November is National Adoption Month, so I want to highlight a family who has been blessed by adoption.
A few months ago, when I read R.K. (Randy) Mortenson’s baby announcement on Novel Journey, I knew I wanted to invite him here to share his family’s incredible story.
Randy is the author of the immensely popular Landon Snow fantasy adventure series of books, published by Barbour. The books have biblical themes and are wonderful stories for kids — and grown-ups!
After serving “eight great years” as a Navy chaplain based in Jacksonville, Florida, the Mortenson family recently moved across the U.S. where Randy now pastors a church in Mayville, North Dakota.
Hi Randy. Can you tell us about your adoption journey?
In late 2002, my wife Betsy and I had been married 9 years and were still childless. So far as we knew, we were capable of conceiving; it just hadn’t happened. We began to think about adopting, and we talked with a couple who had recently adopted a boy from Vietnam.
Betsy had actually been to Vietnam on buying trips twice as the director of a gift shop in Okinawa (where I was stationed with the Navy as a chaplain). She loved it, and we thought of looking into an international adoption there. However, agencies and doors were closing in Vietnam about that time, and just when we were wondering where else we might look, an opportunity from the States was brought to our attention.
A young teenage girl was pregnant, whom we knew through family connections, and was seeking a family to adopt the baby. The father, also a teenager, was from Mexico. Might we be interested?
That question: “How would you feel about adopting a Mexican baby?” came to us in an e-mail. Betsy had read it, printed it out, and brought it to me speechless with tears in her eyes. I read it and the world did one of those collapsing and then greatly expanding motions. The decision hardly seemed a decision. This baby seemed predestined to be our little girl.
Since the biological mother and father knew us and we knew them, it was an open adoption, meaning we did not go through an agency. We hired a lawyer to represent us and do all of the paperwork. We were living in Okinawa, and the baby was born in Minnesota, so there were some loops to jump through.
We found a qualified counselor in Okinawa to do our pre- and post home studies. One of the greatest things was — we got to both be present for the delivery. Oh … my … goodness. Easily the greatest moment in my life since my wedding day. And even cooler in a way, that my wife and I were sharing this moment of expanding our love and growing into a family. I even got to snip the umbilical cord!
That’s wonderful! It sounds like you had an ideal experience. Your daughter is so blessed to have you as her parents. Can you tell us about the special meaning of her name?
We named our baby girl Kyra (long “i” sound: “Ki-rah”) which sounds like the Greek word for “rejoice.” The day after she was born we took her home from the hospital. Actually, we took her to my mother’s house, until we could get her passport to fly to Okinawa.
Because of our unusual situation — being in the military overseas — we were able to have the adoption finalized by the judge (who happened to be a former Marine Corps officer who had served in Okinawa!) when Kyra was four days old. Incredible.
Kyra turned 3 in August and started preschool 3 times a week this fall. She loves it. She brings us so much joy!
You have another baby now, a son. Can you tell us about him?
This is another rather remarkable story!
It’s late 2005, and we’re living in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m stationed at Naval Station Mayport nearby. We know we’re leaving Florida in October 2006, when I would be separating from the Navy. Betsy and I still haven’t conceived. Our family of three is wonderful. But … we’d like Kyra to have a sibling. And we’d like to have another child for us, too. (smile.)
So we decide to start the paperwork at a local Christian agency called Bundle of Hope. At first we think another Hispanic-American baby would be nice, like Kyra.
But when the counselor came to do our home study in late January, I shared with him the visions I’d been having. Over the previous two months, whenever I was picturing another child in our family, I’d realize after the fact that I was seeing a little black boy. Every time.
Wow — this sounds amazing!
So I told him this, and he seemed thrilled. I also said, “We are totally open to whatever child God may have in mind for us. But … I keep seeing this little black boy.”
The home-study counselor shared this with the case counselor at the agency. Three days after the home study, on a Tuesday, we turned in our final piece of the application: our family picture profile. Then it was time to wait. And pray.
It was February now, and to be selected as adoptive parents and go through the process and finalize an adoption before October … well, this would take a miracle. It could be months — or longer — just to be selected by a birth mother. But all we could do was wait. And hope. And pray.
And so we did.
For one whole week.
The following Tuesday, one week after we had turned in our picture profile, the agency counselor called. An African-American woman who had been coming to the agency for counseling for a few months had come in that day saying she needed to find a family for this baby … now.
So the counselor took out our profile, which included pictures of us and described who we are as a family, our interests, jobs, Christian testimony, and some of our history. The counselor also told this woman about my vision. And the woman broke down in tears. “This is the family,” she said.
She didn’t even want to look at another profile, though the agency usually shows at least three. The woman knew she was pregnant with a boy. And she was due in eight weeks.
This time it wasn’t an e-mail, but I called Betsy on my cell phone on my way home from an evening meeting at the base chapel.
“Hurry home,” she said.
“Honey,” I said. “I’m on my way home. What’s wrong?”
“We’re going to have a baby boy … in eight weeks!”
The world shrank; the world expanded. My heart thudded. I gaped into the cell phone. And I tried to concentrate on driving. Eight weeks!
That didn’t give you much time to get ready!
Colby actually arrived six and a half weeks later. Born on a Sunday morning. I called another chaplain on the way to the hospital and he said he’d cover for me at the chapel service. Betsy and I had met the birth mother previously. In fact, Betsy had accompanied her on a few doctor’s visits, and Kyra and I went to one of the ultrasounds to see Colby early. And, lo and behold, once again, we were both present for our child’s birth. This time Betsy cut the umbilical cord! Wow.
How is your son doing these days?
Colby is 8 months old now, and he is so cute! I have never seen such kissable cheeks in my life. Man, he’s fun.
And the story doesn’t end there. Let me backtrack for a moment, first.
After we heard the good news about Colby and were preparing the nursery for him at home, we knelt by the empty crib and prayed. The emotions zing up in me now as I think and write about it again. I prayed how grateful I was that we hadn’t conceived, because Kyra and now Colby were meant to be our children. I was so content and so fully satisfied with the thought of the four of us. It had been God’s plan. No question in my mind.
And then Colby arrived and I thought, well, now we’re set. A boy and a girl and a family of four. Perfect.
Then on Colby’s two-month birthday, last May, I came home from an early morning prayer breakfast downtown. I was about to change into my uniform to go to a Marine’s retirement ceremony, when Betsy tells me to go look in the bathroom.
What? I’m thinking I don’t have time for this. But I go in and look. We were starting to get our house ready to sell so I thought she might have painted something. I don’t know. Seeing I’m not noticing anything, she finally comes in and points, unable to speak, to two plastic sticks resting across a box on the counter. Honestly, I still don’t know what I’m looking at here.
Then she picks one up and hands it to me and I stare at two red stripes near the end of the stick. Betsy leaves the room, her hand over her mouth. Time stands still. It speeds forward. It races back. It stops again. I feel like I’m spinning even though I’m standing completely motionless.
“Two stripes means you’re pregnant. Two stripes … pregnant.”
We hug and smile at each other like we’ve never smiled before. I get into my uniform and race to the car and pull out of the driveway, stopping to roll down my window and laugh out loud and wave to my wife and keep laughing, and crying, and laughing, and crying, all the way to the ceremony.
Congratulations, Randy and Betsy! This is wonderful news! When are you due?
Betsy’s due in late January 2007. It’s another boy!
Can you share with readers here how you feel about going through the adoption experience twice?
Words cannot begin to describe how positively we feel about adoption. Wow. Two books we looked at are The Adoption Resource Book by Lois Gilman and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.
Most of all, for those interested or curious about adoption, I’d recommend talking to someone who’s done it. Also, visit a local adoption agency and talk with a counselor there. There is a ton of stuff online, of course, but the best resources are people who know the experience and the process. The fears and frustrations. And the joy and love involved.
Betsy’s and my experiences were both pretty unusual, in that we didn’t have to wait long (it can take a very long time) and we met the birth mothers and got to be there with our new babies right from birth. I haven’t looked up the stats, but I do know that most couples seeking to adopt are white, while there are a lot more non-white babies who need families and homes. So, the wait to adopt an African-American or biracial baby is often much shorter. And your odds of finding a baby are much greater. And, simply because of the great need, the cost is often even less.
Our daughter is Mexican-American, our son is African-American, I’m Scandinavian (75% Norwegian and 25% Swedish), and my wife is mostly Scandinavian with a trace of Irish. When our next son comes along, we’ll have three distinctly beautiful children.
Can you guess what our favorite bedtime song is? Kyra already sings it by heart:
“Jesus loves the little children,
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
We’ve also made two additional verses (and are working on a third), which are specific to Kyra and Colby. And they’re just for them. Kyra loves to sing them all.
One Scripture I’ve come to appreciate and understand more fully is Ephesians 1:5-6: “(in love) he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Thank you so much for visiting here, Randy, and for sharing with us your marvelous journey of adopting your children — and your special news that your family will soon be adding another son in January. We’ll keep you and Betsy in our prayers in the exciting weeks ahead!
Randy Mortenson will be happy to answer questions individually by email, rkmortenson at polarcomm.com.
You can find out more about him at the Landon Snow website or the Barbour website. This month, you can also read a new short story involving the Landon Snow characters in the December issue of Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine! Click here to read “Christmas Lights.”
[Edit: Thanks, Barbour, for linking to this interview under News, Press, and Reviews:“November is National Adoption Month and Barbour Publishing is proud to share the story of best-selling author R.K. Morteson’s family, who have been truly blessed by adoption.”]