Inside Out, Upside Down: An Interview with Emily
The following interview is a part of the Inside Out, Upside Down series, in which we will hear the stories of Christ-following families who have taken part in orphan care. To read more about the series, start here.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the Hooten family! Emily has given us a very honest, down-to-earth perspective through her family's journey of international adoption. I know you will be blessed and inspired through their story. You can watch their adoption video here, and you can follow their family's journey here.
Tell us about yourself! Would you rather have a salty or a sweet snack? What is your favorite book of all time?
Hi friends! Emily Hooten here! Tell you some things about me..hmm..I like to eat sugary cereal in my bed at night, I am a huge fan of any outdoor activity (including fishing), I love puppies, coffee, good conversation, long walks on the beach…and basically anything else you will find on a printed work out tank these days.
Introduce your family.
I am married to my handsome man, Chuck Hooten, who is the worship pastor at our church, a man who truly loves Jesus, and one crazy amazing girl dad, which works out really well since we have four daughters. Yes, four. Lily (12yrs.), Ava (10yrs.), Mae (7 yrs.) and last, but in NO way least, Josie (who is 2 and some change).
How did God first make you aware of the orphan crisis? What was it specifically that grabbed your attention?
Man, social media is such a mixed bag. It can do some serious damage, but it also can be a huge tool for the kingdom of God, when used in a positive way. I follow accounts, specifically on Instagram, that feed and bring to light positive messages. I have seen so much about the orphan crisis, orphan care, and scripture references speaking toward our responsibility to care for the orphan and the widow, in Jesus’ name. It is just a classic truth that what you put in front of your eyes does affect you, and will lead you in a positive or negative direction, and that is definitely what happened in my case.
Tell us about your adoption journey with Josie.
Our adoption journey with Josie…Holy moly I could seriously write a novel on this…I’m going to try to shrink it in hopes that you won’t nod off while reading..here we go. It actually started on a Sunday morning before church. I was reading Psalm 90. (I always read my bible before church to prepare my heart….kiddddding. I wish, but let’s be honest, I’m normally 10 minutes late, my hair is wet, and my kids are half dressed)..but this morning I ended up with an extra 15 minutes..miracles still happen, my friends..clearly God was up to something big.
This Psalm speaks to our days being like a breath and God establishing the works of our hands, and so I prayed, “Lord, you say the time is short. Would you show us the next step as a family to being doers for Your kingdom?” He spoke so clearly in that moment: it was adoption, and it was now. Some amazing things that I didn’t realize until later - that Psalm was written by Moses, an adopted child that God used in incredible ways, and the day I read this Psalm turned out to be ‘national adoption day.’ Okay Lord, I hear you!
So, with my husband one thousand percent on board, we began the journey. Ours wasn’t the story of God giving us a specific place we were called to go. Instead, we just started with what seemed most obvious, and prayed that God would close the door if it wasn’t right, and He did some serious door closing. We finally watched a webinar on Asia put on by Lifeline, an adoption agency that many of our good friends in Birmingham, AL work for. The next morning Chuck and I woke up with so much clarity: our daughter was in China!
A little back story on our Josie. We would find out later that she had been left in a box at 3 months of age, with a note that read, ”We can’t care for her. Her mother has a very bad cancer and she (Josie) needs medical care we can’t pay for. We hope somebody will find her and save her life.” Now before you are tempted to think, “How could anyone abandon their daughter?”, let me tell you that it is one of the most sacrificial acts of love I think I will ever experience. I can’t wait to tell Josie one day that her biological parents loved her enough to do the unthinkable. They let her go in order to give her a chance at a heart surgery that could save her life.
You see, in China there is no medical assistance, so if you can’t pay for the service up front, they won’t perform it, unless the child happens to be in institutional care. You also can’t drop your child off at an orphanage. It is illegal, so the only way to get them there is to leave them somewhere public, without anyone seeing you, hoping someone will find the child and take it to a local police station or orphanage.
I pray that somehow, someway, Josie’s precious parents could know that she had one of the top heart surgeons in the entire United States work on her tiny heart, and she has a family in Tennessee that loves her more than words could ever express.
What were your fears throughout the process and the greatest challenges to overcome?
Let me answer this by putting it the form of questions that were swirling around in my head throughout the process. Lord, how are we going to do this financially?? Is this paperwork ever going to end? How will my other children be affected by this huge life change? China is a “Special needs” program…Lord, am I really equipped to handle the boxes that I checked YES or MAYBE to? God, how do I check NO to any box? Are you in this or did I totally make this whole thing up and now I will have ruined my marriage, my kids, my life, and this child’s life? (My thought life is a pretty dramatic place to be) …
The questions go on and let me just tell you, if you are going through this process, please reach out to me. I won’t think you are crazy! I will simply applaud your bravery for being able to express honest and vulnerable thoughts.
Describe the moment you saw Josie and knew she was more than just another orphan — she was your daughter.
The moment we saw Josie…goodness gracious, I really don’t have words! I have friends with very different stories, so that immediate feeling of “you are my daughter” may take time to grow, and that’s perfectly normal and okay. But in my case, it was instant. She was 19 months when we met in Nanjing, China, but it felt as if I had known her since birth. God did the miraculous for us in bonding, and honestly, I think a lot of that had to do with the challenges we were going to face when we landed in the United States.
Josie had multiple severe heart defects, and immediately had to be seen by a cardiologist and scheduled for open heart surgery at Vanderbilt. She was only in the U.S. about 8 weeks before that big surgery day. And let me tell you, that was one of the hardest days of my life. Then came the hardest months after through the long recovery. But I am so thankful for how God knit our hearts, so that there was such an abundance of love, trust, and cuddles through those seemingly never-ending days.
International adoption often seems overwhelming and intimidating to families who are contemplating taking the leap. What pushed you to adopt internationally instead of domestically?
Yes! So true! International adoption is so intimidating. Our story was not one of immediately being called internationally; it started domestically. Like I mentioned, God just obviously closed doors for us and refined our vision as we went along, so that we would dive into the Asia program, regardless of how intimidating it seemed. Where God calls you, He equips you, and He provides in the most amazing ways, not in our timing, but in His. Patience is a word I can’t emphasize enough. It is a requirement to cross the finish line of the crazy process that is international adoption. Disclaimer: I am not a patient person, so it stretched me to my limits..scratch that..way past my limits, which is often right where you see God working mostly clearly.
In what ways has adopting Josie turned your world inside out and upside down? Even in all the difficulties, would you do it again?
In all the ways. Hahaha! When we first received Josie’s file, we told the girls about her (we felt it important to involve the girls in every milestone of the process so they felt very much a part of the story). We sat them down and explained that Josie’s heart condition was very severe. The cardiologist we met with, who looked over her file, explained that if we said “yes” to her, she might very well not be strong enough to live through the surgery, and of course if they weren’t able to fix things, her life span would only be around eight years at best. We asked the girls what they thought about this prognosis, and Lily, our oldest, said without even thinking, “Well, then, she would have a mommy and daddy and sisters who loved her and took care of her for those eight years.” For the one millionth time, my children showed me more of Jesus.
Josie has completely turned our life upside down, right where we were always meant to live. It’s a place where time isn’t relevant, trust is vital, our perspective is opposite of the world’s, and our God is so clearly at work. Would I do it again? A million times over. When you experience the transforming power of Jesus in your life, you can’t imagine going back. That’s what this process does. When I have tasted the richness of chocolate cake, would I go back to the time of knowing only the taste of bland crackers? That would seem absurd. The richness of God’s love and grace and mercy through the process of how Josie became a part of our family makes it strange for me to even contemplate how it would be possible to want to go back.
How has God deepened your understanding of the God’s love through adopting Josie into your family?
We’ve all been through the adoption process if we are believers in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5, John 1:12, Galations 4:5, and 2 Corinthians 6:18 are just some of the verses that speak to the fact that before we knew Christ, we were all orphans, and that through our relationship with Jesus, we are now a part of God’s family. We are all adopted sons and daughters! One of our many fundraisers (and let me tell me tell you, there were many!) was a t-shirt with Ephesians 1:5 on the front. It has opened the door for so many gospel conversations about the physical orphan crisis and adoption, but also about the spiritual adoption that is the difference between life and death of our souls! Friends, adoption will give you so many beautiful chances to declare the love of Jesus! And now look, you have gotten me all fired up…okay next question..haha..
What would you tell someone who has been thinking of pursuing international adoption but hasn’t taken that first step? Are there any resources or organizations that were especially helpful to your family throughout the adoption process?
First if you don’t have a life of deep prayer, this will give you one. HA! Pray, pray, pray my friends, and then take a step, any step, toward obedience to God’s call to care for the orphan. James 1:27 makes it puhhretty clear that we are called to be involved to some extent. Find your "extent" and pursue it. Like Psalm 90 says, our days are numbered, the time is now, and we need to seek God’s guidance on how He wants to establish the work of our hands for His kingdom. There are so many amazing avenues to explore, so I would reach out to your church, any friends you know who have adopted or been involved in orphan care, do some googling, and if you want to, just jump in with an organization and start. We used Lifeline Christian Services, and they are fantastic!
What is one piece of wisdom you would tell a family as they go throughout the adoption journey?
Find a group, or an individual who has walked through the process before you. Our social worker was so amazing, but the people who had actually experienced the process from my vantage point were invaluable. Don’t let this process isolate you. We were made for community. Also, you might struggle with asking for help, and you are gonna need to get over that quick. Ha! Allow others the privilege to serve the way God has called them: by praying, by giving, by supporting, by cleaning your embarrassingly dirty house, by fixing you a meal, etc. …did I mention we were made for community? ;)
If you can’t find a person to ask questions to, to confide in..please reach out to me! If I can’t help answer things, I will help you find someone who can. And God bless you on whatever journey you are on in caring for the orphan in the name of Christ. I pray that in it, you will see His indescribable love for you personally, and His love for all of humanity, especially for those who seem helpless and forgotten…