An Empty Room and An Open Heart

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by Hanna Sung
Jun 01, 2015 | min read
Part of 32: Welcome
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WE ARE WEEKS AWAY from receiving our certification as a foster-to-adopt family. We’re going through a private organization called Olive Crest which serves as the liaison between the county and the foster family.

A general overview of the certification process includes an initial application, home-study interviews, 25 hours of training, background checks, CPR/First Aid certification, and a myriad of paperwork and documentation. Once all that is successfully completed, there is a final walk through to make sure our home meets all the proper safety regulations.

Only after certification are we finally ready for placement with a child. Everything can be completed as quickly as within three months, but it has been almost a yearlong journey for us since we took our first steps into this new chapter. Like the nine months we spent preparing for each of our two boys to be born, a lot of shifting and changing needed to happen in order to make room for one more.

My husband and I both had the desire to adopt a child even before we met, but the act of tangibly beginning the process of adoption came to us unexpectedly — and quite inconveniently — in our eyes. In this way, it sounds much like anything else God calls us to do.

Our story began with a dream.

I don’t mean a dream in the sense of hoping for something that we’re working toward, but an actual dream that our then 5-year-old son had while he was asleep one night. He dreamt of a little girl with her hair tied up — two buns, one on each side. She was a little girl, maybe about 2 or 3 years old — definitely younger than him. It was his response to the dream that made us think it could be more than just a vivid dream.

He ran to me with such urgency and excitement that morning. He woke me up and confidently uttered these words, “Mommy, I want my baby sister. I saw her and I know what she looks like.” As he continued describing all the details of his sister and this dream, I tried to write him off in my state of slumber. Soon, however, I found myself sitting up in bed with a familiar feeling. I began not only to understand my son rationally with my mind, but also to hear him prophetically with my spirit. Could it be that God is calling us now to pursue adoption?

He woke me up and confidently uttered these words, “Mommy, I want my baby sister. I saw her and I know what she looks like.”

In the days that followed, we thought this couldn’t possibly be the right time for us. While adoption was something that had been placed on our hearts for many years, our circumstances at the time were far from ideal. Our biological children at five and two were still too young to understand adoption and we had planned to adopt when they were older. We didn’t have enough room for another child. I was in the middle of a full-time career providing for our family of four, while my husband was a student pursuing his doctorate. Adoption could only work if things were different.

But, despite our qualms and barriers, once we were sure God was calling us to step out in faith, we began to shift everything in our lives to be “different”. Almost every major aspect of our lives had to be turned upside down, all for the sole purpose of obeying this call to adoption. With each step forward — which felt more like leaps and bounds — every uncertainty proved certain and we ultimately landed in a place months earlier than we would dream, but couldn’t possibly imagine happening.

An Empty Room and An Open Heart

All within the month of August, I resigned from my position of eight years in the fashion industry to prepare a home for the child we soon hoped to foster and adopt. Speaking of that home, we sold our condo in Orange County and moved to Riverside County in 21 short days because we needed the extra room. And if those three weeks weren’t crazy enough, while I was in the process of resigning and we were busy with the move, my husband interviewed in record time and was offered a full-time professorship.

Friends joked that “normal” people usually go through one of three major transitions at a time: job, kid, or house. We did all three all at once — our life before and after the month of August is unrecognizable.

Testimonies like these seem more or less exceptional to most of us. God calls. Someone responds. He answers and provides. Why doesn’t it always work this easily? I don’t know, but I do know that for us it wasn’t as easy as it may sound. Generally, we like the burning bush moment, but not the 40 years Moses spent in the desert before. We like the story of Elijah calling down fire from Mount Carmel, but not the year of famine with the widow before. We like the resurrection, but not always the cross.

We like the burning bush moment, but not the forty years Moses spent in the desert before.

Twelve years ago, when I met my husband and we sat in a car sharing our hopes and dreams, adoption was a part of that. We’ve been married for 11 years now and the recent whirlwind of change we’ve experienced might seem in many ways a stroke of luck or perhaps a supernatural intervention. It was.

But I also believe that long before God called us to take this leap of faith, we had to prepare by spending the last decade establishing a foundation of faithfulness in all areas of our lives. Our circumstances at the time of our son’s dream may not have seemed ideal at first glance, but there was enough of a foundation of faithfulness in our marriage, our finances, our careers, and especially our spiritual lives that made it possible to take that leap of faith.

The miracle in this testimony is more than what happened last August or my son’s dream last year. It’s the grace of God that has empowered and sustained us to remain faithful these last 12 years.

It’s the grace of God that has empowered and sustained us to remain faithful these last 12 years.

In some ways, our lives look very different to those who have witnessed this last year’s transition. But in the most important things, they remain the same. We rely no differently on Christ Jesus who strengthens us every day. And as we wait our final days until the certification process is complete, we recognize we need His grace just as much as ever before.

We need His grace to open our home and our lives to a child that has been hurt, broken, and abandoned just as much as we needed it when we first came to Christ and faced the brokenness in our own lives.

We need His grace to open our home and our lives to a child that has been hurt, broken, and abandoned.

While most of us already assume that children placed in the foster care system have been done so as a result of some unfavorable circumstance, through the training we received, we learned more in depth of the statistics and types of abuse most of these children have faced.

According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 79.5 percent of children were removed from their homes because of neglect, 18 percent because of physical abuse, 9 percent because of sexual abuse, and 8.7 percent because of psychological maltreatment.

Unfortunately, as a foster parent or family, we receive little information on the family history of children and may receive little guidance about responding to problematic behaviors exhibited by many foster children. 

An Empty Room and An Open Heart

We learned about the legal definitions of child abuse, generally including physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation, cruel and inhuman punishment, and psychological or emotional maltreatment. Facing the sad reality that most of these foster children may have experienced some form of abuse is a very difficult thing to digest of course. 

And there are other cases other than direct abuse, for example, a teen mom who chose to carry the child through full term, but can’t commit to raising a child on her own with little to no support, or a mom who is unable to stay clean from addiction and the newborn is found positive for fetal alcohol syndrome.

Whatever the child has faced, whether abuse or neglect, one common denominator exists in all of them: the feeling of abandonment. 

Another issue we must be prepared to work through, especially if we adopt a slightly older child, is the failure to attach. Attachment is an inevitable problem that foster children face, since they were neglected of basic needs — most importantly, the lack of love, affirmation, and acceptance.

So, if this is the case for our child, we will not only have to earn her trust, but fully understand that our attempts may fail repeatedly and that it will take time.

We will not only have to earn her trust, but fully understand that our attempts may fail repeatedly and that it will take time.

When we first began this process, we were pretty certain that we wanted to be matched with a toddler-aged girl, for several reasons. However, after completing our training, we are definitely more open to a wider age range. This might mean possibly even taking in a newborn infant, which we were less open to at first. Our hearts are still very much set on a girl, but more so, because that’s what we’ve been praying and preparing for throughout the process.

But, we just never know.

Uncertainty is the only thing we are certain of right now.

Our family has chosen to take what tends to be a longer route in the adoption process, which is to wait for an adoptive match rather than be an open foster family. (The primary goal of fostering is eventual reunification with biological  parent(s) or next of kin. Even though it is clear that the child is likely to return to an unfortunate circumstance with their biological parents, reunification is still the state’s priority.)

The difference is basically where that child is in the foster-to-adopt process, and with adoptive matches, the children are more likely to be adoptable; however, even then there are no guarantees. So, although we have completed the certification process, it truly is just the beginning of our journey.

Regardless, throughout this entire process, there has not been a single moment where didn’t feel the presence and favor of God. We hold on to that and we continue to hope, pray, and trust God through the process. However long that might take and even if adoption isn’t the final result, it surely isn’t by chance that we are here and on this road.  

We continue to hope, pray, and trust God through the process.

We need God’s grace to accept, care for, and love whoever comes through our doors just as we ourselves have been saved and adopted by our Father. This realization that it is the same unchanging God who is working through all these differences draws us inevitably closer to the one source of our faith, hope, and love.

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Olive Crest is a Christian organization dedicated to preventing child abuse, treating and educating at-risk children, and preserving the family. Learn more about how they serve families throughout California, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest, at

Even if you feel like you cannot adopt, you can still help out by donating or becoming a volunteer. In many states, foster families are required to use registered babysitters that undergo background checks. You can also sign up to be a “safe home” or a tutor.

Ask a local foster family to see how you can help.

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