"I met a girl."
They were the last words Annette Friesen expected to hear from her husband, Rick, as she picked him up from the airport in June 2005.
Whoa, Annette thought. Twenty-nine years of marriage and you meet someone.
Rick explained that, traveling home from a business trip in California, he'd been seated next to a teenaged girl. Small and thin, dressed in bobby socks and a denim skirt and carrying a gym bag, she seemed to be traveling alone. Intrigued, Rick struck up a conversation with her.
She told him her name was Christina, and she was 15 years old. Then she stunned Rick by explaining she was a foster kid traveling to a shelter. Her case worker had been unavoidably seated a few rows behind them. Over the two-hour flight, she hesitantly shared pieces of her story. Abandoned by her mother as an infant. Raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and eventually removed from her home when she was 12. Placed in a foster family where she couldn't fit in. And now, on her way to an uncertain future in Mississippi.
"I just kept thinking, We have empty bedrooms and we're not that old," Rick told Annette. "Maybe we can do something."
Annette was astonished. With their three children grown and gone for the past two years, she and Rick had been relishing their freedom. Both enjoyed fulfilling jobs with Peacemaker Ministries and tooling around on Rick's new Harley. This sudden interest in taking on a child he'd just met seemed to come from left field.
You Want to What?
The next morning, Rick told Annette, "I want to look for Christina. Can I?"
When she asked what he'd do if he found her, Rick explained that he wanted to make sure Christina was okay. Then he added, "And maybe we can talk about fostering and adopting her."
"I wasn't sure how I felt about the idea," Annette recalls. "But I didn't think God would give Rick such a strong emotion without us needing to do something about it. I didn't think it was something I should ignore."
Deep down she didn't believe Rick would locate the girl. To her surprise, just a week and a half later he announced, "I found her."
As Rick exchanged e-mails and phone calls with Christina's caseworker, Matt Matthews, the Friesens continued to pray together as well as enlist the prayers of friends and church members. In early August they flew to Mississippi to talk with Matt in person.
"My fear was rising because this was becoming more of a reality," Annette recalls. "I felt God was calling us on some sort of mission. But I didn't feel equipped for it."
Talking with Matt and learning more about Christina did much to set Annette's mind at ease. She left the meeting ready to face the next hurdlemeeting Christina in person. But for Annette, that step required a commitment.
"I knew I had to make a decision then and therewas I going to take Christina sight unseen?" she says, voice breaking. "Because I refused to see her and then say, 'Oh no, you're not what I want.' God didn't qualify me to be his child, and I wouldn't do that to her."
Though Annette had fears about adopting, they concerned her own abilities, not Christina. "I'd made mistakes with my own children," she says. "I was really scared to make those same mistakes with a child who didn't need any more of that. I worried that she'd require things I didn't know how to do or how to face."
Trusting that God would give her the abilities she'd need to parent Christina, Annette made the decision to pursue adoption. She and Rick began the process of fingerprinting, references, background checks, and classes that would allow them to become foster parents. In September 2005, just three months after Rick's plane trip, Annette and Rick flew to Mississippi for their first supervised visit.
Home at Last
Annette remembers clearly her first glimpse of Christina. Just 5'3" and 100 pounds, her long hair to her waist, she greeted them with a brilliant smile. Though soft-spoken during lunch, she and Annette soon bonded over a love of crocheting. During a trip to Michael's to buy yarn for a blanket and then on to Target for new pajamas, they chatted about Christina's favorite color, make up, and music. Their visit ended with Christina repeatedly declaring, "This is the best day," and with both Annette and Rick teary-eyed.
Three visits and much red tape later, Annette was able to ask, "Come home with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We want to foster and adopt you." Thrilled, Christina asked, "Is it okay if I call you Mom and Dad?"
Christina came to live with the Friesens just before Christmas 2005, and her adoption was finalized the following summer.
Annette admits it wasn't always easy. Moving from empty nester to full-time, home-schooling parent took some getting used to, and Christina could be clingy.
Christina had her own adjustments. After arguing over homework one afternoon, Annette found her daughter and apologized.
Christina responded by throwing herself into Annette's arms, sobbing, "If this had happened anywhere else, I'd have been sent away."
"I told her, 'You're our child. We don't send our children away,'" Annette recalls.
Now a high school graduate who plans to go to college, Christina has blossomed from that shy, insecure child into a spunky young lady. For Annette, she's a source of pride and a reminder of God's love.
"That's what God did for us," she says. "He took us the way we were. And he won't let anything prevent us from being all he wants us to be."
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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