Debby Yerkes

She Stole My Heart

by Debby Yerkes

Debby is a believer who leans on the truth that God brings people across her path for a purpose. In 1988, she focused on caring for young children. And in 2017, she cares for young adult women.


It had only been four months, but she had stolen my heart. That summer of 1988 a bright-eyed, exuberant 3-year-old brunette asked for “geen gapes” and wanted a “cake with fire” for her birthday. She had a zest for life like I had never seen in a child. There was an inner core that screamed she would overcome any obstacle. But more than that, she looked like me. She called me mommy before climbing the stairs for a bubble bath and bed that first night. Something in her drew me closer than any other foster child. Something in her told me she was special and was going to be an amazing person. She had a baby doll, like her older sister, but she really would rather be lifting rocks to see what was living under them. Or just digging in the dirt hoping to find water. Baking cookies and eating the dough were at the top of her list.

No contact was initiated by her family since that hot June afternoon, so the option of adoption was presented to our family. Of course we wanted this young child to be ours forever! And the process of her capturing every piece of my heart began. In August, I returned to the classroom, so day care was introduced. September was her 4th birthday party with black “cake with fire” for all her friends. October was fall family pictures to introduce our new family on the Christmas card.

Life was complete until that call on November 6 at 4 p.m., informing me she was being returned to her biological father. The agency would pick up her tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Wait, she was my daughter. I was to be her mother, she calls me mommy. She was to be mine for the rest of her life. I had dreamed of her school classroom, her prom, graduation, college — I had even planned her wedding. She was mine, the agency had said we could begin adoption procedures. She doesn’t get to leave this home. I couldn’t grasp that I had 18 hours left with my daughter.

November 7th did arrive, pictures were gathered as a reminder of our time together, toys were collected, blankets were packed along with favorite books and all the clothes. I stood numb with tearing eyes as she pulled out of the driveway and drove away. A dear friend was with me that morning and was wise to bring red tulip bulbs to plant to remind me every year of my sweet little girl. Every spring, as I watched the tulips bloom, I wondered where she was, what she was learning, if she was safe, who her teachers were, and if she remembered us. Did she remember me? Was there another mommy in her life? Was that mommy loving her like I could? I never got answers, so I held on to the sweet pictures and the few months she was really mine. I tried to believe one day I would find her again.

For 16 years I was shattered and broken.

The last week of December 2003, a young man walked into a church and asked if anyone knew of a family that had a foster daughter in 1988. He had recently married her, she was graduating in January from the Air Force Academy, and she had always wanted to find her foster family. A phone call led this young man, my husband, and me to a local restaurant within the hour. He wanted to know if there was any chance I would fly down to San Antonio in a week to surprise her. I said absolutely. After the closing ceremonies, her husband went to her and asked if she knew who the lady sitting in the bleachers was. I had waited 16 years for this day. I wanted to hug her, feel her hair through my fingers, look into her wild and crazy eyes and connect with the child that stole my heart so long ago. She hugged me and said she didn’t know I cared that much, let alone that I was broken for her all those years.

For these last 11 years I got to walk alongside her as she began a family and was fully invested in the military lifestyle. She did leave the military and return to our home town.

So I had a chance to live life together like I had always wished those many years. A chance to influence her future. A chance to share how she had so stolen my heart as a child. A chance to share what unconditional love really looks like. A chance to have adults having her back and praying over her when life gets tough. A chance to love and be loved. A chance to see that wild smile and dancing eyes every day … as least for now.