a birthday of sorts

Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Filed under: life | Tags: | 20 Comments »

Twenty three years ago today, I was adopted by two people with the biggest hearts I’ve ever met. I want to pay homage to them, lovers who lost their world so it could be given it to those who didn’t have one.

He was a good ol’ boy with an outlaw temper and a heart bent toward Jesus. He was raised on a dairy farm with horses, calloused hands and the kind of muscles a country girl dreams about. His dark wavy hair and dark eyes were fixed on her from the start.

She was the opposite of him. A cheerleader in short skirts and long hair that matched her golden heart. Not even summers riding horses with a boy who later became Don Johnson could steal her heart away from him. When a girl loves a boy, she’ll do some crazy things. She never went to church until she went with him.

Horseback rides in the Ozark Mountains and basketball games were the terrain of  high school sweethearts with hearts as big as their dreams.

Anyone who knew them back then would tell you they wanted six kids to raise between the farm and church. And there was no reason why this all American love affair couldn’t do just that.

They were married barely out of high school and started their family. It would have been a walk into the sunset if their babies had been healthy.

But they weren’t.

•   •   •   •   •   •

I was born to a fifteen year old, mentally ill girl. All she knew was the streets and how a beautiful girl could survive on them. I was brought up in the trenches and no stranger to the decaying leftovers of existance. I was the oldest of four. My mom took the brass knuckles of life and the hollow haunting in her eyes told so much more than her busted open lips could. Me, my two brothers and sister moved around in separate foster homes for years. My siblings were too young to fend for themselves, but for whatever reason, I was born with two clenched fists and a set jaw. I took care of them the best I could, but evil men are more malicious than a smart mouthed kid from the city streets could maneuver.

We were tossed around like soiled clothes. The pain and abuse we endured raged an unpaid debt all the way into who we would become. My mom could take the beatings herself, but she couldn’t take watching them ripping into my body, too. She tried her best to make sure we were fed, but existing is a monster to those who can’t pay the price. We were the kids out the window who laughed with sunken eyes and hugged with jutting ribs.

I was nine when she put her signature to a piece of paper that said she couldn’t protect us anymore.

•   •   •   •   •   •

Rowland and Donna started their lives with a plan, but then God stepped in with His plan. Their children were born with a disease that killed them. Donna tried to console her husband while she tried to console her aching womb. Her third pregnancy ended when she was twenty-two years old and seven months along. The baby was taken from her along with her ability to conceive again.

They had more love than they could give and when their two living babies started dying from a disease that only existed for them, they began looking outward for babies with no home. They’re simple people. When the city workers stuck a catalogue of broken hearts in front of them, they said yes to the first set of eyes they saw.

They never intended to adopt four kids at once, but couldn’t stomach the thought of siblings being torn away from each other. They knew they had enough love even when the rest of their family thought they were crazy for adopting a ten year old (me), a seven year old, a five year old and a four year old. They were thirty and thirty-one years old and had just buried their second baby. Seven years later, they had to bury their third. ‘To think that God would take a child from his mother while she prayed…’

I asked her, once, why she thought that God would allow her to suffer so much and take her babies from her. Her answer has shaped me and sings in harmony with the message of my life. She said that she believes God didn’t allow her to keep her own children because He knew that I needed a Mommy.

I remember taking a needle and poking holes in our fingers so we could put our blood together and make it official. A kid’s ritual to let her know I adopted her back.

Even after the hell I put them through (some street strays can’t be tamed), they never backed away from being my ‘blood.’ They never changed their minds, no matter how many times we’ve broken their heart.

They gave God their lives and He used them. They walked through things that destroy people.

And now I’m about to show him what he’s in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job. -Acts 9:15

Giving your life to God should not come with a sense of entitlement. He never promised an easy road. He warns the opposite. But, somehow still, He manages to turn loss around and fuse it together into something that sweeps a lot wider than you could have reached had everything gone according to your plan.

I wanted a family, but was born to a woman who couldn’t take care of me. They wanted children, but weren’t able to make them healthy. The two little boys they adopted after us never asked to be born to a mother who loved drugs more than she loved them. God used the open arms of two high school sweethearts to gather the lost treasures of two broken families.

If you’re paying attention to this story and you’re counting, God was paying attention to the details because they got their six kids. We’re not all grown up yet, but we’ve already started filling their house with more. They’re only fifty-three and already have nine grandkids who come running into their arms when they come around.

I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jeremiah 29:11

Here’s to adding to your future out of the future you gave to me.



20 Comments on “a birthday of sorts”

  1. 1 m* said at 3:14 am on April 12th, 2010:













    happiest of birthdays

  2. 2 Becky said at 4:13 am on April 12th, 2010:

    I really enjoyed reading your post today!

  3. 3 Julie R. said at 4:44 am on April 12th, 2010:

    This was a beautiful tribute. I can't even add anything because I think m* summed it up best!

    Happy Birthday, Serena!

    God really knows how to operate inside Plan B.

  4. 4 mandiesmithsegura said at 5:54 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Beautifully written, and what a great story. Happy birthday!

  5. 5 StacyK said at 6:34 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Oh HAPPY day:)

    Your words give this aching womb Hope….

    Thank you.

  6. 6 Serena Woods said at 7:32 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Thanks everyone. 🙂

  7. 7 Jason said at 8:04 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Fantastic…thank you for sharing this with us. 🙂

  8. 8 Elora said at 8:12 am on April 12th, 2010:

    oh my…

    such a rich heritage, serena – an incredibly beautiful story.

  9. 9 Candra said at 8:18 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Serena, what a beautiful tribute to beautiful people. I know the love they have for you, I have had the privilege of seeing it in their eyes. Happy Birthday dear Serena!!!

  10. 10 Tammy V. said at 8:19 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story of grace! I was raised by my biological mother and legally adopted by her second husband who was an addict and became my abuser. I escaped at 16, had 2 biological children, then adopted my youngest daughter when she was 4 whose birth mom was consumed by abuse & drugs. Life is not always linear…sometimes it's circular! Happy Birthday to you~

  11. 11 Kristie said at 8:25 am on April 12th, 2010:

    WOW!!! That was beautifully moving. God is so good. I love to watch him turn what the enemy meant for our harm or hurt and turn it into our best good. Thank you for sharing this story, and happy birthday.

  12. 12 Charmaine said at 8:31 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Beautiful story. Sometimes as you look around you these days it is so hard to see true compassion–so much woundedness–this is compassion. Thanks for always sharing your story so transparently.

  13. 13 Candace said at 8:57 am on April 12th, 2010:

    First, HaPpy BIrthDay Serena!:D Bet ur happy u were born; bet there were days when u wish u hadn't been:/

    When I read ur story, beautifully written btw, I think of my bff Debbie. Tubes were badly scared so odds for hving children was slim. Optimistic Debbie "Come on Art, let make it an adventure n ask God to send us babies no one wants to adopt."

    They signed up right away to at least be foster parents, n a baby came lickady-split! Sean was just very temporary bc he was a blue-eyed white baby who got adopted quickly.

    Then came Ray: black n born hooked on coke which kept him irritable crying most of the early months. Two more came, both mixed-race cast-offs due to drugs or incest or…

    Two years went by n kids thriving & learning, "normal":) A day before adoption was final, the county took them back, no explanation. The grief smacked them hard but then, Debbie got pregnant; felt like a rainbow after a hurricane.

    They started to feel hopeful….ectopic preganacy, emergency surgery, lost baby & tube. SHOCK.

    God opened their hearts again n they adopted w a private Christian agency: 3 newborns from 3 diff families, ALL autistic.

    God's grace fills in where needed:)

  14. 14 janelle said at 10:28 am on April 12th, 2010:

    Beautiful story of God's plan vs. ours – how it can come together better than we ever plan. I was supposed to have none, had 5, God kept 2, gave me one to replace one he kept. A lost

    boy with no guidance or hope. blessings abound when you allow him to upset your preconceived notions don't they? I love surprises and God is great at providing them all the time in many ways. God Bless your arms open wide parents!

  15. 15 Serena Woods said at 2:51 pm on April 12th, 2010:

    I'm so glad their story (and mine) could bring encouragement. They really are amazing people! Still as giving and loving as ever. 🙂

  16. 16 Wendy said at 3:35 pm on April 12th, 2010:

    You have touched my heart on so many different levels tonight. First I am an adopted mother of 2 beautiful children after a long road of pain and loss. When I look back today, I can see God's plan and I couldn't imagine life without our 2 oldest children.

    Second I am a public health nurse for first time low income mothers…mostly teen moms. Every single day I go to work I silently pray for them and their children. Thank you for sharing your story with us. (I look forward to meeting you in Harrisburg in Oct)


  17. 17 Christina said at 5:09 pm on April 12th, 2010:

    "Giving your life to God should not come with a sense of entitlement. He never promised an easy road. He warns the opposite. But, somehow still, He manages to turn loss around and fuse it together into something that sweeps a lot wider than you could have reached had everything gone according to your plan."

    I really needed that today. Thanks ^-^

  18. 18 Ashley said at 5:30 pm on April 12th, 2010:

    I am glad you were given a chance at life. Being your friend makes mine better. 🙂

  19. 19 Lindsey @ A New Life said at 2:42 pm on April 13th, 2010:

    Lots of tears over here…that is beautiful and amazing!

  20. 20 Julie said at 6:01 pm on April 14th, 2010:


    Thank you for sharing that. You give me hope. Our little one was tossed around and is quite feisty. I know God has big plans for her, but I lose sight of that sometimes.

    God bless.


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