beyond what they’ve ever known, and a continual reminder that their life matters. Extend a continual invite for holidays, birthdays, or maybe even an open invite for whenever they want. To belong is to be known. To be heard. To be seen. To be loved. To feel worthy. Who will you invite into belonging?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Annie Marek-Barta. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Annie’s powerful backstory of adult adoption:
‘No one has ever wanted you here. If you find a family that will actually love you, go be with them.’: 26-year-old adopted after years of childhood trauma, abuse, says you’re ‘never too old to need parents’
And a nurse’s ‘thank you’ to those who love them:
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