God writes the best stories. And He’s a good, good Father.
It was March of 1998. I stepped off a plane into the hot Mexican sun. It was my first missions trip; I was fifteen, naive, and full of hope – ready to change the world. The first children’s home I ever visited was Casa Hogar Douglas.
That same month, somewhere closeby in the city of Monterrey, another teen girl found out she was pregnant. She was fifteen.
Fast forward nearly eighteen years. These two young women’s lives turned out very differently. I went to a private high school, had many friends, a loving family, a supportive church. I visited Monterrey every year from 1998 to 2008, first interning, then nannying, spending long hot summers falling in love with the people of Mexico. I joined the Monterrey staff of Back2Back Ministries for three years. After I moved back to the US, I married the love of my life and gave birth to three precious boys. I was surrounded by love.
Rubi’s mom’s life took another turn. She never went to high school and had two children before she turned 17. Her husband spent time in jail, they split up, she was unable to care for her children, and they were raised by her parents. In 2010 when Rubi and her brother were twelve and ten, they were taken to live at Casa Hogar Douglas.
In September of 2015, my husband and I joined Back2Back staff again and moved to Monterrey with our three small sons. One of the first things I wanted to do after we moved was to find a teenage girl to help us with childcare (we work crazy long hours) and learning Spanish. When I asked the staff who the responsible teens on campus were, Rubi was at the top of the list. Her high school classes were in the afternoons, so it was perfect for us. For the first few weeks she spent two hours with my twins, twice a week. They colored pictures, played soccer, and chased each other around the yard. She taught them to give “chocalas” or high-fives, taught them the thumbs up sign, and over the course of a month, they fell in love with her. We all did. She was smart and funny, kind and quiet at first. She soon got used to Jed’s ridiculous antics and me constantly trying to feed her.
I remember it was right after her seventeenth birthday and we were talking in my dining room about how long ago, God had given us a desire to adopt. I explained that in 1998 when I was fifteen, I came to Monterrey to serve. Her eyes went wide, “That was the year I was born.” I laughed about her making me feel old. Jed was walking by and echoed my heart for adoption, “this time we want a daughter,” he said. Rubi looked at me and shyly said, “Me puedes adoptar.” (You could adopt me) and smiled with her tongue out, a common expression here that signifies joking. We all kinda laughed it off but her words lodged in my heart. “Is that even possible?” I wondered. “Who am I to adopt a teenager? I have no idea what I’m doing with my biological kids most days and they are toddlers!” I thought. I pushed her words aside until later that evening. And then pushed them aside until later that week, and that month. But her words stayed, “What if?”
In the meantime, Rubi continued to spend several hours per week with us and became a familiar guest in our home. She spent the day after Christmas with us and learned how to make Jed’s famous red sauce.
She learned she didn’t have to ask for a glass of water, she knew where we kept the botanera salsa (after I started buying it for her) and was one of the first people besides our families to change the twins’ diapers, fill their smoothie cups, and learn what foods Lucas can and cannot have. She learned that “Zayners like to do hard things” and each of the boys want to pray before every meal. She started practicing with Jed’s soccer team and we went to her soccer games at school to cheer her on. It was quite a spectacle.
Jed and I, believing we were following God’s call on our lives to adopt, began researching adoption agencies. Contrary to what most people assume, the vast majority of kids we work with in Monterrey are not orphans. At least, not in the true sense of the word. We prefer to refer them to “vulnerable children,” in that most of them have biological parents, and if not parents, then grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. For various reasons, they have ended up in a Casa Hogar, which is a home for kids whose families can’t care for them for one reason or another. I’ll estimate and say 98% of them are not adoptable. They are stuck in a limbo between feeling abandoned and forgotten and believing what their mothers or fathers said when they promised to come back to get them when times got better.
We started talking to our friends who have adopted and started looking for agencies who were experienced working with expats, or Americans living in other countries. Very quickly, we learned that it’s just complicated. And that we would probably adopt from China. We started praying even more about God’s will and exactly what child He would bring into our family. I stayed up until early morning scrolling through waiting child pictures and praying. Thanks to my amazing friend Jill, I joined countless Facebook groups and asked lots of questions. I came across a precious baby named Libby and, oh, my mama’s heart. We started sponsoring her and prayed for her as she had open heart surgery. “Is she our daughter?” I wondered. No, but what a gift to be a small part of her story.
The more we thought and prayed, about this adoption, about fostering, about God’s will, we turned the ideas over and over in our hearts, Jed and I both had this feeling in our guts. Like a pit but in a good way. A possibility. Just a hint of a “what if?” Almost every day, we were spending time with Rubi. Every night I texted her goodnight and asked about her day. She was becoming a part of me. Of us. Finally, one night when Jed and I were getting ready for bed, everything spilled out, “Why can’t we just adopt Rubi? We love her. I think she loves us. She’s family. I know she’s a teenager, but I don’t care. What makes a baby more worthy of adoption than a seventeen-year-old?!.” Jed looked up at me over his nightly Bible study, “Are you serious?” He knows after almost eight years of marriage that if I say something like this, it means I have thought long and hard about it and probably waited way too long to process it. Can I get an “Amen” from all you inward processors? I didn’t even wait for his response, “Yes. I think she’s our daughter.” I now know this was something he had thought long and hard about and prayed about every morning and evening for months. His eyes lit up, “I’m in. She’s our girl.”
There was just one thing. Rubi was currently living with a great family in Back2Back’s Hope Program. She was well-adjusted and happy. Who were we to disrupt that? Who were we, these crazy Americans, to think we could raise a Mexican teenager daughter? My Spanish is passable, at best, and Jed is still learning.
I have said this many times, but I’ll say it again, “God writes the best stories. And He’s a good, good Father.” And our Storyweaver was just warming up. In March we found out that Rubi’s house parents took a pastoring job in another town. They would be leaving in August. My heart simultaneously was sad my friends were moving away and incredibly excited, “Could this mean? What if, instead of transitioning into another Hope Program house, she just moved in with us? Is this even possible?” I called Jed. He said what he always says, “Pray. God’s got this.” We did. And He did.
The first week of May, Jed went to CAFO, Christian Alliance For Orphans, in Orlando. Earlier in the year, we had planned he would be researching and talking to adoption agencies about our next steps, but now that we had this new information about Rubi’s situation, it was the perfect time to talk to our Hope Program director. I don’t think I slept the whole weekend, I layed awake praying and asking God for favor and peace. When Jed got home, he told me we had the green light to move forward but there was much to be done.
I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say we spoke to psychologists, social workers, directors, bosses, friends, family — everyone but Rubi. I was bursting. It was like being pregnant and not being able to tell anyone and not knowing when or if the baby would arrive. Every time she came to our house, every time we texted, it took all my strength not to shout, “I LOVE YOU! YOU ARE OUR DAUGHTER I JUST KNOW IT!” During quiet moments, which are few and far between at the Zayner house, I wondered if she would even want us the way we wanted her. More praying. We filled out lots of paperwork, completed medical questionnaires, had a home study — all in Spanish. My brain was sore from thinking. And translating. And hoping I was saying the right things. My prayer was that God would cover it and get me out of the way. He did. Our hearts were growing closer.
Finally the time came for Rubi to meet with all the people — the social worker, the psychologist, her current house parents, the Hope Program director. They evaluated her situation and all came to the same conclusion. This transition made sense for her. It was a natural fit, a healthy family, stability, love. At first, she thought they were just routine check-ins. But one night after she spoke with the psychologist she curled up on my couch. It was late and Jed still had not returned from debriefing the group. She giggled nervously and it all came out in a jumble of Spanish and the beginnings of happy tears “Can I live with you? Ale said something tonight and she asked me if there was any family I would want to live with and I said you,” all of a sudden we were both crying and hugging and just like that, something sacred and holy happened in my living room. I will never forget it. Finally. In that moment, we were a family. Jed came home to two women squealing and hugging and spilling over with joy. It wasn’t what I was expecting. We wanted to be the ones to ask her! I wanted a Hallmark moment, like a proposal of sort; actually I don’t know what I wanted it to look like. But my heart was fuller than it had ever been.
Back in January, Rubi asked us to attend her high school graduation. Now this is not like our graduations in the US. It’s more like a huge wedding or prom with an insane party, DJ, floor length gowns and tuxedos. We purchased tickets. And studied for her finals together. And I drove her back and forth to school a million times for various things. I was getting this mom-to-a-teenager- thing down. I went with Rubi, her house mom and our friend Bethany to rent dresses and get our hair and makeup done. Her graduation was June 25. We found out that morning that she passed her finals and Prepa was finally behind her.
The first song of the night was for parents and their kids. Rubi’s house parents invited Jed and I to join them on the dance floor. It was basically a five-person group hug with lots of happy tears as they prayed for us, blessed us as Rubi’s family, and symbolically placed her in our arms as her parents. It was really happening. She was going to be our foster daughter. We just had to wait a little bit longer.
Originally we were planning to transition Rubi into our home and family when we returned in September from our support raising trip. We wanted to protect her from too many transitions, moving into our home in July, staying with friends in August, and moving back into our home in September. However, it was clear that her heart was ours. Our hearts were hers. We belonged to each other. We agreed to change our flights to only go to the US for two weeks so we wouldn’t be away from our daugher for long. (A side note, Rubi does not have her passport and visa yet. She has no contact with her biological parents so it would be difficult to obtain before she turns eighteen. We hope to bring her to the States for Christmas and you better believe a bucket list is in process. There will be matching footie pajamas and lots of snow shennanegans.)
A few days later, Jed and I were asked to join the Back2Back House Parent’s meeting. Juan handed out a piece of paper.
Zayner House —-> Rubi
It was right there in black and white. We were foster parents. After a chat with her house parents, they confirmed that she was ready. She was already a Zayner. I didn’t hear a word of the rest of the meeting. My girl was coming home. For always. We made a quick trip to the grocery and picked up balloons and flowers. She was already at our house, of course, babysitting our boys, and we just showed up. And asked her to be our daughter. And she said yes.
Back in 1998, when I was a fifteen year old kid stepping onto Mexican soil for the first time, God knew that my daughter was being conceived. When I was about to turn sixteen, He watched over her birth. He brought me to Casa Hogar Douglas, all those years ago because He knew one day my daughter would live there. He had already knit our hearts together. He kept calling me, over and over, to Monterrey, Mexico. He called my husband here, even when I didn’t want to listen. He was preparing our family for our precious, beloved Rubi.
If you need us we will be decorating Rubi’s room, painting our nails, highlighting our hair, having sleepovers, laughing at her Daddy’s spanish, snuggling with her brothers, playing soccer, cracking up over Snapchat filters, and making up for seventeen years apart. We can’t wait to introduce you to our daughter.