When you ask Kristi Cox about her family’s adoption of Allie, a Ukrainian 12-year-old, airplanes make a recurring appearance.
There were the military jets from Cox’s childhood, a few filled with parentless children flown in from other countries. “Can we adopt one?” she would ask her parents. It was that plane, in fact, that partially inspired her eventual career working for an adoption agency.
Then there was the airplane that safely delivered Cox, her husband Allen and two of their daughters to Ukraine in August of 2014. As they exited, soldiers with rifles lined the walkway, reminders of the very real conflict the eastern portion of the nation was experiencing with invading Russia. If they wanted to make Allie a Cox, they had no choice; it was fly into a warzone, or nothing.
Finally came the aircraft for their pickup trip, where Kristi and Allen traveled from their home in Georgia to just 132 miles away from an active, violent conflict. Armed soldiers roamed the streets, and the family’s court date was postponed twice.
“I remember friends sharing their concerns, some begging us not to travel, some saying how scared they would be, and I would respond by saying, ‘If I die on this trip, what better way to enter heaven and meet Jesus than to have been doing exactly what He called me to do, at the moment when He called me to do it,’” Cox says.
All those airplanes, it seemed, were vehicles of the angels, teaching Cox to fly toward a fifth daughter she describes as “outgoing, never meets a stranger, happy, full of life, curious, helpful, compassionate and kind.”
But it’s been almost a decade of hard work, tears, heartbreak and progress.
Cox can look back now and point out all the milestones, both minute and massive: how Allie has learned 150 ASL signs to communicate, in addition to a few intelligible words; attending nearly every kind of therapy, to include horseback riding; swimming lessons, princess camps, taekwondo and art lessons; vacations to Disney and gleefully performing the Atlanta Braves tomahawk chop; household chores she can do by herself; even getting in and out of her wheelchair on her own.
Oh, that’s another thing: in addition to Allie being born with Down Syndrome, the motor nerves in her leg do not work. It’s a unique situation among families who have adopted kids with Down Syndrome, but Cox firmly believes her newest daughter is worth it.
“Our house would be very quiet without her, because she’s the life of the party and brings so much laughter and joy, even though that constant talking, laughing and singing is exhausting and overwhelming for the rest of us at times,” Cox says.
And she knows what she’s talking about: she gave birth to a daughter with Down Syndrome before adopting Allie.
Sixteen-year-old Alea, in fact, is part of the reason Allie is around to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem. Cox and Allen, a retired 62-year-old educator and coach, knew they could do for another what they were already doing for Alea.
At first, the Coxes committed to adopt another young girl from Reece’s Rainbow but agreed to withdraw when another family could get to her more quickly. Cox and her daughter Alivea often scrolled through their favorite kids and prayed for homes to open up.
Then Cox saw “Maria.” The Georgia mom has been dismissing the thought of adopting a non-walking child; it seemed unworkable. But then she spoke with someone who had met Maria. And as the days passed, it simply became clear: this 33-pound, size 4T near-teenager was meant to be hers.
“Allie is the perfect fit for our family and, after following the children that we wanted to adopt since they’ve come home to their families, I have seen that they would not have transitioned as well as she has into our lives,” Cox says. “God knew which child He wanted in our family and He closed doors that needed to be closed until our hearts were prepared and willing to see ‘Maria’ as our daughter.”
Cox, today a 55-year-old city council member, isn’t spouting mere platitudes and feel-good inspirations. She knows intimately what it means to hurt, and to mourn, and so does her family.
One daughter ― Leilani ― was stillborn. Alivea, meanwhile, passed away almost five years ago at age 14 from lymphoma. It was Allie’s loss, too; the pair were “tight,” as Cox says.
“In the past two weeks, Allie has come into the living room, pointed to Alivea’s picture and cried, saying ‘Liddy,’” Cox says. “While that breaks my heart, it also assures me that Allie has been able to learn to trust and love, and she felt that was a special relationship, which shows the growth she's had since coming home a hollow shell of a body that wouldn’t hug us back, but rather sit like a statue with no response.”
Allie is a 20-year-old junior in high school now. She is still dealing with more than a decade's worth of orphanage trauma, occasionally displaying behavior that can veer into the less-than-savory. She’s a born mess-maker. She occasionally growls or grunts when she doesn’t get her way.
But angels keep showing up, sent at just the right time. Sometimes, like Alivea, they leave.
And sometimes ― perhaps even delivered by an airplane straight out of a war zone ― they sing and dance the tomahawk chop.
Some say that it's comin'
I say that it's already here
The love that's among us through
The joy and the fear
When I look into your eyes
Everything is so clear
~”Sending Me Angels” by Delbert McClinton
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.