Here’s the story of how Zeke came to be with us.
Spring Break 1996 - Mexicali, Mexico
I began serving Jesus as a 17 year-old senior in high school. That's a long story for another day, but there is an important part of that I need to tell. It was my senior year, and my longtime girlfriend had broken up with me. During that relationship I had cut off all ties to my friends, and was left standing alone. With nothing left to turn to, I decided I'd surrender my life to Jesus. Soon after, God brought a friend named Noelle into my life. She had been a Christian for a long time, and was encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and go on a mission trip to Mexico. I distinctly remember the conversation we had about that mission trip. "Jody, I think you should go to Mexicali this year during Spring Break." Dismissively, I responded, "It costs a lot of money, right?" Noelle said, "It's $100." I said, "Sure, if I find $100, I'll go." To which she responded, "I'll pray that God sends you that $100."
I got home that night, and my dad said "Jody, my boss needs his fence painted and he's willing to pay someone to do it. Would you like to earn some money?" I begrudgingly responded, "How much does it pay?"
"$100." Well, I guess I'm going to Mexico.
Although I had become a Christian 4 months earlier, I hadn't truly surrendered my life. I was a pretty focused kid, focused on making money. I was reading books like How to Win Friends and Influence People and Think and Grow Rich, and I had already decided I would be a millionaire by the time I was 25. My plan at that time was to strike it rich and retire around age 30.
The mission trip seemed safe enough. I was going to be part of the kitchen staff. We would get up at 4:00 am and make breakfast for the 2,500 high school students who had come from all around the country to preach the gospel to children, through Vacation Bible School programs. It was the first time in my life my sole purpose was to serve others. We had a great time, singing, playing games, and just loving being there.
I had met a group of students from Apple Valley, California, who asked me if I wanted to join them for the day. I agreed, and the following day, Wednesday, in the middle of Spring Break, I drove with them in a van to a small village in Mexicali, Mexico which would forever change me.
The day was spent playing, doing Vacation Bible School with them, loving them, eating with them, falling in love with their culture, and falling in love with them, really. There was one little boy in particular. He was 3 years old, with very chubby cheeks, a thick head of jet black hair, and didn't speak a word the entire day, in English or Spanish. I was told by his sister his name was Quiel, and I thought he was mute. We spent every minute together until dinner. Cute as cute can be, and all he wanted was to be loved.
Late in the day, after dinner, it was time to for us to go back to the camp. I knew I would never see any of those people again, and I was looking around for Quiel, but I didn't see him anywhere. As we were getting into our vans to leave, Quiel and his sister came walking up, just in time to say goodbye. He ran to me. I picked him up in my arms, and Quiel buried his nose into my neck, his very chubby right cheek lay against my left shoulder, and his full thick head of black hair was wet with tears. I tearfully explained, in Spanish, that I was leaving and I wouldn't be seeing him again. Finally, I said I have to go, and whispered, "Te amo, Quiel (‘I love you’).” This little man, who hadn't uttered a single syllable the entire day, who I didn't think could even speak, picked his head off of my shoulder, looked at me in the eyes and said, "Te amo, Hody." I nearly crumpled to the ground.
As our van drove away, God broke and softened my heart. The entire ride back to camp, I wept. I was sad, for sure, but it was deeper than that. I realized there is so much more to life than money, than things, than what I could acquire. People. My life is going to be about people and relationships. That day God gave me a missional heart.
Kirby's Birth - Scary and Life-Altering
Fast forward 15 years to the birth of our youngest, Kirby. We were in a military hospital, in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere, my wife was sick, and her sickness was about to end her pregnancy after 37 weeks. Alison was ready to push and deliver our healthy baby girl, and the doctor checked Alison one last time. The doctor's countenance dropped, and I could see it in her face. "She's breech."
Two minutes later Alison was in the OR and I was frantically putting on my scrubs to assist the doctor. A new life flashed before my eyes, one with just me and my two boys. Fear gripped me. All alone, I dropped to my knees and begged God to save my girls. Moments later, I was assisting the doctor by pushing with all of my might on Alison's abdomen, trying to physically turn Kirby in the womb. The doctor said if Alison had been any further along than 37 weeks, it would have never worked. Well, it worked. It was the first time that doctor had succeeded in a mid-labor external cephalic version (manual turn of a baby). Sufficed to say, I was relieved, but I was determined that would be our last biological birth.
Living under the Same Roof on Different Pages
Kirby's first year of life was a very difficult one for us. We were still living in the middle of the desert, both literally and figuratively. I knew I was done having kids, and Alison wasn't convinced. She felt our family wasn't yet complete. I set an appointment to make sure we would not have any more children, and Alison's heart was broken, shattered. Although she reluctantly gave her approval, it was only on the condition that we seriously consider adoption. It was something we had talked about for years, so I agreed and went through with the surgery.
For a year and half after the surgery, Alison and I lived on separate pages regarding our family. Alison knew our family wasn't complete, but I was not yet convinced. Kirby had exhausted us. Although she had brought immense joy, lack of sleep and living in the middle of the wilderness had taken its toll on Alison. I barely recognized the woman I was married to. The hundreds of hours of sleep she was missing was difficult for everyone. Adding the scare I had during Kirby’s birth with the difficulty of having another newborn, I decided there was no way was I having that happen again. So I dug in my heels, and committed that we were done having children, biological or otherwise.
Consequently, Alison was crushed. The man she dated had claimed he wanted seven kids. The man she married wanted a big family, and loved children. We had been through seven long years of infertility to get our children and now we would say, "no more"? She didn't recognize the man who had told her his story, about the little boy in Mexico who changed his life. What happened with that little boy, Quiel, who largely led Jody to become a day camp counselor, a teacher, and a youth pastor? Where was that man now? Lying next to her in bed was a man who was a lawyer, and no longer a teacher. He was the father of three children, and no longer wanted to add to that number. This was incomprehensible to her.
We were at an impasse.
A year and a half ago, we came to (emotional) blows late one night into early the next morning. Through tears and pouring out our hearts to one another we both (I was unaware, too) came to a very important discovery. My missional heart had been buried. I was a slave to my law school loan debt, and I was afraid if I let my heart be touched by that missional heart again, I would quit my job and [irresponsibly] go on the mission field. I knew I couldn't do that, so I had let my heart harden, to children, to missions, to God, and to my wife. I reluctantly agreed to begin the adoption process on one condition: It had to be international. I didn't want to adopt from the US. This adoption would be to change the trajectory of someone's life. Ideally, I wanted to adopt someone like Quiel. He would have brown skin and speak Spanish (or would have, had he grown up in his country of origin). So we began our search. But we set parameters. The main one was that we needed to keep the birth order (Kirby was 2). Immediately, everywhere in the Western Hemisphere below San Diego was not an option because the youngest adoptable child from any Spanish-speaking country was 4 years old. Looks like I will not get that little Hispanic guy I was hoping for. Well, now what?
So we tried Africa, specifically the Democratic Republic of the Congo ("DRC").We got very excited about this possibility. In the midst of our adoption, the government of the DRC stopped issuing exit visas because of some questionable practices among foreign adoption agencies and therefore closed this option for us.
The rest of Africa? None worked with our situation because governments had closed their adoptions to outsiders or because of the time required in country (two months or more).
So we tried Haiti. But there, you meet your baby, spend two weeks with them, and are reunited two years later. Our hearts couldn't handle that.
Puerto Rico? That seemed like a good option, but we couldn't find an agency that had successfully completed a Puerto Rican adoption! So that was out. We thought maybe China? Six year wait list.
Russia closed, Korea was out.
So what's left? Sigh. The US.
I dug in my heels. "No. I'm not doing a domestic adoption. The whole reason I agreed to this was for missional reasons!"
Alison was not deterred. [This should be a lesson to you! When God places something on your heart, fight for it!!!] She contacted several agencies about completing a domestic adoption. Do you know how awful adoption agencies can be? They don't call you back. They don't email. They don't respond to simple inquiries. For someone who lives in a world where you deal in logic and reason and responsiveness, I was disgusted by the lack of any of those found at the agencies we gave money to (in the form of adoption applications).
Then one night, everything changed for me. I had an epiphany. Aunt Tracie! I could do a domestic adoption because of Alison’s Aunt Tracie.
Spring 1996 - 215 Miles from Mexicali, Mexico
Flash back to 1996, Alison was also 17 (we’re only 5 days apart in age), and she was helping her aunt and uncle find their baby girl. The same exact time I was in Mexico, meeting Quiel and having my heart changed, Alison was speaking with a good friend of hers about adoption. You see, Alison’s aunt and uncle had been married for many years, and could not have children. Heartbroken, after losing 7 babies to miscarriage, they decided to adopt. Their home study was complete, and they were just waiting for the baby to be placed. But it wasn't happening.
Alison, in a conversation with a good friend learned that her friend's unmarried sister was pregnant. Alison told her friend's sister if she wanted a wonderful family to adopt her child, she knew just the parents. A few months later, Jack and Tracie picked up their baby daughter from the hospital. Alison was instrumental in bringing her aunt and uncle their oldest daughter, Carlie. A very special relationship ensued, and Alison is now Carlie's godmother.
The Baby Arc Comes Full Circle
Jack and Tracie later moved to New York, with their daughter, Carlie, and then moved from New York to what seemingly was the most random spot on the map anyone could imagine, Hurricane, Utah. Tracie had taken a job with a pregnancy crisis center 2,200 miles from their home in New York. A few years later, Tracie began working for an adoption agency, Premier Adoption, in the next town.
So, one night in the kitchen, Alison and I were still at an impasse regarding the adoption. I still didn't want to adopt domestically, but then something occurred to me that, for some reason had never occurred to either of us.
What about Tracie's agency? She speaks so highly of it; why hadn't we considered that?
What if God orchestrated this whole thing starting 19 years ago?
What if one reason God had Jack and Tracie move from New York to middle-of-nowhere Utah was so we could find our baby!
After all, back in 1996, God used Alison to find a baby for Tracie, whom he had prepared before the beginning of time to be the mother of Carlie.
What if God now wants to use Tracie, to find a baby for Alison, whom He had prepared before the beginning of time to be the mother of Ezekiel?
How awesome would that be? Talk about full circle!
And it wasn't something anyone had considered. Closed door after closed door. We had to search the entire world, only to have every stinking door slammed in our faces, until we found the agency that would lead us to Zeke, an agency we NEVER WOULD HAVE HEARD OF had it not been for a seemingly random move from New York to Utah.
Okay. Impasse over. We're adopting domestically, I'm totally on board, and I'm more excited than ever! We are more excited than ever!
"I've Got the Name!"
Because I had grown up with a name that can be mistaken for a girl (sorry Mom, it's true), I always wanted to name my son a hyper-masculine name, one that might be mistaken for a cowboy. Number one on the list was Duke. Honorable mentions? Cal, Tex, Chet, and Zane.
But because God gifted my wife with a brain, she promptly vetoed all of these wonderful names. "If we have a bulldog, you can name him these names, but not our son."
Fine. But I'm not naming him Kelly!
Then, in the middle of the adoption process, I ran across a toddler whose name was Ezekiel. And it hit me. Zeke! That's an awesome name, and I think I can sell it to Alison! So I immediately called Alison and told her I have our son's name. "It's a biblical name, and it means strengthened by God! Ezekiel! And we can call him Zeke!"
Much to my surprise, she agreed! Finally! Someone might think my son is a cowboy! I like it.
And we had our name. Getting closer.
Wanting to Give Up, but the Money Keeps Coming In!
So many situations. So many nos. Too many. "Sorry, Birth Mom didn't choose you." Over and over and over and over and over.
In case you grew up in Antarctica and haven't heard, adoption is expensive.
I know, I know, but Jody's a lawyer! He makes a ton of money! No, no I don't. I decided a long time ago that lifestyle is a lot more important than money. And my wonderful job affords us a good comfortable life, with lots of time off and very reasonable work hours. But we aren't rich. That's for sure. In fact, we had $2,000 to put toward the adoption. That's it.
But the money came rolling in.
We went to California, and Alison's sister had orchestrated people donating to a garage sale for us. That garage sale earned us $1,100. Then we came back home to Colorado and had 2 garage sales totaling $2,900!
The money really started rolling in on Christmas Day, 2013. Some good friends from the military, we'll call them Pat and Hannah, called to tell us they were giving us $5,000 toward the adoption. Hannah had had several miscarriages, and we were praying and believing that God would give them a baby. Hannah had wanted a tennis bracelet for a long time, but the Lord prompted her and she said to her husband, "Let's give this money to Jody and Alison for their baby. That will last forever. This tennis bracelet is fleeting." By the way, Hannah got pregnant less than a month after they gave us the money, and she carried him to term. They had a healthy son not 10 months after they blessed us with that gift!
A few weeks later, Alison got a message from a friend who, a couple of years earlier, had adopted a wonderful, happy, healthy little boy. Incomprehensibly, he got sick and suddenly died as a toddler. Instead of flowers at his funeral, they had asked people to donate to a fund. She and her husband wanted to give that money toward our adoption. I don't think we've ever been more humbled. By the way, within a few months of them giving us the money, she got pregnant and now they have a wonderful baby girl.
Then people started donating from all over the place. $500 from that young couple, $200 each month from these good friends. $1,000 from more good friends.
In September, we received a $5,000 grant.
November 19, 2014 was a big day. It was Isaac's birthday, and I took half a day off from work. We spent it bowling and playing video games, every 5 year-old's (and let’s face it, mine, too) dream. I checked my email, and we learned of a $1,000 grant. Then we got home, and there was another $5,000 grant in the mail!
I started texting and calling friends with the good news! We're only $7,000 away!
A good friend texted and said, "Oh, we sent you a check this last Saturday, it should be there tomorrow or Friday." "Seriously?! Wow!"
Another friend texted and said, however much you have left over, we're covering the rest! Boom! One day, and our adoption was taken care of.
And then, the drought began. Nothing. No situations. No possibilities. No new birth moms.
Then a birth mom would appear. It wasn't exactly the situation we wanted (maybe drugs or alcohol was involved, for example), but we wanted to be considered anyway. And we weren't chosen.
Then again. Another possibility! But then birth mom looked at our profile book, and chose someone else.
Then we weren't chosen again. And again. And again.
And every time, we'd get our hopes up, and then they'd be dashed, again. And again.
But we'd keep going back to the money. If we weren’t supposed to adopt, why did we have all of the funding? Why did so many people give so much if we weren't supposed to keep going? I honestly think if it hadn't already paid for, we would have quit shortly before Zeke came along.
Still, there had to be an end point, though. We couldn’t keep doing this forever.
Finally, I had a conversation with my heartbroken wife. Let's give it until the end of 2015. It's too painful. It's just too much. That email we keep getting, turning us down, again and again, is killing you. Every time you get that email, it gets worse.
"Okay. I think that's a good idea." So we have until the end of the year... sigh.
Not the Typical Situation
Typical situation is: Birth Mom in Las Vegas contacts the agency around the sixth month of her pregnancy. The situation is posted on the adoption agency's secure website, and families decide whether they think they are a match. Birth Mom reviews family adoption profile books (pick us, please pick us! book), and chooses one. Agency contacts chosen family that they are, in fact, chosen, and contacts everyone else to tell them they were not chosen.
This is not at all what happened in our situation. One week before Zeke was born, Birth Mom did a google search for adoption agencies in Phoenix. She tried the second one down on the list, and didn't like the person she talked to, so hung up. She then tried another agency, but it went straight to voice mail.
Finally, a little further down the page, she saw the name Premier Adoption Agency. She liked the sound of it, so she tried the phone number. Immediately, Premier's program coordinator answered the phone, her name is Isabel. Let me tell you something about Isabel. In a world of namby-pamby people who are terrible on the business end of things, Isabel is a light—she is incredible at her job, she is articulate, highly intelligent, savvy, and if I had my own business, I would attempt to hire her away from her job—and there is no one you want more to answer the phone when a possible birth mom is calling. After a conversation with Isabel, Birth Mom decided to use Premier.
A word on Birth Mom. She is amazing. I can't give a lot of details about her, but I will tell you that she placed Zeke for adoption for one reason. She loves him. She knew she wasn't able to give him the life she wanted him to have, she chose life, and she did the most self-sacrificial thing I have witnessed. She loved him so much, she gave him to us. It’s a picture of the love that Christ has for us. It’s awesome in the literal sense of that word.
The day Zeke was born, Birth Mom went to the hospital via ambulance, and delivered him 30 minutes after arrival. She stayed to give him colostrum, and then left. She couldn't stay because his birth was a secret to her family. Still, no one knows.
After a second phone call with Premier, Birth Mom said she didn’t want to see profile books, she just wanted the agency to choose the family. Well, the agency chose the next family on the list (not us) who was a Mormon family. Birth Mom told Isabel, she didn't really want him growing up Mormon, and that she'd like him to be with a Christian family. Isabel said, "Okay, then I'm going to choose my favorite Christian family, the Hursts!"
One Phone Call Starts the Ball Rolling
Here's how it went down.
Jody had taken a week off of work. It was the first time in our lives he took a vacation when we went nowhere. Smack dab in the middle of that, Alison got a call, Saturday (3/21) evening at 7:00pm, from a number showing Las Vegas. When Alison answered, it was the director of our adoption agency. At first, I was sitting on the couch, watching her, and then I saw her face light up, I mean, her face was glowing! Then the jumping up and down and pointing dramatically at the phone began. I knew immediately we had our baby. I ran over to the kitchen asked told Alison to put the phone on speaker, so I could hear. Isabel explained the situation and offered to send pictures and records so we could take time and decide. Alison and I both immediately said, "No need to wait. He is ours!" Before called anyone or started devising a plan on how to pick up Zeke, we immediately fell to our knees in tears, praising God for completing our family.
Within an hour, one of our friends, Tina, was in our home with a box full of newborn baby clothes and a willing heart. (Earlier that day we had exactly one outfit in the house for a newborn boy.) I went to work to pull things together there, and Alison, overwhelmed by emotion, couldn't think straight, so Tina packed our whole family for the trip. Alison fell into bed at 1:30, and I crashed at 2:30. Six hours later the five Hursts were on the road to Phoenix to get our sixth.
We drove 16 hours straight to Phoenix. My parents' best friends, Tom and Connie, live in Phoenix and Connie contacted us through Facebook and told us she would be mad at us if we didn't stay with her. Tom was out of town working, so it was just Connie and we were welcomed with open arms into their beautiful home for as long as we needed to be there. This was an amazing blessing because this all happened in the middle of Spring Break. Hotels were $250 per night and up. Plus, it's a hotel! How awful to stay in a hotel with a newborn baby?
Also on the drive, I got word from my supervisor and my boss I was not expected for two more weeks at work. They were taking care of everything. (As an aside, it was perfect this happened in the middle of my vacation, where I already had coverage for court, trials, etc. for the first three days we'd be in Arizona.)
The agency told us we could go see Zeke on Monday, but he would have to go to foster care before he could be released to us on Tuesday. But then we got a call from the social worker and she told us she decided to release him from the hospital straight to us. At 10:45am Monday, she called and told us to come get our son.
We met the social worker on the third floor lobby of the hospital with an infant car seat in hand and butterflies in our stomachs. Connie stayed with the big kids as Alison and I walked into the nursery. As soon as we walked in, I scanned the room for my son. Honestly, I didn't even see any other babies. My eyes went straight to the jet black hair. Interestingly, Alison didn't see him. She started scanning the room on the opposite side and saw all of the other babies with their little hats on. One of the nurses said to her as she pointed him out, "There is your baby." He was big and had no hat, on account of the massive amount of hair he has. No hat needed. Alison immediately picked him up, tears streaming down her face. We had prayed for this baby for a year and a half. Dreamed of this moment when we would hold him in our arms. Here we were. We took pictures and video and strapped him into his car seat. We brought him out to the lobby where the big kids oohed and aahed over him and told him how much they loved him. 20 minutes after arrival, we got into our minivan and left that hospital. Complete.
Interestingly, Birth Mom named him Nathaniel, which means gift of God. She didn’t know it when she named him that. But God knew.
Although that’s an awesome name, Ezekiel John has some history to it, as it turns out. Months after we decided on the name, Alison was prompted to look up Ezekiel in Spanish. It's spelled Ezequiel. And how do you shorten Ezequiel in Spanish? Quiel. I had no idea until a month or two before Zeke was born. We picked a name without even connecting the story to that little boy who changed my life, the little boy who finally, after years of denial, convinced me to want to adopt.
Meeting Birth Mom
Initially, Birth Mom didn’t want to meet us. After all, she didn’t choose us, the Agency did. Then she looked at our profile book and saw many, many “coincidences.” I have to be careful what I write here because her identity is secret, but let me tell you these similarities were not mere coincidences. Our parenting styles, interests (think Disney), backgrounds, even geographic similarities and philosophy of life are very similar. After reading our profile book, she decided she definitely wanted to meet us.
So Wednesday, in the middle of Spring Break, I drove with Alison in a van into the area where we met Birth Mom. It looked very similar to somewhere I had been before. In fact, it looked exactly like a little village in Mexicali, Mexico, where God had started something in my heart 19 years earlier, on a Wednesday, during Spring Break.
We met her, had lunch together, and she held Zeke. She snuggled with him, loved on him, smelled him, and cried tears all over his big ole thick head of jet black hair. She told us so many times how she wasn’t crying sad tears, but happy tears. She was so excited for the life he was going to have with us, in our family. She said, “He was meant for you!” She thanked us!
As we were saying goodbye, she hugged me for a long time and told me how excited she was that I would be Zeke’s dad. It was a very emotional and wonderful time.
And then it was time for us to get in our van and leave.
But this time, I wasn’t leaving with a broken heart.
This time, Quiel, with his chubby cheeks, and full, thick head of jet black hair, would be coming home with me, with us, to be loved. Forever.