As the holidays approach, we begin to settle in to the anticipation of the hustle and bustle. We look forward to the joy of the season, and in Louisiana, plead for cooler weather. It is also during this time that we become acutely aware of others around us who experience the holidays differently.
We choose to give extra to the food bank, stuff the bus with toys and teach our children the seemingly “hard” lesson that giving is better than receiving. For Dustin and Erin Powell and Terry and Shelley Hamilton, this holiday season is filled with unchartered emotions. Both families share their story of a child who was not abandoned, but chosen through adoption. Chosen to be a Powell, chosen to be a Hamilton, and embraced into a family and community. Children who are escaping perilous circumstances and shown unwavering love and support. Children whose adoptive parents want nothing more than to have them home for the holidays.
Dustin and Erin Powell felt called to adoption very early on in their marriage. They agreed that at some point they would explore the possibility, but not setting a time frame as to when it would happen or even how it would happen. Three years into their marriage they had their first child, a baby girl they named Emery Hope. A couple of years later that welcomed their son, Desmond. When Des was a little over a year old they began to feel the pull of adoption re-emerge.
They decided to get serious about this opportunity and began researching what it would look like. They had always kept their eyes and ears opened and paid close attention to those who have adopted before them. Early on it still wasn’t clear what type of adoption they would pursue: Domestic? International? Foster care? There are so many children in need of a forever home, it becomes overwhelming to stay focused on what is right for each family. “Determining God’s plan for our family became a journey in itself,” said Erin.
They jumped in and enrolled in foster care classes, but after a few weeks questioned if this was where God wanted them at this time. They dug deep and really focused on discerning the direction of God’s plan. One day, Erin noticed their neighbor’s son from Taiwan drawing with sidewalk chalk on their driveway. She quickly realized that he drew the symbol for BLUE! The Powells felt very clear that God was telling them that they would adopt a boy. Next, they began their research on China’s adoption process that is a special needs-based program. This is not something they had truly considered before but were open to the idea and willing to explore it.
“I began really searching my heart and praying for God to open our hearts to the special needs He would want us to parent. We were surprised about how open we were to many different conditions,” explained Erin. They spent a lot of time researching the resources available in the area and who they could lean on for information and support. Dustin felt like “all the puzzle pieces were coming together, and a path was being cleared to bring our child home.”
The process took 13 months for the Powells, and they were supported by family, friends, and a church community that rallied behind them and became their cheerleaders along the way. The travel was exhausting but nothing could match the feeling of seeing their son, Samson, for the first time. Sam was 2 years old at the time of adoption and he had been institutionalized his entire life. The Powells were careful not to overwhelm him with all the emotions they were feeling and knew that they had to give him space to understand who they were and that they would be his “forever home.”
Sam has been home for 6 months now and is doing wonderfully! Because he has spent his entire life sleeping in a crib lined up with 20 others in one room, he would only sleep on Erin’s chest for a while. It was clear that he wanted to feel a closeness that he had missed for 2 years and Erin was thrilled to provide that for him.
With the holidays approaching, they are all looking forward to the many “firsts” experienced with Sam. They have a fall tradition to talk about what they are thankful for and they expect Sam to be at the top of the list! They anticipate seeing his face across the table when the Thanksgiving turkey is served, when the Christmas tree lights up for the first time, and hearing the true meaning of Christmas through the Christmas story. They know that these are things that he would have never had experienced if they didn’t follow the journey. “We are just so grateful to have had this opportunity, to be able to welcome Sam into our home, and know that he was meant to be a Powell forever, “Erin said.
As the Powells prepare for the holidays with Sam, the Hamilton family prays and hopes that their adoption process will bring their own daughter home for the holidays. Terry and Shelley Hamilton sought out the adoption of their daughter, Selena, after Terry’s first meeting her on a mission trip. Selena is 9 years old and from Haiti.
Terry was part of medical team that served hundreds of Haitians per day. He quickly became frustrated with this process and longed to make a bigger impact in this community. The next day Selena walked into the clinic and turned his world upside down. He treated her as he did the other patients but at the end of the day and the trip, he could not get her off of his mind. Shelley felt the same way and at the time had not even met her. After returning to the states, they began to explore the possibility of adopting Selena. They found out that she lived in a tin house with a tarp roof and slept on the floor. She was being raised by her stepmother and rarely saw her birth parents. Her food was scarce, and she only ate once a day. They discovered that there were many seemingly impossible hurdles that they would have to overcome for Selena to be adopted. First and foremost, she wasn’t up for adoption. Terry and Shelley centered themselves into their faith and moved forward.
They visited Haiti again 5 months later, and Terry feared that Selena wouldn’t remember him. He had felt so strongly about his connection to her and questioned if she felt the same. He was thrilled when he saw her, and she ran and jumped into his arms. “Yes” he thought, “this is my daughter.” Shelley immediately shared his feelings and was re-energized to fight for this child.
Because of the various hurdles, the Hamiltons were told that the chances of adopting Selena were very slim. Specifically, the adoption agency stated, “Your chances of adopting this little girl aren’t like the odds of getting struck by lightning. It’s more like the odds of you getting lightning to strike a specific place.” Though the battle was fierce, it was won and everything fell into place for Shelley and Terry to call Selena their forever child.
“Adoption is a up and down roller coaster that bring your emotions all over the place. Most of the time we feel joy, but the past year has been really tough. Seeing her and then having to leave her behind is heartbreaking,” explained Shelley. They anticipated Selena to be home by Christmas, but unfortunately the process is taking longer. Shelly and her husband refuse to give up on the notion that their daughter will make her way home for Christmas. “We know that God can move mountains and will continue to pray that His timing will be perfect.” Like the Powells, they anticipate all of the “firsts” of the holiday season. With tears, Shelley says it best, “To us, Selena is a true gift from God. We absolutely believe she is a gift, so a Christmas homecoming is so fitting, the time of year where faith and family are celebrated the most.”
Both the Powells and Hamiltons received an “open arms” adoption grant from the big whit 77 foundation that provides financial support to families in the process of adoption. The foundation was created by NFL football player Andrew Whitworth and his wife Melissa. Andrew is currently an offensive lineman for the Los Angelos rams and Melissa is a former miss Louisiana, award-winning news reporter, and mom to 4 young kids 7 and under. They felt strongly that every child deserves a loving home and wanted to support families who were called to adoption.
Since the inception of the open arms grant, the Big Whit 77 Foundation has joined 10 families in their journey to provide a forever home to children of all ages and backgrounds. The foundation has expanded the open arms reach to include all parishes in north Louisiana. For more information and application, visit www.Bigwhit77.Com. Grants are awarded in the fall and spring of each year.
Julie Emory is the Foundation Director of the Big Whit 77 Foundation. She has served in this role for 8 years. She is also an early childhood program director for the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana where she works to create environments where children and families thrive. Julie is a resident of Sterlington, Louisiana, with her husband and 2 children.