I stepped out of the courtroom to a sea of faces. One side held taunting glares and each pair of eyes seemed to invite me into some unending duel. I quickly diverted my attention to the opposite side of the sea—to all the faces flooded with gratefulness to see me again. To all the smiles that offered encouragement and begged me not to fatigue, not to give up, not to let the hostile current pull me under.
One of my friends from the friendly-faces-side slipped me a sheet of paper. We were nearing the end of the trial. Prayers had been sent up from all directions over the course of the last three years. I had entered the courtroom that morning for the seventh day and realized there wasn’t much else that could be done. This sheet of paper was a final attempt to equip me with the encouragement I might need to push on.
I stepped back inside, took my chair, and stared up at the judge. My eyes studied him for any indication of how he might rule—for us or against us. I rubbed my hand across the top of my protruding belly, and again wondered why God thought it was necessary for me to have three boys. I had surely thought He’d be content with two and then give me a girl. Subconsciously, my other hand reached for my husband’s arm. Just the warmth of his body heat somehow gave me the confidence I needed to make it through the last stretch of this horrible thing called termination and adoption.
While our youngest was growing within the confines of my womb, my husband and I were in what we believed to be the final stretch of a three-year long battle to terminate the rights of my oldest son’s biological father and in turn allow my husband to officially adopt him and continue to raise him in the same manner we had been conducting since he was two years old.
We wanted it official. We wanted him safe. We wanted him to grow in a home that represented unity and stability. Not a home of perfection, but one that when nasty imperfections reared their ugly head, the Head of the home was Someone else.
In the Beginning
I could go into an ugly dissertation on all the awful circumstances that led us to make such a strong decision. To seek termination of someone’s rights as a father is no light decision. Yet as interesting and dramatic as those events might be, they would overshadow the work that God was performing in our lives.
My husband and I married in 2002, just six months after meeting and four months after falling in love. I was 22, a very new follower of Christ, and a very proud mom of a two-year-old little boy.
My son and new husband fell in love as well. Even while we were dating, my husband had discussed with me the desire he had to one day be my little boy’s father on paper as well. I was elated, but not overly hopeful. I had been dealing with inconsistency and difficulties over custody, visitation, lack of child support, and other fun legally binding matters that come with a split home. I knew that there wasn’t hope for utopia in this area of our life and that we were simply doomed to deal with the everyday drama.
We had an attorney who I had hired pre-husband. After discussing adoption as a possible option, we decided that if this attorney of ours ever said, "Now is the time. I think you have a chance," we would jump on those words like bees on honey. We met with him several times, and never were those words uttered. In fact, we even asked a couple of times, impatient and eager to place our son in a safer situation. The answer was always something like, "You could, I guess, but I’m not so certain you’d be standing on firm ground."
Then, one day, I received a phone call. We had just learned that the source of all our drama had earned himself a spot in prison. Our attorney called to let us know, "Now is your best chance."
I stood outside my dining room, ear still burning with those five simple words. I was excited. I was nervous. I was terrified of the ramifications if we lost. I was doomed if I didn’t learn how to cling to God. This was the start of a chapter in my life I will someday reminisce upon as "Sweet times with God."
Setting the Stage
The following months were a whirlwind of activity. We had our second child, moved 1,600 miles away from our home in Tennessee, and started a new career in a new home within a new community.
Letters came from the attorney, along with bills. Sometimes they would be spread apart months at a time. Dates would be set between the lawyers, actions ordered, until one day we heard of the need for a deposition to be taken. Since the defendant, the biological father, was incarcerated, it was necessary for his side of the story to be taken under oath and presented to the trial judge.
I was more than a little nervous. During this time, there were two verses God gave me that I learned to cling to.
God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full. (Matthew 5:6)
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He will shield you with His wings, He will shelter you with His feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. (Psalm 91: 1, 4)
The deposition came and I couldn’t believe what had been said against us. I spent almost an hour thumbing through the dozens of pages of recorded conversation, highlighting everything I knew to be a lie. I panicked and questioned the possibility of us being able to rebut any of the accusations.
My forehead rested heavily upon my hand as I read claims that medical injuries had prevented him from being able to work, therefore excusing him from child support—the strongest accusation on which we stood for grounds of termination. I replayed face-to-face encounters we had in the last couple months before prison, wondering if my mind was playing tricks. I had never seen any injury. I had never seen any inhibiting cast or brace. Was I wrong? Were we mistaken?
Our roller coaster ride had begun. Court papers came that declared witnesses against my husband and me. Not just one or two. I am talking dozens of witnesses. My heart sank. Then the court ordered that the biological father was not going to be present in person during the trial, only over a speaker phone. I was elated.
Another ruling came that demanded a guardian ad litem, which was a lawyer who would act on the best interest of the child. We met with her a couple of times and had an excellent impression of her ability to be strong in her recommendation. Then, a few weeks later, we received a phone call from her stating that she could not in good conscience recommend this adoption. She said her answer, when asked by the judge if she recommended termination of paternal rights, would be a "No."
My journal reads on December 15, 2005:
We received bad news this morning from the guardian ad litem, at this point (only a month away from the big day) her answer is a no. But I refuse to lose hope and focus on God’s power and ability instead. For Ephesians 3.20 says, "To He who is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope." How? By His mighty power at work within us. I’ve seen it in the past, so I know You can work miracles. Reveal to me how to use love and hope in this situation.
That morning, as I sat down at the computer, my heart cried out for some sort of answer or promise from God. At this point in the journey, I was used to Him responding when I was in need of hearing.
I lifted the phone to call my husband when my eyes fell on a sheet of paper my oldest son had left on the table before heading to school, before I received the phone call from the guardian ad litem. The letters were all capitals with no spaces in between and read, "G-O-D-O-L-W-A-S-W-E-N-S." My throat closed shut and my eyes grew hot. I realized what his phonetically spelled words said, "God always wins."
It was another promise, another tidbit of food to sustain me for what lay ahead.
Read Part 2 of "Sweetness & Surrender."
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-- Darlene Schacht, author of Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages and co-author of Reshaping it All: Motivation for Spiritual and Physical Fitness
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
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