In this special episode, co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber share how Holly and Brad Clark, parents to three adopted daughters with various special needs, advocate for their children in school. Discover how God used Holly’s past work as a Court Appointed Special Needs Advocate as a stepping stone to prepare her for motherhood.
For more information on adoption and foster care, visit sendrelief.org/foster-care-adoption.
Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we are here to support and encourage you along the way, and now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. You know, Tera, I have to tell you, when we started bringing home older children, school issues were so difficult to navigate.
Tera Melber: Oh, girl.
Lynette Ezell: Really, and I remember a sweet friend looked at me. She was my daughter’s teacher, first grade, and she said, “Lynette, she’s not going to make it here.” Reality hit me in the face and I didn’t know where to turn. It had not happened to me before, and then as we brought home an even older child, I began to realize this is the norm, right?
Lynette Ezell: I knew the Lord said, “Walk in love,” you know, “Walk in love and respond to people in love.” It got really, really trying. Then, when we moved to this part of the country, moved deeper South, and then I entered public school, I had just a sweet, kind teacher pull me aside and say the same thing again, and so navigating school options, getting a child, one of mine was on their third language, and integrated into the school system was very heartbreaking.
Tera Melber: It is, and then you add on top of those things that your family doesn’t all look the same and you get questions. Then, your children are fielding questions, and it just is hard. On that note, today, we are super excited to welcome Holly Clark. She is a sweet friend of ours from Kentucky. We went to church together there, and she and her husband, Brad, are parents to three wonderful girls, adopted internationally, with very special needs.
Tera Melber: Advocating for the girls in the school system in different arenas has been, honestly, one of the things that I was so encouraged and inspired about by Brad and Holly, among multiple other things, but I always so encouraged at how she did this with such grace, so that’s really why I thought it would be awesome to have her on podcast today. Holly, we are super excited to have you. Thanks so much for your time.
Holly: Thank you guys so much for having me.
Tera Melber: Holly, I know that, before you guys had children, the Lord had really placed a love in your heart for children that were in vulnerable places and that you and Brad did a lot of different things with kids that are from hard places before you were even parents, so tell us a little bit about that.
Holly: It all started in elementary school with a wonderful mom who dropped something off for her daughter, and I looked over, and there was a little girl holding this woman’s leg. I kept looking because I knew this little girl was not her daughter, and I couldn’t figure out why this little girl was clinging to her. I said something to my mom, and she said, “Oh, she’s a foster mom, and she just got a little girl last night.” In elementary school, I’d never heard of foster care, and she explained that not all children were able to be loved in a loving home and explained the need for foster care. I think God just really impacted my heart that day.
Holly: I grew up with such wonderful parents, and I was so sad that there were children that were out there that weren’t getting the same experience that I was. I relentlessly begged my parents to become foster parents and that I would take care of the child in my room, and I did a big sales pitch. I have to give my parents a lot of credit because they actually went through fostering classes, and my mom wanted to do it, and my dad did not feel comfortable. I do think you both have to agree 100%, so I’m just thankful that they went through that with open minds and open hearts, and I told them that I appreciated them doing that and one day when I was older, I was going to foster children or adopt.
Holly: To me, that shows when we’re out meeting different people, just like that mom with the little girl, I went back 30 years later with my kids and told her, by her having that little girl with her, how she impacted my heart, how God has used her, so it started way back when. Before we had kids, I volunteered at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with kids, giving their parents a break, and then Brad and I were both volunteer counselors for foster children with a camp called Camp Tube Along, and we got to know a lot of wonderful foster kids. Later, that led me to be a CASA, representing children in court.
Tera Melber: That’s amazing. When did you guys start, or what led you to start the adoption process, to grow your family in that way?
Holly: When Brad and I were dating, I told him that God puts different things in different people’s hearts, and I felt called that that was my one thing in life that I knew for sure that He wanted me to do besides marry my wonderful husband. Even when we were somewhat casually dating, I told him that whoever I married, that I wanted to make sure they were open to either adopt or foster. It was such a strong calling, and I felt like I would not feel fulfilled if I didn’t, when God put something on your heart so strongly, to not follow that just didn’t feel right to me. Brad prayed about it, and he said that he would be open to that. Our plan was always to have one biological, and then we were going to adopt two.
Holly: Then, as our journey went along, we didn’t get pregnant, and most people I know who don’t get pregnant go to infertility specialists and they slowly investigate everything. Brad and I had total peace that we didn’t need to look into anything, that God put that on our hearts to adopt, and that was the path we would go on. If we had a biological, that would be a blessing and, if we adopted all of our children, that would equally be a blessing. For us, that was always a plan A. Some people will say I didn’t have to adopt. To us, adoption for anyone is not having to adopt. It’s being blessed by a child to add to your family. It’s not a have-to-do. It’s that you’re blessed to be able to do.
Tera Melber: I just love hearing that story, Holly, because my older kids did that, as well, and we’re seeing this generation that’s coming behind us, a lot of our church planners, that adoption’s their Plan A, and they feel called to it. It is just a blessing to see the Lord raise the body up to open their homes to vulnerable children. You’ve done something else unique that I really want to talk to you about today.
Tera Melber: When we moved to this new state, my neighbors were not accustomed to seeing such a multiracial family, nor was the school system, so that first year we came here kind of, as the school year had already began, so we kind of just, as best we could, got through that first, the remaining of that first school year. The next year, I thought, “This is not going to catch me off guard this year, so the first day of second grade, I take my beautiful daughter, my little Ethiopian, and we are the first ones to sign up to bring in a family picture for Show and Tell day …
Holly: I love it!
Tera Melber: … and introduce our family, so that really helped spearhead a lot of conversations and to just kind of lay our cards on the table and say, “This is our family. This is who we are. We love our daughter. I don’t look like her.” I know you’ve done a lot of that, and you have a lot of great suggestions to help families with that. Just share with us how you did that and how you were proactive in helping your children in the classroom.
Holly: Before I share mine, I love that you did that, and the first family so you could make sure that you could … You could tell your story the way you wanted it told because, sometimes, kids don’t have the words. When I think of myself at a young age, I wouldn’t have had the words to explain it. The question my kids got the most is, “Yeah, yeah, but who are your real parents?” My kids were like, “Are you not real?”
Tera Melber: Exactly.
Holly: I would say, “Pinch me,” and they’re kind of hesitant pinching me because they don’t if I’m really giving them permission to pinch me, and then I’d dramatically say, “Ouch! I’m real! I real!” We’d laugh about, and I’d say, “But you also do have real birth family,” and then we would talk about we have extended family in our family in California and Texas, so I would branch that off. “You have your original birth family, and then you have our family, and then we have relatives in California and Texas and, wow, we have family all over the world and all over the United States.
Holly: When people would ask them … When they were younger, they got it all the time, “Where were you born?” Or, “Where are you from?” One of mine is really shy when she’s not with family or close friends, and that would just shut her down, and she wouldn’t answer. I started saying, “Oh, well, she was born in China, and I was born in Chicago.” Then, I’d say, “Girls, where was daddy born?” They’d say, “Texas!” One time I say, “Can you guess where this lady was born?” My daughter said, “Pennsylvania!” The woman said, “Oh, my gosh! I was born in Pennsylvania!” Trying to take the heat off of them and kind of make it fun, especially when they’re shy, that just kind of puts them in a tough spot.
Tera Melber: One time, a lady at the grocery store asked our daughter … She didn’t even ask our daughter. She looked at me and said, “Where’s she from?”
Holly: Oh, yeah, that’s my favorite!
Tera Melber: Mary Tess said, “Louisville.”
Holly: Wow! That’s great!
Tera Melber: It was hilarious. I thought it was really funny because she was old enough to realize the lady was not even addressing her, and she’s standing right there. The lady said, “No, where are you really from?”, and Mary Tess said, “I’m really from Louisville, Kentucky.” It was hilarious.
Holly: That’s great.
Tera Melber: I think you’re right, taking kind of the heat off and the pressure off and doing it in a way that is disarming to everyone so that the girls don’t feel like they’re just being show ponies, which they’re not, and we don’t want them to feel that way. You can’t always be there, right, when those questions come up. Our kids are in the classrooms. Most of our kids are in the classrooms more than they’re with us, so we do want to hear how you prepared the classroom for your girls.
Lynette Ezell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Holly: I am, by no means, an expert, but I would go in a couple of days early once we found out who the teacher was going to be, and I would ask if I could … I’d leave a note or call and say, “I would love to share some information with you if I could have 15 minutes.” I would go in and just connect with the teacher and share their story in a way, and I’m only sharing what parts I would want repeated because some of that is private, but I’m sharing it in a way that she can repeat that, that if someone asked a question or she needs to intervene, that she knows the right words.
Holly: I hear a lot of people talking about their child was abandoned, and that’s written on some of paperwork, but I think we easily could’ve been born in another country, and we could’ve loved a child so much and just not been able to make an adoption plan. That doesn’t mean that we would be abandoning our child. It’s a different way of making a plan when you have very few choices, so I would always say that our children were placed somewhat that they were found quickly and talk about their time that they lived in an orphanage and the minute we could rush there, we … Mike has loved that we rushed to get them, like the urgency that we were so excited.
Holly: We talked to the teacher about different things that might come up, different questions, and how to answer that. One thing I learned when we would go in and talk about adoption every year, I think just like biological kids, all adopted kids are just as different as all biologicals, so I would ask my kids every year, “Do you want to go in and talk about adoption?” We were in a group called Chinese Sisters, and some of the girls, as they got older, didn’t want to talk about it. I asked my oldest, and she was like, “Oh, yeah! They love it! They love the food you bring and love to talk about adoption,” so we would bring in Lo Mein.
Holly: I always go to the local Chinese place and get food and mandarin oranges, and we would read a book about adoption and explain it to the kids. The kids had a lot of sweet questions. I would ask my oldest what part she wanted. Did she want to hold the book? Did she want to read some of it? One year, she said, … I think she was probably in third grade. She was a huge reader, but math was not her favorite subject. I said, “Before we start, do you want to say anything about adoption?” and she said, “Oh, yeah! You are so lucky I’m adopted. Otherwise, you’d be in math right now.” I just thought their perspective of it …
Tera Melber: That is too funny! I love the way that you give them ownership of it, so you’re teaching them how to share their story in a way that makes it comfortable for them and helping them understand they only need to share the parts of their story that they feel comfortable telling, that they don’t have to tell everything, and that it’s their decision, so you’re giving them ownership of it, which I really, really love.
Tera Melber: Last year, when we moved here, because we moved to a new area and people didn’t know us and didn’t know our story like they did when we all went to church together, our son went to class, and the teacher emailed me the next day and said, “Hey, I really need to talk to you.” Basically, she was pretty shocked at some of the things Isaac shared when it was sort of, “Tell us about yourself,” and he laid out his whole entire story, which he had never done before. I talked to the teacher. She wanted to know if the story was true. I said, “It is, indeed, all true,” which was shocking to her.
Tera Melber: Then, when Isaac came home, I said, “Hey, buddy. I talked to your teacher today, and she said you shared your story. His eyes got really big. I think he was sort of waiting for, “Should I have done that? Should I have not done that?” I said, “Honey, it’s your story. That’s perfectly all right, but I didn’t know you were going to do that. He said, “Well, I just kind of wanted to keep questions at bay because I know when you come to a school party and you’re white, they’re going to wonder.” He was preemptively like, “Okay, everybody, here’s the lowdown. This is what’s going to happen when I have to turn in my picture for family tree. My parents are white, and I’m Ethiopian.”
Lynette Ezell: It’s just a prime example that, even though maybe our children are not voicing it. They’re thinking about it.
Tera Melber: Yeah.
Lynette Ezell: It has to be addressed and, Holly, I just love the way you go into the classroom and you’re, as Tera said, your daughter took ownership, and you laid it out there where everyone could understand it. Sometimes, my first response, honestly, like, “Where are you from?” to my kids or, “How much did that cost?” That’s my favorite, right? I want to respond in anger.
Lynette Ezell: You know, this morning, I was in Ephesians 5, and the Lord said, as I said earlier, “Walk in love as Christ loved us” and then in verse 7, He says, “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Holly, I think by doing that, you bring light to children. You bring enlightenment to the situation of, “My daughter’s darker than I am, and this is why, and this is how the Lord built our family,” even to be able to say that in the public school system to children. Because I was influenced in the third grade, I began to realize the need for foster care in the third grade.
Lynette Ezell: My job once a week in the third grade was to give a little girl in our class a bath. I realized the need that children had and how so many children did not have what they needed and were not being taken care, and that happened to you at a young age. Now, the Lord is doing that again with you and giving you the opportunity to go in and to take food and, like you said, coins from their birth country or just books to read about adoption or a mandarin orange that makes children think outside the box and realize, “Yeah, we all look different,” and we give glory to God.
Holly: I completely agree. I feel like the first time I did the adoption talk, I didn’t bring in anything extra, so it was all adoption, and that was fine. They were younger, but I think as they get older, to kind of deflect, like you can talk about it and it’s beautiful. Then, instead of having it end right there, I think kids love language as food.
Tera Melber: Yes. It’s mine.
Holly: It gives your child something, instead of like, okay, we do all this adoption talk and then your mom leaves, and then they’re just there. It goes on to the food. They’re passing around the coins, the books, different things, and it gives your child something kind of fun to end it on, and the kids are all, “Thank you! Thank you!” It ends up being this really positive experience.
Tera Melber: And celebrating the whole culture, so the girls are so proud of all that they have come from.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely. Well, Holly, our time is about over today, but I wanted you to share one more thing. With one of our children, we came home. She was in the hospital for quite a while, and it was a tough time, and it would always throw the doctors and the nurses off when they walked in the room, and here I had my little Ethiopian princess, and here I am. They were kind of confused. “Now, are you mom or are you just a caretaker?” so you did a very interesting thing at the hospital that I think everyone should do. I wanted you to kind of share about what you did with your family photo at the hospital.
Holly: On the outside of the hospital door, so when they’re inpatient, often I’ll put scripture, a lot of times Psalm 139, “I praise you because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.” Then, I’ll do a family picture and then an individual picture of our child because, when our youngest had spinal surgery, I didn’t realize how much she was going to swell from that surgery, and she did not look at all … She just looked miserable as any of us would look.
Holly: By having the pictures on the door, instead of just walking in and she was another playing who was lying flat and not very happy, they said, “Oh, my gosh! She’s so cute, and your whole family!” It led to a lot of beautiful adoption and God talks about His calling on our life and life as a Christian. It just led to a lot of open doors and people wanting information but, more importantly, for your child, I think the care that they got was someone who’s connecting with them in a different way.
Tera Melber: I think the thing we have to remember, and you do so incredibly well, is that we are, while our children are young and as we’re guiding them into adulthood, we’re our child’s advocate, so our responsibility as parents to all of our children is to point them to Christ, protect them, lead them, and in these different ways that you’re doing it, you’re doing all of those things, and you’re celebrating your children, and you’re advocating for your children in ways that just … I mean, you just emit grace.
Tera Melber: If you ever get a chance to meet Holly Clark, you should because she’s just a gracious woman, and everything you do points your family and points others to Christ, and we are so appreciative. Thanks so much for your time, Holly. I just appreciate you so much.
Holly: Thank you, guys, so much, and I feel the same way about both of you.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit namb.net/sendrelief.