Adopting “Heidi”

When I was a junior in high school I felt the Lord’s call to one day work abroad with orphans living with disabilities. For three years this was just a dream. The summer after my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to travel to India alongside a friend who had previously cared a group of Indian girls who live with various disabilities. We worked with Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH), an organization which takes in and cares for orphans with chronic illnesses and physical and intellectual disabilities. I got to meet all of the girls that my friend Haley had cared for, along with several other kids. During the second week of my trip I met a little girl who would change my life forever.

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Picture description: I am sitting on a the floor looking down at Heidi, who is sitting in between my legs. Her head is against my chest, and a white circle with the word “joyful” is covering her face.

The moment I met *Heidi (this is a fake name used online to protect her privacy) I fell in love. When I met her in the summer of 2013, I was surprised to find out that she was 3 years old, because she was so tiny! I cherished every moment I spent with Heidi and immediately felt a deep connection with her that I didn’t know how to describe. She was very timid and drawn in, and it was rare to see her smile. On my last day in India, I got to see authentic joy through Heidi’s giggle as we played with a beach ball nearly twice her size.

As soon as I left India in the summer of 2013, I knew I was supposed to go back. I felt God calling me to move there and serve in a parenting role to Heidi and the other kids she lived with. In the months that followed, I found myself stalking SCH’s social media accounts (full pictures of kids were allowed online back then) and constantly reading volunteer’s blogs searching for updates on Heidi. Back then I knew God was doing something in my heart regarding Heidi, but I assumed He was just using her to call me back to India.

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Picture Description: My 12 foster kids and I are hanging out on our roof in India. There are graphics of hearts, stars, and flowers covering the kids’ faces. Heidi is sitting on Victoria’s lap and is wearing a light blue dress.

In 2014 when I was just 20 years old, I moved to India. I initially committed to taking in 6 girls, but before I knew it I was caring for 12 amazing kids. Our life was fun, fast moving, hectic, sometimes hard, and filled with joy. I developed a deep, deep love for all 12 of my kids, but there was something different about Heidi. With the rest of kids, I knew I was temporary. I loved them deeply, but I knew I wouldn’t live with and care for them forever. Every day I prayed and asked the Lord to provide forever families for them. I prayed for red tape to be removed and for adoption proceedings to become quicker. I imagined what their lives would be like as they grew up in their families. Yet every time I prayed for and imagined Heidi’s life in another family, I felt sick to my stomach. I knew it was selfish, but I hated the thought of Heidi growing up without me. I wanted to desperately to be her mom.

At 20 years old, I was half a decade away from even being eligible to try and adopt Heidi. I knew that it was extremely unlikely that she’d even still be an orphan when I was finally turned 25. And I didn’t know what my life would look like at that point – if I would have a job or be married, or if I would even have enough money and support to raise a child. So I tried my best to accept the fact that I would never be Heidi’s mom.

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Picture description: I am kissing Heidi on the cheek and my left arm is wrapped around her. There is a mehndi design on my hand. Heidi is wearing a teal dress with a pink bow in her hair. There is a heart graphic covering most her face, but if you look closely, you can see her big smile!

To be perfectly honest, that broke me. On my very last day as a foster parent I tucked Heidi into bed for the last time. I was crying as she looked up at me and said “Amma” (meaning “mother” in Telugu) and then signed “I love you”. I remember kissing her on the cheek and laying down next to her until she fell asleep. I sang the song “You are my sunshine” to her just as my mom did to me when I was her age. And as I got up to leave, the weight of saying goodbye to Heidi nearly crushed me. I ran to my bathroom and nearly threw up, and then laid on the floor sobbing for almost two hours. A few hours later as I boarded my flight back to America and replayed my final moments with Heidi in my head, I heard that still small voice in my head say “don’t give up”. In that moment I knew that my journey with Heidi wasn’t over.

My first year back in America sucked. In my first couple months home I battled a deep depression and blamed myself for adding to the kids’ abandonment. I grew really angry at God for sending me to India to care for these kids only to end up leaving them. I was mad at God for allowing me to feel like Heidi’s mom, when there was little to no chance of that actually happening. This was the only time in my life that I seriously questioned God. There were times that I wanted to turn away from Christianity, but in those moments I continued to hear that still small voice say “don’t give up”. So I continued to walk with Jesus, but I would lying if I said I wasn’t still angry. For several months I let anger and bitterness build up in my heart. I was distant from God and just felt numb. Then one day a friend of mine who was still at SCH messaged me and told me that another one of kids I cared for had just met her adoptive parents. I stared at the picture of this little girl, beaming from ear to ear as she stood with the people she would call “mom” and “dad” forever. And to my surprise my faith was immediately restored. I felt God whisper “Why haven’t you trusted me? I have never left your kids and I never will. I have never left you and I never will”.

Picture description: Heidi is sitting on her new bouncing ball toy. She has her school backpack on and is wearing a teal dress. There is a heart graphic covering her face, but you can see her beautiful smile! I am sitting beside Heidi and looking at her with a huge smile. I am wearing a teal punjabi outfit.

A little over a year after I returned to the United States, I heard that Heidi still had not been matched with an adoptive family. While I was still too young to adopt, I began to dream about what life would be like with her home. She was 6 1/2 at the time, and the statistical likelihood that she would be adopted continued to drop with every day she grew older. I imagined what it would be like to be a single mom while finishing college. I thought about Heidi every day and prayed that God would somehow make me her mom. Yet I knew that adopting her wasn’t a reality at the time.

In the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to go back to India alongside a family who was adopting one of the girls I cared for. This was the first time I would see 11 of the 12 kids I cared for (one was already home with her family!). I was ecstatic to see all of my kids, but I was particularly excited to see Heidi. It had been a year and a half since I last saw her in person. During the long plane rides I dreamt about what it would be like when I first saw Heidi. Would she remember me? If she did, would she remember me fondly? Would seeing me trigger feelings of abandonment and loss?

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Picture description: I am holding Heidi and looking down at her endearingly. I am wearing an orange top and my hair is pulled back with a navy headband. Heidi is wearing a gray t-shirt and leaning against my chest. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail. A drawing of a teal flower is covering most of her face, but you can see her big smile!

On my second day back in India, I went over to Heidi’s home. (She was living in a different house than my other kids at the time). As I walked up to the door I was filled with a mixture of fear and excitement. I had been waiting for this moment for a year and a half. Would she remember me? Would this moment be as special to her as it will be for me? I remember taking a deep breath as I pushed open the door to Heidi’s home. As soon as I laid eyes on her I started to cry. She was so BIG!  At first Heidi looked at me inquisitively, then her eyes lit up as she said “Amma! Amma!”  (Telugu for “mother”)  and ran toward me. I knelt down and wrapped my arms around her as buried her head into my chest. It was in this moment that I felt my first clear “yes” from the Lord about adopting Heidi.

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Picture description: Mary Muktha and I are smiling together on the day she met her adoptive family. She is wearing a white dress and pretty orange earrings.

After four short weeks, I had to say goodbye to Heidi again. The pain of saying goodbye to my kids in India never really leaves. I absolutely hate saying goodbye and walking back out of their lives. I know it’s the reality of orphan care, but it doesn’t mean it’s fair. My deepest desire is for each one of my kids to be in a forever family. They are such wonderful kids who deserve so much more than what life has handed them. Saying goodbye to them rips my soul apart. The first two times I said goodbye, I left India filled with grief. But this trip was different. Saying goodbye was awful, but I got to drive away with Mary Muktha and her father as she left the orphanage forever. And I said goodbye to Heidi knowing that one day she’d be the little girl sitting next to me as we drove away to start our life as a family.

Soon after arriving back in the U.S. I began researching what the Indian adoption process looks like. I still wasn’t old enough to adopt, but I wanted to be prepared in every way possible. India allows single moms to adopt starting at age 25, but according to their government requirements there must be a 25 year age gap between parent and child. The first time I read this rule my heart sank. Heidi and I’s age gap is only 15 years. I remember thinking that there was no way India would ever approve me to adopt Heidi. So for a few months I sat in grief. Yet every single time I thought about Heidi I heard that same still small voice saying “don’t give up”.

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Picture description: Heidi and I are at a movie theater. I am wearing a pink dress and smiling with Heidi in my lap. Heidi is wearing a pink shirt and is holding her 3D glasses. There is a graphic covering most of her face that says “love makes a family”.

In June of 2017 I moved from Knoxville, TN to Norman, OK to start a full time job with Young Life Capernaum. In the midst of my first month on staff, I began feeling that clear “yes” toward adopting Heidi once more. So one day I reached out to my friend in India who adopted one of the girls she cared for. Part of her role at SCH is preparing kids’ adoption files, so between that and being an adoptive mother herself, she knows a lot about the adoption process. I confessed to her how Heidi has felt like my daughter for years. I told her that I really felt like I was supposed to adopt her, but I knew that India would never approve me. And to my surprise, she responded by saying it was actually very likely that they would say yes. I learned that exceptions to some of the rules can be granted when the child has a “serious special need” and is unlikely to be adopted by another family.

On August 11, 2017, I said yes to adopting *Heidi. I got in contact with the adoption agency that currently has her file, and this year I will be beginning the process to bring her home. I don’t know how long the adoption process will take, as every adoption in India looks a little different. And there is still every chance that I could be denied. There is still a chance that another family could be matched with Heidi before I am. But I believe the Lord’s promises are true. He has been preparing me to become Heidi’s mom since the first day I met her five years ago.  And I can’t wait to become her mom forever.

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Picture description: Heidi is standing in front of a large boulder. She is wearing a blue tank top that says “Be Someone’s Sunshine”. There is a white heart covering her face, but you can still see her beautiful smile as she laughs.