Thankful everyday

A woman counts the blessings in her life—from being adopted to finally getting the siblings she always wanted.

Alicia A. Neumann

It all started in 1948 with a young, pregnant woman going through a messy divorce. “My mom wanted to get an abortion, but no one would do it. So she went to Flagstaff, Arizona, had me, left me there, and then went home,” says Sandy James, member at Hope, Chino Valley, Ariz.

As Sandy got older, she wanted to find her biological mother—to thank her. “I wanted to thank my mother because I’ve had such an awesome life,” she says. “None of this would have happened if she hadn’t given me up for adoption, and none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for God.”

GROWING UP

Sandy was adopted when she was a few weeks old by Herb and Lil Bangert, who lived in Flagstaff and had waited 14 years to adopt a child. Sandy was baptized right away at Mt. Calvary, the WELS church that became a central part of her life.

“When I was growing up, everything we did was connected to church,” says Sandy. “We went to church every Sunday, and almost every weekend we did something with someone from church.” She remembers her mother helping teach vacation Bible school and Sunday school and her parents always trying to make new church visitors feel welcome. “Anytime someone new showed up, my parents invited them over,” she says. “Mom always had a roast, potatoes, and carrots ready—and pie. There was never a Sunday that we didn’t have someone at our house.” She says many of those people ended up joining the church and became good friends with her family.

But even though her house was busy with people coming and going, Sandy says she prayed regularly for siblings. “By the time my parents’ names got to the top of the adoption list again, they were too old to adopt. I had a wonderful life and I was happy, but I was lonely,” says Sandy, recalling how she used to line up her dolls at night and ask God to make them real.

Even though God didn’t give her more siblings, he did give her a large extended family with plenty of cousins to play with. He also gave her a lot of friends whom she met while attending high school at Northwestern Lutheran Academy in Mobridge, South Dakota.

“I loved my years at Northwestern Lutheran,” says Sandy. “There were 18 in our class, and we were all very close. We studied together, and we lived in the dorms together—we were with each other day and night.” She still keeps in touch with some of her friends, including one of her roommates who was in her wedding and became a godparent to some of Sandy’s children. “Growing up we didn’t have much money—barely enough to send me to Northwestern Lutheran,” says Sandy. “But my parents were willing to sacrifice to send me there, and without them I wouldn’t have had that experience. I can’t thank them enough for it.”

STARTING A FAMILY OF HER OWN

Sandy was almost done with school when she started dating Pete James, who went to her church. “His family went to our church my whole life, so we always knew each other,” says Sandy. “My senior year I was home from school, and we had a potluck. My mom forgot the cord to her electric skillet, so Pete’s mother sent him over to our house the next day to return it. Then my dad had him stay for dinner.” After dinner, Sandy and Pete went for a ride, and he asked her out. After a few more dates he asked her to marry him, “and we have been married 47 years now,” says Sandy.

God blessed them with five children, including a set of twins. “At one point I had a three-year-old, a two-year-old and twin boys,” she said. It was a lot of work, she remembers—especially when the kids were young and her husband was out of town for his job. “But God was there for us all the time, and it was so special to see him working in my kids’ life.” Sandy says she made sure her children had a Christ-centered education like she had, and all attended Arizona Lutheran Academy in Phoenix.

Sandy is so thankful for everything God had blessed her with, especially her parents, her husband, and her children. “I’ve had a wonderful life!” she says.

GAINING ANOTHER FAMILY

Fast forward to 2008. Sandy found out that one of her friends had given her son up for adoption many years ago and finally was going to meet him. Sandy was intrigued and contacted the man who facilitated the reunion. He found out that Sandy’s mother was from Tacoma, Washington, and that she had died in 1998.

“I went online and found Mom’s obituary,” says Sandy. “I read it and found out I had a sister and three brothers! My whole life I knew I was adopted, but I had never thought about whether or not I had siblings.”

Sandy found her sister’s information online and called her. “I told her my story, and I could tell she wasn’t buying it. So she asked me to e-mail her my picture. She called me back and said, ‘You look exactly like Mom!’ I almost fell off my chair.”

Soon Sandy was on a plane to meet her sister and brothers in person. She also got to meet her biological father before he died and learned more about the events surrounding her adoption.

Sandy says the reunion was great. “They didn’t have to like me, but they accepted me right away. I think it’s because they are Christians who know and love the Lord,” she says. Since then, they’ve kept in contact and even get together for a camping trip each year.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have any siblings after I grew up!” she says. “Now I have a whole gaggle of them. It’s pretty neat to say, ‘My sister and my brothers.’ ”

Sandy says she’s seen God’s hand in every stage of her life. “None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him; I thank him every day,” she says. “Throughout the years I’ve had lots of questions about what happened, but I know God’s in charge and I’m not worried about it. He has always been there for me. Without him, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have any of this! My life is awesome, and I thank him every day for all of it.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Resurrection, Rochester, Minnesota.

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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

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