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How a ‘heart for the orphan’ created the Kelly family

By Russ Dilday
Buckner International

Like a lot people, Kathy Kelly remembers exactly where she was when she made one of the most important decisions of her life: “I was sitting in the parking lot.”

It wasn’t necessarily an epic location but it was a decision that would epically change the lives of two orphan girls in China – and the course of the Kelly family forever.

Kathy and her husband, Howard, began their adoption journey began in 2008 with a simple request from their daughter, Elizabeth, who was 10 at the time.

“She started asking for a little sister,” Howard said. And she was persistent, he remembers. “I guess she talked us into going to an adoption seminar at First Baptist Church (Houston), and then from that point, we started going to adoption seminars, learning more and more about it.”

The more I talked to them, the more the Kellys seemed to be a perfect fit for adopting a child from China. Former missionaries in Asia, they had considered adoption previously, Kathy said, and had explored an adoption opportunity in Thailand that didn’t work out. Now living in Katy, Texas, it seemed adoption had always shadowed their hearts.

“I was always interested,” Kathy said, “but I felt like adoption was difficult to pursue and didn’t want to wait in a long line to adopt a child – that was just my perception. But I told the Lord, ‘God, if we come across a child who really needs a family, I’m willing.’ And it was like that for many years.”

As their adoption search progressed, they pursued an agency that could help. “We attended a seminar with Buckner in Dallas and they introduced us to Dillon International because we weren’t sure where we were wanting to adopt our child, but we were thinking China. And then from that point we started the process,” Howard said.

Buckner affiliated with Dillon, a well-known Christian international adoption agency, in 2009 to expand its adoption resources and add Dillon’s expertise in adoption.

Kathy said the “real switch in my view of adoption” occurred when she made the change in her heart from the mindset of “trying to grow a family to really seeing God’s heart for the orphan, and that was key for both of us. It’s not that you need to wait in line. There are many kids who need a family and God desires for His people to be involved in giving families to these children.”

It was a crucial moment in their adoption process, she said, “where the change came for me to start pursuing adoption and I felt like, ‘Okay, we’ll just take one step forward and if this is what God wants us to do, He can keep us going,’ and He really did.”

Following that heart change, God quickly led the couple Gracie.

When Dillon called, Kathy remembered, “I was sitting in the parking lot, and I thought they needed some other document or something. And they said, ‘we have a 5-year-old for you to consider.’ At first I thought, ‘No, no, no.’ That was scary to me, a 5-year-old. I thought there could be issues that I’m not sure I’m prepared for in an older child.”

But Kathy’s “no” soon turned to “yes” as she talked to Dillon about Gracie’s needs, and about one special need in particular.

The Kelly’s case manager shared about one of Gracie’s medical needs, a rare form of spina bifida. “She said some names she could hardly pronounce about Gracie’s special need – but I knew what she was talking about,” Kathy said.

“I told her, ‘Do you realize that’s the same medical problem Elizabeth has and extremely rare? So I felt, ‘God, I think this is the child you have for us,’ even though in my head I was still saying, ‘no, no, no, no,’ but in my heart I knew that Gracie was for us. It was really amazing.”

“That was three years ago,” Howard said. “We got her in August 2010, which was only, I guess, a little over a year since we started the process with Dillon.”

Howard and Kathy, married for 22 years, are both Texas A&M graduates. He’s an engineer who likes to bike. Trained as a physician, Kathy likes learning languages and travel, and mostly goes by “Dr. Mom” these days.

At 15, Elizabeth is a sophomore at Cinco Ranch High School. Active in the Cinco Ranch Color Guard, she also takes American Sign Language. Gracie, 8, wants to do a lot of the things big sister does, loves to swim, ride bicycles and play basketball.

“She’s just a very outgoing, fun child,” Kathy said. “Gracie is full of life. She is our dramatic child. I think she’s going to hold the prize for that. And we just love her. She’s added a new dimension to our family.”

But that’s not the end of the Kelly’s heart for adoption and it’s not the end of their family story. Just recently, Jamie, also 8, entered their lives and hearts as their fifth family member. Working with Dillon again, the Kellys adopted Jamie from China. At the time of our visit, Jamie had been home just 10 days.

The story of their second adoption isn’t without its twists, Kathy said. “We’ve known Jamie for about three years.”
The family met Jamie when they adopted Gracie. The pair had been friends in the same Chinese orphanage.

Though they’ve known about Jamie for years, Kathy said the relationship as family is still new. “We’re just getting to know Jamie and she is a lovely girl. She’s very bright. We’re just starting to blend as a family. Our family is adjusting right now, but we are thrilled to have Jamie in our family and it’s a miracle to have her here.”

Jamie has just begun to learn a few English words, but she doesn’t lack for expression, as she jets by me, racing Gracie to the trampoline.

Howard watches them, too, with a grin. “Adoption has made me a little more compassionate,” he said. “We continue to learn about how to be better parents.”

“So is adoption a great fit for families?” I ask them.

Kathy’s answer: “Educated adoption. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about adoption to get more information about it. There are so many children who need families, and they are such a blessing to the families. But at the same time, I definitely would encourage educated adoption.

“People do need to know what they are getting into when they adopt children,” she explained. “One needs to know what to expect and they need patience with children and a compassionate heart. You need to come to adoption knowing that it will take all that you have to give.”

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