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Children of the Heart

written by SHERIL BENNETT TURNER photographed by KRIS DECKER

26 GreerNow NOVEMBER 2007

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life. But those who make their journey home across time & miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them, are carried on the wings of destiny and placed among us by God’s very own hands. - Kristi Larson



s a mother myself, I have always thought that the ties that bind a child and parent are like no other. When one is blessed with a natural born

adoption agencies in the United States and abroad. “In August of 1997 we made a call to Brenda,” Laura says, “and she asked us if we would be interested in a

child, a child of the body, there is usually a strong, inherent

beautiful three-year-old Russian girl that had recently

connection of the mind, body, and soul. But when one

been put up for adoption by a mother with cerebral palsy.

actively seeks out a child to adopt, there is a chance for a

We said sure!” Watching a video of the little girl, Laura

unique bond, no less strong, that grows not under the heart

and Bennie felt an instant connection. “When we saw

– but in it. In honor of the National Adoption Month

her,” Laura recalls, “we knew that she was it. She was just

of November, here are three amazing stories from local

meant to be ours. God does not make mistakes. When a

families who have found the children of their hearts.

child is placed in a home, God knows exactly where they

“We’ve been through the natural birth process, and we’ve

are going.” They named the little girl, Alexandria Sveta,

also adopted. There’s absolutely no difference in our

in honor of her Russian heritage, and waited to bring her

hearts,” states Laura and Bennie Simmons, parents to three


sons - Gran, 17, Hunter,

Three months later, the

15, John William, 11 - as

couple flew into Moscow

well as adopted daughter,

and then into Ukhta, a

Alexis, 13. “We began our

small industrial city in

adoption experience when

northwestern Russia, to

the boys were just ages 7,

pick up Alexis from an

5, and 1,” Laura says. “We

orphanage. “They had been

both knew we wanted a little

showing her pictures of us,

girl to complete our family,”

her new Mimi and Papa,”

Bennie continues. “I come

says Laura, “and when she

from a family of all boys,

saw my husband she cried

and then Laura and I had

out, ‘mon Papa!’” She was

three boys in a row. When

her daddy’s girl from the

Laura brought up adopting a girl, I knew it was time to go

minute she saw us,” Laura laughs. Back in Greer, Bennie

for the sure thing,” he says with a grin.

remembers Alexis immediately adjusting to her new home.

“I think we were one of the first in this area to internationally adopt,” says Laura. “The paperwork was

“One day, soon after we brought her home, we were eating at Ryan’s Steakhouse. There were these two boys, who very

just exhausting and the fees

politely tipped their hats at

were more expensive than

us and said ‘howdy’. For the

adopting domestically, but

next month Alexis, who only

we really wanted a child

spoke Russian at the time,

from another country.” With

would greet anyone she

the help of a local agency in

met with ‘howdy’. I believe

Spartanburg, the Simmons

she was born with a natural

filed for adoption and

southern accent!”

were overjoyed when they

Today, Alexis has no

were told of a newborn girl

memory of her early years

from Vietnam. “When the

in Russia or of her adoption.

agency called to tell us that

She has grown into a

the adoption had failed,”

beautiful, bright young lady

Laura remembers, “we were just devastated.” Then a friend

who, like a typical American teenager, loves basketball,

told them about Brenda Baker, an International Program

dancing, dogs, and family vacations. “I’ve always

Coordinator, who facilitates adoptions between licensed

considered myself just one of the family,” she admits. “I’m GreerNow NOVEMBER 2007



glad I was adopted and I’m very glad I got a good mom

mixture of Caucasian and Hawaiian blood, came home

and dad. My brothers are good brothers,” she concedes,

with the Gravleys four days later.

“but they can be annoying.” Both Laura and Bennie agree that adoption was one of

In 1999, Josie and Robbie were ecstatic to learn that Josie was pregnant and in February of 2000, they were

the most wonderful experiences that they have ever had.

blessed with a fair-haired, blue-eyed son, Samuel Phillip.

“When I was just a little girl,” Laura says, “I hoped that

Two years later, though, Josie’s thoughts once again turned

someday I could adopt because I was adopted myself. I

to adoption. “I kept seeing images of a little Chinese girl,”

think it takes a special person to adopt a child. You have

she explains, “and I told Robbie, I want to go to China. I

to know in your heart that an adopted child is the same

want to go to China. I just knew that was something we

as a birth child; that there is no difference. I look at my

were supposed to do.”

daughter, Alexis, and I do not see adoptive, I see my child.

In August of 2003, the couple began the international

I also believe that a birth mother that gives her child up for

adoption process through Harrah’s Adoption International

adoption loves them more than you can ever imagine. To

Mission and in May of 2004, the whole Gravley family,

these birth mothers, mine included, I want to say thank

including Josie’s mother and sister, boarded a 15-hour

you. Thank you for wanting better for your child.”

flight to China. There they would meet the newest member

“I think God puts the idea of adopting children in the

of their family, two-year-old Li Yong, whom they renamed

hearts of women,” muses Robbie Gravely. “Us guys are

Kayli Brooke Yong. “Every American who adopts a child

overjoyed when we get a child, but I think it’s the woman’s

from China ends up in the town of Guangzhou,” Robbie

idea first.” His wife Josie laughs. “Adoption was just

explains. “That is where the U.S. Consulate is and on

something I’ve always wanted to do,” she admits. “Robbie

Wednesdays, the adopting families all walk down the street

and I even talked about it before we were married.” When

to the Consulate and, en masse, the children are sworn-in

Josie’s first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, the couple agreed to continue trying for their own child, but applied for adoption as well. “If both came through at the same time,” Robbie explains, “that was okay with us, too.” In 1997, they contacted Christian Family Services, a private, non-profit adoption agency that brings domestic birth parents and Christian adoptive parents together. “One interesting thing about this agency,” he continues, “was that we had to put together a giant scrapbook, or portfolio, of different pictures showing our life. We included photos of us standing in front of our home, playing golf, and riding horses - things like that. Also, we each had to write letters to a potential birth mother and we were told to put in a variety of things about ourselves because you never knew what a birth mother was looking for in adoptive parents.” Not long after, the Gravleys were indeed chosen by a mother and later they asked her why she had chosen them. She told them she had picked them because she, too, loved horses. One early Sunday morning in October of 1997, Robbie and Josie left church and were driving to Commerce for the day. Out-of-the blue, Josie turned to Robbie and said, “I want a baby so bad!” Unbeknownst to them, at that precise moment, Jamie Leigh Gravley was entering the world. Their exotically beautiful adoptive daughter, a

28 GreerNow NOVEMBER 2007


a little girl in China who spends her entire childhood in an orphanage.” “I think God had already prepared our hearts for adoption,” Karen Boone remarks. “Like a lot of adoptive parents, my husband Steve and I had tried to have children of our own, but we were unsuccessful. From the get go, adoption was always an option to us and when it came down to the choice between intense infertility treatments and adopting a child, we were both in agreement. We knew we would love an adopted child just as much as a biological one.” In June of 2001, Steve went on a mission trip to Honduras where he fell in love with the people and, especially, the children of Central America. He also had a chance to talk with a close friend who had adopted a baby from El Salvador. The Sunday after he returned, the same friend approached the Boones and asked if they, too, would be interested in adopting a child from El Salvador. Without hesitation, the Boones’ answer was “YES!” The very next day, the couple met with the private adoption agent who told them about a woman in El Salvador, whose baby was due soon. “I think the mission trip and my friend’s adoption talks,” Steve says, “was God’s way of planting the seed in me – guiding us towards this adoption. At that point we began following what we thought God wanted us to do.” The Boones received a phone call the night their as American citizens.” “When I saw Kayli for the first time, I couldn’t believe

daughter, Ryann Eliana, was born. “We were so excited,” Karen says, “but it was bittersweet because she was not

my eyes. If I could have drawn a picture of the little

with us.” Initially told that the adoption would take

Chinese girl I was dreaming of, she was exactly the picture

nine months to a year, the Boones soon learned that

I would have drawn. She also has the perfect personality

Salvadorian red tape would hold up the adoption for much

for our family,” says Josie. Today, Robbie, Josie, Jamie, age

longer. “We didn’t know it at the time,” Steve says, “but

10, Sam, age 7, and Kayli, age 5, are sometimes referred

El Salvador does very few international adoptions a year.”

to as the United Nations family. “The kids all look so

Eliana was placed in foster care, while Steve and Karen

different,” Josie says, “but the love we have for them is the

waited for the government to finalize the adoption. “We

same. We tend to forget they are not all our natural born

were told that we could visit her in El Salvador,” Karen

children unless,” she laughs, “someone is staring at us,

explains, “but I knew in my heart there was no way, as a

trying to figure us all out.” Because of their experiences,

mother, that I could hold Eliana in my arms then go back

Robbie and Josie encourage others to adopt, domestically

home without her.”

and internationally. “I tell people especially,” Robbie says,

While they watched their daughter grow up through

“that if you are even considering adopting a little girl

pictures and videotapes, the Boones learned of another

from China – just do it. Because parents in China are only

little girl from El Salvador that needed a home. They leapt

allowed to have one child, and financially they need a son

at the chance to have two children and were ecstatic at

who can work and help them, there are way too many girls

the thought of bringing both girls home together. They

in orphanages. If you don’t go and get them, there will be

were a year into the adoption process of Gracie Elizabeth GreerNow NOVEMBER 2007



before they learned that they would be unable to adopt two children from El Salvador at the same time. “Our plan was to bring Eliana home first, then return for Gracie,” Steve says, “but before that could happen, Gracie was returned to her birth family.” Three weeks later, their agent called with news of an infant born in Guatemala that might be available to adopt. Again, the Boones were heartbroken when they learned that the baby, Jose Miguel, had been diagnosed with hepatitis and was not allowed into the adoption system. Just when the Boones decided to focus all their efforts on bringing Eliana home, another baby boy was placed up for adoption in Guatemala. A year later, on April 9, 2004, over forty people met the couple at the airport when they brought their beautiful new son, Aaron James, home. On April 7th, 2005, over three years from when she first

entered their lives, Eliana at last joined her father, mother, baby brother, and new puppy making the family complete. Today, Eliana, 5, and Aaron, 4, look, and act like natural siblings and are absolutely at home with their loving new parents. “It’s like they were never not here,” Karen says with a smile. “But adoption,” she admits, “was a long road for us. We fell into it so fast that we weren’t prepared for the intense paperwork, the emotional roller coasters, and the waiting. The waiting was the worst. We prayed everyday for God to give us patience.” Nevertheless, when asked if they would do it all over again knowing what they do today, Steve and Karen both agree, “Absolutely, without a doubt.” Although these families have very different adoption experiences, their stories have three things in common God, love, and the heart. Although the road to adoption is, as one couple put it, “not for the faint of heart,” it may just very well be God’s path of love that leads you to the child of your heart. d

30 GreerNow NOVEMBER 2007

07-11 Children of the Heart  

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