I waited outside the door. My foster children would soon finish their visit with their parents. It had been a month since the kids had been removed. This was their first visit. I had never met the parents, despite two of the three siblings having been my students.
The door opened and the kids burst wildly into the hall. “Look what they brought me!” the youngest said. I felt the awkwardness of the connection that he had with me, in the midst of his parents being there.
Then SHE walked out the door. She was six feet tall with tattoos on her skin and gauges in her ears. We were conspicuously different.
As the months passed, I watched the kids’ pain and confusion. “Why don’t our parents love us enough…?” Promises were made and broken and I was left to pick up the pieces. There were failed drug tests, missed visits, and arrests.
I was angry. Indeed, why didn’t they love the kids enough to make progress? Why hadn’t they set boundaries for the kids, made them read, and made them brush their teeth? They hadn’t protected them from harm.
When the termination of parental rights became inevitable, the parents signed over their parental rights, knowing that I had agreed to adopt the kids and would care for them.
I was eager for these kids I already loved to become my sons and daughter. I wanted to give them a stable home, where they didn’t have to ask, “Are we going to have dinner tonight?” I wanted them to continue to have to make their beds – because they actually had beds. I looked forward to giving them new experiences and showing them the many possibilities open to them.
I became “Mom” to three more kids and now they had a pair of “birth parents.” Visits continued, sporadically.
When both parents ended up in prison for long sentences, I secretly rejoiced. Now the kids wouldn’t feel confused about my role as their mom. I would get them all to myself. I didn’t want to share.
Written communication also ceased when serious questions about past events surfaced. I knew the parents were in prison, but not where. When it began to look like the birth mother was not connected to those past events, I still didn’t look for her.
Someone close to me chose adoption. I saw her pain and my thoughts turned to the birth mother of my younger kids. I thought of her loss and how she didn’t even know how the kids were doing or how they’d changed.
Still, I was afraid of renewing contact. I knew this would mean sharing and loss of control.
God kept working. Relentlessly He kept nudging me. I was reminded that it’s healthy for adopted kids to stay in contact with their birth families. My daughter talked about missing her birth mom. God directed my thoughts to trust Him. He changed my heart, one step at a time.
I found the birth mom’s location. The kids and I wrote to her. The letters began flowing both ways. The birth mom and I continued writing to each other, getting to know each other. She was off drugs. She explained how God turned her to Himself in prison. Hearing from us was an answer to her prayers.
Two months later, I visited her in prison. Then I took the kids. She looked each one in the eyes and apologized for letting them down and not being the mom she should have been. She asked for their forgiveness. She reminded the kids that I am their mom now and that my adoption of them was a good thing.
I watched in amazement. I was seeing healing and redemption happen and God had privileged me with a front row seat.
Subsequent visits were sometimes with the kids and sometimes I visited alone. The “birth mom” was now a real person to me – not a label but a name, “Annie.” I watched God bring us together and make us into friends. The way God has worked is incredible.
Sixteen months after renewed contact, it came time for her release. How that would look had been on my mind for months. On one of those last pre-release visits, Annie asked if she would be able to attend our church. I explained that I was still trying to figure out what would be best for the kids. I then spoke words I never would have expected to come from my mouth – “I love you friend. I’m not trying to shut you out.”
There are many days that I still look back and am in awe. This is God’s story. He CAN change hearts, heal the broken, bring redemption, and form friendships that don’t make sense.
Angela Leffel is a teacher and single mom with four adopted kids, one of whom is now an adult. She enjoys heart sharing with friends, especially over a cup of coffee. She feels closest to God and most at peace when in a forest. She shares what God is teaching her here.