It was here. The moment I had been waiting for had come, and I was ready to walk down the aisle to marry the godly man I loved. My heart was so full! And yet, amidst such great joy and excitement lingered deep sadness and pain. You see, my sister-in-law was carrying a precious baby girl in her womb, Victoria Grace. Victoria was due to be born via c-section just five days after our wedding. Initially, I was quite excited when Kristin told me about her pregnancy over a game of cards. We realized how close this baby’s arrival may be to our big day and joked about Kristin’s water breaking at the wedding. But, none of us ever imagined this . . . a baby girl who would be born only to live and breathe on this earth mere seconds, minutes, hours, or maybe days.
Our wedding was so special, a joyous day of celebration and family. God’s presence was evident. Just moments before I walked down the aisle, I started weeping with my dad, saying how much I longed for Victoria to be here so I could hold her. But, Victoria was at my wedding. My nephew Caleb (Victoria’s brother) was supposed to pull a wagon down the aisle with his brother, Jacob, and two cousins, Elizabeth and Hannah, aboard. Starting down the aisle Caleb, not quite three years old, needed some assistance completing the task. Kristin jumped in and pulled the wagon the rest of the way. Victoria went down the aisle at my wedding in her mother’s womb with her brothers and cousins. And as we were saying “I do” and our family was awaiting the arrival of a child not to live in this world, there was a powerful but unwritten chapter to our family’s story that Victoria would deeply inspire and influence.
We came home from our honeymoon early to be a part of Victoria’s short life here on earth. We held her, loved her, prayed over her, sang to her, swaddled her, told her stories, rocked her, kissed her, and cherished every moment as we watched her weaken with each passing day. One night in the hospital, the family took turns holding Victoria through the long dark hours so Mark and Kristin could try to get some rest, knowing their beloved daughter was always being held. Those moments with Victoria were holy.
We knew God was calling her to Himself, and only in His arms would she find healing, but it hurt. We said goodbye to Victoria and held fast to the hope of a coming day when we’d join her in God’s presence. While Victoria was with us, God began to reveal Himself to us in new ways. He taught us how to simply belong to Him. He showed us what it means to be a beautiful servant. He revealed in a deeper way the gift of family. He reminded us that our lives are for His glory. We came to know God’s victory by His grace. And in our pain and sadness, He further opened our eyes and stirred our hearts toward a broken world around us. Unseen to us, part of that broken world at the time included a three-month-old baby boy living in rural Ethiopia. His name was Teshale, and he would one day become our son.
In 2009 we felt the Lord calling us to start a family. After a lot of thought and prayer, we decided to pursue adopting two children from Ethiopia. We were thrilled and terrified to the core. We had no idea what an incredible up and down journey adoption would be! Victoria’s life had shown us that God restores, and restoration is at the very heart of adoption. Through Victoria’s life, our trust in God and our understanding of joy, fellowship, and gratitude had all deepened. And oh how we would need these things every step of the way. We waited a year for “the call” – the one where all you hear on the other end of the line through your tears is that there are children who need a family. Our hearts melted as we watched two beautiful Ethiopian faces flash across our computer screen, Teshale and Belaynesh . . . our son and daughter. We named our son Malachi Justice Teshale and our daughter Hadassah Joy Belaynesh.
The next few months included an initial trip to Ethiopia, preparing our home for two children, and finally bringing them home seven months after that phone call. Malachi was three-and-a-half-years old and Hadassah ten months old when they joined our family. It was an intense, difficult, transforming, beautiful, and redemptive time in our lives. We thought of Victoria so often throughout our adoption and especially during the huge adjustment of actually bringing our children home. We had a picture collage hanging in our hallway of us first meeting Victoria. The look of joy on our faces as we were holding her and yet the looming reality of her approaching physical death made no sense in these pictures! Everything about Victoria’s life seemed so right and so wrong. Everything about adoption can seem so right and so wrong.
We’ll never forget the scene at the orphanage when we picked up Malachi and Hadassah. An eight-year-old old girl was leaving with her new family the same day. She literally wailed when the time came for her to say goodbye. As beautiful and wonderful as adoption may be, everything this child had ever known was being ripped away from her in this moment. The uncertainty, fear, and grief that gripped her heart was gut wrenching to witness. Her mother was crying quietly to herself as she watched her daughter clinging to her nanny. She suggested to the orphanage director, who was in tears as well, that maybe they come another day and give their daughter more time to adjust to the idea. Her father, a very large man, gently walked over and simply sat down beside his daughter, resting his hand on her back as she shook. Eventually the little girl turned, crawled into her daddy’s lap, and curled up like a sleeping toddler as the sobs convulsed through her small frame. He just held her and wept. They sat there for quite awhile until their crying had subsided. Her daddy gently wiped her tears away and the little girl indicated she was ready to say goodbye. He lovingly carried her out of the orphanage, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as he set out to finish the journey of bringing his daughter home. It was heartbreaking, so right and so wrong. What a picture of how our Heavenly Father loves us in our grief. Life makes no sense and can leave us aching, searching, and desperate. God, in His great grace, gave us the gift of Victoria . . . a sweet baby girl who showed us we could rest, knowing we have a Daddy in heaven whose lap we can crawl into and where we can weep. He wipes away our tears and makes all things new. These truths penetrated our hearts as we watched the miracle of adoption unfold as Malachi and Hadassah learned to trust and belong, simply being our children.
It’s amazing how God weaves stories together. We’ve since adopted our third-born, Abel Josiah Temesgen. Abel’s adoption was a journey of simply saying yes and leaving the “impossible” in God’s hands. When we received Abel’s referral, we were once again reminded of Victoria. Abel’s very name means “breath.” Mark and Kristin always say how every breath Victoria took was worship and how each breath belonged to God. Abel was so frail and weak as an infant. When we read his story and saw his picture, we knew that only the mighty hand of God had sustained his life. Abel’s story is marked by miracles of healing and a loving Father who made him His child long before we called him our son. We don’t know who gave Abel his name in Ethiopia, but we have to wonder if Victoria didn’t smile big when Jesus told her about her newest cousin’s name, knowing that somehow her life was again being woven into our family. Many children have been added to our extended family since Victoria. With each child we welcome into our arms and every sweet baby born into heaven’s arms, Victoria’s life is only sewn deeper and deeper into the very fabric of our entire family.
We’re honored to call Victoria our niece and grateful for the impact she’s had in our lives and beyond. Victoria’s Little Lambs Fund is now actively ministering to vulnerable children in Ethiopia, the birthplace for three of our children. We’re blessed to now have four children in our family with the birth of our daughter, Mary Emily Wilmadine (named after my grandmothers who are with Victoria in heaven). Our family is blooming with life, both on earth and in heaven. We watch Malachi play with his cousin Hannah, both of them born just months before Victoria, and we think of Victoria playing in Heaven. We celebrate another year of marriage, always days before Victoria’s birthday, and we think of Victoria celebrating and dancing each day by Jesus’ side. We worship together, singing about walking from earth into eternity, and we think of the day we’ll all see Victoria again. We go to the hospital to celebrate new life, and we think of the moments God gave us to hold Victoria before Jesus called her home. We go to the graveside to say goodbye, and we think of the reunions and meetings Victoria’s having in heaven. We watch faces of Peruvian children filled with pure joy, and we think of Victoria singing Jesus’ name with every tribe and every tongue. We all long for the moment Victoria runs into Mark and Kristin’s arms again. I can imagine their family standing there in the arms of Jesus on that glorious day, surrounded by all the people who love Victoria and were touched by her life, from aunts and uncles to Shipibos and Ethiopians. From the womb to the world, the gift of Victoria Grace has transformed a family and is restoring lives throughout the nations. Praise be to God![Follow the Erb family’s journey at http://erbadoption.blogspot.com/].