With a name like Annie, I’m sure you can imagine that the most common nickname I heard growing up was “Little Orphan Annie.” The thing is, though, that was truly who I was for many years of my life. An orphan. A girl growing up without a mother to hold and a father to protect me. A teenager who was torn down and living in fear because of all that happened behind closed doors. A very confused young girl who begged God to set me free from the life of pain I was living in, but was threatened to stay silent about.
I was the Little Orphan Annie who’d watch that movie and not care for the mansion, but dreamed of the loving family who’d save me from my home. I wanted her happy ending. For so long I was afraid to share my story. I spent years protecting everyone but me. But now I know, more than ever, that my life is a tapestry that God has been weaving with redemption, restoration, and healing. He tells His story through mine. The best part is that He’s still not finished.
I can’t remember when the abuse started, because I truly can’t remember many times before it. What I do know, though, is that I never thought it’d end. It was at home where I endured pain, suffering, and hurt at the hands and words of the people who were meant to love me most. I was a free spirited toddler who increasingly became a broken and shattered middle schooler and eventually ended up as a suicidal and hopeless high schooler. “You’re worthless. If you can find a family that would actually love you, then go find them. You can leave whenever you want. No one has ever wanted you here.” I didn’t think I could find a family to love me or a place to go because the narratives of hatred towards me shaped my reality.
At school I was happy and popular. I loved being able to “act” the part of a successful student and friend, and I played the part pretty well for as long as I could.
I quickly realized my life wasn’t going to change, and if it wasn’t going to change, then I didn’t want to live any longer. I went to bed one night deciding that tomorrow would be my last day alive. I sent a text to my youth pastor asking her to meet me at my school so I could just see her and say hello. Little did she know that it was goodbye that I planned to say.
As I went on with what I thought was my last day at school, I was called into my school counselor’s office, where she informed me that she’d received concerns from multiple people about my safety and well-being. I played it off as if it was actually a friend that was in danger, and there I sat in her office as she called DHS on speaker to ask what they could do to get “this friend” in a safe home. I was so afraid of getting found out, so it was a relief that she seemed to believe my lie about having a friend in danger to deflect from me. I thought I’d give my life another day as we expected a call back with answers from DHS, and because this unexpected turn of events gave me the last ounce of hope I could hold onto.
As I got home that day, a life-altering incident occurred when my biological mother attempted to choke me and succeeded in injuring my face. She chased me out of the house, and in pain, I ran to the nearest store with a black eye and blood dripping from a cut beneath my eye. A good friend happened to be at the store; when she asked what happened I lied and said I had fallen and a branch hit my eye.
She didn’t believe me for a moment. We got into her car. “Did she do this to you?” she asked. “I always wondered and was worried she was hurting you. Annie, this is the third time I’ve been at the scene of a crime where a friend was abused. I know this isn’t chance that I was the one who saw you just now at the store looking like this.” I knew I couldn’t argue with the divine intervention that just happened.
She called our youth pastor and a youth leader of ours. I found myself on that day in May 2010, in the middle of an Albertson’s parking lot, surrounded by police cars and firetrucks: a scared and confused 17-year-old who was suddenly realizing that the escape I dreamed of was finally here. Yet I was petrified and frozen because I had never tasted it. I was put into foster care in the state of Oregon that night.
My youth pastors became emergency-certified as foster parents and I gratefully got to spend the next couple years living with them and their sons in a home where I was encouraged in my faith, celebrated, cared for, and surrounded by our church family. They invested so much of their time and lives to guide me, walk with me, and to love me beyond limits. I look back and reflect on the summer nights playing outside in the neighborhood, a youth group with such special friendships, and being able to have friends sleep over in a room of my own.
I was experiencing so much newness, and at the same time, I was learning how to walk through life while feeling the effects of a lifetime of trauma. Some days it was crippling, and others it was but a faint whisper. I attended a private Christian university completely on scholarships and graduated in 2015. I started seeing my resilience and finding my identity as His Beloved. I began to believe that surely my life had purpose if He caused all this to happen on my behalf.
My dream of having a forever family didn’t come to an end just because my time in foster care did. I lost hope that I’d be adopted because I had aged out, and I did all I could to put that dream to rest. I built walls up to keep people out, especially those older than me. I tested boundaries and challenged authority.
Little did I know that a couple that came into my life in 2012 would become the God-answer to that dream. As these two entered my life, they so easily and naturally walked through every wall I put up. I began to trust again. We were all a part of the same church, so naturally we spent more time together.
I was very vocal about my distaste for the labels of “mom” and “dad” and often shared about how I would never use those words in my life, nor would I have those figures. We carried on as me being their “little sister” for years and on May 31, 2017, we went to court to get my last name changed to legally identify as family.
As time went on, I started seeing how sensitive my heart had grown towards adoption. I’d weep at movies with an adoption storyline and I’d see viral stories of adoption and wonder why that couldn’t be my story. I noticed a longing for parents for the first time, and not just parents, but for the two consistent adults who were ten years older than me to be just that. Their families had loved me and included me in everything. Their friends had welcomed me as if they’d always known me. They had taken me in as their own since the beginning. They had played those roles all this time. It just took years of healing for my heart to be able to dream of that and accept it. After these realizations I decided I’d keep my desires quiet and take them to the grave with me; I couldn’t take the risk of making them known.
It was just earlier this year that I was driving with my (now) mom when she was consoling me about my insecurity of forever being a part of their family. I was scared they’d leave me. I was afraid I’d be replaced. I was fearful I’d be without a family.
“We’d adopt you!” she assured me.
Tears flowed down my face as the person who has nurtured me most in my life spoke words that I thought I’d never hear as a 26-year old, an aged-out foster youth, and a formerly abandoned child. I quickly learned it was something that they’d carried in their hearts for years. On May 31, 2019, I was legally adopted in a courtroom surrounded by loved ones. The judge wiped away tears and took a pause to thank us for letting him finish his week with us. As we were ending he declared, “This is a happy day for the [foster care] system.” A happy day, indeed!
I want to share my story because I want to give glory to God for writing such beautifully unique narratives. I’m continually walking through a healing journey. I’m experiencing the freedom that comes with forgiving my biological parents. I’ve been changed by EMDR therapy. I want to bring hope to all, but especially to those who are in foster care, those who’ve aged out, those who are longing to be adopted, those who desire to adopt, those who want to foster, and those who are wondering how their forever family will form.
We all need families. There is nothing that disqualifies someone from family. You’ll never be too old to need parents. These are truths I am learning as a daughter day by day. I am beyond grateful for this God-dream fulfilled, and I am deeply hopeful for more stories like this as hearts are moved upon to add another seat at their tables.
As Jessica Satterfield so beautifully worded it, “He asks us to lay down our ideas about what family should look like and listen to His.”