Friday, February 26, 2021

Jim's Adoption Story

The material below was originally published on a personal website. I am reposting it here today in honor of Jim's 18th birthday. Happy birthday, son. It's been an amazing blessing, with many more on the horizon.

The Calm Before the Storm

My last semester of Ph.D. seminars was just underway. All of my seminars met on Thursdays, so every week I drove to Fort Worth on Thursday morning, spent the day in seminars, spent the night at the seminary hotel & conference center, and spent Fridays in the library before driving home. This particular week was an exception. Tracy had enrolled in a conference for ministers' wives at the same conference center that was my weekly home-away-from-home. We booked a room for Thursday and Friday nights (February 20-21, 2003).

It was a good weekend. I was preparing a research paper concerning revivals that occurred in the Confederate Army during the War Between the States. Tracy was attending her conference. We scheduled to meet a friend (Keith Sanders) and his fiancĂ©e (Melissa) in Grapevine on Saturday afternoon, February 22, to watch Gods and Generals. We stayed throughout this rather long movie and then began our drive home.

During the entire trip we never bothered to check our home answering machine.


The light was flashing on the answering machine as we walked in the door. Oh well, nothing was new about that. We decided to finish unloading our luggage from the car and deal with the messages afterward.

At the first words of the first message we began to panic. A call from Dr. Shirolyn Moffett in Harrison, Arkansas, could mean one thing and one thing only: a baby. Six messages were on the machine; five were from Dr. Moffett's office. The calls had begun on Thursday, our first day away.

Oh no! They had been calling for over forty-eight hours! By now they certainly had moved to their next prospect family. We had neglected to check our messages, and consequently we were certain that we had lost our opportunity to adopt.

Of course, we decided to call Arkansas immediately just on the chance that Dr. Moffett was still waiting for us. To our surprise and delight, she was. She had received one of our fliers a year earlier, had kept it in her files for the entire interval, and had called us immediately when she encountered an adoptable baby. She made call after call that weekend, but she was determined to hear from us before following any other leads.


What we learned thrilled us. A baby boy was on the way. For very good reasons arising out of her loving concern for the children she already had, the mother had decided to place him for adoption. Would we be interested? Absolutely! But we needed to be ready on a moment's notice, because this baby was due to arrive at any time.

Fortunately, we were ready. We had already completed a home study and criminal background check in preparation for another potential adoption that had not materialized. Dr. Moffett promised to give our toll-free telephone number to T--- (our birth-mother), and she called within just a few minutes. The call went well and we were all ready to move forward. Fewer than ten telephone calls put this potential adoption in motion.

We tried to keep our emotions in check, because we had been this far in the process before. Nevertheless, the weekend seemed to drag along as we kept our powerful secret to ourselves and waited on pins and needles for a call from Arkansas.

"Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful"

As you can imagine, we did not spend much of the next two days watching the television. So much remained for us to do. We burned up the telephone lines between our lawyers, our families, our friends, and ourselves. We also began the frantic provisioning process. We already owned a car seat and a few basic supplies, but we had expected more than a shopping day or two to prepare for a baby.

On Monday, February 24, I went to work. Between church-related tasks I manned the phone lines for adoption-related telephone calls. We determined that our Texas lawyers would not be necessary: that we could enact the entire adoption through the Arkansas courts without attempting an unwieldy Interstate Compact Agreement.

Tracy was volunteering for Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief's Temporary Emergency Child Care unit. She had made an appointment to work down at the Dallas headquarters on Monday morning. She went to Dallas for her meeting and then went to pursue that critical shopping list.

If we had been watching the television, we would have heard about the winter weather system that was bearing down upon Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. As it happened, our first clue that Murphy's Law was operating in full force was a report on the radio that freezing precipitation was already falling just to the West of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. When I heard it, I immediately called Tracy and advised her to drive home ahead of the storm. Tracy arrived home to Farmersville and the weather began to degenerate. Sleet fell all night Monday.

The Clock Is Ticking...The Sleet Is Falling

By Tuesday morning the roads were completely impassible. A thick sheet of ice had blanketed North Texas, Oklahoma, and most of Arkansas. I carefully made my way to the church to check for busted pipes or other winter calamities, but except for that expedition we remained in the house all day. Most of the waiting took place within a few steps of the telephone. For one thing, we were continuing to make legal arrangements. More importantly, we knew that T--- had an appointment with her doctor that day, and we were very anxious to hear how close she was to delivery. Part of us wanted the time to be right away: We couldn't wait! On the other hand, part of us nervously wanted a little more time. The weather was so bad that we didn't know how we could possibly get to Arkansas. The news carried pictures of tractor-trailers stalled on slippery inclines of every Interstate highway in the DFW area. The roadside ditches around Farmersville were littered with automobiles.

When T--- finally called, it was 6:00 PM. She had been to the doctor and had been told to expect labor to begin at any time. She had returned home to collect her things, and she was leaving home to go to the hospital. The race was on. T--- insistently encouraged us to get to Arkansas as quickly as we could. One look outside at the driveway confirmed to me that driving was going to be our last resort.

Because I am a licensed pilot, I decided to explore the possibility of flying. Unfortunately, I was not an instrument-rated pilot, and I did not have access to any airplane equipped with anti-icing measures. A quick call to the Fort Worth Automated Flight Service Station for a weather briefing confirmed for me that we would not be going to Arkansas in any airplane that I was flying. Commercial flights were also out of the question. Every major airport was closed. The whole circumstance was shaping up to be a suitable sequel to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Only one good option remained: Joe Nerwich. Joe is a member of our church and a retired American Airlines pilot. He has over 25,000 flight hours. Joe owns an airplane with ice-prevention equipment. I knew that Joe would be willing to help us, because Joe and Johnnie had become good friends. The problem was that Joe was in Colorado skiing. I knew that he had planned to return home on Tuesday, but with the weather foul both in Colorado and Texas, I wasn't sure whether Joe would hazard the trip.

I called Joe's house, but nobody was home. I called his grown children, but nobody had heard from him. I called his condominium in Colorado, but the manager was not sure whether he had left or had stayed. I called his cell phone, but that was just an act of desperation since I knew that Joe always leaves it off. I had no idea whether Joe was fifteen miles or three states away.

In desperation, I tried something outlandish. I called the Fort Worth Automated Flight Service Station and spoke with one of the pilot briefers. I explained our situation to him, hoping that he would understand why I was troubling him. I knew the tail number of Joe's airplane, having flown in his Merlin with him several times. Confiding that Joe was our only hope of reaching our baby anytime soon, I asked the briefer whether he could look in his computer and confirm for me whether Joe's airplane had flown any kind of flight plan within the past twenty-four hours. With all of the post-911 security nervousness at the FAA, I did not know whether the briefer would be able to give me that information under any circumstances. He put me on hold for a minute. When he returned to the phone he said, "I just spoke with the control tower at McKinney. The airplane you asked about has just landed at McKinney, and the passengers have just left the airport."

I recalled that Neal and Carol Watts, members of our church, had accompanied Joe and Johnnie to Colorado, so I called Neal's cell phone. No answer. After a dozen tries, Neal finally answered the phone. The foursome had gone to eat dinner and had not paid any attention to their phones until the drive home. After a brief conversation, Joe agreed to help us. About ninety minutes had passed since T--- had called. At Joe's house we explored potential flight plans, tried to arrange for ground transportation at our destination in Arkansas, and shared our excitement with Joe and Johnnie. When we finally had everything in place, Joe called the airport to check on the status of the airplane.

Unfortunately, the status of the airplane was poor. The ramp was too slick to tow the airplane into the hangar, so it had been sitting outside for two hours. A light sleet had begun to fall again, and the airplane was covered in ice. McKinney does not have deicing equipment, so we were grounded indefinitely. Joe recommended that we go home, get a good night's sleep, and explore our options in the morning.

Tracy and I were not convinced. We contemplated driving to Northwest Arkansas. Maybe the time had come to consider the last resort after all. The drive back to our house from the Nerwiches' house discouraged us from making the attempt. It appeared unlikely that we would make it any farther than the first big hill that we encountered on the drive. I told Tracy that it would be far better to spend the night in our house in Farmersville, from where we could work on a variety of options in the morning, than to spend the night in our car stranded on the side of the road somewhere in Oklahoma, where we would be completely helpless. She saw the wisdom of staying home, so we went to bed (you notice that I did not say we went to sleep).

Jim's Birthday

Before dawn the next morning we were awake and active. Early morning telephone calls revealed that T--- was indeed in the hospital and was in labor, but that the baby had not yet come. T--- was nervous about whether we would be able to make it in time. I assured her that we were doing every responsible thing to try to get there. We arrived at the Nerwiches' before 6:00 AM. Joe prepared breakfast for us and tried to calm the both of us. A lifelong pilot and the son of two pilots, Joe knew that it is dangerous to approach any kind of flying trip with too much determination to get to the destination. I ate, but Tracy could not bring herself to eat much. After the plates were cleared away, we started our drive to the airport.

The city streets and highways were equally slick! We made the fifteen-mile drive in around thirty minutes, arriving at the airport around 7:00 AM. There was Joe's Merlin, forlorn on the ramp, enshrouded in ice. A few steps on the tarmac confirmed that no piece of equipment would be able to tow the 10,000-pound behemoth from its perch. The ice accretions on the wings and control surfaces meant that the airplane could not possibly fly, but nothing would prevent us from starting the engines and using them to taxi about on the ice. Mobility was an option; the problem was finding somewhere to go that could offer any help.

Early that morning I had called the flight department at Texas Instruments. TI's bases its flight operations out of McKinney, and they had recently built an enormous heated hangar. After learning about our situation, the kind people at TI agreed to let us park the Merlin in their hangar long enough for the ice to melt away from the critical areas. Joe and I drove down to the TI hangar to explore the possibility. The Gulfstream inside looked small for its surroundings, so we knew that the much-smaller Merlin would fit in the hangar. The climate inside was comfortable, so we knew that the ice would melt quickly in such an environment. To our chagrin, we discovered that the previous two days' precipitation had deposited several inches of ice all along the tracks through which the hangar doors slide. The only way we could possibly get the Merlin to the hangar would be to take a shovel and bust up yards and yards of ice. That job alone would have taken the better portion of the day.

The sunrise was revealing a clearing sky, so we determined to return to the terminal and hope for a slight thaw. Although the ambient temperature was solidly below the freezing point, the bright sunlight could warm the aluminum skin of the Merlin to a high enough temperature to melt away the ice. We sat in the terminal and "watched for the pot to boil," so to speak. While we were there, the telephone rang: T--- had given birth at 7:00 AM to a healthy baby boy. He was there! Now T--- and Dr. Moffet wanted to know when we were going to be there. We promised to arrive in Arkansas just as soon as we could.

The sun went to work, and eventually we discovered that the ice's grip on the airplane was loosening. Joe and I went outside and began to hand-pick ice from the lift-producing areas of the airplane. The time was about 10:30 AM. The Fixed Base Operator at the airport was able to get a fuel truck out to the Merlin, and we took on sufficient Jet-A to make the trip with emergency reserves appropriate to the inclement conditions. Joe went inside to check the weather and file a flight plan with the FAA. As he was in the back of the terminal, I noticed a City of McKinney road-grader taking up position on the end of the runway. "Look Joe," I said, "The City is going to clear some of the ice from the runway so we can leave!"

What had delighted me had perturbed Joe. Because I had so much less experience that Joe, I did not realize that the City had just ended our chances of taking off any time soon. Joe's twin-engine airplane could have managed the takeoff from an ice-covered runway. He could maintain directional control with the rudder and by varying the thrust from the two engines until we were safely in the air. What the city was doing changed everything. They were creating a narrow center strip of good traction bounded by piles of loose chuncks of ice and snow. The loose debris was a hazard to the engines and the traction differential between the concrete and the icy patches increased the danger that we would lose directional control on takeoff. We had missed our chance by mere minutes.

We left the airport and went to eat lunch at some point between 11:00 and noon. Tracy and I were two bundles of nerves. What if T--- changed her mind? We had already been through an experience like that once before, and I wasn't sure how well we would cope with another journey down that road. With each passing hour we felt that the risk of losing this baby increased. Deciding to place a baby for adoption is difficult enough as it is; we did not want to complicate T---'s struggle by adding any worries that her baby would be alone in the hospital awaiting our arrival. Lunch was anything but festive.

Finally we returned to the airport. The City still had not finished the runway. Joe and I walked through the biting cold out to the runway to inspect things at close range. Joe determined that the cleared portion of runway, although only a fraction of the total runway length and width, was sufficient for us to depart. Excited finally to be making some progress, the three of us loaded the airplane, started the engines, and taxied along the icy taxiway to end of the freshly-plowed runway. After clearance from the tower, Joe lined up the Merlin and spooled up the big Garrett turboprops. Once he tripped the brakes, we jolted into motion and crossed the numbers. With the end of the plowed furrow growing closer and closer, Joe tugged back on the yoke and we put the frozen ground behind us.

From the copilot's seat I knew that although we had left McKinney, we remained a long way from our scheduled landing at Harrison Regional Airport. After we had bid Texas farewell, I began to tune the Harrison ASOS (Automated Surface Observation System) into the #2 communications radio. Weather was critical at KHRO because only a portion of the ILS (Instrument Landing System) was operational. The electronic glideslope was out of service for maintenance. If it had been working, we could have descended through clouds to as low as 300 feet above the ground. Because it was not working, we could only descend as low as 600 feet above the ground. As we passed over Rich Mountain, the ASOS was reporting a 600-foot ceiling at Harrison: just barely high enough for us to land. The news did not surprise me because the ceilings had been low when we had checked the weather before leaving. The good news was in the forecast, which predicted steadily rising ceilings throughout the day. If the ceilings were legal when we were still more than 100 miles away, surely we would be able to land without event by the time we arrived there.

Have you ever noticed that forecasts aren't always perfectly accurate? By the time Fort Smith passed beneath us, the ceilings at Harrison had dropped to 400 feet. They had lowered to 300 feet after we were well into the Boston Mountains. We shot the approach anyway, hoping that we would catch the one patch of higher clouds during our descent to the field. We reached 600 feet and I looked desperately all around the airplane. There, off the right wing, for one fleeting moment I could make out a car driving along a segment of state highway. My temporary visual contact with the ground was inconsequential: the only thing that mattered was whether the runway environment would come into sight off the nose. Alas, all that lay in front of us was an invariant field of gray.

Joe advanced the throttles and coaxed the Merlin upwards to miss the approach. I turned back to the cabin and looked at Tracy. I had withheld the bad weather reports of the previous minutes from her, hoping that they would come to naught. When I told her that we couldn't land, she looked as though that culminating disappointment would send her over the edge. It was the low point of the day.

We decided to try our luck at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, the main passenger airport of the Fayetteville area. The weather was much better there and the landing was anticlimactic. The worry was what to do once we were on the ground. We had arranged for ground transportation in Harrison, some 90 miles away. The FBO courtesy van drove us over the to passenger aviation terminal to browse the car-rental agencies looking for a suitable vehicle to carry us into the icy hills. We obtained a 4-wheel-drive Blazer, transferred our provisions from the Merlin, and began our drive. The time was 4:00 PM. We had been trying to make this journey for twenty-one hours. Jim had been awaiting our arrival for nine hours.

The highways were surprisingly clear. The drive was almost serene but for the intensity of our feelings. Traffic was thick in the Springdale city limits, but once we cleared the metropolitan areas and found ourselves in the open spaces of the Ozarks, we began to move more quickly. As we drove farther, the clouds lowered steadily, reminding us of the foe that had bested us hours earlier. Just before 6:00 PM we entered Harrison. Although we had never been there before, we found the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center easily enough. We burst expectantly into the Labor and Delivery wing precisely at 6:00 PM.

The Much-Anticipated Moment

We knew T---'s room number, so we walked immediately to the door and found it open. We knocked tentatively and Tracy stuck in her head. The room was empty! No birth-mother and no baby! Where were they? We turned to leave and saw a trio of young nurses whose faces were beaming with smiles. "We've got a baby here who doesn't have a name. Can you help us?" Bundled in a mobile crib was 7 lbs., 12 oz., of adorable baby. Tracy confirmed that we were naming him James Dale Barber: James for my Dad, Grandpa, and Great-Grandpa; and Dale for Tracy's Dad. The nurses checked our driver's licenses to verify that we were who we were supposed to be, and then they gave us free rein in the empty hospital room to spend the evening with Jim.

T--- had already left, having waited to meet us as long as she could. Her oldest child had suffered a seizure, and her responsibilities to care for him had already taken her to the Emergency Room with him and then home. Tracy unwrapped Jim and we got our first look at his tiny hands and feet. She sat and rocked him for an hour before conceding to let anyone else (including his Dad) to enjoy the privilege. Hospital policy would not allow us to spend the night there, so we bade Jim farewell for a few hours and went to our rooms in the Holiday Inn Express (you notice I did not say that we went to sleep).

Hurry Up and Wait

Adoption law varies from state to state. Our previous adoption disappointment had been in Texas, where a birth-mother cannot sign a Termination of Parental Rights until at least forty-eight hours after the birth. Our previous birth-mother had changed her mind at more than forty-seven hours. In Arkansas, the waiting period is much longer than forty-eight hours. The adoption remained completely reversible for ten days. Furthermore, until those ten days had passed we did not have permission to leave the state of Arkansas with Jim.

We went back to the hospital at 5:30 AM on Thursday morning. A scheduled meeting with T--- did not occur, but we were able to meet the doctor who made everything possible for our adoption. She arrived and briefed us on Jim's health condition. There was good news and bad news. One of the creases on the palm of Jim's hand was slightly abnormal. In an of itself this feature (called a "simian crease") is totally inconsequential. Three percent of the population at large has this feature, and most of them probably don't know it. The significance of the crease is that it sometimes serves as a "soft sign" of trisomy-21, better known as Down Syndrome. People with DS have 47 instead of 46 chromosomes, the additional chromosome being a third 21st chromosome. The rock-solid 100% way to test for Down Syndrome is to perform a karyotype...that is, to count the number of chromosomes. We ordered the karyotype, but the results did not come in until two weeks later. What a relief it was to learn that Jim was just fine. Since then he has been so healthy and so prone to doing things ahead of schedule that it seems foolish ever to have thought that there was anything wrong with him. Nevertheless, I am glad that we went through our little "scare." God has used it to help me as a pastor to identify with people who are facing tragedies with their children. Also, since we proceeded to adopt Jim while this question was still unanswered, we had an opportunity to affirm our love for Jim as his parents without regard to his health or development.

The good news from Dr. Moffett's examination was her willingness to release Jim from the hospital right away. With the medical release in place, all we needed was a legal release to take Jim out of the hospital. Enter J. Hudson Shepard, Harrison attorney. Our legal arrangements were nuanced. We began the process from Texas by contacting adoption specialist David Cole and Associates of Dallas. We also contacted Arlon Woodruff, a good friend who is an attorney in Arkansas. We imagined that these two offices would be able to handle the intricacies of an interstate adoption. As I mentioned before, we discovered that we could perform the adoption entirely in the Arkansas courts, so the services of David Cole were unnecessary. Cole and Associates gave us this advice and did not charge us a penny. They are first-rate people.

We determined to allow Arlon to take care of the legal work in the adoption, but the weather conspired against him as severely as it did against us. By Thursday Arlon still had not been able to make it to Harrison. He looked in his law directory and found Jerry Shepard for us. Because of the weather, most of the lawyers' offices in Harrison had been closed. Arlon was lucky to find Jerry in his office. Jerry was a wonderful attorney and a delightful person. He had all of the legal paperwork in place within an hour, and we were finally clear to leave Harrison. Joe, Tracy, Jim, and I loaded into the Blazer, drove back to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, and flew to Jonesboro, Arkansas to spend the waiting period with Bart's mom, Carolyn (a.k.a., Nana).

A Week (or Better) at Nana's House

The only thing that compares with experiencing a joy is sharing it with people you love. We were so excited to be able to take Jim to meet his family. For the Barber side of the family, necessity scheduled the meeting very early. How exciting it was to arrive in Lake City at the house where I spent my own childhood and youth. We knew that Tracy and Jim would be there for more than a week, but Joe needed to get home, and I also needed to meet the demands of job and school. We all stayed through Saturday, March 1, but on that day Joe and I climbed aboard the airplane and returned to Farmersville.

I preached at FBC Farmersville on March 2, showed up for work at the church office the next week, and then attended my Ph.D. seminars at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth on Thursday. I presented the Confederate Army Revival paper on that Thursday. It could have benefitted from some additional work, but I stayed up all night the night before and eventually ran out of time to add anything else. I had missed all of my seminars the previous week, but all of my professors understood and approved of my priorities. My colleagues and professors all celebrated our good fortune with me.

When the last seminar was complete (at about 4:00 pm), I left the seminary campus. The original plan had been for me to spend the night in Fort Worth and then drive back to Arkansas. So much for plans. After nearly a week away from my wife and baby, I decided that I was going to see them right away. The fact that I had not slept in 36 hours was not going to stand in my way. I drove until midnight and arrived safely in Lake City, thanks to God's protection. Only a little time remained in our nervous period, and we planned to appear in court on Tuesday, March 11.

Adoption Day Arrives

In an earlier paragraph, I began to describe the differences between adoption in Texas and adoption in Arkansas. I only made it as far as the differences in the initial waiting period. In that respect, Texas law is more favorable to adoptive parents than Arkansas law, because it only requires parents to wait forty-eight hours instead of Arkansas's ten days to have some confidence that the adoption is going to proceed. The other contrasts between the two states make Arkansas compare favorably to Texas. Texas requires adoptive parents to make two appearances in court. The first takes place a few days after the birth. At this appearance the court takes legal notice that the birth-parents have terminated their parental rights and installs the adoptive parents as the baby's guardian. The second appearance, some six months down the road, is the formal adoption proceeding, at which point the adoptive parents legally become the baby's parents.

In Arkansas, adoptive parents need only appear in court once. After the ten-day waiting period has passed and the birth-parents have terminated their parental rights, the adoptive parents appear in court for an official adoption proceeding. The court issues an Interlocutory Decree of Adoption. Basically, this document establishes a six-month interlocutory period during which the adoption is reversible in extreme circumstances (for example, if someone could demonstrate that the adoptive parents have attempted to perpetrate a fraud upon the court). After the six months passes, the adoption automatically becomes final without any need for an additional court appearance.

The drive back to Harrison requires between three and four hours. It is a beautiful route through some of the most rustic portions of the Ozarks. Tracy and I decided to make the drive Monday afternoon, stay once again at the Holiday Inn Express, and thereby make certain that no transportation problems or weather problems could prevent us from making our court appointment on Tuesday morning. This was the first time that the three of us were alone together. It was one of the most serene and fulfilling experiences of our lives to slip through the wooded hillsides while Jim slept peacefully in his carseat.

The next morning Arlon, Mom, and Debbie Nunally (a friend from Lake City) drove to Harrison from Lake City and met us at the courthouse. Jerry Shepard was already there. The proceeding took only a few minutes, and long before noon we were back in the car and headed for Texas. We stopped in Fayetteville at the Hoffbrau restuarant and then drove straight through to Farmersville, finally able to cross state boundaries with our new son.

Friends from Farmersville and even Royse City had left us quite a celebrative display in our front yard and had prepared the nursery for immediate use. The ensuing days included visits from friends and family, a spectacular baby shower and celebration at the church, and the joy of learning that parenthood was everything we expected and more. Even when we were childless, God had been very good to us, giving us blessings that many people never know. Now we are doubly blessed. Thank you, Lord!