Warning: I am going to be unabashed in my language and enthusiasm about my faith right now. Read on if you dare.
For the meantime, many of the names in this story are being changed, just to be safe.
Last night a remarkable thing happened.
But it could only have happened because of what occurred three years and nearly five months ago. And because of all that has come to pass since then- based on the choices my family and I have made and the choices other inspired people have made.
I tell you now, God is real. I think coincidences are real things that happen and I also know that this was not a coincidence. It was a miracle. The manifestation of God’s merciful, loving hand guiding and nudging and arranging. And my family and I get to be both witnesses and tools in His hand.
In January of 2014, my wife, Annemarie, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The cancer was found because she was pregnant and something seemed off to her, so we went to the hospital to have an ultrasound and other needful tests. And the pregnancy only happened because of lots of prayer, heartfelt conversations, and a decision to trust God. We felt revelation was leading us to have another child- and that revelation ended up saving Annemarie’s life.
So after the surgery and recovery and finally feeling ourselves settle back into a new normal, I think we both had an epiphany: life is short. Death is real. It’s not the end, but it’s the end of this existence, so maybe we should go milk this existence for all it’s worth. We were open for possibilities, my friends. And excited about what lay ahead.
Then I was laid off in July in a shameful way. I was angry. Anger motivates me and I decided to ‘show them’ by pushing my Instructional Design career as far and as fast as I could. I took courses. Built a network. Contracted for American Express. Took more courses and got certifications. Got a job at Bluehost to help revamp their training.
Then Amazon called. After a great interview cycle and trip, we got a job offer. We’d been warning the kids that this might happen and that we might take the job- necessitating a move to Seattle. We were surprised and thrilled. We talked and prayed. We were hesitant but excited. It was time to do new things- the whole family needed the experience. We felt Heavenly Father’s approval. We took the job.
The family came up in June of 2015. After our offer on a house north of Seattle was basically ignored, we turned our attention south. We ended up buying a pretty new, lovely house in Black Diamond, about an hour south of Seattle. We are across the street from a lake. The street is a gravel road that extends north and south in front of our house- south into a deep forest of trees and hidden houses. That’s important foreshadowing right there.
We settled in. My work was insane and hard and full of pressure and changing all the time. Annemarie homeschooled child 2 and 3 (boy and girl) while children 1, 4, and 5 all went to school. Child 6 was still too young for school so he stayed home.
As the new school year began in 2016, I hit an enormous home run that settled my job down a ton and made me start traveling a bunch. And Annemarie got kids into schools all over the place, with the oldest doing a mix of high school and college, and the rest of the kids in schools all over the map. She drives a lot these days.
Our daughter, Lily, ended up being the only kid going to the school that the school district expected her to go to. Cedar Heights Middle School. She takes the bus to and from school. She’s having an overall good experience there.
Soon after the school year began, Lily started bringing a friend home, a tall, cheerful girl named May. May and Lily waited at the same bus stop in the morning and they became good friends. And then May was at our house nearly every afternoon, playing video games, goofing with the kids, and just being herself. We thought she was a bit of a nut and really liked her a lot.
One rainy Saturday in October, she showed up at our door wrapped in a blanket and shoeless. She said she’d been kicked out of her house by her mom. By now, her mom knew who we were, and an hour or so later, someone from May’s house showed up with unmatching shoes.
We kept May with us that day, warming her and feeding her and comforting her. We didn’t pry much. She cheered up fast and played. She ate dinner with us. We make a mean homemade ‘Whatever Noodles & Cheese’.
A police officer showed up at 8PM, asking if she was with us, saying that her mother had reported her missing. Which is silly in light of the fact that we had a pair of unmatched shoes as evidence she knew where her daughter was. We talked to the officer for a while and we decided May would spend the night at our house, crashing in Lily’s room on an air mattress. The officer said, “The more time she’s away from that house, the better.” Turned out that May and her mom, Fran, lived there out of her mom’s friend’s kindness. Fran’s friend was the owner/renter (I dunno). But Fran’s friend was addicted to drugs and the home was firmly on the radar of law enforcement. And May, it turned out, had been in foster care several times throughout her life, due to Fran’s own struggles with alcohol and drugs. In fact, May had a brother who had been legally taken in by Fran’s mother years before.
So May spent the night with us and came to church with us the next day. She liked it a lot. And a routine was born! She came over every Saturday with a bag of clothes and spent the day and night and part of Sunday with us. I started jokingly referring to her as ‘weekend daughter.’ She played and played and wrestled and got loud and played and more.
Our kids were champions. They didn’t blink. They just welcomed their new weekend sister with no hesitation. We’d talked to them after the first weekend, making sure they understood what was happening as well as possible. But they didn’t pry and didn’t complain. Annemarie and I talked sometimes about what May’s home life must be like. We got a look at it sometimes because one or both of us would walk May home on Sunday afternoons.
I felt a lot of empathy for her. I saw her ability to read a room really fast and the way she keys in on adults’ moods instantaneously and recognized it. I do the same and have for as long as I can remember. And Annemarie was so good and gentle and warm with her.
Then May stopped coming. We asked Lily where May was and Lily said she thought May was sick. This went on for a couple weeks and Lily said she actually wasn’t sure what was going on. She hadn’t seen May in school for a while. We tried to get in touch with her, but only finally succeeded several weeks later when May replied to an email sent by Lily.
May had been taken out of the home after a drug raid. She was with a foster family.
Annemarie and I talked it over in I think sixty seconds. We were going to go get May and bring her into our home. Period. Annemarie made the call to Child Protective Services I believe on a Wednesday about 10 days before Christmas. We picked May up two days before Christmas. We weren’t licensed foster parents, but were deemed ‘Suitable Alternatives’ due to our history with her. We figured we had an agreement with CPS and the case worker that they would help us get started down the road of becoming official foster parents.
May has been with us ever since. Annemarie supervised regular visits between May and her mom while Fran still lived in the house down the road. But finally Fran left that house and went to a women’s shelter in Kent, about 20 minutes away. Annemarie supervised a few more visits with Fran.
Also, before all of this began, Annemarie took the LSATs and got a great score. She was offered a prestigious scholarship at BYU in Utah and she accepted, so we had plans to move there before Fall of 2017. CPS and the case worker knew that as everything unfolded. In fact, the case worker indicated he thought it would probably work out fine to have May come with us and she could come up to Washington regularly to see her mom. We were down with that.
May’s health overall improved. We got a great loft bed to put in the girls’ room and those two girls decked that bed and room out very impressively. Christmas lights and gossamer, guys. May decided to take lessons from the missionaries from our church. She prayed and studied and decided to be baptized. I baptized her on March 4th, learning that her full name was May Marie Call. Fran was there and was very emotional. She wasn’t moving very well, using a walker, but she was so clearly happy that May was doing so well.
Then, while I was abroad, we got the unexpected and heartbreaking news that Fran had passed a few weeks later. We still don’t know the cause.
After a few days of grief and quiet, May mentioned adoption. We were all for it. The case worker thought it was a great idea. Paperwork and the process are underway and are frustratingly slow. We know it will all work out, but we pray it works out quickly. One of the issues is that May’s father has been out of the picture since she was 3 or 4. He’d been in prison for a while, and then basically fell off the map. Nobody at CPS or Social Services has any clue about his whereabouts and he doesn’t seem to have a phone number. So the folks at CPS etc. began the process of filing a petition for termination of rights.
And May has us. But she misses her mother and is hurt by her father leaving.
Last Sunday, Sister Ballard came up to me and asked me if I would be able to help with the Young Women activity. They were going to go up to Seattle and talk to and feed homeless people in Pioneer Park with an organization called Mama’s Hands. They needed a second Priesthood holder, so Sister Ballard asked me. Which is a little odd. I’m traveling a lot and the ward knows it. But Sister Ballard clearly was led.
I, after a moment of stark-raving fear because I work long days already and talking to people, strangers no less, at the end of my long day is not my idea of fun. But the quiet voice in me yelled, “Jared, you want to help people out so put your money where your mouth is.” I said yes I could help.
My two girls, May and Lily, and I piled into my small Corolla. We picked up Destiny, May’s neighbor from before who had recently been baptized, and met at the church. With those three and Aeris packed in the car, we drove up to Bellevue, met the rest of the group again and Denny Hancock, the man who runs Mama’s Hands. I and the girls I’d driven up rode with Denny downtown. The big group split up and I took Lily and Aeris, hamburgers in tow, around the block to start handing out food. We talked to several people, got all the way back to the park, and handed another burger to a fellow sitting nearby his bike and shopping cart. We smiled and chatted a bit with him and then moved on.
By that time, my knee, which had recently had surgery, was pretty much done, so I looked for a place to rest.
That voice came again. “Fight the introversion. Talk to that guy with the bike.”
So I asked if I could sit with him. He said yes. His eyes were clear and he seemed eager to talk. I asked if he had any family. He said, with a small grin, “I was.. pretty fertile as a younger man.” He had several children with several women, it turned out. He said his last two were with his last wife (although I’m not sure if he said they were ever married). He pointed out that the last two were a boy, then a girl, and that the boy, Timothy Junior, had wound up being “signed over” to their mom’s mother.
Something went off in my head. I grew more interested. He said, “And my daughter, May Marie…” and I didn’t hear the rest because.. well.. you get it, right?
So I leaned in closer and got him talking more. I think I knew at this point exactly who this man was, but I had to be sure and I truly had no idea what on earth I was going to do once I got confirmation. And dear Father in Heaven could this truly be happening? Had I really just found May’s father?
He spoke of his life and relationships, how he struggled with drugs of all kinds and spent a year here and a year there in jail. He mentioned a detail I remembered hearing from May, about when she and her mother lived in a car. Finally, he said, “And sad to say I got a letter from the social services about two months ago saying she’d passed.” He mentioned that he thought he’d heard that the daughter he’d left all those years before was with family friends.
That was confirmation. I was on the edge of my rough concrete seat, beginning to shake. This was impossible. I asked him if he wanted to have his kids back. He quietly, with some shame, said he knew he couldn’t take care of them. He just wanted to know they were happy and safe. Finally, I said, “Hey, they’re all waiting for me over there. But I want to keep talking. Will you wait here for a minute? I’ll be right back.”
He said he would wait.
I stood. “My name’s Jared Garrett. What’s your name again?” I stuck out my hand.
“Timothy J. Call.” He shook my hand.
I walked away, asking God how and why and what I should do. I pulled out my phone, talked to Annemarie, told her what had just happened. We both were stunned. I asked her what I should do. She said she didn’t know. I said I was worried about hurting May, opening old wounds, but that maybe this would be really good for her. I admit I was also worried he might suddenly lay claim on MY daughter.
After talking to Annemarie, I was calmer, but still paralyzed. Didn’t know what to do. I told Sister Bolles and Sister Metler what had happened. They were stunned. I said a prayer, more emotion and pleading than words, and went back to Tim and had him sit down across from me.
“Tim. Okay.” Trust Father in Heaven. Say what He says. “I’m about to tell you something that is going to seem impossible. But it’s real because Father in Heaven loves you and wants you to turn fully to Him. He wants you to put your life in order, Tim.”
Tim leaned forward, interested.
I went on. “I know your daughter, May.” I thought I should start small. I was fearful. Didn’t know if I should reveal everything.
“You know my daughter?” He gulped and tears sprang into his eyes. “Is she okay?”
We talked for a minute and I told him she was okay. Told him she was with me and my family. That we loved her, that she was surrounded by love, that she had a sister and five brothers now.
He sprang to his feet. I did the same. He threw his arms around me and cried into my shoulder and I held him as tightly as I could, shaking, trying to stay upright, my chest and throat tight.
After a few minutes, I asked him if he could just wait one more minute because I needed to talk to my group, who was still waiting. I wanted to make sure I could reach him. He stayed standing, scrubbing his face.
I went to May, who was playing basketball with some people in the square. I sat her down. Pointed at the standing man. And trusting as much as I’ve ever trusted in Heavenly Father, I told her. “This is insane. It’s the hand of God and He loves you so much. That man’s your father.”
She got quiet and hunched forward, hands on her mouth, eyes wide. After a minute, I asked her if she wanted to meet him. She did. She said, “I saw him earlier and thought he looked familiar.”
I brought her over. “Tim. God loves you. This is a miracle. And this is your daughter.”
They hugged. He cried and cried. He finally stepped away, studying her face. “You got my nose.” His voice was small and he laughed. He gently pushed a lock of hair away from her face.
“I’m tall like you.” May looked between the ground and Tim.
Tim and I exchanged numbers as the Young Women leaders, then the Young Women, surrounded us, hugging May, speaking tenderly to Tim, and bringing sweetness and goodness in palpable waves. Tim told May and me that if May wanted to be adopted, he approved. May said she did. He said, “I just want you to be happy.”
Pictures were taken. Hugs never seemed to end. This must have been something like what the Day of Pentecost felt like. This is what being led not knowing feels like. This is beyond an honor or privilege, this is the power and manifestation of a Divine Father in Heaven who has a Plan for all and a Plan for each one of us. And plans inside of plans. And Who set in motion this to happen three years ago. Then sent the Spirit to whisper to Sister Ballard, “Ask Brother Garrett.”
I grew quiet for the rest of the evening, during the ride to Bellevue, then driving home. I later found out that the Young Women leaders were praying and intending to fast for a miracle that would help the process of bringing May fully into our home.
It’s early yet. I know it will work out. I’m still shaking.