We love you, Zoe!
We had thought about adoption for many, many years, but the fuse of the rocket was lit with a dream. In 2001, we were church planting with a small group of young marrieds on the north side of Cincinnati, Ohio. We had two sons, ages 8 and 4, and were early on in a pregnancy when Kelsey had a dream.
In the dream, her doctor appeared to her with a clipboard in hand. Our first two sons had been born in Tennessee so this was the first time we’d used this particular doctor, and both of us were very pleased with him. He had a warm, approachable demeanor that gave expectant parents confidence.
“Congratulations!’ The doctor said to Kelsey. “You’re having a girl!”
Kelsey was excited in the dream – we’ve always said that the Lord knows what He’s doing and never got too caught up in wishing for a boy or girl specifically, but it was fun for her to think that after two boys, the house might be full of pink and lace.
“You’re having a girl…” he continued. “And you’re going to name her Savannah Zoe.” With that, the dream was done.
The next morning, she shared the dream with me and we wondered….could this be the word of the Lord for us? Kelsey is a born researcher so naturally, she began to investigate the meaning of the name. She knew that “Zoe” meant “Life” – that seemed like a great name for a baby. It was the “Savannah” portion that had her scouring the internet…and she wasn’t crazy about what she found. It seems that any explanation for the name Savannah referenced “a barren place.”
I remember Kelsey turning to me and asking “Who would name their child ‘from a barren place?’”
Some months later, an ultrasound technician stared at the screen of her ultrasound machine and announced “Congratulations! You’re having a boy!” With that announcement, the idea of a little girl named Savannah Zoe dissipated. Some months later, our son, Zion Isaiah, was born and we laughingly chalked up the whole dream episode to raging hormones.
Dreams are sneaky. They raise their heads where you don’t expect them, in the places and times that make the least sense. Then, when you think you have figured out how they’ll play out, they disappear for a season. Often, later they spring up again, almost forgotten yet very much alive.
In the years that followed Zion’s birth, Kelsey had a series of dreams that played out with remarkable consistency. In those dreams, she found herself standing on a balcony at night, overlooking a dark back yard of a home that backed up to undeveloped land. In the darkness, she could hear a squeak – a faint cry of a newborn infant. As she squinted into the night, she would just barely see the form of a baby laying out there.
Each time in the dream, she ran downstairs and out the back door to rescue the baby. As she approached the child, a Latino woman would come out of the darkness. Kelsey knew this woman to be the child’s mother. The mother would protectively scoop up the baby and hold it to herself. The baby was a girl – no diaper, no onesie, just wrapped in a blanket.
Sensing the mother’s fear, Kelsey assured her that we would care for her child. Eventually, the mother would hand the baby to Kelsey and drift back into the shadows. Kelsey would carry the child into the house and began to clean it and comfort it.
This dream played itself out a number of times, each time leaving Kelsey to wonder ‘who is this baby?’ and ‘what might this mean?’.
In time, we began to understand that this dream and the first related to the story of Ezekial 16. In that passage, God finds a baby – naked, unwashed and uncared for, lying in an empty field – much like the baby Kelsey saw from her balcony. He notes that the baby was not cleaned, rubbed with salt or swaddled in cloth, but rather thrown in a field, presumably to die. With the authority rightfully belonging to the God of all creation, He prophesies over the baby – one word, although arguably the most powerful, reality-altering word that child could receive. “LIVE.”
Beginning with that one word, reality began to shift for that baby. Ezekiel wrote that God made her grow like a plant of the field. She developed into a beautiful young woman who God returned to and made covenant with. That one word in the desert changed her destiny. With that piece in place, Savannah Zoe – “from a barren field, LIFE!” – made a lot of sense to us…except for the fact that we had three sons and no Zoe in sight.
Even with these two dreams and the realization of what they might mean, we could not have written a script that better intertwined it all.
On a Tuesday afternoon in October, 2006, God flipped the prophetic switch in our lives. Years of dreams and preparation began to work in sync.
I received a phone call from a social worker in Las Vegas. A baby girl had been born the day before. The social worker described her as “half African American, half Latino, with a gorgeous head of hair….”.
My head spun as I sat down on the corner of our bed. I was almost afraid to get excited – had my daughter been born halfway across the country? I knew it was customary for birthmoms to choose from a number of prospective families. “How many portfolios are you presenting to the birthmother?” I asked.
“Just yours. She’s here. If you want her, come and get her.”
Other than Kelsey saying “Yes” when I married her, I’m not sure when any other words have had such an emotional impact on me. It was as if I was getting thumped in the chest. “If you want her, come and get her.”
Adoption can be expensive and this particular adoption was going to be at the higher end of the spectrum. The social worker talked to me about fees and I quickly knew we were about $7000 + airfare short of what we would need – and we’d need it in days.
Within minutes, God provided the plane tickets, so we booked a flight for the next day. The next eighteen hours were spent scurrying around, gathering last minute paperwork, running to the police station for fingerprinting, packing a quick suitcase, and probably sleeping a few hours, although I don’t remember that part at all. In the minutes before we left for the airport, I typed out a fast email to friends and others who had been following our adoption process. It told of our situation and bluntly said “We need cash….can you help?”.
An hour or so later, waiting to board our flight to Las Vegas, I opened my laptop for a last minute peek at email. A new message appeared on my screen with news that made me shout for joy. “We were watching a documentary last night on the potential for revival in Las Vegas,” the note said. “And we want to invest in Las Vegas by wiring you $7000.” With that, the money for our adoption was completely provided.
I’d been in the Nevada desert a number of times before, but neither of us had ever been to Las Vegas. We’d never had a desire to go. In fact, the slight experience we’d had with Las Vegas was not a good one.
Some years before, Kelsey’s parents both fell ill with cancer. Tragically, they died within 100 days of one another. Due to some bad financial decisions and their expensive illnesses, they died nearly penniless. Her father left her a box of engineering books and some change on top of his dresser. Her mother left a few dollars and a small life insurance policy.
The family member who was the beneficiary listed on the policy paid the funeral bills and booked a flight to Las Vegas, where most of it was gambled away in a few days. While it was certainly legally theirs do to with what they wished, it seemed to add an exclamation point to two lives that were taken too quickly.
Loss and waste….that was the backstory that influenced our initial thoughts on Las Vegas. Nevertheless, we looked forward to our first visit to the city with great anticipation. There was life waiting there for us.
As the plane began to descend, we were watching out the window as the desert gave way to subdivisions and golf courses. Somewhere over the campus of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, Kelsey and I experienced one of those unusual visitations of the Lord. We both heard Him in a silent inner voice as He spoke the same words to both of us: “Your inheritance was squandered in this city, but I have sent you back with real money to buy back your own inheritance.” We wept to realize how well loved we all are by God.
As we raced through the clamor of the Las Vegas airport on our way to the rental car counter, I received a phone call from Lou Engle, founder of TheCall. We had been in conversation about our giving direction to a series of arena sized gatherings for fasting and prayer across the nation. He had just been given a check to cover the rental of the NFL stadium in Nashville for TheCall to be held the next August. At the time, my mind was anywhere but my duties with TheCall, but the timing of connecting with Lou in Las Vegas would later prove to be part of God’s grand drama.
In our rented car, we made our way through afternoon traffic to the University Medical Center with one brief stop – to buy a video camera. We laugh about it now….we had raised three little boys without so much as thinking about a video camera, but this was our little girl! It seemed everything was different.
Walking on to the nursery ward, we found a nurses station and asked to see a baby by the last name we had been given. The nurse on duty gave us a blank stare. “Who?” She asked.
I repeated the name. She looked at her computer screen. She checked a clip board. She consulted with another nurse who gave her the same blank stare.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have a baby by that name.” She said.
A million thoughts raced through our minds. Was this a joke? A cruel hoax? Had the baby been removed from the hospital? I couldn’t believe we had come all this way…for nothing.
A half second later, a third nurse chimed in. “That baby is downstairs in neo-natal.” She said.
It was as if the upside down earth had righted itself. I could breath again. We had to restrain ourselves from running down the stairs to neo-natal…after all, our girl was there!
The nurses at neo-natal were expecting us. We were whisked through a waiting area and into the nursery itself. Two rows of bassinets sat in the center of a large room, head to head. We followed a nurse down the row, looking at each puff of hair protruding out from the bundle of blankets, wondering “Is this one ours?”.
Near the end of the line, the nurse turned on her heels and warmly told us “This one…she is yours.” Truer words have never been spoken. She picked up the baby and handed her to Kelsey, then directed us to a small room off the nursery.
“Go in here,” she said. “You can have some privacy.” With that, she shut the door and we were alone in the quiet with our little girl. We pulled the blanket back from her face and stared. Kelsey gently sat in an easy chair and, as she gazed at the face of her new little girl, began to weep. In that moment, every dollar, every paper filled out, every phone call….it was all worth it.
After a season of time with our little bundle of joy, we left to go to our hotel for some rest. We would return the next morning to meet with the social worker.
We had been referred to this adoption agency by a friend in the adoption business and had been told “Be aware. It’s not a Christian agency…and it is a business.” The next morning, again with Zoe in our arms, we were excited to hear our social worker tell us “Everything looks good on your paperwork, but if you’re praying people, it never hurts to pray a little as it goes through.”
We chuckled. We assured her we were praying people.
One thing led to another and she began to tell us the story of her pastor and their church. They wanted to build a prayer tower on a nearby mountain that would loom over the city of Las Vegas. Reaching across Zoe, who lay sleeping between us, she pointed to the mountain and said “A few months ago, Lou Engle prophesied that there would be a house of prayer on that mountain that would contend with every false ideology in Las Vegas…..have you guys ever heard of Lou Engle?”
Kelsey and I stared at each other. The lengths to which God would go to orchestrate the rescue of this little girl were astounding us. He had knit together a cast of characters around prayer, breathed a little prophetic wind on it and sat back to watch the fun.
A few days later, someone emailed us a note about the meaning of Las Vegas’ name. It referred to an open meadow or field. It was another one of God’s poetic touches. We were so happy to bring Zoe – this little girl, rescued from an open field like the baby in the book of Ezekiel – back home with us.
Even then, it wasn’t over. Almost one year to the day of leaving Las Vegas with Zoe, we were back in the city. This time, rather than a hospital, we stood on a large stage erected in the UNLV basketball field house. We stood near our new friends, Paul and Denise Goulet – the social worker’s pastors – and with Lou and Therese Engle, giving leadership to TheCall Las Vegas, as 8,000 people gathered to pray and fast for a move of God in their city. I had been privileged to spend much of the previous six months networking within the city and doing the behind the scenes production for this massive gathering.
Our full inheritance, bought with real money and a touch of the prophetic, is still yet fully to be realized but it started like that of so many others, with a word of LIFE spoken over a little girl in the barren field.
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