Russian toddler is their hoped-for adoptee
The couple, members of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, adopted their 3-year-old daughter Isabella from Russia in 2010. And they experienced the roller coaster ride of emotions that typically come with the adoption process.
Peggy grew up with parents who cared for children in need of a home. She also has a sister who endured a traumatic failed domestic adoption. When the Lotts decided to begin the Russian adoption process for a second child last summer, they felt fully prepared.
That was then.
Unfortunately their past experiences and heartache were unable to shield them from the pain and frustration they've faced since Russia passed an adoption ban aimed against the United States.
According to media reports, Russia's adoption ban went into effect Jan. 1 in retaliation for a U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russian human rights violators.
The Lotts had not yet completed the registration process for their second adoption, but they received a photo and medical information this past fall of a 1-year-old boy.
When Peggy first saw the photo that was sent by email, she went through all of the typical joys and worries an adoptive mother often experiences. Is he healthy? Is he being cared for properly? How soon can we travel?
"[He's] ... a part of you," Peggy said. "We saw a picture, and he's in our hearts. We want to bring him home."
The Lotts are far from alone in their frustration, reflecting a concern for other impacted families -- many further along in the process. "Our focus has always been for those 52 families," Tommy said.
"In some of the cases the parents had already met the children," Peggy added. "Some of them were older children. ... Adoptive parents told them, 'We're going to come back and get you and bring you home.' And now it has all been stopped.
"Our prayer is that God will open [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's heart and that he'll allow those adoptions to be completed," she said.
"God was not surprised by it. God knew it was going to happen. God has a plan," Peggy added, "and we know He has a child for us. How that is going to happen I don't know."
For now, the Lotts have turned in their information to the U.S. State Department with the hope it will help persuade Russian officials to allow the impacted families to complete the process.
"[The U.S. State Department is] keeping an eye on all the families," Peggy said. "They're probably taking the ones that already had their court date and already met the children, so we may not qualify for one of the ones to be pushed through. But we might. We never know."
"We're taking it day by day," said Tommy, who described their life right now as "on hold."
"We have this peace about it from God. We know He's in control. [And] we feel like our family is not done yet."
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), around 740,000 children are living without parents in Russia. The State Department, meanwhile, reports that Americans have adopted about 60,000 Russian children in the last 20 years.
Without her faith in God, Peggy said, she's not sure how she'd be able to process this latest development.
Having her "heart ripped out" is how Peggy still describes the feeling of having to leave Isabella, who was a year old at the time, after their first visit to Russia. The couple returned weeks later to complete the adoption process.
Peggy makes it clear that little blond-haired, blue-eyed Isabella has been a blessing to their family, which includes 16-year-old step brother Ben and dog Joe.
"I can't imagine my life without her," Peggy said. "The minute she was placed in my arms ... it was like I knew I was put on this earth to be her mother. No question, no doubt ... that moment ... It's unlike anything.
"We totally believe God's hand was in this adoption."
The Lotts recalled a tense moment near the end of their last stay in Russia as they rode with Isabella to the airport in Moscow to return home.
The couple noticed their Russian interpreters were listening intently to a news report on the radio. They appeared to be concerned as they spoke back and forth in Russian.
The interpreters told the Lotts that an American woman, who had adopted a boy from Russia, later decided she could no longer care for him and put him on a plane back to Russia. The incident quickly made headlines. Some speculated at the time that it could have an immediate impact on Russian adoptions involving the U.S.
Hearing the news from their interpreters, Peggy turned toward her husband, looked him straight in the eyes and said, "I'm leaving with this baby."
"They told us everything would be OK," Tommy said.
"I think we were pretty scared at the time as to how [Russian officials] would react in the airport. You have to go through security and check points and things like that."
"Our families were worried of course once that news story broke," Peggy said. "They were praying. When we got to Washington Dulles, we called both our parents and said, 'We're OK. We're in the United States.'"
As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court to legalize abortion across the nation, Tommy and Peggy said they are especially thankful to Isabella's biological mother for bringing their daughter into the world.
"Her mother aborted a pregnancy prior to Isabella," Peggy said as Isabella sat quietly in Tommy's arms, watching an episode of "Curious George" on television.
"Even at that point," Peggy said, "God was protecting her because her mother could have aborted her.
"And she didn't. I got to tell [Isabella's] story to somebody that was pro-choice. ... This girl had tears in her eyes. She said, 'I never thought of it that way before.'"
Describing adoption as a "calling" and the alternative to abortion, Peggy shared memories of sitting with Isabella in her rocker, telling her their "adoption story."
"I'd tell her 'God gave you to me. He picked you to be my daughter,'" she said.
"We want people to know that adoption is worth it, every step of the way, no matter how hard it is," she said.
"It's worth it. If anyone can experience [adoption], it will change your life forever. I think it's a definite picture of God's love and grace extended to us."
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of the Biblical Recorder (www.brnow.com), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.