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’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell, and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. I’m Lynette Ezell, here along with Tera Melber. Today, we’re in the studio with Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who is here to share her adoption story.
Sandra W.M.: I am so excited about being here.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, good Sandy.
Tera Melber: Sandy serves as the executive director and treasurer for The National Women’s Missionary Union, in Birmingham Alabama. Born and raised in southern Illinois, Sandy and her husband Frank have one daughter who is graduating from high school in just a couple of weeks.
I know, I have a son graduating soon, so that’s exciting. Exciting times.
Lynette Ezell: Okay. So, Sandy let’s get started. We’re so glad you’re here. Let’s talk about how wonderful it is that we’re seeing this trend in the SBC of leadership who are passionate about adoption and foster care and who have done it.
Sandra W.M.: I think this is an exciting time.
Lynette Ezell: I agree.
Sandra W.M.: Because when I realized all the leaders of our national entities are adoptive parents, that is remarkable. The IMB, the North American Mission Board, Women’s Missionary Union, and the ERLC.
Lynette Ezell: It’s incredible.
Sandra W.M.: That is great.
Lynette Ezell: So exciting. So Sandy, tell us about how you came to be parents to your daughter, Hannah.
Sandra W.M.: You know, for us, it was always, we were always going to make the choice to adopt. I read an author who said his choice of adoption was about theology. It wasn’t about infertility or anything else-
Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s good.
Sandra W.M.: It was about theology. What God is asking us to do. So we had always made the choice that we were going to adopt. We began studying where we would do that, we went to our local department of human services, and we asked for a notebook of kids that were adoptable, because the governor’s wife at that time, Mrs. Huckaby, we lived in southern Arkansas at the time, asked for Christians to step up and adopt children. So we went to our local county DHS and they couldn’t find the notebook of adoptable kids.
Lynette Ezell: That’s sad.
Sandra W.M.: We were stunned. So we sent off to another state. We rode off to Missouri, and they faxed us 60 pages of kid that were adoptable. In the meantime, at that time, my husband was working for the Baptist Children’s Home, Arkansas Baptists Children’s Home and Family Services. He supervised the home for unwed mothers, and one of the woman asked if we would adopt their child when the baby was born, and we agreed to do that.
And I remember the day, Frank took the phone call, I could tell it was bad news before he hung up the phone. And when he hung up the phone, he just looked at me and said, “we’re not going to be able to adopt the baby.” That the family has changed their mine. And I couldn’t help but, the wave of grief that washed over me, how does that happen for a child that’s not even yours yet?
Lynette Ezell: Right. Your mother’s heart, it already kicked in, hadn’t it?
Sandra W.M.: It had, absolutely. So then we started working through an agency called Bethany Christian Services. And we filled out the paperwork, we asked to adopt a biracial child, we completed the paperwork in October, in March we got a phone call that says, come to Little Rock tomorrow, we have a child for you. If things work out, you can take her home. So we had 24 hours’ notice to become parents.
Lynette Ezell: Wow! That’s great. That is awesome.
Well when the adoption court date came up, that was a really significant date for you, specifically. So tell us about that.
Sandra W.M.: It was amazing. My husband and I were North American mission board missionaries at the time. The court date was May 25th, 1999, and it was my birthday. And because I was a missionary, I was on the missionary prayer calendar. And I knew people all over the United States would be praying for me. We got to the court, our lawyer was proceeding with our court case, and the judge motioned our lawyer to the bench. And I thought, “oh no, what has happened?”
Lynette Ezell: That’s unnerving.
Sandra W.M.: We’re in trouble. Then he motioned her to go back to her table, and when it was over, she said that the judge asked her some questions about the process, and had they done everything they could to find the birth father and things like that, and the process could have gotten derailed. But even as the judge was speaking to our lawyer, I just felt this peace wash over me, knowing that thousands were praying for us.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Sandra W.M.: Even though they didn’t know the situation. What’s really cool is, from the time of our court date, May 25th, exactly six months later, the adoption was complete. And that happened to be thanksgiving. So we gathered with family, and cousins, made cards, and we had balloons, welcoming Hannah officially to the family.
Tera Melber: Oh. Sandy, that’s a beautiful story. You know James 5:16 reminds us over and over, and you’re just a testimony of that, that the prayer of a righteous man, and we put mama in there, you know, is powerful, and effective. And God is moving. And if our homes are open, and our hearts are open, we’re willing to broaden our tent, to let our van get filled up, or our car, the next seat taken, he will fill our lives. With these wonderful people.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right. I read a quote from a pastor just this week that says, “we pray as ordinary people who have an extraordinary God. We’re just normal, you and I. We’re just normal, like Elijah. Prayer is effective not because of great men or women who pray, but because of a great God, who, in Christ, graciously hears his people.”
Sandra W.M.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: I love those missionary calendars. Our kids and I will often pray for missionaries. I know Nam has one, and WEMIMB, and we’re praying for people we’ve never heard of, we’ll likely never meet.
Sandra W.M.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: And many of those people who are praying for you may very well not have a clue. Because it was your name listed with your birth date. And they were praying for you that specific day. But the Lord says that he moves in the hearts of his people to pray for each other, for fellow believers. And the fact that people were praying for you on that specific day was a God ordained moment that brings all glory and honor to him, and is a comfort to Hannah as well.
Sandra W.M.: Absolutely. I do believe it was a God ordained moment. I do believe that God set that court date.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Sandra W.M.: So it would fall on my birthday.
Lynette Ezell: Yes. That’s so amazing.
Tera Melber: Prayer moves the hand of God.
Lynette Ezell: Really, it’s true.
Tera Melber: When you feel like panicking, or when you heard that judge, you could have, in your flesh, said “This ain’t gonna work out.” What’s gonna happen? It’s gonna derail as you said, and just the prayer of God’s people, the Lord is so sweet.
You know, I remember hearing you talk, Sandy, about an adoption ceremony that you participated in, I love this story. Tell us how that impacted those around you.
Sandra W.M.: We had 24 hours to become parents. We had nothing. Zero. No formula, no diapers, nothing. Because we didn’t know what age child we would be adopting, because we told them we would accept older children. So the adoption agency was under construction, they were renovating their offices, and they asked me if I might have a place where we could do a short adoption ceremony. So I called my supervisor at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, I said, “do you think we could use the chapel at the Baptist building, to have an adoption ceremony?”
Tera Melber: Oh, I love it.
Sandra W.M.: So when we arrived the next morning, I thought maybe a few people on my team-
Tera Melber: Maybe the lights will be on!
Sandra W.M.: Maybe the lights will be on, a few people will show up. When we got there, the chapel was packed.
Tera Melber: I love it.
Sandra W.M.: And in front of the chapel, they had set up a reception, and there were wrapped presents, there were signs, there were balloons, there was a cake, I had no idea how they pulled that off, but it was the most beautiful thing to see. We went through the adoption ceremony, and later friends told me they had never in their life experienced anything as powerful as that. And I knew it was powerful for us, we received the baby, but how was it powerful for them? It was just a beautiful experience. That’s all I can say about it.
Tera Melber: Oh, wow.
Sandra W.M.: Just beautiful.
Tera Melber: I’d love to see pictures from that day.
Speaker 1: Well, I know that raising kids in general is not always easy, but you throw an extra layer of adoption type things that your kids have to work through, and I’m sure your daughter has had to work through things as she’s grown. So, in your thoughts as you’re parenting, what do you say would be some of the things that you faced that maybe you weren’t anticipating you’d have to face?
Sandra W.M.: Well I think being an adoptive parent automatically makes you more sensitive to the issues of adoption. When you see Hollywood make comments on movies, or read comments in books, you’re just a little extra sensitive to, how is my child going to respond when she hears that? You know, one of the things that I struggled with when we received Hannah was her acceptance into the family. We had one grandparent that would introduce all his grandchildren, and then he would say, “this is my adopted granddaughter.” You know, it’s just painful.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Sandra W.M.: Now he got over that, but it was, it’s a learning process for everybody being involved.
Speaker 1: Takes a lot of patience, doesn’t it?
Sandra W.M.: Yeah, it does. And you know, you know with your kids, there’s the struggle of fitting in, there’s the struggle of being biracial, or of a different race, where do I fit in? One teacher said to Hannah one time, “what are you, mixed or what?”
Speaker 1: Oh, yeah.
Sandra W.M.: And she came home from school and that, you know, that affected her. So, as a parent, how do you talk through issues like this?
I remember one time, Hannah has never had a lot of friends at one time, she kind of is quiet and shy, and doesn’t have a lot of friends at one time. One of her friends wanted to branch out and have other friends, which is certainly understandable. And I encouraged her to just hang in there with her friend. And she came home one day, and she said “mom, it just feels like I’ve been thrown away.” So you might feel different about that, but being the parent of an adoptive child-
Lynette Ezell: Where they’re dealing with loss, internally, in different ways.
Sandra W.M.: Exactly, and you don’t want to add to that. So there’s always that question, there’s always a question of parenting, “am I doing it right?” But it seems like there’s an extra layer when you’re the parent of an adoptive child.
Tera Melber: I totally agree.
Lynette Ezell: I have a friend who says often, if you have a child that’s diabetic, and they’re having kind of an off day, or struggling with something, you look at it through the lens of diabetes, is their blood sugar off? Is that what’s up? Or is it just nothing related to that. And we often say that about adoption, that you do look through it through the lens of adoption, of, you don’t want your child to feel like everything that I’m feeling has to go back to this. But you do look at it through the lens of adoption to say, you know, “we’re gonna work through this in light of knowing that you’re already dealing with these feelings.” And so when you make a statement like that, I wanna talk through that some more. But it’s hard, it’s really hard.
Sandra W.M.: it is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Lynette Ezell: Definitely not. It really isn’t.
Well, I know that we’ve all experienced issues of wanting our child to feel like that they fit in, and then the race card, and that’s always very hard. We had an issue just this week that we’ve had to work through, at the school system. So you feel like you’re constantly, especially when they’re younger, you know, wanting to educate teachers, and administration, and others, and try to, you just have to constantly be an advocate for your child. But also helping them take ownership, and learn how to live in that. Cause one day, as Hannah’s graduating-
Sandra W.M.: That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: She’s gonna be, you know, Hannah, young adult. Not Hannah, Sandy and Frank’s daughter.
Sandra W.M.: That’s right, and she’s gonna have to figure out how to navigate those social waters. And to help other people navigate it. She can take what she’s learned as an adoptive child, as a biracial child, and with her tender heart and her compassion, she’ll be able to help others on their journey.
Lynette Ezell: She will.
Tera Melber: One of the things I did, is i got my genetic testing done, and I’m just a major potpourri of things, and my kids loved it. Because, you know, my Ethiopian – Ethiopian! – you know, not me. I’m just, I’m from everywhere. And my kids think that’s hilarious, and I think once they realize that, they just really enjoyed reading my genetic makeup.
Sandra W.M.: That is great.
Tera Melber: It is!
Sandra W.M.: What an encouragement.
Tera Melber: Yeah, it really is.
Lynette Ezell: Well in your role, Sandy, as WMU director, what ideas might you have for women who want to advocate, they want to jump in, they want to participate in adoption, or foster care? Or just helping those, to be a support around those who are doing adoption and foster care? What’s some things, some encouragement, that you could share with other women?
Sandra W.M.: Well I think as women, as Christians in general, we should understand adoption better than anybody else. Because we’ve been adopted into the family of God. Tony Merida, he’s an author that said, “God adopting us was not Plan B, it was always Plan A.”
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Sandra W.M.: And so, that’s why adoption should be important for us, it’s about responding to God’s grace properly. With gratitude for him, and then love for others.
I started, my first experience with foster kids, or with adoption, or with Baptist Children’s Home, was in college. I did an internship as a social worker at the Baptist Children’s Home in southern Illinois. So that gave me my first taste of that environment, and just hooked me for life. I think one of the things that women’s ministry groups could do, that WMU groups could do, that small groups could do, is be an encouragement to child welfare workers, social workers. I have a friend, Cindy, who answers the 800 number hotline for child abuse.
Tera Melber: Wow.
Sandra W.M.: You know, she could use some encouragement.
Tera Melber: Absolutely.
Sandra W.M.: Just a note, just small acts of kindness, to help her get through each day.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely.
Sandra W.M.: I think we need to help the church synthesize, constantly, to the plight of vulnerable children. The more you learn about vulnerable children, the more engaged that you’re going to be. And the bible is full of references about how God’s heart is for vulnerable children, and how we need to be as well.
You can organize an evening prayer vigil on behalf of orphans and waiting children. That’s part of that synchronization process.
Lynette Ezell: But you know, a prayer vigil, that’s a great idea. Just praying for families, for foster families within your circle of influence.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: You know, we’ve got six or seven, eight at our church, jumping in, they need prayer. One’s my daughter! They need prayer.
Sandra W.M.: Absolutely they do. And you can do practical things.
Tera Melber: Right.
Sandra W.M.: For foster families. Why not mow their lawn? They’re up all night with babies, or whatever, doing intakes with children. What are practical things that you could do? Could you mow their lawn, could you take them food? When someone’s become an adoptive parent, the cost is so outrageous. Could you help them raise funds, or get some kind of monetary support for their adoption process?
Tera Melber: Lynette always teases cause she’s got t-shirts from all different adoptions from every different state.
Lynette Ezell: One of my kids came downstairs, I was telling Tera, and he said, “why do I have a South Carolina welcome home t-shirt in my drawer?” I’m like, “oh, I bought it from a family”.
Tera Melber: But it’s really awesome too, because NAM has set aside $100,000 every year for the Southern Baptist Convention Ministers Adoption Fund. So you can even give to that, cause that money goes-
Lynette Ezell: Straight to the families.
Tera Melber: So that’s a really fun thing to do, to be able to grant families assistance in that way.
Sandra W.M.: When you’re ready to take the next step, I would just encourage you to consider becoming a foster parent, or becoming an adoptive parent. If you’re not ready to take that step, could you provide rest bed, or babysit for a foster care family? Donate supplies for an orphanage, or for a women’s shelter? Call your Baptist Children’s Home and see what you could do for them. What do they need?
Tera Melber: Right.
Sandra W.M.: And how could you help?
Lynette Ezell: And they will tell you. And what I hear you saying, Sandy, is you don’t have to do everything, but everybody has to do something.
Sandra W.M.: But do something.
Tera Melber: That’s right, get up and do something. And we women like to do stuff.
Lynette Ezell: We like to do!
Tera Melber: To be able to get involved and do things, we feel like we’re making a difference. And that’s really cool that we’re able to join together and do it as a group effort.
Sandra W.M.: Exactly. And I would also challenge you to think about kids that are aging out of the system, 20,000 a year age out. What could you do for them? Could you mentor them, could you teach them job skills, how could you prepare them for young adulthood?
Speaker 1: Or be a family to them, say, let’s help you do life.
Tera Melber: Have a place to come home to at Christmastime.
Speaker 1: Absolutely.
Sandra W.M.: So you’re exactly right. You don’t have to do everything, but you need to do something.
Tera Melber: And it’s not that hard to find those things to do. You just make a couple phone calls, and ask questions. How can I serve? So as you have a servant’s heart, the Lord will open those doors for you as you’re seeking and praying as an individual, or as a group of women. As you then pray, and seek heart after the Lord, he will open up the door for what is available to you right in your area. And many of these children are right in our backyards, so as women, we can definitely do something.
Sandra W.M.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: And Sandy, because of your role as Executive Director at WMU, I know that you see a lot of new resources that would help adoptive families, families in foster care, and we really appreciate you sharing those with us today, because there’s quite a list, and they look fascinating, I cannot wait to jump into those. So grateful to WMU for sharing those with us. We’re gonna add those today, at the end of our podcast, on the show notes.
Sandra W.M.: Perfect, that would be great. We would appreciate that.
Lynette Ezell: And we do appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us today, but thanks for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing about bringing Hannah home. Thank you for being encouraging to us, to those of us who have stepped into these waters of adoption, we’ve gone to the Nile. And we’ve seen, and we know our lives will never be the same. So thanks for being with us today.
Sandra W.M.: It was my pleasure. You know, once you do step into those waters, your life does change. We started at age eight, taking Hannah to visit an orphanage in Peru. Training her as she comes of age, to care about the most vulnerable on the planet.
Speaker 1: 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.