“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). For so much of Judy’s life, she had clung to that promise—through hard circumstances and most especially when she left this earth, leaving behind six young grandchildren who had been solely in her care. For those of us looking on, we were amazed at how things would transpire. God’s omnipotent hand was surely doing the writing. 

I wasn’t there when Judy passed, and I think the last time I spoke to her was two or three weeks before she died. Her voice was still strong, but her body was rapidly failing. She was moved to hospice care in south Florida on June 22, 2014. She had touched so many lives, one of them a professional violinist in the area. The day Judy arrived in hospice, he was granted permission to walk up and down the hall of the building playing hymns on his violin. How Judy must have loved that! She knew all the words to all the stanzas of most hymns and I know she was silently worshipping with all the strength that she could muster. It was also in this place that she said goodbye to all her grandchildren. She left this earth just one week later, on June 29.

I wasn’t able to go to the memorial service, but I watched it on video later. The church was packed—so many were her friends. Whoever was making the video was seated behind the family: the children along with their new care givers and soon-to-become-parents, Grace and Christopher. There was so much “good” being worked out right then, as well as long before and long after. God was being Himself, faithful to the end. The steps of those children and their new parents were directly being ordered by the Lord.

Ashton, Faith, Aaron, Giovanni and Katie

The first thing that Christopher and Grace found out is that for as much as Judy thought she was preparing for the care of the children correctly by putting in writing who their caretakers would be, only property, not people, can be probated in a will in Florida. Christopher and Grace had no prior experience in fostering or adoption, for that matter, but they now realized they had no legal guardianship. The director of the local pregnancy center, who was also a close friend, referred them to an adoption lawyer who put them on a fast track to become immediate foster parents with an adoption goal in view. Everyone they met seemed to be the right person to get them to the next step, and by August the adoption process started.

It would be just nine months until the happy “gotchya” adoption date rolled around, which is the same amount of time officials had predicted it would take if all went well. It did! Grace remembers thinking, “Nine months—the same amount of time as a pregnancy, only they would be getting four children in the end.”

In the last months before Judy died, the younger four children had moved in with Grace and Christopher and their youngest son, Aaron. Grace homeschooled them and transported them to appointments. They often went back to visit Judy and even spent occasional nights there. The older two boys, Dylan and Xavier had completed school and remained with Judy in their home. Dylan was 18 and Xavier 20 at this point. They had been left on their own for their teen years and chose not to live with Grace and Christopher. But they were not prepared to live on their own either.

Aaron, Ashton, Xavier, Faith, Dylan, Katie and Giovanni

Both boys fell toward the higher functioning end of the autism scale, but as Christopher puts it, their “background was unstructured and catered to.” Again, Christopher chartered unknown territory to find them help. Again, God led the way. He was able to secure services from the state of Florida that evaluated them, gave them a case manager, signed them up for life skills classes, and put them in touch with professionals who would look after them for the rest of their lives. Their first apartment together was close by the home where the rest of the family was. They could easily ride bikes or walk back and forth, which they often did, and spent every holiday together as well. 

I remember visiting them a few years ago and couldn’t believe their transformation. Their apartment was clean and tidy—unlike their rooms when they were with Judy—and Dylan welcomed me in as an adult would. Since then, the boys have moved to another apartment, and Dylan is always employed. Although the rest of the family has relocated to Texas, Dylan and Xavier only go there to visit occasionally. The last time I spoke with Dylan, he spoke so maturely, and always politely and affectionately. He seems content.

In February of 2019, the children’s mother and Judy’s daughter, Alyssa, died homeless in the streets of Miami. Her next of kin was not known and she was buried in Potter’s Field in an unmarked grave. Grace and Christopher had tried to include her in the children’s new life, inviting her into their home and keeping up communication. They even asked her if she would like to go to Texas when they moved. But she had said no and they heard little from her. So no one knew that she had died till several days after she had been buried. This was yet another hard thing for the children to bear.

Young Xavier, Katie and Dylan

Katie, now 20, recalls her relationship with Alyssa. “I remember my first five years [Alyssa lived with us]. I called her Mom and Judy was Grammy. I always wanted to be with her. I would spend a lot of time cuddling with her on the couch. She would play dollhouse with me. Then one day as my little-self sat in the living room on one of those yellowish Tike chairs, she came out looking very nice. Hair was done, pink shirt on, makeup done and ready to go somewhere. She opened the front door, looked at me and said, ‘I’ll be back.’ She never came back. She left us.”

The younger three children’s memories of Alyssa are confined to infrequent trips made to a Checkers restaurant in Miami—the only place she was willing to meet family members. The children regard Checkers as her favorite restaurant rather than the fact that there was no decent place she called home. Ashton says when they visited, she would kiss each one and say, “You’re my baby” or “my oldest girl” or “my Christmas baby.” That was as personal as she got.

The grandchildren’s memories of Judy, however, are fondly discussed, even though her final days are what they remember most clearly. “The last part of her life she was always sleeping,” Ashton says. But he does remember cuddling with her in earlier days. “She had cancer and stuff. She couldn’t really take care of us,” recalls Giovanni, “but she cared for us, we were her kids.”

Faith remembers that Judy was “very strong in her faith. She taught us the Bible.” Katie agrees. “Judy was someone who tried her best in everything she did. She took on her six grandkids and raised them until she couldn’t anymore. She fought her best until the end,” Katie says, and wants to remember Judy most “by her love for God. That is what she made sure she told everybody about for sure.”

When Judy’s grandchildren joined the family of Grace and Christopher, they gained five more siblings: the youngest, Aaron, who lives with them, plus four more adult children. They now have brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews. Each of them quickly adds that family get-togethers are really fun times they always look forward to.

Sisters Katie and Faith

Faith is now 12. When I visited them earlier this year, she showed me how she makes bread. Each of them takes turns making it each day and it is tasty. She also loves animals and has a pet bird in her room. She says her parents have helped them all in so many ways. “Like we never did school until we came to their house. It was really different. Their house was nothing compared to ours. [Before] we watched movies every night till we went to sleep. Mom [Grace] would make us lay still, close our eyes, until we went to sleep. That helped us a lot.” Faith relates the story about how she came to realize that accepting Christ was how one got to heaven, and when she was younger, she did just that. She says she is really “comfortable” in her not-so-new life with her parents. “We wake up and have our responsibilities we have to do and then we have family time at the end of the day. We watch movies or play a game. I love writing. I want to become a midwife [someday].”

Giovanni, now 14, says he remembers meeting his now parents at church where his dad was the worship pastor and his mom helped with children’s ministries. He says it wasn’t always easy adjusting to life in his new home. “It was different. At first I didn’t trust them. But now I trust them a lot because we’ve been with them for five years. We were crazy people back with Judy. We didn’t listen to her. We just played video games. We basically thought only about what we wanted to do. Mom and Dad have helped us work through this and become more responsible.” Giovanni has quite a love for music. “I play the piano right now.” (And exceptionally well, I might add.) “I want to learn the saxophone, maybe the violin. I like rock, jazz, all kinds of music.” Most of all, Giovanni is thankful for how his life is progressing. “I was born into a very weird and difficult life. God has kept moving me into a better and better situation. I’m stronger and smarter than I was. More mature.”

Ashton, was 15 when I saw him earlier this year, but by now he is getting very close to 16. He is looking forward to driving soon, and when I was there he had just acquired for the very first time in his life, a room of his own. He was very excited about that and didn’t even complain that I took it for a couple nights, pushing him back into the room with Giovanni and Aaron. He found making the transition into a new household hard even though he didn’t think it was bad. He appreciated the fact that his parents had provided therapy to help the children. He enjoys his life now. “I have a job. I like playing basketball and always wanted to do that [when I got older] but my height is against me there. So eventually I think I would like to be in the army maybe a foot soldier in the infantry.” Ashton says he never “processed in my brain” that they were needy when they lived with Judy because the pantry was always full of Captain Crunch.  But he says living with Grace and Christopher has “put them in a more Christian environment. They’ve helped us love God more.”

Katie is now 20 and has moved back to Florida where she lives with her best friend and her family while she attends college. She says she remembers her first years when she was the youngest of three children as the best years of her life. “We lived in our little house in Pompano, Florida where Alyssa was also part of the picture. Judy was healthy and never stopped making our days adventurous. School was even enjoyable.”

Grown up Katie

“When Ashton was born I was a very excited sister! That was my very own baby brother. We quickly became best friends and played together very well. A year later Giovanni was born and that was a different story. Giovanni and my six-year-old self didn’t get along at first because he would scream all the time. I wasn’t fully aware of all that went behind his screaming though. He was blind and deaf at birth so that was his way of communicating. Ashton and Giovanni became close though. After a while of me losing my ‘playmate’ to Giovanni, I prayed and prayed for a sister. After three years I got Faith! She was my everything. It didn’t take very long until I started playing dress up with her and spending a lot of my time taking care of her.”

Katie remembers not having a settled place to call home for a while. “I remember we were house hunting for a little bit. We ended up living in a house for about six weeks where we had to barricade the front door at night because of the neighborhood.” At first, Katie liked Port St. Lucie where Judy and the children ultimately settled. But Katie also remembers this as the place where Judy found out she had stage four breast cancer “and from there is when Xavier, Dylan and I lost our childhood. From there on we had to step in and help raise Ashton, Giovanni, and Faith.”

“My first memories with Grace and Christopher was also a strange time. I had to adjust to living with two parents now and learning to call them ‘Mom and Dad.’ Calling them my parents and Mom and Dad took me substantially longer than the other kids who just jumped into it. I was excited about the idea of being adopted and having a family who wasn’t a drug addict or dying of cancer. After the adoption, I remember Grace and Christopher would plan fun events and things to do together. Everyone was in a great state of mind and things seemed to be going good for once. I always knew though that they were pretty strict and very different from what I had grown up with.”

Katie sees and appreciates all that Grace and Christopher have done for her and her siblings. “My biggest achievement that Grace helped me with was my schooling. I had many holes in my learning. I was testing in third grade math. But with a lot of help, I was able to reach my goal of being at the right level academically. Christopher helped with my love for music. He taught me how to play the guitar and some piano and how to strengthen my vocals. To this day my love for music is strong. I can thank him for that.”

Some of the older Weise children with the newer Weise children and pround Mama Grace, center

“It is definitely evident that God has protected me and my siblings from a lot of possible scenarios. Starting with how any one of us kids could have ended up living with Alyssa on the streets, to not being adopted by Grace and Christopher. I am thankful for all the people who have instilled the Word in me. Now as an adult, even though I’m still a believer, it’s hard not to question God on why all the horrible things happened. Yes, I was protected, but why did it have to happen in the beginning? As of this past year, I have been taking a step back and thinking through things before I jump back into something that was so much a ritual to me.”

Katie describes her life now as filled with “so much variety and adventure.” She is studying Criminal Justice focusing on Social Work and Private Investigation. She also keeps busy working at Publix. “I enjoy going to the lake in my free time and spending time with friends. Although I still think about my past almost daily, I try and move past it and work on myself now. I would love to have a family one day and most likely stay in Florida. I would also like to travel a bit and get to explore.”

Katie’s honesty and transparency makes me so happy. She is finally working through all the places and changes her life has taken her, and maturing into a beautiful woman. She is thinking deeply and expresses herself so beautifully. Judy’s prayers are being answered. What’s more are the people that have invested their lives and their prayers into these children who are quickly growing up—particularly Grace and Christopher. Read their story in November. 

Our lives don’t turn out as we plan. These children are examples of lives not even starting out right, or as Giovanni put it: “I was born into a very weird and difficult life.” But God always has the last say and His redemption plan is the best story of all. Giovanni sees that now.  “God has kept moving me into a better and better situation.” 

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