Our Referral Story...
by Jen Hatmaker on November 10th, 2010

During the first week of October, I suffered inexplicable sadness for our Ethiopian kids, yet unknown to us. I couldn’t quit crying. I couldn’t stop worrying. I felt heavy and dark without knowing why. With tears burning at the slightest provocation, I threw my emotions into the Facebook ring for some backup. From adopting friends, a common thread rose up:

“God is prompting you to pray for your children for some reason. You don’t know them yet, but he knows they are yours. Intercede for them this week, then write these dates down. Once you receive your referral, check their paperwork and you might discover divine timing.” A slew of similar stories were posted.

So Brandon and I prayed desperately for our kids. Were they losing a parent? Were they suffering? Were they tender and lonely? Were they feeling hopeless? Their need was unknown, but the ache was acute. So I cried the tears I just knew they were crying, and I begged Jesus to be so near, so gentle in their young lives while they waited for a family.

Sensitive to their fragility, I spent that week checking (obsessing over) the Waiting Children’s List on our adoption agency’s website. I’ve been drawn to these kids since the beginning of our adoption journey. These children have not been requested or matched, unwanted even within the adoption community. Their crimes: 1.) Too old – meaning over five, 2.) too sick – HIV, TB, birth defects, or 3.) too many – siblings.

This very week a new little face hit the WCL: a darling, bright and shiny seven-year-old boy. I instantly loved his personality. He looked like Gavin in an African way. He seemed ornery, which I adore. So I pulled him up every day. Every day. Every day. I sent the link to Brandon. I sent the link to friends. I checked back in. I watched other WCL kids move from “available” to “file under review” while his smiling face remained “available.” On a Wednesday, I sent this to our family coordinator:

Hi Caitlin!

Sweet adorable Beniam is a healthy seven-year old on the WCL. He totally falls within our request range and since he's on there, I'm assuming there are no other requests for a seven-year-old boy. Would AWAA consider placing him with an unrelated younger girl and allowing us to consider them together?

We were exactly hoping for a seven-year-old boy and a younger girl. We would be so happy to apply for unrelated kiddos if this was a possibility.


Jen Hatmaker

For a week, we emailed back and forth about unrelated kids (sweet, precious Caitlin – extra jewels in her crown for fielding my relentless emails). I cannot explain how drawn to Ben we were. Every time we looked at him, he became more beautiful, more precious, more Hatmaker-ish. Our social worker needed to approve us for an unrelated placement, as we were only approved for siblings. That, friends, sounded like a formality, so we got our ducks in a row to speed that process up.

Exactly one week after that email, my phone rang the following Wednesday with that heart-attack-inducing-breath-stealing caller ID: “AWAA – Caitlin”. Adopting parents with submitted dossiers wait for that with such anxiety and anticipation, that should we be on a conference call with the President of the United States, we would scream in his ear, “I GOTTA GO!!!!!” and click over. Parents call their agencies ten billion times; they call us never, but when they do, this is what they say:

“Jen? It’s Caitlin. Sit down…this is your referral call.”

The world stopped spinning.

Time froze.

Nothing else existed.

“SHUT UP!!!” is how I responded as a mature, emotionally controlled girl. Our dossier was submitted 48 days ago; this referral was fast. I couldn’t think straight. The referral call includes sitting at your computer while your family coordinator introduces your child with the highly anticipated email file, including pictures.

I told Caitlin I’d call her back in ten minutes, because I needed to get Brandon home. Ring-ring:

“Are you stalking me? I just left! You know you can’t live without me.”

“Brandon, zip it! We. Just. Got. Our. Referral. Call.”

(Insert screeching brakes.)

We called Caitlin back and discovered our referral was one gorgeous, unbelievably perfect five-year-old girl. She was beautiful in every way. Brandon fell especially hard. With her little chicklet teeth and her shy smile, it seemed we might finally get a “gentle child,” which required adoption since our gene pool squashed that characteristic.

But besides “adopting” and “Ethiopia,” the other crystal clear detail was “two children.” Back in December when adopting from Ethiopia was imminent, Brandon kept bringing up two kids. Normally the bleeding heart, I was reluctant (could also be: defiant, obstinate, terrified) to consider two, knowing we are already a circus and doubting my ability to parent five kids. But Brandon couldn’t shake it, so we spent a week praying and fasting about one versus two.

On the final day of our fast, unknown to anyone but us, one of my dearest friends called: “Jen? I’ve been praying about your adoption. If this is irrelevant, just forget it, but every time I pray, I get the feeling you and Brandon are considering siblings…”

*Jen stops breathing*

“…I don’t know why I keep getting this message. But if you are, we’ve prayed about it, and we want to pay for the second child. Whatever the cost increase is for adopting two instead of one, we’ll cover the entire amount.”

*Jen bawls eyes out.*

God? We’re fasting to hear from you: One or two kids?

Insert: The Most Obvious Answer Ever Received In Our Lives.

Without question, we knew God had two kids for us, so this referral for just one was terribly confusing. We were starved for clarity, staring at each other like one of us had an explanation, the key to unlocking this baffling development. Do we accept it? Do we wait? Our strategy has been, “Go back to what you know for sure. What was the last thing you heard?” The marching orders for two children was iron-clad, so I went three weeks back to those dark days full of prayer and sorrow. I confirmed the dates then searched this beautiful girl’s file:

It was the week she was brought to the orphanage.

Shipped twelve hours north of her village, her people, everything she knew to a crowded orphanage with children and workers who spoke a different language, it must’ve been devastating. She must’ve felt so alone. At age five. Except Jesus never leaves his little ones, his most vulnerable. He was there in the scary van ride north. He was there in her confusion and fear. He was there as she was assigned a bed and communal clothes and had her beautiful head shaved. He was there that first heart-breaking night. And he made sure we were there in spirit, too.

I am telling you, we felt her grief. We carried her turmoil. We cried her tears. Jesus made sure we sat watch with Him over her. He invited us into the vigil he was keeping on her behalf. Exactly three weeks after her first lonely night in the orphanage, we got her referral.

She was ours. We knew it.

She was the “younger unrelated girl” we asked for when pursuing Ben. It all locked into place. Within hours of the call, we asked for him too. For four agonizing days, we fought for his referral, this bright, shiny boy who’d seen hundreds of babies and toddlers come and go. For four days, we pleaded our case against staunch resistance (our social worker never approved unrelated double placements; only biological siblings). For four days, prayers and emails and calls flooded in, as our Christian community rallied for this boy.

Enter The Great Silence, Compline, the prayer of completion. Every Sunday night at 9pm, the parents adopting through our agency join in prayer all over the world. We pray for our children, the nannies, our paperwork, referrals, court dates, traveling mercies, approvals, and grace. I told my adoption community: “Please pray for our expanded referral. We want this boy so desperately, but it feels impossible.”

We were hanging on by a thread. We knew God said adopt two children from Ethiopia. We knew he connected us in prayer to our daughter’s traumatic abandonment. We knew he imprinted Ben on our hearts already, before we even had a referral. We knew these two children were ours, but the approval looked hopeless.

From nearly every state and several other countries, we prayed at 9pm, the hour of The Great Silence. We interceded for each other and begged God to move for the orphan. We voiced our impossible circumstances and trusted him to work the common, everyday miracles that surround adoption. We acknowledged his sovereignty over bureaucracy, embassies, social workers, and poverty. We prayed for completion: Our children home. Hesitantly, timidly, I said, “I trust you, God.” At 9:27pm, our social worker sent this:

“I am going to approve this referral.”
The first day we got their pictures.

No words can describe the rejoicing in our house, and certainly in the heavens. Another son coming home, despite the odds, regardless of “the rules.” Yet again, God moved mountains for his kids. The day our Ethiopian children were born, the angels celebrated their immense value, the image of God they each bear. Their circumstances didn’t lessen their worth but raised them to the highest level of divine attention:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
God sets the lonely in families.
Blessed are you who are poor, for your is the kingdom of God.
Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

We’ve been invited into a beautiful story, involving hundreds of saints in prayer for two treasures. God captured an entire community with love for two children whose names we'd never even heard.

I want you to know their names.

Our Beniam is seven, and we’ll call him Ben; the son we fought for. Our daughter’s name is Matawi, which means “Remembrance.” We will call her Remy, because she was never forgotten; not by her Creator, not by her Savior, and not by us. God walked with our children through every sorrow; their plight was ever before him. God never forgot, never slept, never stopped working until his children were restored.

He remembered them.

For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers...Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save.”

~Isaiah 49

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Julie Northup - July 1st, 2011 at 4:59 PM
Was so thankful to read this older blog today. I didn't know all of this story. Wow. Cried. Again. This in the middle of the Dairy Queen playground. Love you!
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erin allport - July 1st, 2011 at 5:48 PM
Wow...I read this back when you posted it before...but thinking about how amazing God has been in this process! From the time he brought your friend to you saying she felt like God was saying there would be 2 kids for your family...all the way to Ben's name meaning the son we fought for! Guess God was giving you a heads up that it would be a fight for him...but it's one that is SOOOOOO worth fighting!
He's there side by side with you fighting for Beniam too! So, he's also the son HE is fighting for too!
Rachel Miller - July 1st, 2011 at 11:16 PM
so beautiful. and I love the picture...it says everything.
Amy - July 13th, 2011 at 9:05 AM
Such a beautiful journey, Jen. Heather Manning clued me into what's been going on--so honored to encourage Ben. Cannot wait for the homecoming post!

Joe - January 13th, 2013 at 5:58 PM
Amazing. I'm gripped and astounded.
Jenna - May 30th, 2013 at 9:09 PM
A friend shared your most recent post (last week of school). I loved your writing, so I thought I'd check from the beginning if this was a blog I wanted to follow. I'm crying right now. Your story about your children is absolutely beautiful. Now I must read through all of your posts. God blessed you with those kids, as I'm sure you know.
Dyanne - May 30th, 2013 at 11:24 PM
Beautiful. This made me cry.
Margaret - May 30th, 2013 at 11:48 PM
Wow. Just wow. This is a beautiful story and an amazing testimony of who God is. I am adopted too and know the desperate sorrow that comes from being abandoned...but also the unexplainable joy and comfort that come from knowing God's love. I can't wait to read more of your posts. Thank you.
...and good luck getting through those last days of school! ;)
MandyP - July 5th, 2013 at 11:24 PM
So amazing. And beautiful. I'm a wreck as I lay in bed with my iPhone, trying not to wake up my husband. Such a beautiful story.
A styler - August 31st, 2013 at 8:04 PM
Just cried, my child's sibling w born three weeks ago and has no one to speak for her. My heart is breaking because "there but for the grace of God" was my child when her journey started the same way 4.5 years ago. At least she had an amazing guardian angel/bulldog as a social worker. This baby is doomed to pretending that reunification might work on child number 5. I am now praying to be strong enough to say yes in three years when this stupid plan falls apart. I haven't even met her yet and I feel like I have let her down. Comforting to know others have felt the same connection to children that although unseen seem to be born in their hearts. Please hold this baby in your hearts.
Candice C - September 16th, 2013 at 3:01 PM
A friend just posted your blog on her facebook page and challenged all of her girlfriends to read the funniest, most "real" blogger she's ever seen. So, I obediently clicked the link and immediately sought out the very first post (my habit when reading a new blog). I am in tears after having read this introduction to your family and can't wait to catch up on the last couple years. I look forward to following your story; thank you for sharing and God bless your family!
Dawn - October 8th, 2013 at 6:44 PM
Weirdest thing ever.... I literally just told (an almost stranger) that I felt God leaning me toward praying about fostering/adoption. I told her to pray, too. She's very vocal on FB about it all. My husband is so against it all, I explained. He's against a lot these days.... bitter...angry... Our middle child lives with and fights a rare disease, Cystinosis. None of what my heart is feeling can possibly make sense. Then someone posted your blog today. I've never read it... And.... this is my first read from you??? God??? I'm thinking I might not be so crazy, after all....
Bette - October 18th, 2016 at 12:02 PM
Dawn ... a friend forwarded a news article about Jen yesterday and I subscribed to her blog. Just now learning who she is. I feel like you did 3 years ago ... "leaning toward" something very new - and scary. You are not "crazy." My granddaughter was born on October 8, 2014 - just a year after this post. I wonder where your life has taken you ... praying for you now.
Kris Thede - November 24th, 2013 at 6:39 AM
Just 'happened' to read this blog today after following some of your newer ones. Thursday we received our i-600a approval from the US gov. We live in Haiti [15 years] so some of the 'rules' look different for us. We now wait for our referral for siblings and your story reminds me that the Lord is in charge. I need to hold on to this during our wait..
Andrea - July 21st, 2014 at 12:10 PM
Jen - we're praying about adoption and I felt the urgency to seek out this blog post to read about the beginning of your adoption story again. I was taking in every word with such reverence and seriousness....and then I burst into laughter - "we might finally get a 'gentle child' %u201D - hahaha. I love all of those Remy stories! :) Thanks for sharing your journey with us!
Purvi - August 13th, 2014 at 12:28 PM
Jen - We are praying about adoption. We are new to the process and looking for a good adoption agency to work with, preferably Christian. What is the name of your agency?
Joey Bamford - August 30th, 2014 at 12:26 AM
After thoroughly enjoying your show, with the finale being tonight :-(, I HAD to learn more about the two of you! So, I too came to the beginning and all I can say is WOW! You both embody the true meaning of what loving Christians are. I can only imagine what the world might be like if the rest of us followed your example! I really hope that many non believers were a witness to your show and are seeking your information, as well. It's a very rare reality show that shows a family like yours and I know I'll pray about and for the people that do come to the Lord from watching the show and getting your information! People get such a wrong idea about what a Christian is or has to be! Thank you for sharing your lives with the rest of us and continue being the true, authentic people that you are! I'll be following you Jen and getting your newsletters, which I look forward to! By the way, if I was able to renovate a house, it would be very similar to your! I absolutely love everything you did, the decorations, all of it! AWESOME!
May our Lord and Savior continue to bless you and your gorgeous family!!!

p.s. The story about the adoption sent goose bumps! It blows my mind when God very directly makes the path clear regarding His will! He never ceases to amaze and astound me at every turn!
rebeca - September 3rd, 2014 at 11:15 PM
Wow so beautiful. So touching. Def a tear jerker..God is absolutely amaaaazing.
Ashley Applewhite - September 25th, 2014 at 2:31 PM
I am bawling my eyes out right now! The picture of you and the kids seeing Ben and Remy on the computer for the first time is the most precious thing I have ever seen. Jen Hatmaker, you and your family are truly a gift to those of us seeking God's love in the world. Thank you for being real and honest, funny, and always bursting at the seams with love. Reading your words brings out the me that I want to be. Thank you for being you and I can't wait to read through all of these posts!
Kim - September 30th, 2014 at 12:39 PM
Wow! This has me in tears. We prayed the same prayer over ten years ago. God answered in the same way, after waking up many nights hearing a baby crying. It took us a while to realize this was the Holy spirit prompting us to pray for children we did not have.
we now have three adopted children from foster care. It is amazing to hear another story of prayer and the exact dates of something meaningful (even if it is horrific) of these children.
"for this child I have prayed'
Tiffany Smith - May 8th, 2016 at 6:09 PM
Hi Jen, when I first read "Seven", I fell in love with your writing style. I especially loved all the parts where you talked about your adoption process and your Ethiopian kids. When I read it though, I remember thinking that it takes a special person to be able to adopt. I thought I could never do that, not because I didn't want to, but because honestly it scared the mess out of me! A few months ago I began having health problems, nothing super serious, but I prayed about future children (We only have one daughter as of now who is 1). The Lord gave me great peace and contentment, and although I could be wrong, I do not think I will birth anymore children, and if not I am honestly okay with that (when I never would have been before). One day as I was driving to work, in the stillness and quiet, God gave me a promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had big moments like this, but I know this was definitely one of them. He promised me that my husband and I will internationally adopt one day. Normally I would have totally freaked, but because the Holy Spirit must have been in control of me in that moment I answered, "Yes Lord". I know these things take time, and it could be years and years down the road before His promise comes true, but I am trusting Him to lead and provide. Right now I am stalking your blog, as I will others, to find out about your adoption process, because this is entirely new to me. Thank you for writing this blog (I cried both on the inside and out) and for being obedient to God. You are a great encouragement to women everywhere!
Bette - October 18th, 2016 at 12:04 PM
Dawn ... a friend forwarded a news article about Jen yesterday and I subscribed to her blog. Just now learning who she is. I feel like you did 3 years ago ... "leaning toward" something very new - and scary. You are not "crazy." My granddaughter was born on October 8, 2014 - just a year after this post. I wonder where your life has taken you ... praying for you now.
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