Nanette Garrett was a mother of six when she had a dream about a little girl.
“She was sitting on my lap—and I knew she was mine,” said Nanette. The girl was about 3 in her dream, and her name was Emily. “It was very distinct, and I just had a feeling that she was coming.”
She and her husband Vern were having trouble getting pregnant at the time, and she had an inkling that maybe they should adopt.
“Then the minute I decided [adoption] was okay, I got pregnant with my seventh child, a boy,” Nanette said.
“Bryson was born but I couldn’t get this child off my mind. I just knew I was going to have a little Emily.”
So the couple started looking into adoption, and decided they were going to find a little girl from Ukraine. They got on a plane and, having barely slept, went to the National Adoption Center in the morning.
Officials showed them stacks and stacks of photo albums, and Nanette was determined to find her child.
“We looked for hours, it was grueling,” she said. “You’re looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“I guess I could say I’ve never prayed so hard in my life.”
She knew Emily was somewhere among the children in these books. Then she stopped on a photo of a little girl with a big bow on her head, and both she and Vern were stunned.
It wasn’t a difficult decision: That was her Emily.
The next day, the couple was taken to visit a schoolhouse where Emily, and many other children who needed a home, would be. Among maybe 20-something waving children was one little girl—their eyes met, and she just lit up.
“It was magic for me,” Nanette remembered (video below). “We were just giddy.”
Later, when their translator told Emily the visiting couple was here to adopt her, the little girl’s actions surprised them all.
“I was getting out of the van,” Nanette remembered, “and I had my camera with me.”
“She ran right to Vern and called him Papa.”
Emily fell into his arms in a moment and gave him a tight hug. “I felt like I was holding my daughter immediately,” Vern said.
They all got into the van to depart for Emily’s new home in Utah. As they drove away, the 20 schoolchildren came out, waving their goodbyes. It was both a heartwarming and heartwrenching moment for the couple—they finally found their daughter, but saw so many other children who wanted homes.
“Our hearts just broke,” Vern said.
In the car, Emily became somber, and a tear fell down her face.
“I knew there was something inside of her,” Vern said.
It wasn’t until about two weeks later when the couple received a letter that they understood Emily’s past.
Emily was born to a dysfunctional home. There was no father, and her mother was either not home most of the time, or psychologically checked out when she was home. Poverty and alcohol were constants in her early life.
All Emily had was her older sister Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was about 5 or 6 when Emily was born, and in effect had to become a mother figure at a very young age.
She would go door to door in her village, knocking on doors, “trying to find food for her little sister.”
“We had no idea what kind of relationship existed,” Vern said.
“But after the fact we found that this girl cried into her pillow every night for two months realizing her little sister was gone.”
Another few months later, Elizabeth was able to write a letter to the family herself, and included a photograph. Looking into that girl’s face, and understanding how deeply she cared for Emily, the couple couldn’t just leave the matter along.
“The letter was full of gratitude and love,” Vern remembered. She did not question or blame the family for taking her sister, she was grateful her sister now had a family to love her.
“I’ve never met you before, but I want you to know that I love you,” Vern remembered her writing, moved to tears as he recalled it.
“This was not just a sister, this was a mother to some degree, especially in gratitude,” he added.
Elizabeth’s feeling moved Nanette and Vern’s hearts. They wrote her to ask if she would like to be a part of their family, and got another letter in response: Of course!
The family flew back to Ukraine, and this meeting was different from the first, Vern recalled. Elizabeth knew the couple was coming and this would change her life, and both parties were anxious leading up to the meeting. It was nerve-wracking.
Their van pulled into the schoolyard, and 10 or so students were waiting outside. “That is her!” Nanette said from inside the car as they made to park.
The meeting was a culmination of all their correspondence, and they couldn’t be happier with the outcome. They were talking nonstop and had a lifetime of things to share.
But for Elizabeth, the best was yet to come.
After a long plane ride, the trio stepped out into the terminal. From across the room, Elizabeth and Emily identified each other immediately.
“She just broke into a dead run,” Vern said of Elizabeth.
The sisters crashed into each other and embraced for a good minute, neither speaking. They had missed each other dearly, and now were not only together again, but with a big and loving family. This was something Elizabeth had thought would never be possible in her lifetime.