By Donesa Walker, M.Ed. BCCS, owner of LearningRx and Brain Train Learning Solutions
Amazing mom Holly is no stranger to telling her story and I lived it with her through her Facebook feed for a while and recently through our interconnection at LearningRx. I first met Holly through Cosse & Silmon as she does their marketing and we cross market sometimes as well as refer to each other. Her contagious laughter and sweet smile make her an instant hit with anyone. Taylor June was the baby girl of her heart if not of her body, although you wouldn’t know there is no biology there if you see their pictures. Holly went through a trial and a half taking this little girl from the nightmare of her existence to hope to family. I cannot tell the story nearly as well as Holly does so I will use her own words.
“The way I heard ‘It’s a girl’ was different than most. Hard to believe it will soon be FOUR years since that first picture of our little Tazmanian Devil came through on my phone. She sure rocked our world – I’ve never had to work so hard at anything, but man I am so proud to be her momma. She has come so far – can’t wait to see what this girl does. It’s been one year since the worst day of my life. I was at work when I got a call that we had been expecting. We were waiting on a call to say that the parental rights of Taylor June’s last parents had officially been terminated. (This is something these people WANTED and had set things in motion for this to happen a year earlier. We spoke with them two weeks prior for over an hour and everything was good to move forward with the adoption.) I excitedly answered the phone, greeted our case worker, and asked, ‘How are you doing today?’ Immediately I noticed her voice was not excited or celebratory. ‘Well… I’ve been better Holly. Are you sitting down?’ I laughed nervously and assured her I was. ‘[They] have changed their minds. They’re flying down to get her tomorrow. We are just sick over it and are trying everything to stop it but I just needed to tell…’
“That’s all I remember. The next thing I know 10 minutes had passed and I was outside of our building physically being held up by two coworkers, and with my office manager directly in front of me holding my face in her hands. I finally remember hearing her voice saying, ‘Holly! BREATHE!! Holly! Look at me!’ I remember opening my eyes to her being right in front of me trying everything in her power to get me to stop crying and for my breathing to return to normal.
“Our adoption story is CRAZY. The things Taylor June went through and the way she made her way across the country to us is UNBELIEVABLE. When we were told about her, there were no ‘what ifs.’ If we agreed to adopt her, the process would start and it would be done. The probability of it not happening against our will was never a thought. So, unlike most foster- to- adopt stories, this type of outcome was never in the back of our heads. This little girl had been my daughter for six months. I had purposely assured her AT LEAST twice a day for four months in a row that she was home FOREVER. I repeatedly promised her I would NEVER let those people hurt her again. I made so many promises that I fully intended to keep and this would completely shatter all of it. I felt certain that after everything she had been through she would never recover from being taken from us and back to where she came from. This was her last chance in many ways.
“The fight of our life began. Except here’s the kicker: Our hands were tied. There was nothing we could do (within legal limits) aside from letting our lawyers battle it out… except pray. We didn’t want the kids to know about any of it so I had to put on a happy face with constant tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I would look at her and wonder if it would be the last day I got to see her. I would daydream about us attempting to go back to our old life before her, a family of four. I would have nightmares of what she would endure when she returned to the life she lived before us. I would jump up at every car that passed and check out of the window in fear that it would be them coming to ambush us.
“So, after I was able to put words into sentences, my coworkers called Lonny to come get me. He asked me what I wanted to do, and the only place I wanted to be was at church. Our pastoral staff met us there and I am forever grateful to them for comforting us and loving us in that time. I sat in the pews that Sunday before that phone call as our pastor preached on spiritual warfare. I could see the angels and demons fighting over this little girl’s life in my mind. I knew it was out of my hands, which terrified me- BUT the advantage to that was that for the first time in my life I put it ALL in HIS hands.
“The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
“For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deuteronomy 20:4
“After eight days of anguish, we got the next phone call that I’ll never forget… the call where she again asked me if I was sitting down- except this time her voice was different. This time she couldn’t even wait for me to answer before she exclaimed, ’They gave up! God is so good!’ The story didn’t fully end there – we had many more hiccups and some ‘super fun’ events take place BUT – What Satan intends for harm, The Lord will use for good. He has tried to steal life from my girl numerous times and in many creative ways. I know she has a great destiny over her life, and I know the God of angel armies goes before her and fights her battles. One day she will have the faith to move mountains because she’s seen them be moved before.“
What a difference in Taylor June I see. She is overcoming her learning challenges and behavioral challenges that come from all the stuff that went before. She is becoming Moerer as we all should become More. ‘Tis the season of giving and there is no greater gift than giving of yourself. I am so honored that I know and personally have had a chance to be a small part of the huge gift that I get to share with you today. These stories will make you smile and make you cry. From a room makeover for a sweet little girl to a brain training makeover for a precious young lady, these stories will highlight the moments that these families decided to change their family forever by adoption. This decision changed the lives of these families and their new members forever and they are all richer for taking the chance to BE the difference.
Maddi’s story is one of long-term struggles with behavior and learning as well as with the home life she was given from birth with an incredible ongoing rainbow. My opportunity to meet Maddi was one I was not even aware would have impact upon her. A couple of her foster families brought Maddi in for testing as LearningRx many years ago and I noticed that she was dyslexic as so many undiagnosed children are. This was affecting her learning, which resulted in frustration boiling over into behavior problems. The social worker for Maddi’s case kept noticing that over and over throughout her continuous placements, Maddi was getting tested and having the same report and the repeated behaviors.
Diagnosed with a recent health issue which caused her early retirement, Rhonda was feeling a tug on her heart for Maddi. She and her husband Mike were at the age of settling down to a quieter life, but she told Mike that Maddi needed a loving home and she just could not walk away without that happening. Mike said, “So what about us?” and there was the next part of our story. Rhonda and Mike brought Maddi to see me once again, but this time with the purpose of finding a change for this young teen. Maddi blossomed over the next nine months as she was formally adopted into the Russell family and she trained her brain to conquer the dyslexia and attention issue that had been plaguing her.
This year, Maddi is a senior and I have continued to be a small part of her life and watched as this family overcame the struggles of becoming a new family in all the senses of that word which includes the ups/downs that come with life. Maddi, you are the oyster that has made the world around you into a pearl by bearing through the hard times and Rhonda/Mike, you are heroes of the best kind because in your own words, “We didn’t have a choice. The Lord put her with us in our hearts and we do the best we can.” You did have a choice and you made it. Thank you for changing your life forever and changing my life through Maddi’s journey.
In 2018 after some major life-changing decisions, my husband and I decided to attend a different church. This decision brought me into the interwoven story of Annaiya through a former client/friend attending this church with her family. Annaiya’s birth mother has had a lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol that had left had her in and out of jail and rehab for addictions throughout her children’s lives from birth. In 2019, there were many changes and with the oldest child at 14 in state custody for ongoing juvenile delinquencies, she was arrested leaving her 5-year-old daughter with no one to care for her.
My friend Tammy and husband John saw the need in this young child’s life and stepped up. They had been an extraordinary aunt and uncle to so many family and friends’ children, even fostered two children years earlier. But in 18 years of marriage despite years upon years of prayers for a child of their own, they had finally accepted that this was God’s plan for their lives and marriage. God’s plan is different for us than we think. Tammy and John opened their hearts and home and stepped up to BE the difference. Annaiya came to live with them.
Their home was not ready for an active 5-year-old. This little girl had never even had her own bedroom, not even her own bed, before coming to their home. The legal struggles to get Annaiya a safe home with the Brownfields has taken over 18 months. Tammy said, “God’s hands were open doors that were closed each step of the way.” Just a few months ago, Tammy and John received permanent guardianship. Adoption is the next step in their process. Tammy and John have wanted to give this precious angel her “dream room” but that just simply was not possible with all the legal cost of guardianship and adoption.
Again, God opened doors and some people stepped up to BE the change and allowed me to be a part of this family’s lives. Their story is just beginning to merge into a full family with all the intricacies of that dance. The powerful part of this story is they stepped up when the need was there. They decided to be the difference in a child’s life and each one of the family members is growing in the journey. Just days ago, I was able to part of room transformation for Annaiya, along with gifts from LearningExpress Toys and some decorating help from my friend/colleague, Rhonda Waters, and Dalisa Hunt to give her that dream “unicorn” room.
Being the difference sometimes means they are only with you for a few hours or a few days and it takes a really special someone to do this. Jacqueline Rounds is an amazing example of the fullest heart of caring that I know. The sweet senior has sacrificed her “retirement years” for a life of fullness and joy. Every time I see her face or hear her voice, she is a shining example of going beyond your own ability into that which God blesses you to do. I first met Jacqueline when she came to bring her son to LearningRx for an assessment/consult. She knew that this sweet young man needed more help than the school was able to provide and she was willing to be the difference at a huge sacrifice to herself.
That is when I first heard the story of Coleman. Coleman is a joy to be around. He is eager to learn despite his frustrations and Jacqueline shared with me that although she was in her 60s, she knew that someone had to be the difference in her community and in the lives of these little ones. She explained to me how she is a foster parent for kids both short term and long term, especially in the case of Coleman who she ended up adopting. “No child deserves to not have a family,” she told me, “and as long as God gives me breath and I am able, I will be that to whomever he sends my way.”
Often when I chat with her, she has an extra child or two in her arms or in sweet cries in the background. Sometimes they are only there experiencing her love for a few hours/days but she truly does spread that love and makes the ultimate sacrifice to be the difference. She recommends that if you want to be the difference, try donating gift cards for clothing to GeauxBags so those that do foster can get the children clothes when needed in middle of night.
Adoption or fostering may or may not be for you. I have known some amazing people with incredible stories to tell about them being the permanent difference for a child through adoption and some who have been a temporary foster care. The truth is that I cannot be either right now in my life so I take the opportunity to BE the difference in my life through my business by changing brains one at a time. My staff and I love to see the light of change come into children’s eyes and even many adults when they finally read for the first time or learn something they have been working to overcome in math or in memory/focus. Brain training is life changing for so many and I am happy it is what I get to do each and every day.
The challenge here is the #Bethedifference in your world. If you can foster/adopt, step up and do so. If you can give to someone in need, do so. Ask about being a home for the holidays for a child who has aged out of foster care but has no home to come home to for the holidays. Give to a charitable foundation or resource such as www.topportunities.org designating the funds for a life in your community to be changed through brain training or other resources. Give the gift of learning to a child in your family or community who doesn’t have the funds or needs some extra help. Whatever you choose. #Bethedifference this season for it is why we were created.
*LearningRx has gift cards that you can purchase in advance for those in need as well as partnering with VOA to access scholarship funds for those in need such as The Children’s Brain Training Fund at the Community Foundation locally. Additionally, Transformational Opportunities at www.topportunities.org allows you to give anonymously to children/adults in your community to receive services such as LearningRx brain training and receive a tax credit for doing so.