The Lord Has Responded
By Debbie Wheeland
Jan. 23, 2011
“I know today is April Fools Day, but ... I want to assure you, what I’m about to tell you is no joke!” announced Joe McCarthy, a staff pastor at North Hills Church (an Assemblies of God congregation in Brea, Calif.). “Before this service is over, I could be a dad!”
Since Joe himself was adopted at birth, the word always conjured up delightful images in his mind’s eye. One in particular he shared with the congregation that morning.
“I’ve always pictured my adoptive parents walking into a huge nursery where hundreds of cribs are lined up. Suddenly the heavens part, an immense, shining light beams over my crib and angels sing, ‘This is the one!’”
Joe and Libby McCarthy married in their early 30s. After a few years, they felt it was time to start a family. But for reasons they did not yet fully understand, Libby was unable to become pregnant. Endless fertility treatments and thousands of dollars in medical bills over the next seven years yielded no results.
It became evident that the McCarthys would have to consider other options, so they began researching domestic and international adoptions.
“We both desired an infant, but discovered our options were minimal,” Joe says. “And with international adoption, it could take up to five years.”
“I was fearful if we adopted within the United States, something could go wrong and the biological parents might be able to take our child,” Libby adds.
Some dear friends, who themselves were adoptive parents, invited Joe and Libby to dinner. There they asked if the McCarthys had considered an open adoption and then described their own open adoption experience through a local agency.
Prospective adoptive parents are required to complete a mountain of paperwork and a series of classes, then the agency matches prospective parents’ profiles with pregnant women in their care. The birth mom then interviews and chooses the adoptive parents for her child. Though the training is four months long, the process, they explained, can take up to two years.
Once chosen, the parents-to-be build a relationship with the birth mom throughout the pregnancy. Potentially, the adoptive parents can participate in the birth process and can take the baby home from the hospital. Then throughout the life of the child, an ongoing relationship with the birth mom is maintained.
On the drive home, Libby expressed her reservations and biggest fear — that the birth mom would change her mind. Joe suggested they pray about it and investigate further before deciding.
After much prayer, they made the initial appointment with the adoption center their friends recommended. After attending the first two monthly classes and having their home inspected, the adoption agency presented a panel of women who had placed their babies up for adoption. While listening to the mothers tell their personal stories, Libby’s heart truly embraced open adoption.
“Listening to those birth moms completely changed my perspective,” she says. “They have sacrificed so much to give their babies a better life. I knew for certain we should do this.”
All prospective adoptive parents, pregnant women, their family and friends are encouraged to attend monthly support meetings to help them through the long and emotional process.
When Joe and Libby walked through the doors into their first support group experience, Libby noticed a very pregnant woman sitting alone, visibly uncomfortable and agitated. She immediately felt compassion for her and sat down by her. “Hi, I’m Libby.”
“I’m Zena, and in my eighth month.” After a few moments she shared what was bothering her. “I feel like the couple I’ve chosen to adopt my baby is pulling away from me. I’m scared. I don’t know what to do!”
Libby offered her empathy and support and then prayed with Zena. As they parted company, she and Joe did their best to reassure Zena everything would work out.
A month later the McCarthys were attending their second support meeting. Happily, they saw Zena again, whose unborn baby was now full term. Libby and Zena quickly began talking like old friends.
“How long have you been in the program?” Zena asked.
“We have completed three months, and in a few days we will take our CPR class,” Libby replied.
After saying their good-byes, Joe and Libby walked out to the parking lot.
“Wait, wait!” called out a social worker. “Zena wants to set up an interview with you to consider you as the adoptive parents.”
“Are we qualified? We haven’t even completed our training!” Libby blurted out.
Two days later, the interview took place.
After quick hugs the three talked openly and effortlessly. Later the social worker remarked, “Zena was completely at ease with you two. I have never seen one of these interviews go so smoothly. Expect a phone call tomorrow.”
Libby and Joe walked out filled with anticipation, entrusting God with all their fears and questions.
The next day at their CPR training, a very excited Joe and Libby could hardly concentrate. In fact the whole room of strangers was electrified with excitement as Joe and Libby let everyone in on their situation. Suddenly, Joe’s cell phone rang. Going out into the hallway Joe and Libby answered the phone. Upon hearing the decision, Libby fell to her knees and wept loudly.
Upon reentering the class, they shouted: “She chose us! We’re going to be parents!”
The next few days were a blur — it was nearly Holy Week, a busy week for a pastor. Palm Sunday, which happened to fall on April Fool’s Day that year, came and went with still no word from Zena.
On Wednesday morning they received the call from Zena to come quickly to the hospital. Libby coached, holding Zena’s hand, while Joe documented the blessed miracle on video.
Zena and the joyful new parents chose the new baby girl’s name together: Eliana, which means, “The Lord has responded.”
Even though they had only gotten to know Zena over the past few days, a deep sense of trust bonded their relationship. They all spent the next three days together at the hospital with only a curtain separating their beds during sleeping hours.
A month later, Libby and Joe met with Zena at the adoption center and reassured her while she signed relinquishment papers, giving up all legal rights to her biological child. Soon afterward, they all participated in an “entrustment ceremony,” vowing their commitment to each other and to Eliana.
Settling into parenthood came naturally while the happy couple thanked God for their amazing blessing.
Then, quite unexpectedly, when Eliana was six months old, an unsettling phone call came.
“My client, your child’s biological father, never signed relinquishment papers. He is taking you to court to contest your adoption.”
Joe and Libby’s greatest fear had suddenly become their reality.
Romans 8:28 became their go-to verse as the pretrial legalities dragged on. Nearly every day someone called to encourage and pray with them while friends all over the world continued to earnestly uphold them in prayer.
During her testimony, Zena remained faithful to her decision, declaring her 100-percent support of the adoption agreement.
In his final summary, the judge commended Zena for her love and courage. “Parenthood is not established merely by a strain of DNA, but by everyday giving of love and care, through the good times and bad. I hereby terminate the parental claims of the birth father and rule in favor of the adoptive parents.”
While supporters cheered, Joe and Libby silently looked heavenward and cried tears of thanks and praise.
Six months later, a church fundraiser for the McCarthys covered the majority of the legal costs. Later, an anonymous donor paid what was left of the remaining debt.
When Eliana was about 18 months old, Zena made a difficult confession to Joe and Libby — she was pregnant again.
“I’m so embarrassed. I didn’t mean for this to happen. Please don’t be disappointed in me. I’m still in no position to raise a child, so I will be placing this baby for adoption, too.”
Zena left it at that. She didn’t ask, suggest or assume Joe and Libby would agree to adopt another baby. After the initial state of shock subsided, Joe and Libby couldn’t help but once again prayerfully consider what they should do.
Six months later, within days of celebrating Easter, Eliana’s second birthday, and the signing of Eliana’s final adoption papers, Joe and Libby held their second newborn daughter, Gabriela, in their arms and bowed their heads.
“Thanks for bringing Zena and our daughters into our lives. Lord, You truly have responded to our prayers and given us the desires of our hearts!”