On the island of St. Croix, the weather is serene, hovering between the 80s and 90s year-round with cool breezes smelling of sea salt and hibiscus. Located next to Puerto Rico, the landscape is picturesque, with only two small historical towns dotting the whole island. Each night the lapping waves of the Caribbean provide a symphony for the sunset show. St. Croix is full of fertile soil, friendly native islanders and retirees, and pirate lore befitting of an early West Indies trading post. But for Lana Wichrowski, St. Croix wasn’t the perfect vacation spot, it was the lonely island where she spent her unexpected pregnancy and first years as a mom.
“I got pregnant at 19 years old. We were living in Maryland, and I told my boyfriend at the time that he needed to be the one to tell my parents, especially my dad,” Lana says. “I didn’t want to disappoint him.” Her dad was a military man on the verge of retirement, and he immediately asked Lana and her boyfriend what they were going to do. Afraid, ashamed, and still on her dad’s military insurance, Lana broke up with her boyfriend and followed her parents to St. Croix, the retirement location they had decided on. “I didn’t have the ‘pregnancy glow’ people talk about,” Lana says. “I was happy when I had my son, but there was so much shame and guilt wrapped into my pregnancy. It wasn’t what I would have planned for myself.” The closest military base was in Puerto Rico, so she would go there for all her prenatal appointments and spent the month before her delivery living in the barracks on base.
It was a welcome distraction. “I became friends with some of the other people on base who worked in the hospital there, and even though I was due any day, we would often go exploring or hang out in San Juan,” she says. “Doctors induced me on December 20, and I flew back to St. Croix on Christmas Eve with four-day-old Tyler in my arms.”
Single mom life, even in Caribbean paradise, was hard. Unexpected single mom life was harder. Lana did the best she could, raising a child on a small island. She soon fell in love with a man, and they lived as husband and wife in St. Croix, Texas, and St. Croix again. Her husband adopted her first child as his own, and they had two more children together. She became the all-too-typical exhausted wife and mom, and they spent several years together as a family. “I didn’t really get to enjoy raising my kids—I was tired all the time, and my marriage was struggling,” Lana says. “I carried so much shame and guilt. I didn’t get a chance to even enjoy my own youth or go to college or anything.” Her marriage crumbled, and she moved to Connecticut for a while but was really struggling. Then, through a connection with her sister-in-law, Lana moved back to Texas. She had accepted Christ while she was married but really didn’t know what it was to have a close, personal relationship with Him until after her divorce. “When I had no one else to depend on but Him, He came through every time,” she says.
A single mom once again, she began attending Gateway and got a job in the IT department. She came to Texas with almost nothing, but God took special care of her and her kids, who were splitting their time between her and their dad. “One woman at Gateway, who found out I was a single mom that just moved here, furnished my entire home,” Lana says. “She asked if she could bring some furniture to the house while I was at work, but when I got home, I saw that she didn’t just bring furniture, she brought and set up everything—from curtains to name brand bed sets for my kids to a wreath on the door. It was an unbelievable, outrageous gift.”
A few years after being in Texas, Lana met a wonderful man named Joe, and they blissfully tied the knot, ending her season as a single mom once more. But Lana’s kids were getting older and she still shared them with her ex-husband and his new wife on a regular basis. It was getting too quiet in their house, and she and Joe decided they would love to hear the sounds of baby coos and cries. “We wanted to have children that were ours. We tried for a while, but nothing was happening,” Lana says. “When we finally went to a doctor, we learned after a lot of testing that we both had physical obstacles to conceiving.” It was disconcerting to have gotten pregnant so easily and unexpectedly earlier in her life and to not have that ease now. But Lana felt like God had placed that desire in their hearts for a reason, and she developed a peace that God would fulfill it. “I knew we would have our own baby,” Lana says. “I just didn’t know how God was going to do it.”
Through Gateway’s Single Parent Families ministry, Lana got connected with a woman named MaKenzie who runs a private ministry, Raising Arrows, that helps struggling moms. “If Child Protective Services (CPS) has claimed a child, Raising Arrows comes in and tries to help the mom get back on her feet, get healthy, get free, and potentially get her child back,” Lana says. “It’s about helping women become the best mom they can be.” With Lana’s experience as a single mother and her knowledge of the challenges motherhood brings, she latched on to the vision of Raising Arrows and soon became part of the board. And MaKenzie and Lana became fast friends.
One day, Lana got a call about a mom named Veronica. Veronica was struggling with postpartum depression and wanted to find a way to adopt out her son, Josiah, who was four years old. MaKenzie, who had a full house at home, asked Lana if she would meet with Veronica. Lana and Joe prayed about it and decided they would try to help. “I met Veronica at the Gateway Southlake Campus, and she gave us Josiah that night. She was really put together on the outside, but I could tell she was falling apart on the inside,” Lana says. “And I knew if I didn’t take him, someone else would, and I didn’t know what kind of person that would be. We arranged for her to pick him back up in two weeks.” Lana was all for doing whatever Veronica needed to help heal, and if taking care of Josiah for a little while or even forever would help, then Lana and Joe were on board. Lana told Veronica to journal everything she felt in the two weeks without Josiah.
It didn’t take long for Lana and Joe to bond with Josiah during that time, and Lana began to fear losing him. “I remember taking him to the Perot Museum and watching him discover fossils and have such joy in everything around him. He was such a happy kid, but he was confused,” Lana says. “His upbringing until then included a lot of different people.” So when Veronica called to say she wanted to pick up Josiah around Mother’s Day—before the two weeks were over, Lana knew she had to have a really raw and honest mom-to-mom conversation. “I told her that she needed to make a decision for Josiah’s sake. She had to pick him up and be a mom or adopt him out,” she says. “It was difficult knowing he may return to an unstable environment, but I knew she could do it. She could be his mom.” Veronica picked up Josiah, and Lana prayed for them every single day. She often debated whether she should call Veronica to check on her and Josiah but decided against it; she knew it could open a door for him to go back and forth. She left it with the Lord, and even though Veronica called a little while later to say she definitely wanted Lana and Joe to adopt Josiah, Lana said no. “I had so much peace that she could do it and that Josiah would be okay,” she says. Six years later, when Lana unexpectedly saw Veronica and Josiah smiling on the cover of the Summer 2018 issue of Gateway Life magazine, Lana knew she made the right decision. “I hardly recognized her and Josiah—they looked so healthy, so joyful,” she says. “I texted her that day and told her I was so proud of her.”
Even though the Lord told her no with Josiah, Lana soon got a chance to say yes. MaKenzie and her husband had adopted a little boy named Isaiah whose mother was a heroin and meth addict, and the mom was pregnant again. They knew that as soon as she went in to have the baby, CPS would place the baby into foster care for his safety. MaKenzie called Lana again. “The mom, Christina, didn’t want her babies to end up in the system and be separated,” Lana says. “If we fostered this baby, he would be safe and grow up knowing his brother, Isaiah. Joe and I prayed about it and said yes.” When Christina was in labor, Lana went to the hospital and brought little baby Jonah home. It was only temporary. The plan was to help Christina get clean, so she could eventually take Jonah back. “But Christina couldn’t beat it. She would relapse again and again,” Lana says. “I learned that her mother was an addict as well and that Christina didn’t want her kids in the foster system because she grew up in the system. She shared a lot of painful stories, and I began to understand where she was coming from.”
Christina got pregnant a third time, shortly after severing her parental rights to Jonah. She went into labor at 27 weeks, and Christian Tuf was born. Christina got clean enough to bring Tuf home, and with the help of her mother, who is sober and recovering, kept him for a little while. But once more, she failed her CPS check, and Tuf was taken away. Lana and Joe didn’t feel like they could foster Tuf because they were still in the process of adopting Jonah. “But I couldn’t bear to think of him growing up without knowing his brothers Isaiah and Jonah,” Lana says. “So I did something that some people would consider ... interesting. I called my ex-husband.”
Lana explained the situation to her ex-husband and his wife. The couples were on good terms and already sharing their kids with one another during holidays and for special events. He had a heart for children—adopting her son Tyler when they got married all those years ago and adopting his second wife’s daughter as well. Lana knew if they adopted Tuf, he would still get to grow up knowing his biological brothers. “They agreed to foster Tuf and then later adopted him!” Lana says. “It’s a crazy situation. Three biological brothers spread among three families, but it’s all so they can know each other.” The three of them together are quite a sight—goofing around, all wild hair and smiles—and the three families pray daily for the generational family curses to be severed and for them to grow up as strong men of God.
Throughout all this time, Christina and Lana started developing a relationship. “Just because she’s an addict doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her babies. I wish more people would see that love instead of the needle she puts in her arm,” Lana says. “There’s still hope that she will one day be able to have a relationship with her children. In the meantime, Christina is comforted in knowing the boys are all growing up in safe, loving families. I’m glad I can do that for her.” As for Lana and Joe, adopting Jonah was an answer to their prayers. The second Lana took Jonah home, she felt like he was theirs. There was almost no difference between taking her biological children home and taking Jonah home. “Even though the plan was to give him back to Christina if she got well, I really felt like the Lord was giving him to us. I bonded with him so quickly and fully, I feel as if he came from my own body!” Lana says. “God is so faithful. He knew the desires of our heart for another child, and even though the process was far from conventional, look at him! He’s perfect.” Lana’s other children, who are all in their 20s and out of the house, recognize and love Jonah, now age 4, like a true brother—nicknames like “cutie pie” are thrown around regularly—and he often spends time with his biological brothers, Isaiah and Tuf, and their biological grandmother, whom they all call “Grammy.”
Although as a 40-something-year-old mom, dropping a four-year-old off at children’s ministry with all the young moms around her makes her feel a little out of place, Lana wouldn’t change a thing. “I was so immature and unable to enjoy my kids as a young mom,” Lana says. “Now I feel like God has rejuvenated me, so I have the physical energy of a young mom, but He’s let me keep the wisdom He’s granted me over the years.” Although Jonah is her fourth child, she cherishes every moment with him as if he’s her first.
Lana has been the unexpected mom, the married mom, the single mom, the mom-in-waiting, the almost mom, and now the adoptive mom. She has seen it all and has the kind of mom-superpower that comes from much trial, error, and hard-won victories. When asked what she’s gleaned from years of motherhood, she says, “There are two things to remember: First, God sees you. Second, dishes and laundry will always be there. Sit down and play with your kids.”
For more information on Raising Arrows, visit raisingarrowsministry.org.