Today is the second anniversary of Serenity’s adoption! What an incredible blessing she has been to our family and truly an unexpected gift from the Lord. I thought I would post the chapter about her from “The Middle Mom” just to reinforce what a journey God brought us through…..
(Excerpted from The Middle Mom – Chapter 10- Serenity Now!)
After we had completed our state foster care training classes, done all of our background checks, had our home study, and been approved by the state; we began the wait. I knew this was going to be a different experience; that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore”, so my prayer for Jeff, because of the sacrifice he was willing to make, was that he would fall in love with the first baby/child that came into our home. Little did I know how prophetic that prayer would be.
About a month after our home opened, I received a call from a DHS supervisor about three siblings that had just come into care. She asked me what I thought. Although it is almost always in the best interest of the children to keep siblings together, I knew with our four biological children, we couldn’t take all three. Due to the nature of this case, it was decided that we would take the one year old and that our friends Bill and Donna would take the three year old. There was a newborn that was expected to be in the hospital for awhile, so no decision had to be made about him, (although he would eventually be placed with Bill and Donna as well).
The next day I talked with the placement coordinator and asked some questions; for example, what was this child’s name; that would be nice to know! Her name was Serenity. I grabbed my new car seat and a stuffed Glow-Worm that I had bought especially for this little girl and made my way to the DHS office. I have to admit it was frightening. With the agency, we knew what to expect; we knew the people and the process, but we were traversing new territory here, and I had no idea what lie ahead. (It’s probably better that I didn’t know!)
As I drove up, a caseworker let me in, and there in the arms of a big teenage boy (I would later learn was one of her brothers) was a precious sleeping little girl. I looked to the caseworker for instruction and cringed at the thought of taking this sleeping child from everything she had known to a world of uncertainty and very pale strangers! My heart broke as I tried to imagine what she was feeling. I took her in my arms and loaded her into the car seat. She awoke for a moment and looked at me with inquisitive eyes, but no tears.
Our first stop was the Gap! After all, I was used to newborns, so my extensive infant wardrobe was too small! I had established a relationship over the years with Cindy at The Gap, and she was always so willing to help me and to encourage me. It was (and is) a pleasure to shop there. So, I hit the sale rack. Cindy helped me outfit Serenity, and our quest began!
Serenity was anything but serene. She was a live wire that kept all of us hopping. She was beautiful and very precocious. It was as if she had a motor that never, ever ran out of gas. We did. It took all six of us to keep her under control. Sometimes I felt like we were all tag team wrestlers who took turns in the “ring”! But, she brought equally as much sheer joy as she brought activity. She was very loving. She was so curious and didn’t want to miss anything. And she could get into some messes.
As she grew taller, she could get out the front door and did so every time she got the chance! This, of course, made us very nervous. So nervous, in fact, that when she was about two and a half, Jeff put a lock on the top of the door that everyone in our house could reach, except Serenity. After he installed it, we sat down in the family room to savor the victory of beating a toddler at her own game. Only, a minute or two later the doorbell rang. We went to the door, and guess who was standing there? Yes, the toddler who had outsmarted us! I guess she had taken Jeff’s lock installation as the gauntlet being thrown down; she promptly unlocked and climbed out the window (which is low to the ground)! Jeff immediately left for Home Depot, where he bought and installed window locks! Two can play this game. We won.
And speaking of locks…..let’s talk hair. For those of you that have never realized it, there is a difference between Caucasian hair and African American hair. Let me tell you firmly with conviction….there is a difference! I had taken care of the hair of African American babies, but now I was in new territory with an older child. I bought a book about the joys of keeping your African American daughter’s hair natural. I bought products and more products, and more products. I stopped women in the ethnic hair aisle to ask their opinions, and let me say that no two opinions were the same! Everybody had an opinion about what needed to be done to Serenity’s hair, and there seemed to be no direct or definitive answer! I wasn’t ready for the hours of trying to detangle the hair of an extremely active toddler, not to mention the unusual (to say the least) hairstyles I would end up with. I wanted Serenity to be proud of her heritage, to celebrate who she was, not look like she had a Caucasian mother with no clue (and no ability to fix hair). Someone told me that you would know you had reached the pinnacle of success when African American women stopped you and asked “Who did your little girl’s hair?” I took Serenity to several different salons, all with differing views on what needed to be done. It was an adventure to say the least. However, we finally found a hairdresser that felt my pain and encouraged me, and though I was far from an expert stylist, I’d come a long way, baby!
Serenity’s case was very complicated. I don’t feel that it would be appropriate or beneficial for me to disrespect her birth family, the very people who provided the DNA for her life. Suffice it to say that there were some real issues. The state’s goal, as is usually the case, was for reunification. They wrote the case plan with that in mind, and those of us on the team began to implement that plan. There were visits between the children and biological mother, doctor visits, therapy, drug screens, paternity tests, meetings with attorneys, developmental evaluations, psychological evaluations; all means to reach the end: reunification. But, the process is flawed. And we as people are flawed. Problems arose and crises came as time marched on– a lot of time.
Every time her birth mother stood on the precipice of success, success that would allow her to get her children back, something would cause her to stumble. It seemed she would subconsciously sabotage herself with drugs, missed appointments, overall apathy. It was sad. Yet, I found myself feeling so guilty because deep inside, somewhere unspoken, I was secretly hoping she would fail. My love for Serenity and my desire to protect her became more important than any reunification effort, and it became more and more obvious that her birth mother was going to be anything but cooperative. The self absorbed nature of the drug culture makes it extremely difficult for a person immersed in that culture to put anyone or anything ahead of the next high, even one’s own children.
On each visit and on every court date when I saw her birth mother, I wondered what she was thinking about me. How did it feel to have someone else mothering your child, to hear your child call someone else “Mommy”? As time wore on, I realized that she wasn’t seeing the situation for what it was. I vacillated between outrage and empathy for a woman with whom I would never have a relationship. On one hand, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and talk some sense into her, and on the other hand, I wanted to hug her and let her know there is a better way. Honestly, most of the time the desire to “grab” beat out the desire to “hug”.
However, Serenity’s birth mother did make some progress, enough to cause the powers that be to decide to send her children home for the weekend, with the hopes of sending them home for good after a trial period. In Serenity’s life, nineteen months had gone by, which for a then two-year-old, was forever. Yet, she was expected to leave what she knew as “home” for a weekend with a family she really didn’t know. Nevertheless, being a team player, I bought her a new duffel bag and packed her things. It was painful. I cried out to the Father to sustain all of us during this time. We had sung a praise song in church not long before with a line in it that says, “You give and take away.” Could this really be God’s will? Was He really going to take Serenity away from us? For me, the bottom line was would I trust Him if that was His will? I found myself praying all around the issue. Lord, take care of Serenity, protect her, bless her. I could never say I really wanted God’s will for her, because I was too afraid of what that will would be. I was afraid it would mean that I would lose my daughter.
I couldn’t wait to see Serenity on Sunday afternoon! I felt as if I had held my breath all weekend long. I finally exhaled as I wrapped my arms around her. She was home. But this was to be the beginning of the end of our relationship. She was going away forever and I was powerless to do anything about it. The next day, as I prayed, I finally came to the conclusion that God’s will for Serenity’s life was so much better than anything I could even imagine for her. Finally, I prayed the words that had been stuck in my throat for so long “Lord, I do want your will for Serenity’s life……even if it means she leaves us”.
God certainly didn’t need my permission to do anything! But I really believe He just wanted me to trust Him, implicitly trust Him. The next week the whole complexion of the case changed because of an intricate situation that no one knew about. The goal of the case changed from reunification to termination of parental rights. There were still no guarantees that Serenity would be our daughter. The system has rules, ideals, and its own mind. Literally, all we could do was pray, and have every one we knew pray.
There were crazy court dates where people didn’t show up and there were legal mistakes that kept the case from moving along, but after a two and a half year roller coaster ride, the termination of parental rights finally happened. It was by all counts an extremely difficult and emotional day. On one hand it was a blessing to know that our daughter would never again have to face the life she had come from, but it was another thing altogether to see a mother lose custody of her children. I know, I know, she had her chance and she blew it time and time and time again, but for me there was unexplainable heartbreak at the thought that this woman, this mother, would never be a part of her children’s lives: never hear them cry or sing a song, never watch them sleep or see them learn something new, never hold them during a storm or kiss a boo-boo. Heartbreaking. Nevertheless, this mom seemed resigned to her fate. She took it in stride. It broke my heart.
There was one final visit between Serenity’s mother and her children. It was a day I dreaded. It was a day we prepared Serenity for; Jeff even told her that the “other mother” might be really sad and cry. But that didn’t happen. Due to some complicated circumstances, she hadn’t seen her children in over a year, and yet it was as if she had seen them the day before. She didn’t act or react the way I expected. Then again, I should have known not to “expect” anything. She kissed them, told them she loved them and said goodbye. As I gathered my little group to leave and told everyone to “take a hand”, Serenity let go of my hand and grasp the hand of the one who gave her life, sensing that this was an important moment.
At this point in the process, we still had no assurance that we would be able to adopt Serenity. However, a month later we attended a staffing for the case. I don’t think I have ever been so nervous or filled with such trepidation. Our caseworker and her supervisor went to bat for us and finally, finally, our hopes and dreams were realized; it was agreed that Serenity would be our daughter forever. Actually, the Heavenly Father had been ‘at bat’ for Serenity and for us all along. He wanted us to trust Him! I remembered that, months before, Jeff had prayed that only God would get the glory in this case, no matter what the outcome. That is exactly what happened; He prevailed….no one else could have scripted this story and no one else had a chance! Jeff and I left the DHS office on a cloud with unexplainable joy and such life-giving relief! I told a friend that if we hadn’t been in the DHS parking lot with the security guard there, I would have kissed him (Jeff). She thought I meant kiss the security guard! (I was happy, not crazy!) We called everyone that had been praying for all of the years and through all of the ups and downs. I’m sure the roar could be heard in surrounding states! We were more grateful than we could express and so full of praise.
We thought we could finalize the adoption about three months later and began to plan. However, there were additional problems. Yes, more problems. An appeal and new laws for FBI fingerprint checks made the process go into another year. I felt like I needed to wear a story board explaining our situation! But, what I wrote when THE DAY did finally arrive says it all:
“February 12, 2008: Well, today was the day! Today was the culmination of three years, four months and six days of waiting, wondering, praying and hoping. Today brought to an end a record-breaking birthing process that was filled with complications. But, as is the case with most birthing experiences, once the child arrives, you forget the complications! Although she was birthed in our hearts a long time ago, today marked the day that Caroline Serenity Erwin was officially ‘born’. Today brought an end to a mountain of frustrations and brought with it a calming voice that whispered to me ‘no one can ever take her away again!’ As our daughter slid under the pews in the courtroom, I stood in awe of a Heavenly Father who makes a way for His children, a Father to whom no detail is too small; no dream too big. Today, like the other 4 days on which my children were born, is a day I will never forget; a day that will define the rest of my life, a day I embrace with joy, peace and intense gratitude for a little girl that entered our lives for a moment, and gets to stay for a lifetime.”
Sometimes when I look into my daughter’s face, I see myself. She is so much like me. It is what I call a “God thing.” Serenity already has such a keen sense of who she is. From about the time she turned two, she realized her skin was different from the rest of us (except Chase after a week at the beach!). She began to point out African American people on television or at the store and say, “He’s (or She’s) black like me”. When she was three, she was sitting at the kitchen counter one day while I was cooking. All of a sudden she asked, “Mom, when I grow up, am I going to be white?” I was shaken, but wanted to give an answer that would make sense to a three year old. “No, honey,” I said. “God made you the way you are with beautiful brown skin. If you were white, you wouldn’t be Serenity.” That seemed to satisfy her, at least for the time being. A couple of weeks later, she and I were sitting on the sofa talking. For some reason, I decided to tell her that when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a black singer. She looked at me so matter-of-factly and profoundly said “But Mom, then you wouldn’t be Christie.” Joy filled my heart as I realized that she had not only internalized what I had told her, she understood it!
We are blessed beyond measure to call Serenity our daughter. She is a bundle of energy, never meets a stranger, and everyone who knows her loves her. She loves baby dolls and real babies, she absolutely loves to sing and dance and will do so anytime and anywhere she has a captive audience! After our adoption hearing, we celebrated with a big party at our church for everyone that had been so supportive during the long ordeal. Carson, son of our dear friends, The Harpers, wrote a song for Serenity. It was not just for her, but for all of the children that are in need of a place to call home:
Have you ever been lost?
Have you ever been alone?
Have you been desperate for love?
Have you ever gone wanting?
Have you ever gone without?
Have you ever felt hopeless and scared?
Yes I have been waiting
For a home.
But the lost can be found
The lonely need a friend
A mothers best for love
That’s what I need.
For gifts at Christmas
For birthdays and cake
For hope and peace
This is what I need.
Yes I have been waiting
For a home.
Is there a father for me?
Is there a place I can hide?
Will you open your doors
To this new hopeful life
I know they’ll be trials, but I promise you this
It will be worth it, in the end.
A laugher in the morning
A player in the yard.
A breaker of toys
That’s what you need.
A jumper on beds
A smiler at night
A child to call your own
That’s what you need.
Yes you have been waiting
Music and Lyrics by Carson Richard Harper
If you haven’t ever heard the song Carson wrote for Serenity—please go to <a href="http://www.themiddlemom.com" to hear it! It is amazing. Thanks for sharing our special anniversary with us!