Caroline Faith Schmelzer strains every muscle for all it’s worth and pushes her little legs as fast as they can go. She is absolutely determined to keep up with her older siblings, oblivious to the fact that they are much older than she is and maybe a little more able or something. She is also oblivious to the fact that she does not look like them. Maybe she doesn’t notice because they do not seem to notice either. It does not matter. On this sunny afternoon, she runs fearlessly across the expanse of green grass in pursuit of her big sisters and brother. They turn around to let her catch up and then she is scooped up and passed back and forth like a favorite baby doll. She squeals in delight and flashes her biggest smile. There is no coincidence that Caroline’s birth mother named her Lete Hiwot, which translates as “girl of life.” She is indeed that. I think that it translates as “live wire.”
Almost two years old, she was born on July 28, 2012, in Ethiopia. Her mother died of HIV soon after. Her father was also very ill. An aunt tried to care for the baby, but eventually had to take her to an orphanage. Although she has only lived in the United States for six months, in the minds and hearts of her parents, Jody and Allison Schmelzer, Caroline Faith has been theirs for years. It was May 3, 2010, when they submitted their application to adopt. They were as certain of their decision as they had ever been about anything in their lives. Their agency assured them they would have a baby within a year. They announced to their friends and family that they had taken this step. They had done their due diligence in being certain God was calling them to this. So, the preparations began. And so did the agonizing delays, detours, and bumps in the road.
Who could have guessed then that 32 months would pass before the baby girl they longed for, prayed for, and planned for would become a full-fledged member of their family? It is humbling and awe-inspiring that baby Caroline Faith had not even been created at the time they chose her name and began to pray for her arrival in their home. What an image of Psalm 139 and the truth of verse 16, “…your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
By the time they stepped off the plane in Jackson with Caroline in their arms in September 2013, Jody and Alison knew with crystal clarity that the journey traveled those long months was about so much more than adopting their baby.
As Alison says, “It kind of turned into something else. It turned into a journey of waiting and waiting on the Lord. We began to see—we weren’t just waiting on our daughter, we were waiting on the Lord. We look back and know that God needed to grow some things in us. It was faith-building time like nothing we have ever been through.”
They learned to trust God, seek Him, and surrender to His will, His timing, His plans in a way they could probably never have done had everything gone smoothly. There had already been a deep commitment in both their lives to serve God, but like a marriage that grows closer and deeper with time, their personal relationships with God grew in new ways because the path they walked was so very opposite of the path they were expecting to walk on the way to adopting this baby girl.
How It Began
The journey actually began a few months before that day in May when the ink on the myriad of papers was dry and the application in the mail. Six months earlier, God began to stir Alison’s heart in a most uncomfortable way, but it was not the first time God had rattled her comfort zone. She told Jody that she just had this “spiritual discontentment” as if God had more in mind for them than what they were doing. She had no idea what it would be but she felt like God was about to ask them to do something that would be quite out of the box and they should be ready for it.
Jody had already left a comfortable career to enter the ministry. They knew when they jointly made that decision they were making lots of other decisions along with that big one, not the least of which involved income and standard of living. They had taken that big leap of faith as a young couple with three very small children, and they had never regretted it. God had been oh so faithful in every way.
Since Jody discovered a personal relationship with Jesus Christ during college, his goals and focus and priorities had always been about serving Christ and making sure that everyone he knew had that same opportunity to experience a personal relationship with that same Savior. It seems like they had already “passed the test” of putting God first. What else was there?
They had three children within four years. Alison worked part time as a pre-school teacher. Jody had taken the position of associate pastor at Pinelake’s Madison campus and was also finishing up his seminary studies. Life was very busy at the Schmelzer home. Every day when Callie Grace, Carson, and Caty went down for naps, Alison relished the quiet and enjoyed catching up with her friends through social media and a number of blogs that some of her old college friends had started. Sometimes she would click on a thread that took her to blogs of other moms her age, girls she did not know. She vicariously began to follow a family from Nashville who had adopted a child from Ethiopia. The videos of their little girl blending in so beautifully with their four biological children touched Alison. She laughs that she had never “stalked” someone she did not know, but she kept coming back to their page and simply fell in love with this family. She followed them almost daily! Her thoughts were, “I am so glad that family adopted that precious little girl. I could never do that, but I am so glad they did.”
And then one day she got that impossible-to-ignore sense that God was speaking straight to her heart. “This is it. This is what I want you and Jody to do.” She knew in the way that one knows God is behind a thought. She knew because God had moved her heart in other situations, and it was never without a battle between her will and His. This time would be no different. Alison’s initial response was, “No. That is too hard.” But God was not going to stop.
She sat at the computer and literally cried. There were countless reasons to not want to do this.
Back in their dating days when things turned serious and they had talked about their future, Jody and Alison had always planned to have three children and then to adopt a little girl from China. They had talked about it a lot in the beginning, but then, as Jody says, “Life happened.” They never mentioned that baby from China anymore because life was just so full and so busy and just so the way life is for a young couple with little children, a mortgage, and everything else. Jody says, “We were maxed out at that point.”
The thought of a baby girl from Ethiopia scared Alison to death. She argued with God telling Him exactly why that just would not ever work. She won’t look like us. People will stare. Nobody will accept her. Jody will never go along with this idea. And God, we can’t afford it. What about that part? Hey, God—can we go back to talking about the little girl from China? Or even Russia? But not Ethiopia.
But there was no peace anywhere until the day she surrendered to the idea. She said, basically, “Okay, God. If this is what you are calling us to do, then you work it out.”
Alison had not mentioned any of this to Jody. How could she? Their decision to enter fulltime ministry in the throes of three little stair-step children had put them in the category of “survival mode.” The very last thing they needed was another financial obligation.
But the more she went back to the videos of the family who had the little girl from Ethiopia, the more comfortable she became with the idea. The more comfortable she became, the more she began to really want this child, the child who did not look like them, the child who might invite stares, the child she had never thought she could love the same way she would love a child who DID look like her own. All of those thoughts slowly vanished. She just had no idea how God was going to work this out, but she knew only that He would if He really was calling them to do this hard thing.
She put off mentioning it to Jody for three months, and then there was the day in March 2010, when she knew this had to be the day. Before this day—March 17— was over she was going to approach Jody about adopting a baby girl from Ethiopia. He was headed to bed that night when she said, “Wait. I have to talk to you about something.”
So Alison spilled it out between sobs. It was a huge relief to finally tell her husband how God had grown this idea in her heart over the past few months. She showed him the video of the family in Nashville. He thought they were as incredible as Alison thought they were. He also thought as Alison had thought initially, “That is so wonderful that God called them to do that, but I don’t think this is for us. This would be just too difficult for the season of life we are living.”
He did appreciate Alison’s heart, so he agreed to pray about it. Prayer was a big priority in the Schmelzer household. “I’ll pray for you,” wasn’t a nicety—it was a sure thing. Alison’s promise was to submit to whatever Jody decided. “If you come back and you don’t feel it, we’ll walk away. Just promise me you will pray, and I knew he would,” she says.
Alison and Jody agreed that they would not discuss this idea with anyone—not their parents, not their children, not their friends—nobody. This would be between them and God. If He wanted them to do this, then He had to make it very clear.
Over the next six weeks, Alison says, “It was almost comical.” God more than showed up. After living more than 30 years in Mississippi and never once meeting an Ethiopian or really even hearing the word, ‘Ethiopia,’ everything changed. It was like Ethiopia was a daily encounter.
A friend casually mentioned to Alison on the phone one day that a mutual college friend was about to adopt a little boy from Ethiopia. Chance conversation in passing, but this time when Alison heard the “word”—she noticed.
Alison even pulled into a parking space on Sunday morning and hit someone’s car. She left a note on their windshield apologizing, asking them to call her and let her pay for the repairs, and in the meantime kept wondering how in the world she could have done something like that. There was no explanation for her carelessness. Until she found out the family whose van she hit were missionaries to Ethiopia who happened to be visiting Pinelake that Sunday. They were also adoptive parents of a little boy from Ethiopia.
Connecting with that family led them to other families in Madison they had never run into anywhere who had adopted children from Ethiopia. During that same time, Alison was doing some volunteer work at the Perkins Center in West Jackson. One afternoon, a group of volunteers from Piney Woods pulled up in a bus—they were so polite and so helpful. Someone mentioned they were all students from Ethiopia. One of the girls volunteering with Alison commented on the well-behaved group of Piney Woods kids and said, “We are thinking about adopting a child from Ethiopia.”
Ethiopians were suddenly everywhere—every day. There was no getting away from the word “Ethiopia.” Yes, Lord. I think we get it.
Jody’s prayers for confirmation were answered, too. His daily Bible readings, no matter what devotional guide he used, seemed to lead him to scriptures about the “orphans,” the “helpless.” His heart was changing. He can only explain it as God.
He was so sure of God’s call that he now wanted this unknown baby girl as much as Alison did.
Surrender was just the first step.
And so the application went into the mail. The next step was in God’s hands, but He was not in a hurry.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends; With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day,” reads 2 Peter 3:8. The Schmelzer’s developed a new understanding of those words!
Alison decided early on to document every leg of the journey in the process of adopting Caroline Faith. She kept a journal as well as a photo album with pictures of every milestone. Mailing the application made the whole thing, for them, a done deal. By this time their three children—ages three, four, and five—were eagerly anticipating the arrival of their new baby sister. It was very much a family affair.
As they eagerly shared their news with friends and family, they intentionally chose to remember their own reactions to the initial idea and extended understanding to anyone whose reactions were shock or disapproval. However, many shared their joy. They were suddenly welcomed into a huge community of other families who had adopted transracially. There was also a huge outpouring from people who said, “We don’t think God is calling us to what you are doing, but we want to help you finance this undertaking.” And checks began to arrive from people they did not even know. How like God!
One of their original misgivings involved the financial cost. How would a young pastor’s family be able to come up with the kind of money adoption would take? The figures that had been quoted to them were staggering. At some point in their deliberation, God impressed on both of them the fact of His sufficiency. Even so, it has been in the category of the promise in Ephesians 3:20—beyond all they could ask or imagine. Alison’s detailed spreadsheets tell the story. Every time they spent something she wrote it down. Every time someone gave them something she put it on the spreadsheet. The numbers are almost exactly equal although the gifts total slightly more than the expenses. They agree that they would tell anyone considering adoption that fear of financial cost should never be a factor in saying, “No.”
In the beginning, they were patient. God had so confirmed to them that this was the journey they were to take and to trust Him with every detail. They were watching the calendar and anticipating the day when the phone would ring and they would hear the news that their baby was waiting for them.
And then those certain six to nine months began to drag into endless months of delay. A year passed. Then a second year passed.
Learning to Wait
Early in the process, they were assigned a number on the waiting list. In 2010, they were number 93. Every time a child was referred to a family, the Schmelzer’s moved up a notch. The list was updated periodically. They began to notice with each report, the amount of time it took from one referral to the next started to get a lot longer. In March 2011, things seemed to hit a wall.
There had been some governmental issues and some corruption issues—not with their adoption agency, but there had been other nefarious groups who had soured the process and caused adoptions to almost stop. Alison was devastated when she got the news from the State Department that Ethiopia was about to decrease their adoptions by 90 percent and that they should be prepared to wait five to seven years to complete the process. There was a chance that the country would shut down all adoptions. Nobody knew at that point what was going to happen.
Should they just opt out? Alison calls it “heart wrenching,” but they decided to take 24 hours to fast and pray. Both came away agreeing that God had told them to stay the course. “We’ll wait it out. If that’s where our baby is, then we’re going to wait for her,” Jody said.
At the start of their journey, Hebrews 11:1 was the verse Alison and Jody had claimed as a constant reminder of God’s calling them to adopt the child He would choose for them. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” They were now living that out every day as there were months when all the news was bad. It looked like there would be few, if any Ethiopian babies coming home with Americans.
Jody says that once they decided to wait it out, “We clung to Philippians 1:6 where the Word says, ‘I’m confident that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.’ We knew He had called us to this. We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He had confirmed it in a million ways. And so we continued to believe He was going to complete it.”
But when? The thought occurred to them that their three children could be almost grown before this new baby arrived. Were they still committed to the adoption? Oh, yes.
Worth the Wait
On May 22, 2013, the Schmelzer’s received what Alison calls “another downer message” about the wait. They had moved up to the top of the list finally, but there was no guarantee that they would receive a call—ever. The next day they left on a family vacation.
For the first time in a long time, Alison put her phone in her purse and resolved not to sit and stare at it waiting for the call they so longed to get. The family was in Fairhope eating at one of their favorite lunch spots that day, and the call she had waited on for 32 months came. She did not hear the ring.
Jody, however, had put his phone on the table and when it rang, they saw the caller ID was the same area code as their adoption agency in Portland, Oregon. He took the call and the well-behaved Schmelzer family created a scene right there in the middle of Panini Pete’s. Their baby girl was waiting for them. She was going to be theirs—just like God had promised.
They rushed to their hotel to set up their computer and get their baby’s picture and hear her story. There is no Christmas morning in anybody’s memory that could compare with the Schmelzer excitement that afternoon. Getting Caroline Faith Schmelzer had been every bit as painful and anxiety-ridden as going through pregnancy and childbirth could possibly be, and the result was the very same as when that new baby is placed in your arms the first time. Who wouldn’t do it all over again because your precious baby is so worth it all!
Adoption rules required that Alison and Jody make two trips to Ethiopia. The first to confirm that this was indeed their child—the one they wanted to be in their family—and then a second trip weeks later to complete the paperwork for her Visa and bring her home.
It was September 7, 2013, when Miss Caroline Faith, in the arms of her parents, after a 30-hour flight, was greeted at the Jackson airport by a MOB of friends, family, and—okay—fans. What a homecoming and what a welcome.
For Alison and Jody, the joy was overwhelming. As they sat in their den alone the next afternoon, all the family and well-wishers gone, they looked at each other and said, “What if we had said no? What would we have missed?”
Alison says people ask her how she feels six months later? After all, the honeymoon is over and this baby girl is 24/7 in her life. Is she still sure this was the right thing for their family? She says, “I just feel full. My heart feels so full. When you see God’s hand of faithfulness on you and you watch him demonstrate his faithfulness in ways that blow your mind, you can’t help but just be in awe. I pray that every time we look at Caroline Faith, we will continue to be reminded of that—that God is so very faithful.”
Jody, with a huge smile on his contented face, says, “This journey was about God. It was his calling, his faithfulness, and his glory. It was about so much more than adoption.”
And life just doesn’t get any better than that.