In 2012, Brenda Rinehart was busy — really, really busy.
She was starting her doctoral degree, working as a health care administrator and serving in a variety of professional roles. She and her husband, Joseph, were also leading networking groups and involved in a variety of other things in their community and church.
“That’s where we were in life,” Rinehart said. “And around that time, I had a dream of a little girl walking down the hallway of our house. She had black hair and a little soup-bowl haircut, and she had Down Syndrome. And she opened the door to our bedroom and called us Mama and Daddy.”
Rinehart was taken off guard by the dream, and she figured it must be God preparing her to have a grandchild with special needs — she and her husband already had six adult children.
“But the dream kept happening over and over, and this child was calling us Mama and Daddy, not Nana and Papa or anything like that,” she said.
Rinehart said she found ways to brush it off. First, after two of her grandchildren developed special needs, she circled back around to the belief they might be why she’d had the dream.
Then as she and her husband both felt “God’s tug” on their heart for foster care, they decided they were too busy to take children into their home; instead, they decided to start giving financially to foster care ministry.
In the years that followed, things only got more chaotic. Their life went through a series of job changes and house changes, and while they continued to soften more and more on adoption and even looked into it, everything felt too busy for that to work.
But the Rineharts couldn’t shake the feeling that God was calling them to it.
“I told my husband, ‘I can’t let go of that dream,’ and he said, ‘I can’t let go of that dream either,’” she said. “So I said, ‘Let’s go tell that dream to our agency.’”
So that’s exactly what they did, and their social worker’s reaction surprised them.
“She said, ‘From the moment I heard you say that, I knew exactly what I wanted to show you,’” Rinehart said. “She pulled up a photo of some little girls in China who had Down syndrome. For my husband and I, it was like an instant knowing — that’s what we were supposed to do.”
She and her husband started the adoption process, which moved quickly at first, then slowed for a variety of reasons.
“In that waiting time, because God’s timing is perfect, the daughter we adopted first became available and we were matched with her,” Rinehart said.
Another door opens
Then, in the place in China where they met their daughter, Brooklyn, who’s now 9, Rinehart said God impressed something new on her heart as they prayed with other adoptive parents.
She looked at her husband and said, “We’re going to be back here really soon.”
Sure enough, nine months later, they went back to China and brought home Brynlee, who’s now 11.
With that season came more big change.
“She’d been home three months, and my husband’s job offered him the chance to get into management,” Rinehart said.
That meant they’d have to move from Washington State to Texas.
“We weren’t in Texas very long, maybe a year, before I said to my husband that I think we’re supposed to adopt one final time,” she said.
Sorrow and setbacks
God confirmed the same thing to Joseph one night while he was on a flight. The couple started the process again, but it wasn’t as easy this time. They struggled first with getting some critical paperwork through, then found out that Bethany — the little girl they had been matched with for two and a half years — had gone into a coma from encephalitis brought on by a respiratory infection.
They were told she would never recover.
“We grieved really hard,” Rinehart said. “It took a while, but I will give kudos to my husband because in all this he said, ‘I told you God told me on the plane that this was our purpose, and we were going to move forward. There’s no reason not to keep going forward with what He’s called us to do even if it hurts.’”
They were matched again with another little girl, and Rinehart said she let herself fall in love with her.
Then more news came.
“The foster family who had her decided that they could not let her go, and they adopted her in country. It’s absolutely unheard of,” Rinehart said. “I was so happy for her — ecstatic for her to not have to leave her culture and her country and the people who have raised her.”
But it was still tough to process, and at that point between all their difficulties in matching and the arrival of COVID-19, their door for an adoption from China shut.
“They weren’t going to let us find another child,” Rinehart said. “We didn’t have a choice; we were just going to have to hang in there and see what God had planned.”
Working with Lifeline
Along the way, they had started working with Lifeline Children’s Services, a holistic orphan-care ministry based in Birmingham, and one day Lifeline called with a question.
“They said, ‘Would you consider a domestic adoption?’ And we said, ‘Tell us more,’” Rinehart said. “They told us about a little girl who had been adopted from China three years prior, and her parents couldn’t continue with her adoption.”
The little girl also had Down syndrome, and age-wise she was between Brooklyn and Brynlee. After meeting her on a video call, Rinehart realized she recognized the girl — she’d helped advocate for her adoption several years before. Soon Bella, now 9, joined their family too.
Rinehart said she’s so thankful that God took them from being an empty-nester career couple to being the adoptive parents of three precious girls. Even though she’d originally planned to go back to work when her oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she never did.
“I was thinking I was destined to be CEO of a hospital someday, that was my goal,” said Rinehart, who has moved with her family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, since the last adoption. “I’m so glad God knows better than I do. I’m so glad I’m here with these kiddos, not there.”
‘Don’t be afraid’
She said for anyone who feels God tugging on their heart toward adoption or another calling, “don’t be afraid for God to turn your life upside down; sometimes that’s the only way to see correctly.”
“When God puts a call on your life, you’re always going to be unsettled until you fulfill that call,” Rinehart said. “That restlessness, that ‘I can’t get comfortable’ feeling — I think that, until you do it, you will be restless.”
Heather Cole, senior domestic specialist at Lifeline, said it had been “a joy” to walk alongside the Rineharts.
“I had the privilege of seeing their love for their children and grandchildren throughout their journey,” Cole said. “They love who God created their children to be, and [they] help them to flourish into who they are.”
All children deserve to thrive, she said, and the Rineharts are a picture of that.
“At Lifeline Children’s Services, we believe that every child, no matter their abilities or needs, is worthy of love, family and belonging,” Cole said.
Rinehart said she’s grateful for the guidance and support Lifeline has provided.
“There are days I’m certain I would not have made it through without them,” she said. “They’re compassionate, they listen and they go out of their way to make sure that you’re OK. I always knew they cared.”
For more information, visit lifelinechild.org.