Amanda’s hands trembled, her pulse quickened and mind raced as she faced the courtroom door. Determined, she leaned into the door and gently grasped her gold locket as she whispered, “Give me strength and wisdom, God. I need You.”
The slight movement caught her colleague’s eye as she turned down the corridor of the courthouse. Natalie quickened her step, hoping to talk to Amanda before the hearing, but stopped about ten feet away when she noticed her lightly rest her head on the courtroom door. Was she praying?
Amanda looked thinner than when she last saw her. Natalie knew she’d been on medical leave but didn’t know the details. Out of respect, Natalie waited in silence until Amanda raised her head. It didn’t escape her attention that she still wore the same gold locket and was now gently rubbing it as if it contained a magical power. Neither could she hide her sunken, lusterless eyes. Their emptiness bore through Natalie’s heart when she greeted her at last.
“Good morning, Amanda.”
Amanda hoped it would be.
John gazed at the stack of insurance binders, but the typewritten words blurred. The creases along his forehead etched deeper as the onslaught of worry over his wife continued. He loved Amanda with all his heart. Five years of marriage and fireworks still exploded within at the thought of her. He loved her deeply when they married and didn’t think he could ever love her more, but he’d been wrong. The fullness and depth of his love magnified each year since saying “I do.” He loved those stunning blue eyes, her unwavering optimism, her melodic laughter, but mostly, her ability to love others so fiercely.
And oh, how fiercely he loved her.
Was it too soon for her to return to work? He had voiced his concern again last night. Dinner had grown cold as he made his case, but she trumped him with her best evidence: her doctor’s approval.
Yet John agonized. Her doctor hadn’t witnessed the way she cried out in her sleep and curled into a fetal position at night. Nor had he seen the constant tears and the emptiness in her eyes. John couldn’t erase those images from the last three months. Amanda was beautiful, yes, but more than that, she was precious to him—a treasure. Over the past months, he’d held her tightly as she wept inconsolably. He desperately wanted to take or ease the pain for her but knew he couldn’t. Only the Healer could.
John set the stack of papers down and opened his desk drawer to pick up his morning devotional again. And prayed.
Inside the courtroom, Amanda listened as Natalie provided a Children’s Protective Services update to the judge. “Your Honor, we’re here because Bethany is without foster parents. Again.” That was the reason for the emergency hearing.
Bethany had been in the care of CPS for nearly three years. Amanda was appointed her attorney the day Bethany cried out to her fourth-grade teacher. Amanda, as well as Natalie, were horrified when the ensuing investigation uncovered a long and troubling history of abuse the child had suffered at the hands of her father. The positive results of Bethany’s HIV test stung like a life sentence. But the two women had become determined partners and set out to change that sentence. Listening to Natalie’s explanation now, a sense of failure enveloped Amanda.
Thankfully, Bethany wasn’t present in the courtroom to hear the details of why her potential adoptive parents now refused to even continue as foster parents, much less adopt her. How much rejection could a twelve-year old handle?
John empathized as Amanda vented over dinner. The court hearing was necessary, she explained, but pointless. Bethany was once again homeless in the CPS system, and hope was fading. He could see the agony deep within her begin to surface as her eyes welled with tears.
Amanda fought, but the tears won. First, for Bethany and her deep desire to find a loving, permanent home for her with adoptive parents who wanted and truly loved her, no matter what. But slowly the tears tumbled for the little girl she’d miscarried just three months ago—and the baby they’d lost three years ago. John reached for her hand as the first tear fell, then hugged her tightly. Gently, he coaxed her to the comfort of their sofa. There, she huddled in his lap with her knees pulled close to her chest, wrapped in his strong and protective arms. Instinctively, she clutched the gold locket around her neck—the silence broken only by her sobbing and John’s repeated whispers, “I’m here for you, Amanda. I love you.”
Bethany awoke in a bed and a house, but it wasn’t a home. She didn’t have parents like the other girls at school, but that was her own fault. The pre-teen could easily anticipate what Ms. Natalie would say today, “I’m sorry, but they weren’t ready to become your parents. It’s not your fault, Bethany.” But deep inside, Bethany knew otherwise.
Only a few miles across town, Natalie hardly touched her breakfast, dreading her meeting with Bethany. Her position at CPS stole her resolve at times, especially on days like today. How many times would foster parents walk out? Would she ever be able to connect Bethany with adoptive parents that would treasure her as their daughter? Completely deflated, she prayed.
Amanda sipped her coffee alone at her desk. The smooth notes of caramel warmed her as she thought through all she knew about Bethany. On the surface, the young lady was blessed with porcelain skin and piercing sky-blue eyes, but deep inside, there were scars no one could touch—no one except the Healer. Bethany had a sweet disposition and impeccable manners, but she trusted no one. She cast off a flippant, ‘I don’t care’ attitude as each foster parent walked away, but Amanda recognized the act of defense designed to deflect disappointment and hurt. Amanda often weaved in Bible stories about God’s love in her meetings with Bethany—the same ones Amanda’s mom had shared with her as a little girl. Amanda’s eyes glanced upward, “Mom, what can I do?” Impulsively, Amanda’s left fingers toyed her gold locket as she set down her coffee cup and prayed.
Mid-morning, Amanda walked the block to her favorite Christian bookstore to clear her troubling thoughts. A warm assurance embraced her as she held the leather-bound Bibles in her hand. Her favorite section of the store were the new releases. New hope and abundant joy fluttered within as she glanced at the cover art and skimmed the back-cover blurbs. As she browsed today’s offerings, she was drawn to a book about waiting through the hard times of life by focusing on the treasures of heaven.
The verse on the cover struck her heart, “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield” Psalm 33:20.
Amanda’s frustration over Bethany’s situation waned as she opened the cover and saw Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” The words pierced the darkness of her heart.
Suddenly, she had an idea! She grabbed three copies of the book and made a quick return to the Bible section. There, she found a teen’s version of the Bible covered in hot pink leather. Amanda departed with newfound resolve and immediately dialed Natalie.
Amanda and Natalie arrived at the appointed time. The foster home was clean and adequate, but even after much coaxing by Natalie, the owners were firmly opposed—they simply would not adopt Bethany. They wanted a baby, not a twelve-year old girl with HIV. Natalie stewed. Bethany deserved a family that wanted her—foster parents at least open to adoption—but hours searching the CPS database came up empty again. In a phone call laced with pleading, she convinced the foster parents to keep her in their home a little while longer. When Amanda called moments later, Natalie had no other options. She welcomed Amanda’s idea and agreed to a joint meeting with Bethany.
Bethany wasn’t surprised when Natalie called her and asked to meet. Despite the passionate efforts of the two women to assure her it wasn’t her fault, she still believed it was. Why else was she constantly rejected?
After the meeting, Bethany reflected on what had just happened. It wasn’t a normal meeting; this one was different. For one, both Ms. Amanda and Ms. Natalie were there. And secondly, they never once mentioned her foster parent situation! Instead, they had prayed, and Amanda had read from a book—words that now lingered in her mind. Words about waiting and hope and treasures. Amanda mentioned God’s love, but surely God didn’t love her! And hope? Did she dare hope for a family?
Lost in her thoughts, Bethany opened the gift Amanda had left on the patio table. Gifts were rare in foster care, so she relished unwrapping the bright pink and yellow tissue to discover the book Amanda had read from. And a Bible—in her favorite color! A flicker of something new and different pricked her heart. She opened the book and started reading from where Amanda had left off. Bethany read the next chapter, and the next. She read until dinner time.
From that day on, the two women met with Bethany weekly. They discussed the book Amanda had purchased for each of them, and they diligently answered any questions Bethany asked, marking helpful references in her new Bible. Weekly meetings weren’t a requirement nor obligation; they were something they all eagerly anticipated. John loved the fresh sparkle that flickered in Amanda’s eyes as she told him about each Wednesday night meeting. With every passing week, John dared to believe that sparkle might last.
As Thanksgiving approached, John woke with a smile each morning, anticipating the way Amanda’s eyes now regularly danced. His heart exploded watching how she habitually linked her fingers around her locket sharing news about Bethany during their breakfasts together.
Breakfast had become delightful and delicious again. John thanked God and opened his devotional. He had appointments and paperwork, but time with God came first. John desired to fulfill his call as spiritual leader in their marriage, but that challenged him these days. Two months ago, after another evening of holding Amanda as she sobbed, he purchased this devotional. He hadn’t shared its contents with her. Not yet. He still struggled when he remembered the doctor’s shattering words, but his thoughts were slowly shifting from shattered dreams toward hope again. He and Amanda loved God and wanted to share His love with any they encountered. Yet, while they knew they were blessed with treasures on earth, and prioritized the pursuit of treasures in heaven, they couldn’t help but continually ache with desire to share that transforming love of God with a child.
John’s thoughts halted upon reaching the all-too-familiar hurdle. But how, God? After our little girl was stillborn, Amanda can’t have children.
The words from James 1:27 quoted in this morning’s devotion stared back at him, “…care for the orphans and widows in their distress.”
Something stirred within and John had an idea! He rifled through the stack of business cards in his desk drawer until he found Natalie’s card and dialed her number. That night, he shared his idea with Amanda. A week before Thanksgiving, Natalie and Amanda shared it with Bethany, who squealed with delight.
Natalie grinned seeing the two sets of blue eyes sparkling back at her as she explained the details of how Bethany would spend the four-day Thanksgiving weekend with Amanda and John. Those sparkles made the expedited background checks and CPS paperwork all well worth it!
Thanksgiving Day was filled with laughter and surprises. Bethany—as they quickly discovered—had a humorous side. John fondly recalled the threesome preparing dinner, surprised at Bethany’s eagerness to help. Did all twelve-year old girls get excited about roasting a turkey and chopping herbs for dressing? He didn’t think so—but Bethany had.
On their last full day, the trio decided to take a hike together. The trail started at the lake and meandered upward to the treeline and back down to the lake. As the three rested high above the glistening water below, they laughed about the antics of Thanksgiving. When their laughter subsided, Bethany pensively asked, “How did someone like me get here?” John and Amanda’s hearts sank at the layers of haunting unworthiness that laced Bethany’s question. That night they kneeled together at the foot of their bed, hands entwined, praying for God to peel back those layers of unworthiness and reveal to Bethany just how deeply He loved her. Determined to never turn their back on her, they prayed for His guidance and a clear understanding of His will in their lives, too.
The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas were merrier and brighter than ever. To the relief of her foster parents, Bethany moved into her new foster home the day after Thanksgiving break. John and Amanda’s approval was the quickest in Natalie’s ten years as a CPS worker.
Christmas Eve had always been special for Amanda. Memories flooded her thoughts as Christmas wrapping lay scattered around the tree and twinkling lights illuminated the room. One tiny gift remained tucked under the tree. When Bethany spotted the gift, Amanda eyed John. They both moved to sit on either side of Bethany, and Amanda handed the gift to her. “This is for you.” Slowly, Bethany unwrapped it, hesitating when she observed tears sliding down each of their cheeks, but they gently coaxed her on. As she unfolded the last tissue, Bethany recognized the locket worn every day by Amanda, but she’d never seen the inscription: “Being your mom is the best job God ever gave me.”
Natalie loved New Year’s Day. Maybe because she worked to give children new beginnings—she wasn’t sure. But this year Natalie celebrated new hope as she recalled the morning she had silently watched Amanda pray outside the courtroom.
Now in this moment of celebration, she watched silently, but this time from a church pew, with signed legal documents securely in hand. Her gasp was audible as Bethany erupted from the baptismal waters.
Natalie smiled as John and Amanda encircled Bethany with hugs. She grinned as two sets of dazzling eyes radiated the love of mother and daughter. In the brilliant sunlight, a golden ray of light illuminated from Bethany’s neck. The gold locket—a treasured gift from Amanda’s mom on their last Christmas Eve together when Amanda, too, was just twelve years old—glistened.
John waved Natalie over. As she joined their huddle, the foursome bowed their heads and John prayed:
We give all thanks to you, our Healer. Only You have the power to encourage us through tears and unite us in love. From the emptiness and darkness of our broken hearts, You deliver us into Your light. Every day, we discover hope knowing Your Son, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Bethany is not only our daughter now, but today she has expressed that she is Yours! You have blessed us with treasures on earth, but we choose this as our greatest treasure: Before the foundation of the world, we were destined for adoption through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Adoption knit us together as a family, but Father, I pray we always treasure our heavenly adoption, choosing eternity with You over the treasures of this world.”
Amanda’s heart exploded when Bethany’s eyes met hers and she touched the gold locket whispering, “Amen.”
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Great job Monica. It is such a joy to see you share God’s love through these stories in addition to your example of discipleship. I am excited to see more of your works in the future. – Bill R