Adopted from Almaty, Kazakhstan at age 15
Elizabeth at age 18
We first learned of Elizabeth in July of 2003, when I was coordinating a summer program for older children from Kazakhstan. She was a beautiful 14 year old girl and had a host family who intended to adopt her almost immediately. When things did not work out for that family, they introduced her to another family who wanted to adopt her.
On August 31, 2003, the children returned to Kazakhstan and the family immediately started the adoption process to bring Elizabeth home. In 2004, they traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan to complete her adoption. While in Almaty, the family decided to adopt a second child, a girl who was 11 years old. When they returned to the United States, Elizabeth seemed to be depressed and spent a lot of time in her room. The family was living with another family while they had foundation repair done to their home. Elizabeth just seemed to disconnect and sink deeper into depression. She kept her bags packed and wanted to return to Kazakhstan. The family did not know how to respond to this reaction. They spoke with the director of the orphanage about sending her back, but it was not possible because Elizabeth was already an American citizen.
The family contacted us for some ideas on how to work though the difficulties they were having with Elizabeth. We shared a few thoughts we had on what might be going on with Elizabeth. Within a few days, they called again and asked if we could try and find a family who might be interested in adopting Elizabeth. We called a few families we knew who had an approved home study and love children. Two families decided to pray about whether or not she was supposed to be their child.
The first family decided that it was not in the best interest of Elizabeth or their other children to adopt her because they had all boys, no girls at home, and they felt she needed her space and time with sisters. I understood what they were saying and I respect their decision.
Then on a Sunday afternoon, while our boys were playing hockey, I received a phone call from the second family who had been praying about adopting Elizabeth. They basically told us that they had prayed about it and did not have peace about it. Then they said something that really surprised me. They said, “We think she is your daughter, you already love her.” I quickly assure her that we were 100% sure that we would not adopt Elizabeth. Our home was full of children already and we were leaving for Kazakhstan in a few weeks to bring Andrew and Abigail home.
That same evening, I received another phone call from Elizabeth’s adoptive family. Things had become worse and they needed some relief quickly. We offered to take Elizabeth for respite care for one week.
Elizabeth arrived on Monday morning. Looking back, she appeared somewhat empty. She spent the day getting to know the other children and cleaned compulsively. Jay suggested that we let her spend time with the miniature horses we have. He said, “there is just something about 15 year old girls and horses…..they just seem to connect.” We also had a tiny little baby Scarlet macaw that I was hand feeding. Elizabeth was fascinated with that baby bird. His name is “Amigo” and his parents were not taking care of him, so we had to hand feed him. Within a few days, Elizabeth was hand feeding the baby bird.
She also seemed to connect with one of our daughters, Rachel, who was almost 4. Rachel was born with arthrgryposis and she walks with a limp and falls often. Elizabeth seemed to bond with Rachel almost instantly. She nurtured her and tried to teach her things that she could not do. She worked with her on going up and down the stairs in our home. She helped get Rachel and Miriam dressed in the mornings and she carefully strapped the braces on Rachel’s legs at night.
We could not understand what was happening with Elizabeth. We were expecting her to be depressed, sad and angry, but instead she seemed to attach to the members of our family. She was so different from the girl we had met a year before. She was happy and content. She called us “Mama” and “Daddy.” Before we knew it a couple of weeks had passed and we were supposed to leave for Kazakhstan to adopt Andrew and Abigail. We talked to Elizabeth’s adoptive family to see if she could just stay with our children while we were gone. The Lawhon’s and Casey’s took care of our children while we were in Kazakhstan. Before we left, Elizabeth asked us if we would adopt her. It caught me off guard. Her English was limited, but yet she seemed to have no problem with asking us this. We told her that we would look into it after we returned from Kazakhstan. It was a confusing time for us because there was a part of us that wanted to see her reunited with the family who had adopted her. Another part of us loved her so much that it hurt to think of her leaving.
While in Kazakhstan, we kept in touch with Elizabeth’s family and all the children at home. We missed everyone so much. When we returned, we took Elizabeth to see her adoptive family and to get some of her clothes and personal items. Everyone agreed that Elizabeth was doing well and bonded to our family, so we started the process to adopt her through a private adoption attorney.
When Elizabeth came to our family, she was completely uneducated and we had to start in the early elementary years to try to give a base to build on. We started with phonics and simple math. It became very obvious that Elizabeth was not going to be able to catch up and graduate with children her age, but we all agreed that her education was extremely important and we were committed to helping her reach that goal even if it meant that she graduated when she was 21 or 22.
Elizabeth was interested in learning to play the guitar, and she took guitar lessons for almost two years. She also participated in dance for three years. She showed Texas Longhorn cattle through the TLBT for three years, and seemed to really enjoy her time with Longhorns and horses. Animals were probably one of the most positive influences and therapeutic parts of Elizabeth’s life. At times, it seemed as if you could almost see her healing when she worked with her animals.
Elizabeth has been such a blessing to our family in many ways. The five years she was in our home, were filled with many happy times and peppered with some of the lowest moments of our life. God has taught us so much through Elizabeth. He has taught us that the Holy Spirit can change people in such a powerful way. It is amazing that God has brought her to our family and that she was able to relax and find her place within our family perfectly, even if it was only for a season.
A few weeks short of Elizabeth’s 20th birthday, she decided to leave home. We were very disappointed because we had so much hope that Elizabeth would heal from the wounds of her past that seemed to keep creeping in. We had hoped that she would complete her education and build a future for herself. That hope seemed to deteriorate almost overnight.
As parents who love our daughter, we have learned to accept that Elizabeth was given all the opportunities for success, but it is up to her to make the choice to accept those opportunities or not. She has been shown the love of a forever family, introduced to Jesus as her Lord and Savior, taught right from wrong, given stability and safety for five years, and had so many opportunities for growth.
Through raising Elizabeth, we have also learned of the pain that our Heavenly Father must feel when we rebel as His children. It has been a reminder that we have “a choice,” and that our Lord has always offered that opportunity, but it is our choice in what we do.
Elizabeth has seemed to follow the pattern of the prodigal son, but we have not seen the full picture yet. It is our hope that she will realize how much she is loved by our family and turn from some of the poor choices she has made as a young adult. We pray that the Lord will heal her past and give her a bright future filled with His promises.
We thank the Lord for the gift he has given us in being able to raise Elizabeth as our daughter, and even as difficult as it has been, we would have adopted her a thousand of a thousand times.