As November is National Adoption Month, the Foster Care and Adoption Network held its 2013 Far West Conference recently and invited Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland and his wife Marci, Macon County Schools Student Services Coordinator, to be the guest speakers.
National Adoption Month was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and is intended to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care around the country. Locally, the Foster Care and Adoption Network was formed when agencies focused on foster and adoptive services in the westernmost counties of North Carolina came together to network and share resources.
Each year the Far West Conference is held to celebrate the children and guardians who have been involved in foster care in the region. “I do not believe in coincidence,” the Hollands said when addressing a room full of parents and children at this year's conference. “With all my heart, I believe that God orchestrates our lives in such a way as to place us in certain circumstances with certain people at certain times. Today is no exception. If you are here and have been unable to have children of your own – our purpose is to give you hope.”
Marci told the crowd that after 16 years of marriage and not being able to have kids on their own, the Hollands were discouraged. “My husband and I had a good home, good careers – a good life. But, there was one thing that was missing – children,” said Marci. “We watched over the course of our then 16 years of marriage as one friend, one family member, one co-worker after another married and began their families. Children are just what come naturally after marriage, right? Finally, we decided to seek medical help to see what might be preventing us from having children of our own.”
In 2009 the Hollands began to seek medical help in their journey to become parents. “Our doctor seemed hopeful, but month after month, nothing seemed to be working,” said Marci. “Over the course of the next few years, one attempt after another would fail.
And, after thousands of dollars (not covered by insurance) and what seemed like thousands of disappointments, I began to sink into despair – realizing what seemed the inevitable – we would never have children.”
After one failed attempt after another, the Hollands became discouraged. Marci explained that each attempt to have children was a loss and disappointment, and that struggle, paired with the death of two of her grandparents, her mother to pancreatic cancer and her father to a heart attack, was too much loss and disappointment to bear.
In February of 2011, the couple decided to return to the reproductive endocrinologist for one last attempt to bring children into their lives. “This attempt failed and I essentially gave up. With my faith weakened, I tried to pick up the pieces and go on about my life,” said Marci. “But each time I saw a couple with a new baby or each time I was invited to a baby shower or saw a husband and wife out with their children, my heart hardened just a little bit more. It was a terribly difficult and emotional time for me and for us.”
During their journey to have children of their own, Marci's sister had given the couple a book on adoption and up until reaching her breaking point, Marci had ignored the book and its contents. After the last attempt failed, Robbie started the discussion of pursing the avenue of adoption. “I was totally against the idea, saying that I was a veteran social worker of 18 years and had seen too many situations gone wrong to be open to this idea,” said Marci. “My husband said that he felt that God was leading us in this direction. I countered that I felt led to seek medical help and that it didn’t work and that I had no faith that pursuing adoption would work either.”
The couple began attending classes for foster and adoptive parents, and those interested in pursing the idea. The classes began in September 2011, and shortly thereafter, the couple was faced with yet another devastating loss when Robbie's mother passed away due to a heart attack. “We hadn’t even had the chance to tell her that we were considering pursuing adoption,” said Marci. “We were able to stick with it, though and even through such a shock, we kept our determination to finish the classes.”
Shortly after completing the 10-week course, the Hollands learned of a two month old in the eastern part of the state that was up for adoption. “Maybe this is the plan God has had all along,” Marci thought. “Our home study was not completed and our caseworker agreed to do a “rush job” to get it submitted before the deadline of December 15. She worked so hard for us and did, indeed, get the document completed by the deadline – only for us to be told by the social worker in the county where the infant resided that we had not been chosen as the adoptive family. This was a devastating blow to my already weakened faith.”
The holiday season came and went and the couple tried to get some sense of normalcy back in their lives, but then on January 10, 2012, their lives would change forever. “I was back to work after Christmas break, feeling a little bit depressed,” said Marci. “I was on my way to a meeting at the Health Department and a group of gentlemen were at the intersection of the Highlands Road and Main Street, right in front of Hardees. This group of men come sto our town a few times a year collecting money for a ministry based in Florida, I believe. I usually give to this sort of thing, thinking that, if they aren’t with a legitimate ministry, at least I have done the right thing by giving. But, this particular day I had no cash with me at all. I couldn’t even have dug around in my car for change. I hoped the light would just turn green and I could cruise through the intersection without having to stop. But, sure enough the light turned red. An older gentleman – markedly older than the rest – approached my car. I rolled my window down and said, “I’m sorry I don’t have any cash with me at all today.” He smiled really big and waved his hand in the air and said, “That’s ok, maybe you’ll catch me next time.” I smiled back and went to roll up my window, but he just kept looking at me in such a piercing way – smiling the whole time. This went on for just a long enough pause to begin to feel awkward. Then, he looked up at the sky and pointed and said, “Praise God!” He looked back into my eyes, just as piercingly as before and said, “He’s a way-maker! Isn’t he?” I just nodded my head in agreement, thinking that this was probably the strangest encounter I had ever had.”
Three days after Marci's encounter, on Friday, January 13, the Hollands' adoption caseworker called to inform them she had found their children. “She said, “I’ve found your children! Really – I’ve found your children! They even look like you two,” remembered Marci. “We went immediately to DSS and saw for the very first time pictures of our precious children. Our first words were, “They’re beautiful.”
The adoption process began and on March 5, the day after Robbie's birthday, the Hollands were informed that they had been selected out of 60 other families to be the parents of a precious brother and sister pair. “It couldn’t have been clearer that these two children were meant to be with us – not just any two children, but these two – if God had sent us a hand-written letter telling us so,” said Marci.
Just three months after the children were placed in the Hollands' home, Marci became severely ill. With severe abdominal pains, Marci once again found herself at the reproductive endocrinologist being pricked for a multitude of tests. “ I was terrified. I went to the appointment at the Hope Center –went through the usual tests and biopsies – and my surgery was scheduled less than two weeks later. Unexpectedly, the surgery was more complicated than anticipated, lasting almost seven hours,” said Holland. “As they had suspected, it was severe endometriosis that had spread throughout my entire abdomen. It had grown through the wall of my intestine and my colon, requiring sections of both to be removed. In addition to the complete hysterectomy, the endometriosis had to be scraped from my hip bone and my appendix had to be removed. But, praise God, nothing was cancerous! My doctor informed us that the endometriosis had been there for quite some time and that it was the cause of my infertility and that if I had ever become pregnant, I would have never been able to carry a child to term.
Wow. After all the medical treatments we had sought and all the failed attempts, God never meant for us to be able to have children “the regular way.” His plan for us could only be completed in His time and in His way. Just another thing reinforcing God’s message to us.”
With her family by her side, Marci told the crowd that her experience adopting her children through the foster care system was a journey she wouldn't change for anything. “Adopting these two precious children as our own has been one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives,” said Marci. “So many times along this journey, God placed things in our paths that spoke to us – if we would have just listened a little more closely, it was as if He was saying, “I’ve got your children. If you’ll just hold on a little longer, if you’ll just have faith, they’re on the way.”
"Through everything that we have learned and been through as a family, the one thing we have always held on to, and something I encourage you all to remember, our God is a way-maker...Yes he is," Marci concluded.