Sammy Horner grips his mom’s hand. Half hopping, half skipping, he drags her down the sidewalk towards the preschool doors. Sammy loves preschool at Timothy; he’s naturally settled into the rhythm of school. The mundane task of preschool drop-off is nothing short of a miracle for the Horners. Sammy’s story started on the continent of Africa. And in what his mother believes is nothing short of a miracle, involves the parking lot outside the elementary school.
Thousands of people have pulled in and out of that lot over the years. There’s nothing special about it. But for Laura Horner, a 2002 graduate of Timothy Christian Schools, her life was profoundly changed in that parking lot—not once, but twice.
Laura was born with cerebral palsy, a birth defect with a wide range of symptoms. Laura, however, is most affected by the telltale sign of muscle atrophy. By the time she was five years old, the bones in her legs had curved, making the simple act of walking nearly impossible. A surgery where her tibia was rotated and plates and screws were implanted in her legs restored her ability to walk, but left her with a noticeable limp.
Laura’s parents were determined to give her a Christian education, just like her older brother. So they enrolled her at Timothy when she was in first grade. “I can remember Mrs. Wolterstorff, my first grade teacher,” Laura says. “She said she wanted me in her class. She was the first person, outside of my mom and dad, who said she accepted me exactly how I was.”
Laura, though, wasn’t like the other students. She walked differently, with a profound gait, and she couldn’t run on the playground. As Laura grew, she became more and more self-conscious of her pronounced limp. The summer before sixth grade, she had another surgery—this time her left leg was broken, with the hopes of straightening it to improve her mobility.
It was a painful surgery, with a recovery that left her wheelchair bound for four weeks. “My mom told my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Engbers, that I was going to start school late,” Laura remembers. “Mr. Engbers was like, ‘Why? She can come to school in a wheelchair.’ He built a special desk that my wheelchair fit under. And then every day my mom would pull into the parking lot and he’d come out to the car, pick me up, and place me in my wheelchair and get me into school.”
It was in the parking lot at Timothy, where a young and impressionable Laura experienced selfless love and acceptance. It profoundly affected her faith, and even set her on a course that led her across the world to her son a decade later.
“Mr. Engbers was just so good,” Laura says. “He believed in me. He knew starting sixth grade in a wheelchair was going to be complicated and that I would feel awkward and different. He was intentional about me being a 6th grade student, despite starting the year in a challenging position.”
Two months later, Laura walked into Mr. Engbers classroom.
Laura graduated from high school in 2002 and married her husband, Chris, in 2003. They had two kids who now attend Timothy. But two years ago, Laura and her husband began thinking about adoption.
“God had been whispering to Chris and me that we had another child,” Laura says. The verse James 1:27 deeply impacted the Horners: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress . . . .”
It became clear that the child they were called to adopt was in Ethiopia. Adoptions are notoriously slow. And the international adoption process—especially from Ethiopia, which has a reputation for being unstable —is hard, expensive, and fraught with years of frustration and heartache. “Adoption feels just about impossible,” Laura admits. “So we started praying. And we just started walking by faith.”
Just a few months into the process, the Horners received a donation for the first agency fee.
The next week Laura’s phone rang. It was the adoption agency. The Horner’s had been matched with a son—almost a full year ahead of schedule.
At the time, Laura was working as an aide at Timothy. She grabbed her laptop, called Chris, who was on duty as an Elmhurst police officer, and pulled her other two kids, Ryan and Elissa, out of class. They all met outside the elementary school.
“We saw our son for the first time in Timothy’s parking lot,” Laura says. “We knew immediately God had given us Sammy. At that moment it was like my heart was outside of my chest. My son was on the other side of the world and I couldn’t protect him. I couldn’t go to him. I just had to wait.”
By July, the Horners were on a flight to Ethiopia. On July 4th, they officially became a family of five. “When we met him we just scooped him right up,” Laura remembers. “It was like the person who had always been missing was finally here. I know God was right there with us, with his arms around us.”
But because the adoption process is complicated and fraught with red tape, they had to leave Sammy at the orphanage and wait for the custody decree.
“Leaving him, walking away from him,” Laura says, “was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We promised him we were his family and we’d be back to take him forever. But we didn’t know how long that would be.”
Some families stay in a foreign country for weeks while waiting for the degree. The Horners’ decree, however, was signed in two days.
After four weeks in Ethiopia, the family of five boarded a plane and flew home.
The miracles of Sammy are not lost on the Horners. Money was raised, often by unexpected people. Legal documents were speedily signed. Court hearings happened at a record pace. And a little boy, who was born on the other side of the world, has found his place not only in his new family, but also in Timothy’s preschool program.
Now a mother of three, Laura radiates contagious joy. It pours out of her and permeates those around her. “I think a lot of my joy comes from growing up knowing I was different,” Laura says. “My parents always told me my cerebral palsy was a blessing. I always knew I was chosen by God. I really believe I have massive amounts of faith and joy now, because I was led by faithful parents and teachers as a child.”
And now her three children are students at Timothy—a place where her faith was shaped and developed. “My kids are in a school where I was prayed for as a kid,” Laura says. “There’s massive amount of power in prayer and calling out in the name of Jesus. Timothy is a place where God has continued to meet me. It’s like holy ground.”