Kathleen and Matthew Palmer adopted sisters Lizzy (pictured far left) and Emily (far right) through UMFS 12 years ago when the girls were 6 and 9 years old. They’re now 18 and 21. We’re grateful to Kathleen for reaching out to us and sharing the story below, which she originally published on her blog.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that my happiest moment was birthed from tragedy. Every joyful shout surrounding my happiest moment is shadowed by a painful whisper that my joy was rooted in grief and loss.
It is almost paralyzing to look back on my life and select my happiest moment.
There are plenty of imposter moments trying to claim that title. My graduation from high school and college, my first day of teaching, my wedding day, or even the day my soldier appeared on the tarmac after his first deployment all found themselves in the running for my happiest moment.
These are all moments I cherish, but now upon reflection seem almost marginal in comparison to experiencing true joy. Looking back, I discovered that the road to those moments was lined with hard work, a singular purpose, and a whole lot of serendipity.
Whereas the road leading to my happiest moment was lined with pain, suffering, and a whole lot of faith.
My journey to my happiest moment started at age 24 with a doctor telling me I had no choice. It began with the removal of organs to save my life, rendering me barren. A hard fact to face so young, but in my heart I knew I would be a mom, just not in the traditional sense.
So as my road took a twist, it brought an amazing career and an even more amazing military man who married me knowing that we would struggle to build our family.
Drowning in home studies, adoption agencies, and mountains of paperwork, my journey took a sharp turn when the Army assigned my husband to Washington, D.C. It was there that I found myself in the basement of the Verizon Center listening to a passionate social worker plead for foster families.
This was yet another detour in my road to my happiest moment. Could I be a foster mom? Could I possibly love a child and send them back somewhere to someone who may have harmed them? After much consideration and a lot of discussion, my husband and I signed up and immersed ourselves in six months of training.
Meanwhile, down in Virginia Beach, the road of two beautiful sisters was also taking some sharp turns. Abused and neglected almost from birth, these sweet innocent girls (ages 6 and 9) were on their third foster placement since being removed from their mentally ill mother’s care. Their road to this point in their lives was marked by abuse, transitions, distracted care, and a longing to be loved.
I wish I could honestly say that the foster training and waiting process was easy and joyful, but that would be a lie. There was doubt and frustration on our end. But it was nothing in comparison to the anxiety and sadness those girls were experiencing 184 miles away.
It would be amazing to have an aerial view of our lives to see that our need to nurture was on a direct collision path with their need for a forever family.
The road to my happiest moment began to narrow when we received a phone call from the girls’ social worker in Virginia Beach. She had a proposal for us. The parental rights of the girls had been terminated and they were available to be adopted from their foster care status and she was wondering if we could drive down and meet them.
But, there was a catch.
We would not be their foster parents. We were told that we had to be ready to be their forever family because they had been through too much disappointment. The placement had to be permanent and we had to be willing to make that decision after meeting them.
Twelve hours later, armed with road trip food and the weight of a life-changing decision, we headed down I-95 from our home in Northern Virginia to meet our future daughters in Virginia Beach.
At first my brain raced with questions. What if they don’t like us? How would we know if this was right? Would there be a sign? A lightening bolt? Would we get back on the road after our visit and still not be sure? The ink was barely dry on our foster parent certificates, and I was not sure we were ready.
The plan was to meet them at their current foster home. My nerves were stretched and my stomach jittery as I reached for the strong hand of my rock, the man who was willing to love someone else’s kids with me.
The social worker took us inside and a young girl of 10 with dark hair and hopeful eyes immediately planted herself in our path. She introduced herself and announced that her younger sister was shy and hiding in the basement. Instantly, I relaxed and, in time, we coaxed the younger one out of the basement and into our lives.
After a few hours, the social worker told us we could take the girls for the afternoon to get to know them. Being military, we had access to Fort Story, home of one of the oldest lighthouses in America. As we entered the guarded entrance to the base, we handed our IDs to the gate guard. The whole exchange was second nature to us, but the girls watched this ritual with fascination.
As we drove onto the base, the oldest asked to see my military ID card. She looked it over and stared at it for a long time while her little sister looked over her shoulder. I turned to her and said, “Well…what do you think?”
She handed it back to me and stared out the window for a few seconds and said, “I think I am ready to be a Palmer.”
That was it. That instant, the utterance of those nine little words, was the happiest moment of my life. It was my burning bush, my “A-HA” moment, and my summit.
After years of longing and heartache, this one moment, this simple phrase, this acceptance from two girls who had every reason not to trust adults, told us that they were ready for us to parent them.
My heart exploded with joy.
There are children awaiting a loving home at this very moment. Visit us at UMFS.org/foster to learn more about fostering and fostering to adopt.