That Box Up On The Shelf – an adoption story by Rachelle Alspaugh


                Her closet door slowly opened while my fingers gripped the handle tightly, physically expressing my fear of what might spill out of me.  When I peered inside, a perfect little white princess dress screamed at me in the silence. Then the beaded jacket just her size mocked me, while the sight of her pink nightgown made my eyes fill with tears.

“No. I can’t do this right now. It doesn’t make any sense. I can’t even process this reality, no less deal with it or even grieve over it yet.” I stuffed all the emotions threatening to pour out of me into a box, taped it up as tightly as I could, and set it high upon the shelf inside her small closet. Maybe someday I could bring it back down and face the contents, but not today. Not now.

My thoughts spun around in absolute confusion, grappling with this unexpected turn of events.

“What do I do now?” The closet door creaked as I carefully closed it and walked out of her room. The adoption failed. They denied our request to adopt both her and her older brother from Colombia. That little girl I’d grown to love and adore more than I ever imagined would not be coming home to me, after all. I’d never hear that precious seven-year-old voice over my phone again. She’d never see the beautiful clothes in her closet nor the toys that already filled her room.

I walked into my son, David’s, room and felt the same overwhelming grief. Half of his closet held clothes that Juan David would never wear, and the top bunkbed constantly reminded us of his absence. David slept soundly in the bottom bunk, while the bed above him, prepared for a brother, remained empty.

Why did God ever let us meet them in the first place? Not just meet them, but immediately fall in love with them, pursue their adoption for fourteen long months, and develop a close relationship with both of them over the phone throughout the whole process? Our entire life revolved around bringing Viviana and Juan David home to make them a part of our family.  But now what?

“It’s not right for kids to not have families.” The hosting program motto repeated itself often in my ear. We wanted more than anything to embrace them as our children. We bravely answered the call. We attended all the trainings, made all the right preparations, but no one prepared us for a loss like this.

In addition to our grief, a weight of guilt hung heavily over my shoulders. Viviana expected us to visit her someday and bring her gifts, but Juan David knew we planned to adopt them. His twelve-year-old mind already assumed us as his forever family. What did this outcome now mean for him? What would it do to him?

“Will I ever know what happened on their side when their government closed our case?” I tried to pray, but only questions came out. So many questions with no answers. I guessed I’d never know the answers on this side of Heaven.

The natural introvert inside me took over quickly. I pulled away from those closest to me. I built up walls–huge, thick walls. I withdrew into myself more every day. I stopped answering the phone. I spent more and more time alone. I screamed at God every morning on my way to work but then wiped away my tears as soon as I arrived at school, washed my face, and focused all my attention on my job and my second-grade students.

Thank God for those students. They kept me busy. They kept me focused and sane. Most of all, they helped me keep moving. If not, I know I would have completely fallen apart.

I also thank God for a simple, short strand of e-mails I received from Colombia during those hard months between November and March, unexpected e-mails from Juan David and Viviana’s older brother, Julian. Sweet messages that let me know how they were doing, assuring me they still thought of us and would always love us.

After about six months, the e-mails turned into daily messages and long, virtual conversations. The more I “talked” to Julian, the more my tears naturally fell. God gave me someone to talk to about my grief, someone who could give me answers from the other side. He gave me the chance to process my emotions and finally begin to grieve.

A full eight months after the adoption failed, I bravely gripped the handle on Viviana’s closet door again. As the door slowly opened, I reached for the box up on the shelf. Opening that box of grief caused a flood of tears to pour out of me, but I knew it was time. You can only postpone grief for so long, and God gave me just the right person to help me through it. Who knew?

At the same time, God placed me in Julian’s life to become the loving mother-figure that he needed in his life as he finished up high school without the support of a family. During the course of that year, another family began a legal process to care for and support Juan David, and a single mother from Spain adopted Viviana. He grieved losing them now, too.

A full year later, my husband, son, and I boarded a plane for Bogotá, Colombia to meet Julian face to face, now that he had turned eighteen and was considered an adult. We spent two full weeks with Julian, a young-man that God gave us the privilege to know and love as the son we could never adopt. He filled a huge void in our lives, and we filled the void in his.

We thought Colombia would always hold memories of hurt and bitterness for us, but we instead found a beautiful country, a rich culture, and a precious young man right on the brink of starting life alone.

Our pain held purpose, after all.



                Eight months after returning home from Colombia with a new song in my heart, one particular morning conversation with Julian replayed in my mind.

“If you had another chance to adopt my brother, would you do it?”

“Of course, we would. But he’s with another family now, and I just want him to be happy. Besides, according to Colombia’s rules, we can never try again. The door is closed to us.”

Julian tried to hint at the fact that things didn’t seem to be working out well with Juan David’s new family situation, but I wouldn’t even let my mind go there. I gave Juan David back to God months ago, and I trusted that God must have chosen this other family for him.

Now I stood confused all over again, wondering if God allowed Julian to ask me that question the summer before for a reason. The legal process with Juan David and the other family eventually came to an end. Just as Julian had suspected nearly a year ago.

“But, God, I let him go. I gave him back to you. I trusted you to join him with the family you’d chosen for him. What’s going on? What are you doing?”

Julian now pleaded with us.

“Please. Try again.”

“Julian, we can’t. The door is closed. Your country is very firm on this. Once denied, always denied.” Besides, I couldn’t even fathom going through the international adoption process again.

“No, God. Please don’t ask us to do this again.” While I begged God to close the door, Julian begged us to open it and dare to walk through it.

God knew we wouldn’t act on a thing, mostly out of fear. So he placed certain people in our path to connect us with a Colombian attorney. An attorney who could go ahead of us to open up the door, the one door they once said could never be reopened.

While spending a second summer in Colombia with Julian, God gave us the privilege of meeting the attorney in person, pleading our case once again with the men who originally denied us, and actually reuniting with Juan David for a few days.

“You know no one has ever done this before, right? We don’t even know if it can legally be done. We’re going to have to present your case to the head of adoptions to see what she says.”

We stayed in Colombia for four weeks, and within a month of returning home, we received official word that they did reopen our adoption case. Thus began another long year of tedious paperwork, raising unimaginable funds all over again, and constant stress and panic.

“God, who does this? Who gets knocked to the ground but still comes back for more? Will this process end differently than the last one? What if they come to the same conclusion, that we are not capable of being adoptive parents?”

I thought I’d dealt with all the contents within that box of grief, but apparently I hadn’t. I dealt with the emotions over losing the kids, but now I had to get that box back down and dig deeper. I had to process all of the rejection and the on-going effects it had on me. I had to face the anger toward God, toward the men who denied us, and toward myself for letting the kids down.

Similar to a mother facing intense anxiety through a pregnancy after previously giving birth to a still-born child, panic threatened to suffocate me.

“What if we empty our wallets and our savings all over again for nothing? What if we put ourselves through this and still can’t bring Juan David home? I can’t handle losing him again, and I can’t imagine what it might do to him.”

I’m so grateful for all the prayers of family and friends that carried us, mainly me, through that whole process. Today when I open that closet door again, I don’t see a box of grief on the shelf. I see shelves and hangers full of clothes that Juan David, my adoptive son, proudly wears to school each day. When I look around that bedroom that once held dolls and toys for Viviana, I see a shelf that holds pictures of all three siblings—Juan David, Viviana, and Julian. When I look at the walls, I see artwork that Julian gave me and paint colors that express Juan David’s personality.

I see a large wall poster of Bogotá, Colombia, a place where miracles do happen.



Read our whole story in the Surviving the Valley series (Unexpected Tears, Book 1,, and Painful Waiting, Book 2—still in production).

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2 thoughts on “That Box Up On The Shelf – an adoption story by Rachelle Alspaugh

  1. Your story hits close to home for me. I’ve seen my daughter suffer immense emotional pain from not one, but two adoptions that fell through at the last moment. Your heart of love for these children is a blessing to them that isn’t wasted. Thank-you for sharing how you walked with Father God through this journey of love. God bless you.


  2. I am so sorry your daughter has had to suffer through the drama like my own son did. I bore a lot of guilt for what we put him through, but I see now that it helped shape his heart in a way that could not have been without the loss. God did not waste a single tear, from any of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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