There’s a place where these smiles are found and formed. It’s a place where we all long to be every now and then, maybe all the time.
The place really is magical, mysterious and can be found in a thousand different places. Ironically the journey is often filled with angst, uncertainty, tears and disappointment. One of the keys to getting there is not to lose your faith, hope, and love or your “ticket”
Andrew and Jillian drug two suitcases and an empty car seat, with the sales tags still attached to the Southwest Self Check In station. They both fumbled through wallet and purse to find their drivers licenses and a credit card to insert.
It was an act without an ounce of excitement or joy.
Little did they know it was also for an amazing and wonderful reason, an act of futility. They were checking in for a flight they would never take.
Andrew pulled the laser printed baggage claim strips off the check in station printer and labored through peeling of the tape. He tried to align the ends carefully and wondered why he cared. Jillian couldn’t bring herself to carry the car seat. She managed to grab her own suitcase, then looked expressionless at Andrew then down at the seat. Her face and eyes told Andrew, “I can’t bear to carry this, will you?” He nodded yes, grabbed his suitcase and slipped the car seat handle into the crook of his arm and began shuffling towards the smiling Southwest ticket agent who had been watching them with curiosity all the while.
She was in her mid thirties, with brownish-blonde hair, energetic and “super-friendly”, Andrew said. She glanced at the couple and then down at the car seat hanging on Andrews arm. It was, she noticed an infant car seat and said smiling, “Do you have a baby traveling with you?” Jillian looked up at her, somewhat shocked by the question which immediately turned into a tear. Andrew saw Jill’s reaction and stepped into the conversation to answer, “Well, we were hoping to but it didn’t work out.” He went on to explain they had come to Arizona a few days before hoping to adopt.
The ticket agent’s smile disappeared replaced with a genuine and heartfelt sadness for Andrew and Jillian. “I’m so sorry,” she said, further underscoring their sense of her empathy which became dramatically evident just a couple of hours later. She pulled the two bags off the scales and swung them onto the conveyor belt that disappeared just a few feet away behind the thick airport wall. Then purposefully she took the car seat, walked it over to the belt and carefully set in down watching for the few seconds before it disappeared.
Andrew took Jillian’s hand after tucking their tickets in his carry on bag, glancing upward to see which direction their assigned gate was. They walked somewhat lifelessly to catch their flight.
Three days before on Saturday, Andrew and Jillian had arrived at the same airport absolutely filled with excitement, joy and anticipation. The young woman who had chosen them in early July to adopt her baby had given birth. They caught a flight early the next morning and headed to the hospital. Jillian called Jim and Tracy, the family in Phoenix that would be hosting them while the process for clearance to go home took place. She wanted to let them know they had arrived and were heading directly to the hospital. Shortly after hanging up with Tracy, Jillian’s phone rang. It was a social worker from the hospital, “I’m sorry to have to break the news, but your birth mother has made the decision to parent. There’s no reason for you to come down and we advise that you don’t.” Jillian tried to ask obvious questions, but got few answers. The social worker was empathetic and sad to be the bearer of disappointing news but she said, “I’m really not a liberty to say anything more. I am sorry but I have to go.” The call ended.
Andrew couldn’t hear all the details from the social worker, but he could immediately see and sense it was a devastating conversation. Instantly he felt all the life and energy drain from the car.
Somehow, Jillian managed to compose herself enough to type the address to Jim and Tracy’s into Map Quest on her cell phone. Andrew made the next U turn available and the two drove the short distance to their host’s home in tearful silence. Both were thinking but couldn’t get the words out for fear of reaching a breaking point for themselves or each other. Another disruption… their third…WHY? And why so close to the “finish line”
When Andrew and Jillian knocked on Jim and Tracy’s front door, it swung open immediately. Tracy met Jillian with open arms and an enthusiastic smile, Jim grinned widely and extended his hand to Andrew. That something was wrong became instantly apparent by the looks on Andrew’s and Jillian’s face. Their hospitality and attention switched to simply escorting them inside with Jim taking the two suitcases. The car seat remained in the trunk of the rental car.
Jim, broke the sadness of the moment with, “What happened?” Although both Jim and Tracy surmised the disappointing big picture, they new none of the details and both wanted to lend a sympathetic ear. At some point during the conversation, the adoption agency social worker called Andrew. She expressed her deep sorrow, reassured them of other children and chances to adopt and urged them to consider, “hanging out for a few days before going home.” She went on to explain that it’s not uncommon for a birth mother to change her mind about parenting when the realities of why she chose adoption in the first place, come back into view. Andrew and Jillian listened and were also encouraged to do so by Jim and Tracy. They heeded the well intentioned advice despite wanting nothing more than to lick their wounds and head back home.
Jillian, later that Sunday evening booked a long, sad flight home for the following Tuesday.
Andrew and Jillian made their way to the Southwest gate about thirty minutes before the boarding time. The found a couple of open seats together, dropped their carry on bags and slumped into the chairs. They heard the announcement over the PA system, their flight would be boarding in five minutes. Jillian was thinking to herself, “Finally!” when her cell phone rang. She had added the agency to her contact list months ago, “Building Arizona Families” popped on the screen. Jillian’s hand was shaking when she answered but before she could say a word, the BAF social worker blurted out, “HAVE YOU LEFT YET?”
Jillian’s mind went blank unable to process another twist and turn in their journey and particularly at this moment, when they’re five minutes away from stepping on to the plane for a heartbreaking trip home. Jillian glanced over at Andrew with a look of wide eyed incredulity. He was immediately and completely confused. Jillian, managed to get the words out, “Not yet but we’re at the gate and boarding in five minutes.” She couldn’t even bring herself to ask why the call. The social worker on the phone sensed her hesitation to ask and took the initiative so say, “We just got a call from Saint Joe’s Hospital about a 29 week preemie just born, are you interested?” Jillian’s face was expressionless in disbelief at what she was hearing. She emphatically motioned for Andrew to lean over and listen in on the call. The social worker continued with more details, which concluded with, “I know the situation you’re in and you’re at the airport, but take the five minutes before you have to board, think about and call me right back.” Andrew and Jillian’s mouths dropped open and they stared at each other, then at the line forming to board the flight home.
Within the space of five minutes, Andrew and Jillian made a life changing decision to say “YES” to providing a home for a newborn and fatherless child. That was the easy part, now they had to figure out how to get their bags and the car seat back and what to do next.
They both darted for the Southwest gate agent desk after grabbing their carry on’s and slinging them over their shoulders. Both took a deep breath before speaking because they knew what they were about to say was going to be long, confusing and probably impossible to explain and even hard to ask.
An official looking Southwest agent, a gentleman was staring at the computer screen when Andrew and Jillian hustled up to the desk. Despite their commotion, he didn’t look up. Andrew spoke first, astounded by what he was asking, “We have to get our bags off the plane!” The agent looked up, “Excuse me!” Jillian chimed in, “We just got a call about adopting a newborn at the hospital. We have no choice but to get there and need to get our bags”. At exactly that moment, a lady Southwest agent in her mid thirties, with brownish-blonde hair, energetic and “super-friendly” overheard the emotional pleas, she looked over at the desperate couple standing a few feet away. “Aren’t you the couple that checked in a car seat about an hour ago after a failed adoption?” Andrew and Jillian, were stunned. It was in fact the same Southwest agent that checked them in and had been so empathetic to their disappointing story. But how?
In the next moment just as the agent who they first confronted said without making eye contact, “Well, I really don’t think at this point there’s anything we can do”, their new best Southwest agent friend, pushed him away from the computer. “I need to help these people!” she stated it with a degree of authority that impressed Andrew and Jillian immediately. Andrew was thinking, “Well obviously she’s not just some random baggage check in lady”. She was clearly a take charge lady, she’s respected and knows what to do.
At the same time as she picked up a phone on the desk, she glanced over her shoulder and looked out at the plane with the ground grew loading the bags. She got the supervisor on the line, explained the situation, the urgency, what the suitcases looked like, their names and that there was a car seat too.
She put the phone down and turned her attention back to Andrew and Jillian. “I think we’ll get this done. Head back down to baggage claim, that’s where they’ll send everything.”
A few minutes later the plane backed away from the gate. They looked in disbelief at how much had happened in the last fifteen minutes and how much more was going to happen in the next few hours. But first, what do we do now? Our plane just left, we don’t have our luggage, no rental car, no other flight home, and there’s a new born preemie that might be our new son.
The BAF social worker was at the hospital explaining to the birth mother, that Andrew and Jillian were very interested and wanted to adopt her new born son. She went on to explain their recent disruption and that at the literal last minute they had just cancelled their flight home and were making their way to the hospital now to meet her. This was all she needed to hear. This was the family she wanted to raise her son.
Andrew called Jim and Tracy to explain the exciting situation. Jim immediately offered to pick them up and drive to them Saint Joe’s hospital to meet the birth mother and Beau, their brand new son born at 29 weeks.
St. Joseph’s Hospital, NICU serves as the first home to about 800 newborn infants throughout the southwest every year. St. Joe’s has also been the first home of several Sacred Selections babies and their adoptive parents over the past fifteen years. Sacred Selections families are a well known and respected by the NICU doctors and nurses.
By September of 2020 St Joe’s had recently relaxed some of their strict Covid restrictions which allowed for two people to be in the NICU for three hours or one person for an entire twelve hour shift. This allowed Andrew and Jill to share the first visit to see Beau and then alternate shifts going forward. Beau was never without his mother or father… for eight long weeks. Because of work, Andrew had to head home after four weeks but Jillian remained behind always present, holding, touching talking and praying for her new son. The NICU nurses marveled at her tireless, diligent dedication to being by Beau’s side. They often commented by way of encouragement and admiration, how much better NICU babies do, when parents are present and able to maintain regular skin-to-skin contact.
When Andrew and Jillian first arrived one of the neonatologists had a rather, “stern and frank conversation” outlining all of the potential longterm medical complications that often result with such premature infants. It was a sobering perspective of the reality they could be facing. They listened carefully and placed trembling faith in prayer and God’s providential care. The doctor concluded his medical disclaimers by saying just as abruptly as the bad news, “Then again, he could be just fine.” That was all the hope and glimmer of light they needed…the prayers would work.
Andrew, returned home for work. He preaches at a small congregation of twenty mostly an older group of saints, each of whom have become a conglomeration of surrogate grand parents for Beau. Of course, they all were praying intensely and regularly for Beau, Andrew and Jillian.
Jillian took great comfort and confidence in the prayers of the small group but decided more prayers are more better so she made a broader appeal on her Facebook page and it was shared on the Sacred Selections page as well. Within minutes, prayers and posts starting popping up on her and the Sacred Selections FB feed. Jillian took note of where around the country, then around the world people were responding to her request.
Jillian had an idea. She bought a large square of poster board and hand drew a map of the US. She began tracking down each city and town from which people were responding and praying and adding a “DOT” on the map. At first it was just a personal project but soon became just too good not to share. She got permission from the NICU nurses to hang the PRAYER MAP on the wall next to Beau’s incubator. The dots filled the US map quickly, then from countries. The nurses smiled every time Jillian walked over to the map and with her sharpie carefully added one, two, three more.
After eight long but loving weeks Beau left the NICU with Andrew and Jillian. The doctor that had first given them a dire prognosis said goodbye, shaking his head, smiled and told them, “I have no idea how or why he’s doing so well.” Jillian smiled back and looked over at the prayer map still hanging on the wall. He nodded as if to say, “Maybe so.”
There’s another “backstory” Jillian shared during this eight week long walk in faith, a close coworker of Jillian who had been deeply involved in following Beau’s story and was among the hundreds praying for him, had another coworker friend who was a self described agnostic. She listened politely at first, then with interest, followed by intrigue and finally awe. Jillian told me that when Beau came home and without a single adverse medical condition that were all very real possibilities, she believed! Jillian now counts her as a sister in Christ.
As, the picture headlining this article illustrates, Andrew, Jillian and Beau have many reasons to smile. They’ve earned it and they’re enjoying it. Andrew, told me as he looks back and reflects on their adoption journey’s, “There were moments when I was asking, ‘How much more can we take?’ I felt like God was ‘stalling us’, it felt ‘mean’. But Beau is just perfect for us, he’s so worth it.”
And so… eight weeks later Andrew and Jillian checked in again at the Phoenix, Sky Harbor airport with two tickets, two suitcases and a car seat, this time with a beautiful healthy baby boy, snuggly inside and headed home.