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BC: God's pen scribed this story into existence; I simply recorded it on paper. To God Be the Glory

FC: Benjamin Allen Bretl

1: God has truly been good to our family. The path has not always been easy, but we have grown significantly through the challenges He has allowed. And even though we could not see the purpose of the struggles at the time we have been blessed immeasurably by His Sovereign plan in ways we could never have imagined. This story is just a small part of what He has done for our family “thus far” and surely only a taste of what He has planned to come. | Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us." 1 Samuel 7:12

2: The clock read 2:00 in the morning. I was once again being called from my warm bed by the urgent cries of newborn hunger. I leaned over the crib and gathered him up in my arms. Even through the exhaustion I felt a distinct wave of joy wash over me as I realized just how long it had been. It was falling afresh on me that I was holding a BABY in my arms, and that I... was his momma. I stood there swaying back and forth; suddenly not at all bothered by the early hour. I was simply content to finally have a little one to get up for. As I held him in my arms I could not help but remember, with awe, all that God had done to bring us this miracle...

3: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7 | Preparation Through Hardship March of 2009 We had just celebrated our daughter, Alaina's, fourth birthday and were enjoying our two year old foster son, Junior. Brad was working long days up in the office at Stainless Specialists and I had my hands full with our home, calendar, and kids. Our lives were busy, but fairly predictable. Then one day God allowed some unexpected trials that changed the entire course of our family's future. I’ll never forget standing in our garage as Brad pulled in the driveway, home from work. He casually approached me and blurted out that he had lost his job. I was completely taken by surprise. But, as stunned as I was in that moment, the news had equally blindsided Brad earlier in the day. Fear instantly rose up in me as I considered all that it could mean for our family. It did honestly change almost every aspect of our lives. We scrambled to juggle, adjust and regroup. Admittedly, we battled fears regarding our finances, job hunting, our home, and our future. With all of these struggles came an even deeper challenge to stand firm in our faith. We were about to have our hearts examined as to the genuineness of our belief in God and His provision. Over the next several months Brad took on the demands of starting his own plumbing business. I decided I would begin looking for a part time job to help make ends meet. Several employment opportunities quickly came my way and I was hopeful to soon be bringing home a paycheck. One by one the doors began closing, however, as scheduling, distance, or lack of peace from the Lord kept me from accepting any of the positions. Getting a part-time job seemed to be an obvious solution, so I wrestled with why God was not allowing me to work. Even while seeking the Lord in prayer the doors continued to close for me to work outside the home. It was difficult to understand why I was not free to use my time in a way that could help bring the financial relief we needed. I shared my frustrations with a few close friends over those weeks. I remember how they rightly encouraged us not to make decisions for our family based on fear. When I stopped to think about it, I guess I had to admit that my motivation probably was self-sufficiency. I wanted to work so I felt productive and in control. Convicted of this, I realized that the Lord wanted us to rely fully on His provision, rather than our own human efforts. Time in His word and prayer continued to confirmed those truths so I remained home full time. Good and bad days followed over the next seven months. In July we faced another heart wrenching loss when our foster son, Juney, was taken from our home to his biological grandparents in Michigan. It was a deeply painful loss for our family as well as our friends. The night before our social worker came to take him, our living room was packed with church friends that came to pray over him and our family. Brad and I were deeply moved by their willingness to bear this loss with us. They were an amazing support in our time of need.

4: Joy...and Loss The following November brought more interesting changes. After four long and painful years of waiting we were shocked to find that we were now expecting a baby! While we were excited, the timing rekindled fears over the reality of our new financial situation. We had adjusted to a lower level of income over the last seven months, but this seemed like a new level of provision. We did not know how we would afford even a fraction of the anticipated medical bills that were sure to come with a pregnancy and no insurance. Continually challenged to hold fast to God's faithfulness we submitted to trusting Him for this as well. Releasing the details up to the Lord allowed for our natural excitement over the blessing to emerge. We were so excited that we quickly began sharing our news. At our Youth Leader Christmas party we planted our announcement inside one of the anonymous White Elephant gifts. It didn't take too long for everyone to figure out that it was the Bretl's who were expecting! What a fun way to share our news with those closest to us. As Christmas drew near we looked forward to celebrating with family and continuing to share our news. Alaina was particularly excited to give Grandma and Grandpa Migala her “surprise” Christmas gift. She had drawn a picture of mommy with a baby in her tummy as our way of announcing the new arrival. We went to bed after a wonderful Christmas Eve with friends and looked forward to heading to Grandma and Grandpa's in the morning. The next morning on Christmas day, however, the excitement quickly faded in our home. Things took a heartbreaking turn that morning as I became concerned that something was wrong with the baby. In hopes that things were fine we tried to salvage Christmas day by continuing on with our plans. We traveled to Necedah,WI to Grandma and Grandpa Migala's. While there I continued to have signs of concern so we made the hard decision to head home late that evening. We dropped Alaina off with the Vandenbergs and then headed to the hospital. God, in His grace, was already providing us support during those difficult hours as our ER doctor ended up being a wonderful godly man we knew from our church. After running some tests and doing an ultrasound Dr. Neilsen sadly confirmed that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. Devastated, we returned home to grieve our loss. December ended and the new year, 2010, began. I remember looking back over the 2009 year with great heaviness. It was getting harder and harder to make sense of all of the loss and continued struggle in our lives. Feeling drained on every level, I specifically prayed to God for rest and relief in the year ahead. | Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

5: Christmas Eve 2009

6: Doors Begin to Open In the spring, 2010, I was asked to consider leading a Women's Bible study at our church. Having little experience or ability of my own, I was very hesitant to step out in front of a class. However, after feeling so many doors close when seeking employment, I was now surprised to find that the door to teaching remained open. I felt prompted to walk forward even though I was completely terrified. My dear friend, Karen Vandenberg, took me under her wing as we co-led “Anointed, Transformed and Redeemed” together. I desperately relied on God equipping me as I fumbled my way through the first six week class. Before long it was May, the class was over, and I had agreed to co-lead a twelve week class for the fall! While I still did not feel all that capable of teaching, I sensed a new level of passion for God’s Word rising up in me. I wanted to be obedient to God’s will and experience His truths alongside other women seeking Him. I was matched with another co-leader named Tammy Mathsen for a new study. I was only slightly acquainted with Tammy from previous studies but I looked forward to getting to know her better. She and I began praying about our study options and both felt led to offer “The Fruit of the Spirit” by Beth Moore. Anxious to dive in, I began to work through the material during that summer in preparation for the class to begin in September. August came and was flying by quickly. It was an exciting end to the month as I was turning the “BIG 30”. With the help of my dear friends, Brad pulled off the best surprise birthday party ever! He even surprised me with a weekend away for just the two of us. A day later we said goodbye to Alaina and got on the road headed for Door County. With a two and half hour drive ahead of us Brad and I finally had time to reconnect. It felt like the first time in a year that we had uninterrupted time to process all that we had experienced over the last year. We also discussed our family’s future and our continued sense that our family was not complete. For the first time we discussed looking into adoption. We knew it could be a long hard road as we had just watched the Vandenberg’s adoption journey to China and back for their daughter Mia. We saw that their commitment to God’s leading indeed brought tremendous blessing, but that it did not come on a perfectly paved path. We witnessed the realities of loads of paperwork, long waits, red tape, and tears. We were prepared to go wherever God was leading our family but also recognized the hurdles that path would bring. We wrapped up our amazing weekend with the conclusion that we would be begin looking into our options for adopting as soon as we got home. | Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

7: "For I know the plans I have for you", declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

8: Our bags were not even unpacked from our weekend away when we were contacted about an adoption possibility! This was just hours after our decision to look into adoption. There was a little girl due to be born in six weeks needing a home. This seemed like an immediate answer to our very first conversation on adoption! The next two weeks were a blur of letters, phone calls, emails, planning, and preliminary paperwork. Not by chance, I had still been working on the upcoming Fruit of the Spirit study material. I found myself on Week 8, steeped in passages on the fruit of “Faithfulness”. Every day the lessons on faithfulness coincided with the events we were experiencing with the adoption possibility. As I read the study the author, Beth Moore, posed the very question on my heart. She asked, “So, is it wrong to ever expect God to move in an obvious way?” This adoption fell into our laps in a way that seemed pretty obvious. Beth responded a sentence later, “Oh Beloved, if we could just comprehend that a faith based on who God IS frees Him completely to show us what He can DO! Right motives invite real miracles!” I was overwhelmed by the possibility that this might in fact be God unfolding a miracle. I bowed my head and prayed in amazement, “God, are you about to work a miracle here? Help me to focus on WHO you are, and keep right motives.” It was at that precise moment that Alaina walked in and interrupted my prayer. “Mom, what’s this,” she asked? She asked over and over again until I finally looked up at her. I turned to see her holding a small pink t-shirt with the words “I’m going to be a big sister” written across the front. I was dumbfounded. I knew what that shirt was, I had made the shirt three years ago. We did not foresee struggling to conceive another child so I had hoped to have Alaina wear it as our way of announcing our news to family and friends. I had apparently gotten a little ahead of myself. During the painful years of our infertility I had rolled up the homemade shirt, tucked it away, and never thought of it again. I had not seen it in the last three years. I even had a hard time recalling where I had put it. I knew Alaina had never seen it before. How did she find it? Where did she find it? And more importantly, WHY did she find it and WHY right now? There arose in me such anticipation that I just had to work ahead in the studies homework. The next day’s homework brought this message, “We must seek His heart to know if a particular assurance is ours to claim in a particular moment. But once God provides His Word to claim, the immediate burden of belief falls into action.” I felt challenged to believe God like never before for this miracle. Based on all of the timely messages in my study time with the Lord I really believed God was bringing us this baby girl.

9: As everything continued to fall into place on our end we began to believe that God may be answering our prayers almost immediately. The whole thing was a whirlwind experience... that is, until the day everything came to an anguishing halt. The opportunity fell through. The hope of adoption was gone just as quickly as it had started. The birth mom had decided to keep the baby and we were left stunned. The timing and details of so many factors had led us to hope that this WAS our answer. We now had to accept that it was not God's plan for us. I had been so stirred by the challenge of faith through my study that the reality of a closed door left me shaken. I had been so desperate to move on from the heaviness the past year held that I ached to see God’s hand bring blessing. I believed Him so intensely for this miracle that the dissolving of it felt like a crushing final blow for me. For the first time in my life, I deeply wrestled with the Sovereignty and Goodness of God. The next couple of weeks were dark days as I struggled to understand God's purpose in that adoption experience. After all, we had not pursued this; it had simply come “out of nowhere” and fallen in our laps. What was the purpose of bringing a near miraculous answer to our prayer only to remove it? I sat in worship the following Sunday morning, and could not hold back the wave of emotions. In the past, I have experienced times in my life when the sweet draw of His presence would move me to tears of tenderness, but this was not one of those moments. This time I simply felt nothing in His presence. The grief I felt over the sense of distance between us was unbearable. I had been through far worse tragedies in my life before this and never experienced this kind of void with Him. I could not make sense of how I had gotten here and felt paralyzed to move out from under it. The next few days remained that way. I was careful not to go brazenly accusing the Lord with “how dare you,” but I did pour out very real anger and frustration. All I could do was take my raw emotions and lay them bare. There were no clear answers. I continued to empty it all out and in time the pain began to lift a little each week. God began gradually and lovingly bringing me back to a place of believing in his goodness. I cannot explain exactly what changed in the following weeks, only that God Himself melted my hurting heart back to a place of full submission to Him. The heaviness lifted and I began to slowly feel His presence once again. | So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 4:19

10: Pieces begin to Form a Picture September was soon here and ushered in a new school schedule, youth group events, and leading the Fruit of the Spirit study that I had prepped for all summer. I found myself wishing I could just hit the pause button to catch my breath for a minute, but time slows for no one. We transitioned our family into our busy calendar of events and began feeling a sense of routine. Just as hardship had sprung up out of nowhere God was about to unexpectedly change our lives once again. The Wednesday morning Bible study class had begun, and over the next couple of months we worked our way, one by one, through the nine fruits of the spirit. It was on one of those Wednesday mornings, November 7th 2010, that God moved on our behalf. Timing wise, that meant I needed to actually teach week eight on Faithfulness. Those were the very lessons that I had lived alongside of the adoption whirlwind only a couple months ago. Even after spending time in preparation on the material I was unsettled about how much to share with the class. I did not know how to separate that week's lesson from our adoption experience, but I was not sure I was ready to publicly share a personal story that even I did not understand. I had never before felt so uncertain of what to say. Tammy and I prayed before the class began, just as we had before every other lesson during the last months. She simply prayed the I would have clarity to share what God wanted me to share. With that, I made my way to the front of the room. Never could I have imagined the Sovereign appointment awaiting me there. As I stood before the room full of ladies I did not feel a wave of clarity or certainty that I had hoped God would suddenly bring. Nonetheless, I began reviewing the last few days of homework on God’s Faithfulness. The focus was on Paul’s Shipwreck in Acts 27 into 28. I camped on two major truths learned from that account according to Beth Moore. She pointed out that “God’s deliverance came through the ship running aground” and that “God always has a destination in mind when He delivers.” Before I had time to second guess myself, I began telling the women briefly about our personal struggle, our miscarriage, and the recent adoption disappointment. That it was clear the Lord allowed our adoption opportunity to “run aground.” And that I knew I needed to trust that in His goodness He had a reason. | But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

11: I concluded with two quotes from the study material that deeply moved me every time I read them. She said, “I am convinced that faith sometimes means knowing God can, whether or not He does. If he chooses not to, He has greater glory in mind,” and “If only we would release God from our preconceived notions of what a miracle should be, Our eyes would be opened to so much more!” After sharing, I wrapped up and I went back to my seat. I do not know what I was expecting, but it felt... like any other time that I had shared in the past. I concluded that God must not have intended to impact anyone else but simply for my own closure and healing. I was completely unaware that He was “birthing” His plan right then and there. Oh, if only I could have seen then what the Living, Breathing, God was setting into motion the VERY moment I stood there speaking those words! It wasn't simply the “words” of our story, however. God was using my OWN mouth to decree His truths that He was PRESENTLY accomplishing THROUGH me and FOR me! The testimony of our shipwreck that I hesitated to share was the VERY piece linking us to His greater miracle. It was only AFTER our ship ran aground that those words leapt off the page as blinding truth. They were the very same pages that had stirred me to believe so strongly for that adoption to begin with, but somehow I had not noticed them as specifically as I did after it all came crashing down. They were powerful lessons for me coming away from such a similar “shipwreck” experience in our lives. I had preconceived that God must be bringing us the miracle of that baby girl, but He was not. Now, I simply needed to believe that He had a reason. He could use that shipwreck for FAR greater Glory and a FAR greater miracle! I just could not have known how specifically one was required to bring about the other. | In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9 | Sovereignty

12: What God had not yet revealed to me was that visiting for the very first time that morning was a special young lady by the name of Jesseca Sandall. She had her own story of how and why she came to be there that day, but it would not be until much later that I would learn all of the amazing details. Details that were about to unveil God’s “destination in mind” for us when He allowed our ship to “run aground.” And details that were about to reveal “His Greater Glory”. Jesseca and I met only briefly that morning, but every word of our story lingered in her heart over the next several weeks. | Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14

13: In the Meantime In the weeks that followed Brad and I returned to actively exploring our adoption options. As we looked into various programs, however, we were once again discouraged as one by one the doors began to close. Foster care to adopt was an unlikely option that closed quickly. We then met with Lutheran Social Services to explore our options there. Sitting in the social workers office we went through the list of options. International adoption was not an option due to the previous year’s job loss. That disqualified us from almost every country's financial requirement. The social worker then mentioned the Independent program, where couples work to find their own birth mom. Brad and I quickly dismissed that as an impossible road we did not want to travel. “Where are we going to find a birth mom,” we asked? The last option was the domestic adoption program, where couples submit a profile and then “wait in a book” to be chosen by a birth mother. We wanted to be obedient to the Lord's leading but after weeks of praying we did not feel peace about moving forward with that route either. That seemed to be the final closing of the adoption door. I did know what was left. With adoption no longer feeling like an option it was difficult to see how God could have a plan in all of this. I have to admit that some days self-pity fueled the thought that this was all just a little unfair. We had been through so much over the last year and half that it was hard not to feel just a little picked on. I fought hard daily to replace that lie with the truth of God's goodness. As hard as it was for me to battle my fleshly feelings, however, it was even more difficult to walk our five year old daughter through. It was painful to hear the unanswered prayers of our little girl. One night in particular my heart ached as we tucked Alaina into bed and listened to her plead with God in prayer. "Lord, please! Lord PLEASE!!!!! Can I have a brother or sister?" she begged. The longing in her small voice was excruciating for her parents to hear. We wished we could spare her from experiencing this hardship alongside us, but this was yet another lesson and layer to our understanding of our God. She was first and foremost HIS daughter and as her creator loved her more than we could imagine. That night we were reminded that we needed to trust the Lord with Alaina’s little heart as well. | Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

14: A Timely Message Winter was now in full swing and we had finished our last lesson on the Fruit of the Spirit. To wrap up that semester of Wednesday morning Bible Study before Christmas break we decided to show Beth Moore's Christmas Video. Sitting in my chair that morning, watching her video message, I was convicted to my core. I felt as though the video was speaking directly to me in intensely personal ways. She taught on how we are to deal with profound disappointment as believers. Just hearing the words "profound disappointment" made my eyes well with tears. The truths she shared in those next moments lifted my heavy spirit. Hearing the promises of God refueled my faith. The message notes I scribbled down were these: In the Face of Profound Disappointment... 1. Be Looking for Him 2. Bring our Disappointment to the Altar 3. Believe to the Bone that God has heard you. 4. Blessed are you when what comes naturally to others comes supernaturally to you. 5. You are not picked ON but picked OUT! You can imagine how precisely personal that message felt to me! It almost felt a little too personally intended; as if God were in fact directing the message only to me. I looked around the room to see if it was as obvious to everyone else that He was speaking to me. That's what I love about God's Omnipresence; any time truth is shared from His Word it can be a uniquely personal message for each individual hearer. I could see how I had begun to waiver in “looking for Him” and “bringing my disappointment” to Him. I was reminded that I needed to “believe to the bone” that He had heard every cry of my heart and that He is trustworthy. My wrongful assumptions of feeling “picked on” were truly replaced by a renewed hope that God just might have another purpose for me. God could still work all of our recent hardships for His good. It made me wonder though, just wonder, if this meant God was about to supernaturally help us conceive. It clearly was not coming naturally to us but maybe He would change that. Regardless of what was ahead God used the video as a perfectly timed word. I felt heard and comforted by the Spirit of my very real and active God. His tender care of my human heart brought waves of emotion as tears poured down my cheeks. It was the conviction and the peace I needed to persevere amidst the very real pain of our circumstances. It also stirred a new desire for victory in the area of doubting Him. I did not want anything to inhibit my availability to be used by Him in the future. My hope was renewed but I could not have imagined how He planned to “supernaturally” fulfill it in the very near future. God was about to rock my world and my tiny view of Him. | Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5

15: Providence Revealed As Christmas drew near I was feeling a little emotionally torn. We were excited for the holiday celebrations, but anticipated some sad days as it was also the one year anniversary of our miscarriage. We wanted to be purposeful in redeeming Christmas morning from the hard memories that may have come. On December 18th God brought a renewed focus we could have never seen coming. We were doing some Christmas shopping late in the evening when my cell phone rang. It was Collene Borchardt from our church. She started by asking if I remembered meeting her sister, Jesseca, when she visited the Fruit of the Spirit bible study on November 7th. I could not have imagined all that she was about to say next. Collene was actually calling on behalf of her sister. She began to share with me the details of Jesseca's story and her very timely visit to the class. Apparently, only a few weeks before our meeting at Bible study Jesseca had visited Hope Pregnancy Resource Center. There they confirmed that she was pregnant. She knew early on that she was considering adoption so hearing of our desire to adopt only a few weeks later struck Jesseca as maybe from the Lord. What had felt like any other moment to me, when I shared that day, had been God opening a huge door for her. And what I had figured had been only for my own healing God had intended beyond what any of us could have fathomed. Collene went on to share that Jesseca was currently working through extremely difficult circumstances to care for her two year old son, Cole. The whole phone conversation with Collene seemed surreal to me. While we were very excited about this new possibility we had also learned to more carefully guard our hearts. We kept the potential opportunity in the back of our minds and went on with life as usual. Well..., maybe there with just a little extra bounce in our steps. :) | Providence

16: Unfolding On December 30th, I received another important phone call. Jesseca, had just been to her twenty week check-up and was calling to tell me how everything went. I vividly remember her asking if I wanted to know the gender of the baby. It was at THAT precise moment and for the FIRST time that it all seemed really REAL. I was desperate to know, but choking back the tears I asked that if she was really serious about moving forward then could she wait to tell us the gender when Brad and I were together. We agreed we would wait and set up a time soon for all of us to meet. I hung up the phone with my head spinning! Not long after, we had a date on the calendar to have them over. Jesseca, along with her son Cole, and the birth father, Jerrod came over late one night for dinner. We wanted to get to know each other and continue to move forward with the adoption process. We nervously anticipated their arrival. Once they were there we chatted casually and soon felt at ease with one another. We all talked in more detail about how miraculously God had caused our paths to cross. Brad and I chuckled as we told them we had recently dismissed independent adoption because we had no idea where we would find a birth mom. God was apparently making a point about His sovereignty as He had literally just brought one to us! After further discussion we were thrilled to know that she was carrying a baby boy! We were overtaken by thoughts of what it would be like to have a son. Before the evening ended Jesseca and Jerrod clearly confirmed their desire to place this little treasure into our home, and so choosing for us to become his forever family. We were on cloud nine!

17: However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

18: Baby on the Way We remained busy with our full family schedule over the next few months and looked anxiously toward the future when we would add a son to the Bretl family. Brad continued to be busy with the business, I managed our home life, and Alaina was enjoying half day Kindergarten. We continually welcomed Jesseca, Cole, and Jerrod into our home as we moved forward with the adoption plan. One evening when they had come to visit Jesseca brought his ultrasound pictures. This was our first glimpse of our son and the miracle growing inside her. We stared in awe at the curves and shape of his sweet little face. As time went on, with each meeting, we were more and more deeply moved by Jesseca's and Jerrod's love and sacrifice for this little boy. It was evident that their desire was to give him all they wanted to through adoption. It was also clear their decision was rooted in selfless love; which we greatly admired. We all talked openly about our thoughts, hopes, and concerns. Every question we could think of was asked. Our relationship grew to be one of genuine friendship where we cared for them in ways we did not anticipate, nor that seemed common in most adoptions situations. | Week 5 Week 7 Week 10 | The first heartbeats begin Umbilical cord develops Arm and leg buds appear Lungs and brain begin | Ears, Eyes, Nose, Tongue, all begin to form Tiny toe buds form | Eye lenses, nostrils, and intestines begin Limbs start extending | Short webbed fingers and toes form Joints working Undetected Movement begins | Fingers continue to develop Eyes fused closed Entering rapid growth | l l l l l | 11 Weeks Along October 26th 2010

19: A Precious Glimpse | 20 Weeks Along December 30th 2010 | Week 15 Week 17 Week 20 | Sucking, swallowing, hiccuping, and blinking Learning to "breathe" Heart grows stronger Increased muscle | Immunities transferred Nerve cells for taste, smell, hearing, seeing, and touch are now developing Hears outside sounds | Plays with his fists or sucks his thumb Should hear a heartbeat at Doctor visit | Fluttering movements of kicks, flails, twists and turns Developing his unique fingerprints | Developed sleep patterns Favorite sleeping position Hair Sprouts | l l l l l

20: We were also blessed by a growing closeness between Jesseca and our close church family. On April 16th, Jesseca and I were talking when I became aware of some concerns regarding her and Cole's living situation. Even after she left, the weight of her circumstances stayed with me as I wrestled with how we could help her. Brad and I would have liked to move them into our home but knew that would not be legally appropriate considering our adoption plans. I left that afternoon with a heavy heart and headed up to church to attend a friend’s baby shower. After the shower I pulled my two close friends, Alison and Karen, aside into a small Sunday school classroom. I shared with them my concerns for Jesseca's living situation. The three of us began brainstorming and all headed home to make a few phone calls. Only a few hours later, Karen called me back to say that she and her husband, Steve, felt led to open THEIR home to them. Their heart's desire to live out God's word was so encouraging. They were willing to be the literal hands and feet of Christ by providing a young expectant mother and her son a clean safe place to live. Brad and I were very thankful and greatly blessed. Shortly afterward, I excitedly shared the Vandenbergs offer with Jesseca. As I explained to her all that had transpired during the last few hours I was laughing inside at God's handiwork. She was incredibly grateful and seemed surprised we were all so willing to help. She asked when we were thinking of her moving and was even more shocked when I replied “now”. We wasted no time. We followed her to the small house where she was living. We packed all of her belongings into the back of Brad's work truck in twenty minutes and then were gone. We unloaded most of her things at the Vandenbergs and then headed home to store the rest in our basement. That evening, Brad and I sat on the couch feeling a little bewildered. We just smiled as we reviewed all that God had done in that one day. It was becoming clear that this was never just about God providing a baby for the Bretls, but about a community of believers coming alongside a young woman in need. God was making His Glory known in amazing ways and we were humbled to be a part of it. | The Vandenberg Family

21: Then came another remarkable opportunity we will never forget. On April 27th we had the privilege of joining Jesseca for her next ultrasound appointment. She was about 37 weeks along and the baby was measuring a little on the small side. Her doctor wanted to be sure everything was still going okay by doing one final check. What a neat day in our lives as we stood next to Jesseca and she shared the first of many precious moments with us. It was at that appointment that we first fell in love with our little guy’s full head of hair. There on the ultrasound screen the technician pointed out all of the tiny hairs spiking off the side of his head, around the silhouette of his perfect little ear. We headed home with priceless new black and white pictures. At times it seemed like we were watching this story play out on the big screen when in fact, we were LIVING it. God would soon demonstrate just what “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine” really meant as more details began to unfold. | I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalms 139:14 | By now LITTLE MAN... Has formed taste buds Can grasp objects Responds to touch Can dream Has more noticeable hair Has all five senses Has eyes open when awake Turns toward light Has started gaining weight | 37 Weeks Along * April 27th 2011

22: Jesseca and I were talking when she casually shared that she had previously met Tammy before that morning in the Bible study. I was surprised and asked her where? Jesseca answered, “well the woman you were leading the class with was my counselor when I went in to Hope Pregnancy Center and found out I was pregnant.” I was shocked! Here Tammy had known who Jesseca was from the very moment she walked into the Bible study that day! To Tammy’s amazing credit she respected Jesseca’s privacy and never let on for a second to their connection. I remember that morning of study, even as I confessed my uncertainty of what to share with the class, Tammy honored confidentiality. She simply prayed a genuine prayer that the Lord would give me the words to say. It wasn't until much later that I would learn about the pounding in Tammy’s heart as I began to share our story. How the shocking timing of Jesseca's unexpected visit to our class left Tammy wondering what God could be up to. A few months had gone by for Tammy without any news; as Jesseca had not yet contacted us. It would not be until after we received the phone call from her sister Collene and we began sharing our news that Tammy saw things begin to play out. I laugh now as I remember back to those early conversations with . How calmly she listened, nonchalantly nodding her head, all the while knowing far more than I could have expected. I love that someone was fervently bathing us in prayer long before we even KNEW to be praying. I appreciate her honored commitment to Hope’s confidentiality standards; all the while squirming with joy inside! Only after we had Jesseca’s full permission did Tammy reveal all the details of her unique perspective in this story. For those several months Tammy had a front row seat to the unique unfolding of the Lord’s plan. It came at a time in her life when she was longing for a renewed display of God’s power and activity. Tammy was yet another life that was impacted by God's plan in this. Even after Tammy's initial connections to Jesseca, at Hope and church, God continued to keep their paths crossed. There was no denying God’s sense of purpose when He moved Jesseca into the Vandenbergs home who just so happened to be backyard neighbors to... Tammy Mathsen. It opened up opportunities for continued communication and ministry between them. | Armed with newly printed ultrasound pictures I proudly shared them with a few ladies in women’s Bible study. One of those ladies was Tammy Mathsen, the woman with whom I had co-led the previous study, and who was present the day Jesseca visited. I showed them to her one morning and watched as her eyes welled with tears. I was a little surprised by her emotion, but just assumed that she was simply in awe of God’s working in the situation. I remember saying in response to her tears, “I know. Crazy huh? ” to which Tammy replied “More than you know.” I didn’t think much of it then but the next time Jesseca and Jerrod visited I found out a very interesting piece of information! | Details of God's Sovereignty Begin to surface

23: PICTURE OF JANE | Another sweet lady from church, Jane Kelly, shared her neat connection as well. Jane was good friends with Tammy as they were both advocates at Hope Pregnancy Center. I had recently gotten to know Jane the previous year when we met weekly to pray for our kids and their schools, through Moms In Touch. Jane had prayed with me through our job loss, our miscarriage, and our adoption disappointments. In October 2010, a group of us ladies had gone to the Women’s Retreat at Silver Birch Ranch in Antigo. While Jane and I both had attended, we did not find much time to connect that weekend. Afterwards, however, several months into our adoption plan with Jesseca, Jane told me more about her time up at the camp. Jane had struck up a conversation with a younger woman there by the name of Collene Borchardt. The two of them ended up talking at length. Collene opened up to Jane about her concerns for her sister, Jesseca. She shared that Jesseca had JUST found herself facing an unplanned pregnancy. It was amazing to see how God used Jane that day. She was probably the most fitting person at the retreat with all her experience from Hope, to be a great source of information and support to Collene. How remarkable! God had woven so many Sovereign details together long before we could have imagined there even was a story, let alone that He was about to weave us into it.

24: Sovereign Meetings Continue We had begun working with our social worker, Andrea Hoffman, from Catholic Charities in March to begin the adoption process. We worked quickly to schedule meetings, take classes, organize paperwork, have fingerprints taken, and complete our home study. We moved through the necessary steps fairly smoothly and learned some great information along the way. One thing in particular that began surfacing for us was the unique and specific challenges that come with domestic adoption. While we knew several people who had adopted internationally we did not know anyone who could relate to domestic adoption. I began looking for support groups in our area but was surprised to continually come up empty. It was becoming a source of frustration until God simply supplied exactly what we desired. On April 16th, at the same baby shower mentioned earlier, God introduced me to a new friend. I was enjoying casual conversation with the sweet ladies at my table when the topic of adoption came up. They mentioned a lady there by the name of Sandy Schmidt who had adopted her son domestically. I was thrilled to finally hear of ANYONE who had a domestic adoption experience. As we filled our plates with yummy food she made her way over and introduced herself to me. She apparently was hearing about me at her table across the room as I was simultaneously learning about her. We chatted briefly and then swapped contact information. Weeks later we were invited to Patrick and Sandy’s home for dinner. We got to hear the full story of how God brought them their son, Jeremiah. The fact that we had shared experiences in adoption was helpful but we were even more excited to see their genuine passion and commitment to the Lord. We were grateful to now know someone who had been down a similar path, one that we were just beginning. | Sitting in the Schmidt’s home that night Patrick brought up an idea that is now one of the pieces I am most grateful for in meeting them. He asked if we had considered having a birth photographer present for the birth. I had been anticipating those first precious moments meeting our son and knew I would be torn between soaking in the memories and capturing them with my camera. His mention of it seemed like a great idea and a perfect solution. We needed to move quickly though as we were only about a month away from the due date. While we knew how priceless the photos would be to our family, Patrick went on to share an even greater purpose that came to mind. He suggested that we consider sharing them with Pregnancy Resource Centers, such as Hope, so that they could use them to promote adoption. We had never thought about the greater impact this could have to advocate for life and adoption, and the thought of using this story for God's Glory was truly humbling. | The Schmidts

25: In the week that followed our dinner with the Schmidts I began looking for a photographer; now feeling a sense of urgency. It soon became clear, however, that the high cost was going to be a struggle for us. We did not want the expense to keep us from an opportunity to use this in adoption centers, but we first needed to make sure Pregnancy Centers would in fact be interested. I called Tammy Mathsen and shared our consideration. She agreed that it would be a great tool to use in their center. She also mentioned the name of a talented young photographer named Christina Moodie as an option for us to consider. Christina had apparently done photos for Hope Pregnancy in the past and Tammy thought she might be interested. When Christina and I connected on the phone a few days later I was elated by my conversation with her. She had been praying for two weeks for the opportunity to expand her portfolio by doing both birth and newborn photo shoots. That meant that she was willing to do both photo shoots at cost! I was so excited! This was another answer to prayer and another opportunity to see the sovereignty of the Lord play out perfectly. | And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 | Christina Moodie

26: Nesting With an original due date set for May 17th we were nearing the BIG day with only a few weeks left. Suddenly preparations seemed more and more heightened. Apparently “nesting” is not reserved for those battling raging pregnancy hormones. Cleaning, organizing, paperwork, and having our bags packed by the door filled my to-do list. We worked on finishing the baby room by painting, choosing bedding, and decorating. Everything was coming together except for one tiny detail, a crib. For weeks I searched for and priced cribs with no luck. Even when checking Craig’s List I became thoroughly frustrated by the lack of options in our area. I felt time ticking away as day after day I could not locate a crib. I wanted to expand my search to further surrounding areas but I was not sure how I would get it here if I found one. The next weekend it just so happened that a dear friend of mine, Emily Koehler, was near the Cities visiting her family. She graciously offered to pick up a crib for me if I found one. Excited by my newly expanded search area, I began inquiring about a few on Craig's List in that area. After two days of going back and forth, however, I still had not secured a crib. The long story short was that it had come down to two cribs, neither of which I was all that crazy about. They were not exactly what I envisioned for the final piece to our baby room. The two cribs seemed to be priced too high and the owners lived further from my friend than I thought practical. To make matters worse, Emily was heading back to Wausau soon and my window of opportunity was closing quickly. I remember feeling so stressed out about it that I had to take a step back and spend a moment surrendering this silly detail up to God. “Lord, you know we’re short on time. I am not sure I can get either of these cribs now or if I even want to. Just help me trust you for the small things as you’ve been so faithful in the huge things.” I was just about to call Emily and tell her I would have to pass on them both when my phone rang. It was from a woman selling a THIRD crib that I had preferred over all the others. I had not heard back from her all weekend though, and so I had assumed it was gone. She was calling to say that she still had the crib. It was the one I really liked and it was cheaper than all the others! The only question now would be the exchange. Emily was due to leave town shortly and the woman lived an hour away. Unbelievably, the woman “happened” to work 45 minutes south of her home and only 15 minutes away from Emily’s childhood home. At what felt like the last possible moment, as my friend was leaving town, she met this woman in a parking lot to make the swap. Just like that, I had my baby boy’s crib and it was on its way home!

27: A Name We had been thinking of names and began to throw around a few options for our little guy. I had a couple surface right away that I liked, Benjamin and Jeremiah. Brad decided to scare us all by insisting that he liked the name Arnie. I believe he was serious but thankfully the reactions of family and friends deterred him. Alaina had decided early on and never wavered from asking that he be named Gilbert. We have no idea where she had heard that name before but her silly six year old taste made us all laugh. I continually felt a strong pull toward one name in particular. So, after some discussion, we decided the name for our long awaited son would be “Benjamin Allen Bretl.” Benjamin means “son of my right hand.” We chose “Allen” because it is Brad’s middle name, after his Grandfather Allen. Alaina and I share a middle name so it only seemed fitting that Brad and his son share a middle name too. We had a crib, a room, and now we finally had name. Nothing left to do now but wait. | Benjamin | "Son of my Right hand"

28: I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 1 Samuel 1:27

29: Welcome to the World! Tuesday, May 17th, I shot out of bed to the sound of my cell phone ringing in the other room. I looked at the clock to see that it was 4:00 am. The doctor had scheduled an induction date for the following week so none of us were expecting him just yet, but this was Benjamin’s original due date. Figuring there was only one person who could be calling at that hour I ran to my phone. Excitement raced through me as I reached my phone and answered it. Sure enough it was Jesseca and she was calling to tell us she was in labor and that Karen was getting ready to take her to the Birthing Center! Our home went from dark and quiet to all lights on and us rushing to get out the door. We were soaring with jitters and joy! We woke Alaina up, grabbed our bags waiting by the door and headed up to the hospital. We met Karen there so she could take Alaina home with her. Just before we headed inside Karen took a moment to pray over us in the parking lot. We were so thankful for that moment as it prompted us to slow down and just soak in the miracle God was bringing. The birthing room quickly filled with all of the family and friends that Jesseca wanted to be there. Jerrod and his mother, Stacey, came and joined the already full room. It was turning out to be the celebration Jesseca had requested. Everything went smoothly. Jesseca did a great job bringing our little treasure into the world. At 9:36 am we heard the first sweet cry of our 8lb 3oz, 20 inch, son. Benjamin Allen Bretl was finally here. As we had previously discussed, and were so grateful for, Jesseca wanted us to be the first to meet and hold Benjamin. So after the nurses briefly checked him over, we were told we could see him. Suddenly I could not speak. The short walk to the other side of the room felt like a great distance as I made my way over to meet MY SON. Tears poured down my cheeks. I remember feeling nervous, thrilled, and overwhelmed. Just a few tears turned into many tears as we gazed upon our perfect little boy for the first time. We had not known how to prepare ourselves for this very moment. We had simply been praying that the Lord would be present. And present He was.

30: May 17th, 2011 | 9:36 am | 20 Inches | 8lbs 3.3 oz

33: Brad and I stood over our little Benjamin with our arms around each other. We studied his every precious feature while his blue eyes stared straight up at us. Our hearts continued to melt with love moments later as we took turns holding our tiny bundle in our arms. We were overcome with immense gratitude toward Jesseca and Jerrod for such an immeasurable gift. As we watched them each spend time with Benjamin later it was clear that they too loved him greatly. Hugging them and thanking them each in those moments seemed so insufficient. Even giving them the few small gifts we had brought for them paled in comparison to what we had been given.

34: We spent the next few hours adoring Benjamin. We passed him around the room to share with all those who came to greet him. As potentially awkward as the room dynamics could have been Brad and I both felt a genuine comfort with the family there. We knew only God could have provided such ease. Still, there was great anticipation building in us as we looked forward to Alaina's arrival. We could not wait for her to meet her new little brother. Karen had gone to pick up Alaina and bring her to the hospital. When Alaina arrived, she walked into the room eager to see Benjamin. She held her new little blue bundle close and kept smiling from ear to ear. She was finally holding the answer to her very own prayers. It was a precious moment that brought with it a sense of being full and complete. This was our new family. It felt so good to have us all there together. | Precious First Meeting

35: And just like that, three became FOUR.

42: Family time up in the Hospital

43: Benjamin

44: I could not help but open my Bible to this scripture as we prepared to end our sweet time up at the hospital.

45: The Bretls 3006 E. Butternut Rd. Wausau, WI 54403 | Going Home...

47: Our baby boy is finally home

48: Concern Arises Once home, we continue the sleep deprived phase of newborn. We were so thrilled to begin life as a family of four. Things were going amazingly well those first few days and the transition seemed almost effortless. Soon, however,concerns arose with Jerrod. It revealed just how difficult the time at the hospital had been for him. Jesseca called to convey Jerrod’s sudden uncertainty about signing the termination of rights paperwork; allowing us to legalize the adoption. We had been allowed to bring Benjamin home per Jesseca’s wishes, but also with the understanding that nothing was final. Either birth parent could change their mind at any time. While we had known all along that to bring Benjamin home from the hospital was called “legal RISK placement” for a reason, it was still a heavy blow. Fear and anger rose up as we envisioned the possibility of losing our son. Everything had gone perfectly up to this point. We had been so thorough in our time with Jesseca and Jerrod beforehand that we genuinely did not see this coming. We had built a great relationship with Jerrod and while we understood that this was an incredibly difficult decision we also felt strongly that Benjamin belonged in our family. Jesseca still firmly believed that as well and was also devastated with the possibility of any other outcome. We all began praying. We asked for prayer over the following two weeks while we awaited the court date. In those first couple days, facing real uncertainty, the lack of sleep and fear began taking a heavy toll. Brought to the end of myself in exhaustion, I went to my regular spot on the couch to have some quiet time with the Lord. I asked God for clarity and pleaded with Him to intervene in the situation. I found myself reading Psalms 17. At verse 6 my fears were quieted and the gripping in my heart lessened as I read ... I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you. I was calling on Him, and whether or not He had plans to answer in the way I wanted I was reminded that His motivation is always love. I was reminded also that he has the power to save if He chooses. I wanted to trust His decision no matter what. What really struck me though was HOW the passage said He saves, “By your right hand”. Suddenly that sounded very familiar. I knew it was no coincidence that God led me to these verses. Those words brought a powerful and personal truth because we had just chosen to name our son Benjamin. The very child we were praying for was named “son of my right hand.” Later that same afternoon my sweet friend, Karen, called to encourage me. She shared Psalms 16 with me over the phone. As she read those verses I was struck by the similarity in what I had just read. In verse 5 she read “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.”

49: What a comfort that He alone had assigned my portion. It reminded me that what He had decided, whether in my favor or not, no one could change. My lot was secure with Him no matter the outcome. I could trust that His plan for me was pleasant places and a delightful inheritance. My faith was rallied to always be setting him before me. Particularly, once I saw WHY... because “He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken”. I know I should not have been stunned to hear the same message He had just given me, and yet I was. Not only did Benjamin mean “son of My right hand” I learned that “God is at my right hand,” so I will not be shaken. Lastly, that his power to save comes from “His right hand”. Looking further into the use of God’s “right hand” I was overwhelmed that it almost always meant security, protection, salvation, mighty displays of His power, upholding, helping, and sustaining. Those were all things we needed as we faced the real possibility of losing our son Benjamin. Feeling a renewed sense of freedom from the outcome I could rejoice with gratitude. I realized that I needed to give my body a chance to rest secure. I was exhausted from the weight of worry, on top of the physical exhaustion of being up every few hours with a newborn. Rest and peace came with His timely messages and I was now better able to move forward into the uncertain future. | "Son of My Right Hand" | So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

50: Support in the Wait Over the next week we continued to receive information that led us to believe that Jerrod was no longer intending to sign the finalization of the adoption. In fact, we were told that he was making plans for him and his mom to raise Benjamin. As difficult as that was to imagine we just kept praying and tried to remain calm and focused. In the meantime, Benjamin was with us and we chose to love him as our son until he was literally removed from our home. We sent out an email prayer request with our family picture from the hospital and a summary of our story. Reports began making their way to us that our email had begun circulating beyond our family and friends. It was being forwarded to our friends families, their friends, friends of friends, and even circulating to several other churches in the country. The news of it spreading even to complete strangers brought so much strength to us. What comfort to know so many people were storming the gates of heaven on our behalf. Also incredible, was how our friends and family dropped everything to support us. They came and prayed with us, called to encourage us, and shared scripture with us. Our new friends, the Schmidts, had a sitter watch their children so they could come over to spend the evening praying with us. Our pastor and his daughter called to offer themselves as a source of insight for Jerrod as an adoptive father and adoptee. Many close friends and church family joined us in a day of prayer and fasting. At the end of the day six of us gathered for a meal that evening as we brought our fast to a close together. You can imagine the inspiring closeness and strength we were able to draw upon. Brad and I were continually humbled over those weeks as we watched others intentionally position themselves to stand in the gap for us. They walked shoulder to shoulder down this road with us. There are no words to express our gratitude. | For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 1 Peter 2:19 | Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3 | Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 | And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

51: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26 | When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 | May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 | We rode through the following two weeks on the roller coaster of Jerrod’s indecision as we awaited our scheduled court date. We had been cautioned by both our attorney and social worker to be very careful with the words we used when talking with Jerrod. The things we said could be mistaken as coercion and cause legal issues. At the same time, we knew we did not want to look back with any regrets. That meant we needed to simply share our hearts with them. We made a phone call to Stacey, Jerrod's mom, and listened as she conveyed the thoughts and concerns they were processing. We were reminded how severely painful this decision was for both of them. We genuinely listened and tried to answer their questions. We also took the opportunity to pour out our hearts regarding our position. We were able to say everything we wanted them to know and things seemed to go well. It felt like a turning point with regard to their uncertainty. A few days later Jerrod told Jesseca that he was “back on” with our original plan; that he would sign the finalization papers. While news of his decision renewed our hope we knew nothing but a signed document from the judge could bring complete certainty. | Provision | You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

52: Our Court Date

53: Adoption Finalization On Tuesday, June 7th, the day of court was finally here. We dropped Alaina and Benjamin off with Jane Kelly, who lives close to our home. Jane assured us that not only was she praying for us that morning but that her husband at work and two kids in school were as well. What a blessing it was to have so many people supporting us. Anxious and excited we made our way to Marathon County Court house. It was a little intimidating just to be there. We first met with our social worker, Andrea, from Catholic Charities. It was all very formal as we followed Andrea down long quiet hallways, hearing only the sound of our shoes on the shiny floors. Reaching the final hallway we quickly felt at ease when greeted by familiar faces. Our friends, Steve, Karen, Jerrick, and Emily, came to support us. Even though they would not be allowed in the actual court room, they would be praying every second while we were in session. Karen was the only friend allowed inside the court room as she was also there to double as support for Jesseca. We all sat outside the court room while we waited to be called in. Soon, we began quietly laughing and joking with one another. Our social worker must have recalled the “lively” visits with these same friends in the hospital. She, being a little more reserved than us, felt the need to politely reiterate that this could not be like the joyous celebration of his birth. That reminded us just how unique our time up at the hospital had been. While it really had been the joyful social occasion we are all use to, it apparently it had also left an impression. We just had to chuckle because we know our group tends to draw attention with our lively mix of personalities and ability to have fun anywhere together. Karen leaned over to me and responded quietly, “Oh well you don’t know the Bretls very well then because everywhere they go is a party”! Brad and I just smiled, we really needed to laugh off some of our nerves as we waited. | Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

54: Jesseca arrived and then Jerrod shortly after her. We each spent some time with our Attorney, Jeffery Hertz, who briefly prepared us with an outline of what to expect. Then it was time to move into the court room to take our places. If I thought the hallways of the court house felt intimidating, this was even more so. It looked pretty much like the movies depict it; the large wooden bench for the Judge with big tables on either side positioned before him. Presiding over our case was Judge Grau, whom we had heard himself was an adoptive father. Brad and I sat on the right side of the room with our attorney. The Guardian Ad Litem, Rand Krueger, was also present and sat at smaller table to our right. Jesseca and Jerrod sat at the table on the left with our Social Worker. Karen sat right behind them in the bench seating. As the proceedings began it was hard to pinpoint any one emotion. I was nervous, thrilled, scared, and surprisingly...sad. I was nervous as I took the stand to testify. Thrilled that Benjamin was so close to being our legal and FOREVER son, but scared that Jerrod might still change his mind. The sadness, however, was what struck me the most. As Jesseca, and later Jerrod, took the stand I was not prepared for the necessary line of questioning they had to respond to. Legally the Court System needed to inquire into all of the personal and revealing matters but it was still tough to hear. We had bonded with them during the last seven month journey and so it was difficult to watch them face such direct questioning. As the adoptive mother, and beneficiary of such a priceless gift, the reality of their sacrificial loss settled more heavily on me at that moment than any other. We were so grateful. How could we ever put into mere words what this meant to us? As a friend, I was incredibly proud of them. Jesseca bravely answered all they asked and did so with great integrity. We respected Jerrod greatly as he answered honorably and with decided strength. They demonstrated abundant character in those hard moments, which truly impressed us. | Will never be enough | courage love sacrifice | selfless strength

55: heart gracious

56: Then it was time for the finalization. Jesseca and Jerrod each officially signed the Termination of Rights papers; allowing us to legally adopt Benjamin. All of the prayers from so many people along the way were now directly impacting this very crucial moment. Despite my best attempts the tears started welling in my eyes. The Judge turned to me and said, “It’s going to be alright, we’re almost done.” I appreciated his tenderness. As things drew to a close we were overwhelmingly ecstatic! The judge made his final ruling in favor of our legally adopting Benjamin and with that it was finished! Benjamin Allen Bretl was legally ours! We all hugged each other in the court room and then made our way out to those waiting in the hall. What incredible joy! It was hard to contain our excitement; I wanted to do cart wheels all the way down the shiney floored hallways! We were led by Andrea Hoffman to an area where we briefly signed some additional paperwork. We were then directed to the Probate office to have the papers stamped and authorized. Ah, the smell of sanctioned paperwork! Afterward, all those there with us met on the steps outside the Court House to take some pictures. Once outside I felt like we could jump and scream if we wanted to. We were so excited that none of us were ready to head home just yet, so we decided to go to IHOP for a late breakfast. Everyone headed there while Brad and I went to make one important stop first. We went to the Kelly's house to pick up BOTH of our kids! From now on when we held Benjamin it was with complete certainty that he was ALL ours. We picked up the kids and rushed off to the restaurant for a time of celebration. | Signing the Papers | JOY

60: Looking Back As things settled down over the next few weeks we finally had time to take in the last eight months of our journey. To comprehend the Sovereignty of all that had unfolded was simply amazing. Several details, seemingly insignificant at the time, suddenly became overwhelmingly obvious. God began to reveal His purpose in KEEPING me from taking a job. Even though I wanted to be useful to my family by working part time God knew that was not where He wanted me. If I had been working I would not have been free to step out and try teaching a Bible study. If I had not agreed to try teaching I would not have been standing in front of a class of ladies. And if I had not stood in front of a class of ladies I could have missed the opportunity to connect with Jesseca that day. What an important lesson in truly being able to trust the Lord with our family's future. We realized for the first time how crucial the first adoption situation had been. That without it we would not have been ushered into meeting our birth mom. If I had not believed God so strongly for the first adoption opportunity, and experienced the painful confusion of it running aground, I would not have been compelled to share publicly the morning of Bible study. How the timing of that shipwreck set me on a new course, one that positioned me for the destination He had in mind all along. The "I'm going to be a Big Sister" t-shirt also came to mind. I had felt so strongly that there was no coincidence in the timing of Alaina finding that. I really believed that the Lord sovereignly spoke in that moment. With the fall of the opportunity to adopt the little girl, however, came doubt about the significance of the shirt. Eight months later, watching Alaina hold her new baby brother I had my answer. There was no mistaking God's message that day; I simply had too narrow of a perspective to see accurately. I assumed God meant to bring us a baby girl when in fact he had a far greater story planned to bring us our baby boy. Alaina was going to be a big sister all along. God knew that, I was just a little fuzzy on the details. We also saw God's purpose in all of the other adoption doors closing. How the Lord lead us perfectly past all of the other options, only to reveal the right one. He truly had miraculous intentions for our family ahead, if only we would wait patiently for Him.

61: We recognized how perfectly God provided the funds for the adoption. Brad's job loss the previous year meant that we were unable to afford the high cost of adoption. Imagine our relief when we learned about the Government Tax Credit that would significantly cover our expenses. It was almost the exact amount that we would need. God had clearly moved a huge financial mountain in order for us to be able to adopt our son. The year 2011 was one of the first years that the government made it a tax “credit”, refunded in full, and not a regular “deduction”, refunded over time. That one small detail was crucial to determining our being able to adopt Benjamin. The following year there were several changes made to the refund, which included drastically reducing the return. It seemed there was only a small window for the precise opportunity we needed, and it made all the difference. We marveled in the fact that God not only hand delivered a birth mom to bless us with our son, but then He literally paid for it! God had decreased our financial situation significantly, but only to reveal an even greater work that only He could do. It reminded me of a familiar story in God's word, when He decreased Gideon’s army down to impossible odds in order to clearly establish whose work it was when the battle was won. The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her." Only after the numbers were stacked against the Israelites did God show up to lead them to insurmountable victory. God was clearly displaying that HE had done the work. And only after the numbers were no longer our favor did God bless us with His mighty provision. What a glorious testament to the “God of old” being the God of today. I am still amazed at how close I came the morning of November 7th to NOT sharing our personal struggles, but did. How Tammy of all people was my co-leader AND Jesseca's private advocate at Hope. How sweetly it impacted Tammy’s circumstances in life and faith. How the message that day was on “releasing our preconceived notions of a miracle so God could do even more” and He did! How God appointed people, who happened to already be connected to us, to minister to Jesseca and her sister Collene. That God used a crisis in my faith to ultimately explode it in my life. How he covered even the small things like a photographer, and friendship with a family who themselves had adopted domestically. It was truly difficult to grasp that The God of the Bible would chose to allow our family to be a part of something so intricately wonderful. It brought to mind 2 Samuel 7:18, when King David said "Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? It is my hearts cry as well as I recount all the ways He worked in this situation. Who are the Bretls, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family that you have brought us this far? This miracle? (verse)

62: A few weeks after the Court Finalization Jesseca's sister, Collene, planned an Entrustment Ceremony. It was Jesseca's desire to commemorate the adoption before the Lord, and not only the court system. So on Friday, June 17, we met at the church to rejoice with close friends and family as we celebrated our commitment before Him. It was amazing to stand before the Lord and all our loved ones only one room away from where God ordained Jesseca and I to first meet. Things had come full circle and it was a joy to take in. | Entrustment Ceremony Highland Community Church June 17th 2011 | Actual cut out decorations that were on the tables.

64: A few weeks after the Court Finalization Jesseca's sister, Collene, planned an Entrustment Ceremony. It was Jesseca's desire to commemorate the adoption before the Lord, and not only the court system. So on Friday, June 17, we met at the church to rejoice with close friends and family as we celebrated our commitment before Him. It was amazing to stand before the Lord and all our loved ones only one room away from where God ordained Jesseca and I to first meet. Things had come full circle and it was a joy to take in.

66: More visitors come to welcome Benjamin home

67: A few days later we packed up the family and headed down to my home town of Necedah, WI for a day with family and friends who were able to come to meet Benjamin. Mary set up cute blue tables in the garage and we had an Ice Cream Buffet with every kind of topping we could think of. It was such an exciting day as so many people dear to me were there.

70: A few days later we packed up the family and headed down to my home town of Necedah, WI for a day with family and friends who were able to come to meet Benjamin. Mary set up cute blue tables in the garage and we had an Ice Cream Buffet with every kind of topping we could think of. It was such an exciting day as so many people dear to me were there.

73: On June 25th my dear girlfriends Karen and Alison, with the help of Stacey, Christy, and Emily, held a baby shower for family and friends in Wausau. It was amazing from the moment I walked in until the very last goodbye. The shower was meaningful, personal, and focused on God’s hand in the adoption. Everything was planned so perfectly. To be known that well is an incredible gift. It clearly revealed the quality of friendships that I have been blessed with. The whole room was a perfect blend of personal touches for me and details purposed to celebrate our baby boy. The tables had crisp white table cloths with gorgeous white daisies in beautiful blue vases. There were precious newborn photos of Benjamin framed on all of the tables as well. A tall vase with tree branches held several small glass jars lit with tea lights. This tree would soon hold words of encouragement from each of the ladies there as they hung little cards with blue ribbons on the branches. The food was yummy and the treats were amazing. Knowing it was one of my favorites, Karen even toasted her own coconut for on top of the bird nest cupcakes.

77: The most extraordinary thing about the shower though was the use of that time to honor God for all He had done. Alison started by sharing pieces of our two year journey that had brought us to that point. It was very emotional to hear our story retold from another person’s perspective. She shared everything better than I could have myself and brought such clarity to God's purposes. It was hard to grasp that eight months prior, in that VERY same room, I stood there holding on to a shred of hope in the truths I was teaching on God's faithfulness. And now, sitting in the audience listening, I was holding some very real evidence of just how faithful He is. There was no denying this miracle; he was curled up, in a warm bundle, fast asleep on his momma. | My dear, sweet, precious friend | The napkin at the shower

78: Then Karen gave a devotional that also stirred me to tears. Unable to recapture it in my own words I will just share how she said it that day. She shared... By now you have seen the tree branches here and the bird’s nest cupcakes. When we see a tree, we may think of many different things: God’s word begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation with the tree of life. We know that Believers in Christ have access to that tree of life in eternity and FOR eternity because Our Savior sacrificed His own life and died in our place and He did that on a tree. We may think of a family tree or gardening. We wanted this tree here to be a reminder of all those things, but I also wanted to share with you some spiritual truths that I have learned about gardening. | Many of you know that some of the most beautiful and fruitful trees and plants are the result of a process called grafting. Grafting is when a gardener takes two separate plants and binds them into one. This is so they now grow together as one plant; and a more beautiful plant at that. You could graft two apple trees to make one tree that produces two different kinds of apples. Or, you could graft rose bushes to produce a plant with many varied colored flowers. Rather than creating a genetically new tree variety through grafting, however, the tree actually keeps the two separate genetic codes but grows together as one. It maintains both the two original identities as well as creating a new identity as one. Besides producing an interesting or more beautiful plant, grafting is also sometimes necessary. For example, if a plant does not have a good root system, it will die. Grafting it into a larger, more established tree will allow it to become part of the stronger root system and will save the plant. In order to do this the cambial layers in either plants or trees must meet. They cannot just be attached on the surface but rather at a deeper level, under the bark. It involves peeling back the bark of both plants making it a painful process, but is necessary for the graft to be successful. | Family Tree

79: This is so symbolic of the way the Lord has brought Benjamin into the Bretl family as we have just heard Alison share. Benjamin has his own, and different, genetic material and yet now a brand new identity. Benjamin was sovereignly grafted into a tree with an established root system; as the Bretl’s home is one whose roots are fed and sustained by their faith is Christ. This grafting process is also the same way God describes, in Romans, how we as believers in Christ have come into His family. Romans 11:17 says: But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.” When we look next to Ephesians 1:4-5 we hear thisFor he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love hepredestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— Do you hear that? He ADOPTED us by grafting us in thru Jesus Christ. That means that every one of us here who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation has an adoption story. We have been grafted into the family tree of Christ. On that glorious adoption day, just a few weeks ago, little Benjamin was deemed a BRETL for always. As a child of Brad and Jessica he is now a full inheritor and was given full and equal place in the Bretl family. Again, this is what God offers to us as He says in John 1:12 yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. When we receive Him and believe in His name we are adopted into His family as full inheritors – called a child of God. As Benjamin grows in their home, he will look more and more like a Bretl. He will take on more and more qualities of their home and family; maybe he’ll laugh and crack jokes just like his daddy. Likewise just as we grow more intimate with our Heavenly Father, we begin to look more like His Son. God’s heart is all about adoption; it was His design from the beginning of time. Our greatest prayer for Benjamin is that he one day will have two adoption stories. The First is the great miracle of him being adopted into the Bretl family as a full inheritor. The Second, and even more precious, is that he would choose to trust and follow Jesus from a young age and receive the FAR greater inheritance in Christ. This is the unbelievable miracle of adoption into the family of God. To Him Be the Glory. I loved everything about what she shared; the imagery of the grafted plants signifying adoption and our miraculous grafting into God family as adopted heirs. It truly is our prayer that Benjamin would ultimately experience the greater of the two and accept Jesus into his heart.

80: As we wrapped up our time there I was handed one last special blue box. As I lifted off the lid I was astonished to find a gorgeous quilt! It had specially chosen squares of fabric that many people had contributed for Benjamin. I poured over every square on the quilt and paged through the coinciding book that had each family’s picture and a message to us. I was over the top thrilled! I had not suspected even the smallest hint of this being put together for us. When Alaina excitedly pointed out her square I was even more stunned! My six year old princess could not keep a secret to save her life! How did she not breathe a word of this to me? She was ecstatic to have been part of the big surprise. So many people picked out meaningful fabric to include and poured in such memorable encouragement in their pages. Being that it was a surprise, however, that meant that I did not get to select my own square. My unbelievably attentive friend Karen recalled the curtains I had chosen for Benjamin’s room and used a square of the exact fabric as my contribution. It was PERFECT! What a treasured gift.

82: Paul & Mary Migala, WI Steve & Karen Vandenberg, WI Steve & Alison Clements, WI Jason & Stacey Rieth, WI Josh & Emily Koehler, WI Jerrick & Rachel Alsteen, WI Gus & Felecity Treptow, WI John, Jane, Aaron, Shealan Kelly, WI Pastor Jeff & Betty Ann Hinds, WI Pastor Dan & Sue MacDonald, WI Pastor Dave & Carole Mahler, WI Pastor Ken & Tina Moberg, WI Cal & Amy Hesse, WI Maggie Grade, WI Dawn Russell, WI Jodi Sitte, WI Shanti Fehl, WI Katy Carlson, WI CJ & Candice Hansen, WI Len & Kathryn Pettis, WI Mike & Charis Morhland, WI Derek & Christy Boyd, WI Randy & Stacey Witucki, WI Lauren Jourdan, WI Jim & Carla Jasper, WI Patrick & Sandy Schmidt, WI Curt & Tammy Mathsen, WI Christene Sandall, WI Issac & Candice Mittenzwei, WI Pauline Neterval, WI Melissa Farrar, WI Shyanne Borchardt, WI Lisa Forth, WI Carrie Shell, WI Marilyn Weisenberger, WI Betty Garborg, MN Dave & Mary Haase, MN Ginny & Mahmoud Baali, MN Jim & Marianne Seebruck, WI Mike & Nancy Seebruck, WI Lynn Migala, WI Brent & Bonnie Thomas, WI Jon & Julie LaVoy, WI Bill & Melodye Jones, WI | Matt & Tamra Swan, WI Scott & Angie Poock, ? Rick & Deb Clements, WI Ben & Katie Wasserman, MN Mark & Sarah Erickson, MN Steve & Heidi Eitreim, MN Sally Freiboth, WI Jeff & Billie Weiss, WI Henry & Emily Yach, WI Derrick & Raven Derfus, MN Jackie Salzma, WI Angela Quance, WI Vicky Baker, WI Barry & Christina Moodie, CA Heidi Kroll, WI Matthew & HIlary Hebbe, ? Roger & Nikki Mueller, WI Linda Seebruck, MN | Trinity Lutheran Church Body, WI Door Creek Church Madison, WI Door Creek Church DeForest, WI | As the shower drew to a close there remained one final blessing. Karen reminded us all of the time of uncertainty when our birth father decided he would no longer sign off for us to adopt Benjamin. She went on to share, though, how the body of Christ came to our aid in prayer. Karen pulled out a four and a half page typed list of names that detailed just how FAR reaching our email prayer request for Benjamin had traveled. There were hundreds of individual names, covering many different churches. Almost every state in the U.S had someone there praying for us as well as several other countries! I WAS OVERCOME WITH ASTONISHMENT! We were truly HUMBLED to be the recipients of such far reaching prayer provision. There were people in the Dominican Republic, Kenya, France, and the Philippines to name only a few. We had never before experienced such a wave of support ranging from dearly loved ones to complete strangers. What an honor it was to learn of all those wonderful people supporting our family. | Team of 10 people on a mission trip to the Domincan Republic Read to over 700 people as a prayer request at Blesses Sacrament Church in Madison, WI

83: "This was sent to a prayer chain that includes over 100 people in Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisiana, the Phillipines, Kenya, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona, and elsewhere... There are pastors, teachers, missionaries, business people, camp counselors, and people from all walks of life praying. " | People praying all over the world | Michelle Nelson, VA Dave & Kathy Hansen, WI Ryan & Katie VanSycoc, WI Lee & Shannon VanSycoc, WI Mike & Rachel Schmitz, WI Alex Thomas, IN Michelle Sleiter, WI Mary Padley, NJ Nancy Weichmann, NJ Patricia Gessner, OH Megan Bouche, WI Kristin & Wayne Kallio, WI Kerry & Joy Karnitz, WI Rebecca Schoenebeck, WI Caroline Schlais, WI Anmarie Oppel, MN Beth Engle, MN Shirley Bridges, MN Kristi Jones, IL Don & Sheena Brunzo, WI Justin Sandall, FL David & Kellie Fenichel, FL Doug & Teresa Stine, WI Stan & Lori Sandall, WI Pastor Ted & Marion Youngquist,WI Therese Motzkus, WI Don & Marion Hinz, WI Sue Gaskell, WI Cindy Bushe, WI Harold & Karla Sloan, WI Tom Shramek, WI John & Mary Lau, WI Gerald & Mary Sandall, SC Elizabeth Gertschen, WI Karen Easterday, MN Mary Einstein, MN Kristi Germo, MN Len & Carla Nelson, MN Paul Strand, MN Michael Neterer, MN Dan Goodmanson, MN Mike & Miriam Lundeen, MN Joni Lundeen, MN Kaari Smith, MN Kristen Walseth, MN Annika Campbell, MN Maren Walseth, MN Jasai Ferrucho, MN Dick & Jan Easterday, MN Chris Easterday, MN Kyle & Carolyn Dahlen, MN Evan & Kelsey Jones, MN Jim & Diane Huber, MN Mike & Sarah Hadley,MN Beth Wilson, MN Becca Lamont, MN Judie Dale, MN Al & Kristi Fonseca, MN BJ Krewson Leah Wells, Nigeria Jess Witucki, Turkey Barbara Hase, WI Katie & Kyle, France Amy Cornell, MN | Reba Dahlen, MN Ross & Mindy Smith, MN Ryan Gargorg, MN Stevie & Laurie Dahlen, MN Steve Dahlen, MN Tom & Bonnie Dahlen, MN Tom & Paula Lindsay, MN Tony & Jodi LaFramboise, MN Ann Parrish, MN Cindy Morrone, MN Deb Hagen, MN Jere Sheehan, MN Joanie Garborg, MN Jodie Jones, MN Joey Hinrichs, MN Kathy Babcock, MN Laurie Dieter, MN Leslie Iverson, MN Linda Dugan, MN Linda Harmon, MN Mary Little, MN Nancy Roetman, MN Sue Moline, MN Sue Swallender, MN Teresa Fogarty, MN Roger & Heather Smith, MN Dan & Mary Beth Schindler, MN Maq & Char Serang, PA Diane Busko, WI Harlan & Ruth Hebbe, WI Adam and Laura Vanoord, WI Judith Hase, WI Mick & Collene Borchardt, WI Chris Strande, WI Tonya Karow, WI Deanna Gehrke, WI Michelle Voigt, WI Wade & Kelly Puntney, WI Kirstin McEvoy, WI Brian & Kristen Whitaker, WI Kat Naumann, NJ Julie Borchert, WI Pastor Dave & Patty Selness, WI Courtney O'Keefe, WI Jim & Nancy Marsho, WI Jen Riddle, IL Jean Robertson, WI Sue Naumann, NJ Julie Bernard, Kunming China Julia Waterman, UT Jamie Morrision, HA Greg & Barb Cornell, MN Greg & Kim Bixel, MN Jeff & Kari Gorrie, MN Jennifer Schroeder, MN Jeremy Dahlen, MN Joel & Barb Roth, MN Jonathan Cornell, MN Ken & Erin Haase, MN Kent Garborg, MN Kjell & Carol Garborg, MN Lowell & Mary Lindsay, MN Jon & Nicki Heyer, MN Paul & Leslie Dahlen, MN Peter Cornell, MN

84: God was Not Done Yet We had definitely learned over the last eight months that this adoption was not just about our family; that God had also purposed this experience for other people’s lives as well. Well, He apparently was not done working just yet. God was about to meet Jesseca's needs once again and this time in a unique twist that only He could write. We stayed in regular contact with Jesseca from the day we left the hospital and were genuinely comfortable with having her around. We talked openly about how she was feeling and continually based our relationship on her comfort level. Jesseca was doing really well though and continued to amaze us. She clearly had a deep love for Benjamin, yet still felt content with her choice to place him in our family. She said that she knew from the very beginning that he was not hers to raise; that God began guarding her heart early on. Knowing how beneficial breast milk is she demonstrated selflessness for his sake and offered to provide milk for him for a while. She said it was the one thing she could give him. We were thankful for the health benefits it provided and recognized it as her gift to him. Initially, Jesseca planned to move to Milwaukee to live with family after Benjamin was born. However, in a phone conversation with Jesseca it became clear that she was unsure whether she wanted to move or not. She felt she should move so that we could more easily “move on” to form our new family unit, but we did not want that to be her main reason for leaving. I assured her that we were comfortable having her in the area. That as long as it was not a source of pain for her to stay close to our family we were glad to have her remain a part of our lives. With that huge weight lifted for her Jesseca decided that she would remain in Wausau. That left only the issues of her needing a cheaper living situation and a better paying job in order to be able to stay. We ended our phone conversation committed to praying for those two things. Not long afterward I received a phone call from Sandy Schmidt. She called to inquire about Jesseca’s living situation. Patrick and Sandy had good friends in their church, Adam and Laura Vanoord, who were looking to open their home to someone in need. God was about to unfold some unbelievable connections. The next day or so Adam called and we spoke for a while about their situation. He and his wife had felt prompted in the last year, around November, to open their home to a young mom; either pregnant or with a child. In order to demonstrate immediate obedience they had a bedroom and bathroom put in their basement. They had been waiting ever since to see who God intended it for. | Providence

85: Brad came home later that evening and I told him about my conversation with Adam. Imagine our shock when we realized that BRAD was the one who had done the plumbing for the bathroom! Brad had not known them prior to doing their plumbing but had been recommended by a mutual acquaintance. Unbelievable! We began thinking back on the time line. Last November was when I had JUST met Jesseca briefly in Bible study but had known nothing of her situation. We had not even known of her pregnancy yet and God was preparing a place for her to live even then. He was not just preparing it though, God was using Brad, the future adoptive father, to do the work! We were blown away by the timing of it all. | The Vanoord Family

86: At that point I had only spoken with Adam but had not met either of them. Later, his wife, Laura, called and we spoke on the phone for the first time. Laura shared how they had been forwarded our email prayer request and had been praying for us during our uncertainty with the birth dad. She then mentioned that she thought she recognized me from the family photo that I included in the email. When she asked me if I had ever been to the Czech Republic on a mission trip I shocked. I could instantly picture who I was talking to! We were stunned when we realized that her and I had gone on our first mission trip together to the Czech Republic more than ten years ago! We had not heard from, nor seen each other, since. It was crazy! We met at the Vanoord's home some time later. We ate dinner and chatted about our lives. Then Laura brought out her old mission trip album and we began to look through it together. I did not recall us spending a lot of time together on the trip but there we were several pictures of the two us. There we were, frozen in time, through several photos that were taken thousands of miles away so many years ago. There were pictures of us painting benches together and posing with our arms around each other like old friends. It was strange to think that in those moments so long ago we could not have fathomed how the Lord would re-cross our paths some ten years later. It makes me smile to picture God looking down on us snapping those photos. I imagine Him thinking “just you wait.” He truly is an amazing God with a real sense of humor and purpose. That evening things seemed to come together perfectly. They moved Jesseca and Cole into their home shortly after that night. | Painting Benches 2001 Czech Republic | Jessica and Laura

87: Not long after that I took Benjamin in for his well baby check up to see Dr. Matthias. He had been Alaina's pediatrician since she was little. We loved his level of care and knew him to be a believer. While visiting that particular day for Benjamin's check up I shared a little about our adoption experience with Dr. Matthias. I just laughed as he mentioned that he knew both the Schmidts and Vanoords from his church. It was becoming a standard joke between all of us involved that this was God’s story and He apparently intended it to include as many of His children as possible.

88: Thus Far the Lord has Helped Us All throughout the Bible we see God’s command to REMEMBER the things He has done for His people. There are many stories of memorials being set up to REMIND the people of what God had just done. It was important to them because it was their heritage. Remembrance led to obedience, and obedience to blessing. Forgetting God led to disobedience, and disobedience to consequences. Our whole purpose here on this earth is to bring Glory to God through joy filled obedience. Remembering His works of the past sustains our determination to finish well in the future. It also leaves a lasting legacy for generations to come. Samuel was so moved by the works of the Lord that he wanted to remember them forever. 1 Samuel 7:12 says “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us." He did this as a memorial honoring how far the Lord had brought the people of Israel. Also in Joshua 4, we read how stones were taken out of the river Jordan and set up to serve as a reminder of God leading them to the Promised Land. So when their children would ask about the stones they would recount His mighty acts. We cannot help but look back over the last year and be amazed at how far God has brought us. We want our whole family to always remember what the LORD has done. We want to instill a spiritual heritage by REMEMBERING; for His Glory and our benefit. Imagine generations to come being impacted by the reality of God and His activity in the lives of their family before them. I wanted to take these examples and do something similar for our family. So, on November 13th, 2011 we went out as a family and found our own Ebenezer stone. We set it up in the landscaping right outside our front door. That it would serve as a physical reminder of His activity in our lives.

89: One Year Anniversary On November 7th 2011, I wanted to honor the one year anniversary of the day Jesseca walked into the Bible Study, and we met. Tammy, Alison, Karen, Jesseca, and I went out for a special evening of celebration. We acknowledged the Lord’s Sovereignty on that day a year before and honored Jesseca for her role as Benjamin's birth mom. We had our own cozy room at the Wright Place to enjoy sweet fellowship, yummy treats, coffee, and a warm fireplace. I briefly recounted the “God moments” over the last year, shared key verses that God had given me along the way, and I ended with a verse of praise. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: "The LORD's right hand has done mighty things! Psalms 118:15 God's right hand truly has done mighty things.

90: Six Month FINAL Court Date On November 29th 2011 we went back to the Marathon county court house one last time. Our six month waiting period was over and we could finalize with the state. Alaina was so excited she asked if she could color a picture for the judge. We got all dressed up and met Andrea, our Social Worker there one final time. Tammy Mathsen, Jane Kelly, and Karen Vandenberg also met us there. Judge Jill Falstad had reviewed Catholic Charities report and only needed a brief testimony from us. I took the stand once again to answer a few questions. I testified to the smooth transition of our new family unit and the genuine bond we felt with Benjamin. After a few more formalities she approved the Order of Final Adoption from the state of Wisconsin. We snapped a few pictures of our family with Judge Falstad and Alaina bashfully handed her the picture she had drawn for her. With that, we were officially done with all of the legal requirements. | Thank You Judge Falstad . Here's a picture I drew for you.

92: I had been serving as a Peer Advocate at Hope PRC for 4 years. To be honest, I was growing weary; wondering if I was making any difference. I was discouraged & tired. It was a Tuesday; just an ordinary Tuesday. At Hope, it is rare to have a woman in an unplanned pregnancy open to adoption. Most often, she will say “I could never give my baby away”, yet in the next breath contemplate abortion. Satan is the great deceiver & often times the women who come to Hope, see abortion as a lesser of the two “evils” when it came to adoption. I have felt great frustration & despair at the lack of receptivity in considering adoption; at the lack of understanding of the blessing it can be. That day, God heard my prayers, He knew my heart and He gave me my desire to see what adoption can look like. I met little Benjamin during an ultrasound that Jessica agreed to following her positive pregnancy test at that first visit. I had been trained to be the silent observer; never saying a word, much less mentioning adoption. Imagine my shock when I heard myself asking Jessica if she had considered or would consider adoption. I remember feeling like I had blown it, shocked at my poor timing; I was convinced I had really made a mess of things. While I was shocked at my words, I was even more shocked when Jessica indicated she may need to consider adoption if it would be best for the baby. What an amazing example of agape love; she from the beginning was basing her decision on the best interest of Benjamin! Little did I know that my divine appointment with Jessica wasn’t the only one God had placed in my life. It was November 7, 2011; just two weeks after my time with Jessica. I was co-leading a bible study with Jess on the Fruit of the Spirit. Our prayer weekly was that the class would be a demonstration of the Spirit’s power and not “wise and persuasive words”. This particular week, the topic of our discussion was faith! Jess was always confident; knowing fully what the Lord was leading her to share each week. This particular week, however Jess was unclear about what she was to share; was the Lord calling her to share about a recent struggle and disappointment with a potential adoption falling through? As we prayed prior to our class time, it still was not evident what she was to say. It was not until Jess took her turn to teach that God made it clear & laid on her heart to share her very painful story. Jess of course knew nothing of Jessica; I wasn’t able to share a thing because of the importance of Hope’s confidentiality. I knew God was “up to something” but had no idea that He would use this young mom, little Benjamin and Jess, the eventual forever mom to show me God’s activity in an up close & personal way. . I remember calling Jackie , the Center Director of Hope, after class that day with great excitement. I told her how Jessica showed up at WORD (totally amazing in itself to me as I have NEVER prior or since had a client come to my Bible study). I told her about how Jess shared about her disappointment over past miscarriages & a recent adoption that fell through. I clearly recall telling Jackie that I knew God was up to something big”what if the Bretls will end up adopting this baby?” Even as the words came out of my mouth, I followed them with admitting how far of a stretch that was and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself or read into things. I was being crazy because the odds of that ACTUALLY happening were one in a million. I “wondered” but I’m not sure I allowed myself to “hope” for it in my lack of faith I didn’t even ask God for it. I just watched & waited. | Tammy Blesses Us With Her Story | My role & significance in the way God has brought Benjamin into the Bretl family is minor. However, Benjamin’s significance in my life has been major. I am honored that God has allowed me to be an “eye-witness” to His activity. God used the circumstances with little Benjamin to bring me hope & a fresh awareness of His activity and intimacy in my life. I count it a privilege to be a small piece of the storyGod’s story for Benjamin. His story for me began at Hope Pregnancy Resource Center when I met his birth mom, Jessica. At Hope, we believe every client-advocate relationship begins with a Divine Appointment; that day, God chose me for an appointment I will never forget.

93: God gave me a view not seen by many and it has resulted in my faith being an awareness of God’s activity in a way I have never experienced before. I was an “eye-witness” to what God was doing. I’m not sure how much time passed (maybe a few weeks) when Jess & I were talking on the phone. She brought up Jessica; asking if I remembered her from the one time she had been to class. My heart stopped, and then began beating faster as I answered as calm as I could “Yes, I remember her”. Jess proceeded to tell me how Jessica was pregnant. “Oh, really”, I responded, knowing I couldn’t share that I was already aware of this, and listened intently as Jess explained that Jessica might be interested talking about adoption. I remember thinking “God this is crazy.are you really doing what I “suspected”what are the odds?” In my forced-calm state, I told Jess that regardless of the end result, God was up to “something”. While I was excited about the possibility of the adoption I still knew the reality of it actually happening, was against all odds. I prayed for God’s willwondering if this was about using Brad & Jess to show the love of Christ to this young mom. I was excited at the possibility that the seemingly impossible, seemed it could be possible; maybe adoption would be what God was up to. It was on my ordinary advocate days that the most significant events occurred Hope is the place I first met Jessica and little Benjamin on Tuesday, 10-26-10; the place where an unselfish birth mom found out she was pregnant and ultimately had the courage to choose out of love the best for Benjamin. Tuesday, 5-17-11 I got the text while at Hope that Benjamin was born and Tuesday, 6-01-11 I was once again at Hope when I received the news that Benjamin Allen Bretl was legally adopted all ordinary Tuesdays that showed me an extraordinary God . To some, these things may seem like insignificant details; for me they are significant and personal. Little Benjamin’s journey into this world, reminds me that God sees me. In His infinite grace, He allows me to see and experience His activity. He can indeed do the impossible, even if it is a one in a million situation. As I think about being an “eye-witness” to this amazing story I feel humbled and grateful. Every detail was God: Seeing God provide for all the needs right down to bringing birth mom to a Bible study where she was surprised to see the advocate she met with at the pregnancy center. Seeing God arrange for Jessica and Jess to meet; only He knew that Jess would be the forever mom. Seeing God place Jessica at the table of a fellow mom who later would end up providing breast milk for little Benjamin and miraculously seeing God provide through my back door neighbors, a place to stay while Jessica, Jess and Brad waited for Benjamin to be born. I’m left with the primary impact being that God really is a personal God. If the Lord would go to such extremes to orchestrate all the details for little Benjamin's life what makes me think He doesn’t in fact do the same for me in my life? I stand in awe of the details of how God brought about Benjamin’s adoption into the Bretl family. At how God has used the birth mom, a brave young woman, to show me agape love put into practice. God was working separately but specifically in all our lives & He used little Benjamin to show us His love & power in a way I would not have imagined. I am forever grateful. Tammy Mathsen However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" 1 Corinthians 2:9 | “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

94: The End As I sit here wrapping up this story I am holding a jumping, drooling, miracle. With my baby boy in one arm and typing with the other I am at a loss for how to end. I cannot help but cry tears of wonder as I pull him close. Looking into his big blue eyes through tears in my own I whisper “that is the story of how our God gave us you.” What a miracle. Striking me afresh is the profound reality of our Creator God. He is a personal Lord who writes the stories of the lives of his children. The same God that hung the heavens and sustains them wrote this story for the Bretl family. How is it that a creator of such magnitude is also intensely involved in the miniscule? When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalms 8:3-4. My prayer for you, Benjamin, is that you come to cherish your God written story as much as we do. That your adoption into our family will be rooted in the profound truth of God’s love. And that if you grow up to accept the even greater adoption into the family of God that you will do mighty things for his Glory.

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Jessica Bretl
  • By: Jessica B.
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