Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace: A True Story

Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace: A True Story


Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Wednesday, January 19


“Once you start reading this book . . . you won’t be able to put it down.” Ruth Graham

A child disappears . . .
a foster mom faces an impossible choice . . .
a baby’s future hangs in the balance.

When Debra Moerke and her husband decided to become foster parents, they never imagined how their lives would change. Debra became especially close to one little girl: four-year-old Hannah. She loved her and did everything she could to help Hannah learn to trust and teach her to feel safe. But when Hannah went back to her birth mother, Karen, it wasn’t long before one of Debra’s worst fears came true.

Overwhelmed with horror and grief, Debra didn’t think she could take anymore, but then she received a phone call from prison. Karen, facing a life sentence, was pregnant, and she had a shocking question to ask . . .

Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace is an incredible true story of faith, family, and a journey toward seemingly impossible forgiveness. A story that tests the limits of the human heart, it’s ultimately a life-affirming testament to how unconditional love and relentless obedience can transform even the darkest nights into mornings of hope.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496433329
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 578,534
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt


An Easy Yes

Days that will change your life forever seldom announce them? selves.

Only in retrospect can I see how one small yes on a warm June day in 1996 led to a flood of life choices and changes, of crushing pains and unearthly joys. Choices that would not only alter the makeup of our family, but push me above my limits and stretch my faith beyond recognition. I've learned never to underestimate what God will do with a yes.

I had a load of laundry in the washer and was in the kitchen, cleaning to the sounds of children drifting in from the family room, when the phone rang.

"Hi, Deb, this is Ellen." The social worker with the Department of Family Services (DFS) greeted me with her usual friendly tone. My husband, Al, and I had been foster parents for fourteen years and were on a first-name basis with nearly all the caseworkers.

"I know you are fostering two brothers who will be going home soon. Would you be able to take a four-day-old infant, too? The mother is still in the hospital after a C-section. Both she and the baby tested positive for cocaine. We are ordering an investigation and need the baby to be in foster care during that time."

"Sure can!" It was an easy yes. I couldn't wait to tell my twelve? year-old daughter, Helen. She adored babies, and it had been a while since we had cared for an infant.

"Great! When you get to the hospital, go to the nurses' station on the third floor." Ellen knew our history — that we enjoyed fostering infants and toddlers and were successful with "failure to thrive" children. The effects from drugs or alcohol during a mother's pregnancy often left babies with challenging obstacles to overcome. Three of my own five children still lived at home, so these little ones received much love from every direction. Like Helen, fifteen-year-old Sadie and ten-year-old Charles had great childcare skills and big hearts. I was proud of the care my own children gave to the foster children. (Elizabeth, our oldest, was attending college at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, and our son Jason was in the US Air Force, stationed in Germany.)

A few hours later, after I finished my household tasks and everyone had lunch, Helen and I left for Casper, twenty-five minutes away.

When we arrived at the hospital, Helen made a beeline for the elevator. As soon as the door opened, she was ready. "What floor?" Helen's fingers hovered over the elevator buttons, ready to push all of them if it would get us to the baby sooner. I couldn't help but be excited, too, though I also had concerns. How had the drugs affected this infant's body? What would she need from us?

Why was the elevator taking so long to get to the third floor? Finally the doors slid open.

A nurse met us at the front desk. "We've been waiting for you. Follow me and we'll get everything you need to take the baby home."

In the nursery, lying in a bassinet under warm lights, a tiny baby girl was swaddled in a white and pale green striped receiving blanket. Helen squealed when she saw the pink bow in the infant's black curly hair. She did a little wiggle dance, then stroked the baby's light brown forehead.

The nurse laughed. "You'll have her home in no time and will be able to hold her all you want. She's going to need lots of affection."

The nurse handed me a pile of release forms and instructions and took my driver's license to make a copy. I made quick work of the stack.

"She is sweet, but I need to warn you," the nurse's tone turned serious. "She will be showing some of the effects of the drugs for days, possibly even weeks."

"How severe are her symptoms?" I asked.

"She has been shaking and crying inconsolably at times, but it's best to let her work it out. Keep her swaddled tightly in a blanket and hold her close. She seems comforted by rocking, singing, and hearing a soft voice."

"We can do that," I said.

Helen nodded as if she took personal responsibility to do all that was instructed. Just then, another nurse came into the room.

"The baby's mother would like to meet you," she said.

"You don't have to," the first nurse interjected. "We can relay any information she wants to know."

"No, I'll go. Can I meet her now?" Helen was more than happy to stay with the infant.

I followed the nurse to a hospital room where a young woman with dark wavy hair and ivory skin was lying in bed, drinking a can of soda.

When she saw me, the woman put the can on the tray and tried to straighten up. Locking her jaw, she squeezed her eyes shut as she pushed against the back of the bed. I could see the pain from the C-section on her face.

I stood at the end of the bed. "Hi, I'm Debra. I will be taking care of your baby for a while. Your daughter is beautiful!"

"Thank you," she said tersely, her eyes averted. "I will be staying at my parents' house for a few weeks and plan to freeze my pumped breast milk. Would you be willing to come and pick it up?" She glanced at me, then looked away. "I would really like her to have my breast milk."

I could tell it was hard for her to face me. She probably saw me as part of the system that was taking her baby away — a reaction not uncommon among biological mothers when DFS made the choice to take a child into foster care. I knew I'd feel horrible if I were in her shoes.

"I will talk with the caseworker and ask if it's okay." I smiled, hoping to reassure her that I was not the enemy. "What's your daughter's name?"

"Ally." A soft blush came to the woman's cheeks when she said the name. She lowered her head and her irritated manner melted as tears began to fall onto the sheet covering her lap.

New-mother emotions are tough enough, I thought. Staying in the hospital while your newborn is being released to strangers has got to be tougher.

"And what is your name?"

"Uh ... Karen Bower," she said.

"It's nice to meet you, Karen." The nurse stared at me and began to inch toward the door. I followed her out of the room and back to the nursery where Helen hadn't moved from the baby's side.

"Let's pack up and get ready to go home, you two," I said with a smile. I signed off on a clipboard as the nurse handed me back my driver's license. We placed the baby in the car seat her mother had brought to the hospital and headed for the elevators.

It was well into the afternoon when we pulled out of the hospital parking lot. The maternity staff had given us formula and a bag of lotion, shampoo, and diaper ointment samples, but Helen and I stopped at Target to buy some newborn sleeper gowns, infant T-shirts, and disposable diapers.

When we got home, Sadie and Charles excitedly took turns holding Ally as I pulled the wicker bassinet from the closet and gathered up the bedding to wash. So many babies had slept comfortably in this bed. Now it was Ally's turn.

* * *

Al and I had welcomed the joys and navigated the challenges of being foster parents. When Ally came into our home, we had fostered about 140 children, some for as briefly as one night, some for weeks, months, and even a few for several years.

We first became foster parents in 1982. We'd been married for three years and were a blended family with three children. (We had our other two children in the next several years.) A relation? ship with God was not part of our adult lives. Growing up, Al was raised with a nominal Catholic influence, as his mother was Catholic and his father had been raised Lutheran. The family seldom attended church. I was raised in a Presbyterian church and as a young child attended often, but as I grew older my family attended less consistently. I have often referred to my family as a churchgoing dysfunctional family. My parents divorced when I was eight, and attending church became a once-a-month event, if that.

When Al and I met and married, we attended a local church on occasions such as weddings, funerals, and special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, but in no way was it a part of our weekly routine. We did, however, pray with our children at the dinner table and at bedtime. Then, in 1980, I found myself wanting to get involved with the pro-life movement. Because the church we were attending did not share my views, I sent letters out to churches in our area to see who was supporting the pro-life cause. The only church that responded was a small Baptist church. I decided to take our children there occasionally, and Al fell off from going to church with us.

* * *

One evening in 1982, Al and I were watching TV and saw an advertisement explaining that the community was in real need of families who would take in children — those who had been hurt or neglected by their parents for a number of different reasons. We looked at each other and agreed that we had a nice home, food on the table, and room in our hearts that we could share with such children. The next day, I drove to our local DFS office and filled out an application to become foster parents. After going through interviews and a home check, we received our first child, a little boy.

In our early days of fostering, we were critical of the parents, guardians, and family members who were supposed to be responsible for these innocent children, and we interpreted our role as temporary saviors to these neglected and abused children. We didn't think to question why the abuse occurred. We assumed it was because the adults were on drugs or were alcoholics or they had been abused so they abused others, or they had anger issues that were never addressed. To us, such parents seemed evil with no conscience or boundaries. Ours was a simplistic perspective, and though we didn't comprehend what would cause people to make such choices, we shared a passion to step in and help children who suffered at the hand, or lack of care, of their parents.

One of the first foster babies Al and I received had been rescued from a car when he was five days old. The infant had been abandoned inside the vehicle on a hot day; the mother had grabbed her drugs and run from the car. She was caught and arrested, but the police never knew about the baby until the mother's boyfriend came to bail her out. The baby almost didn't make it and was in the hospital for a month before we were able to bring him home and care for him.

Another infant had suffered skull fractures from abuse. Other children were burned with cigarettes or beaten, leaving their little bodies marked or bruised. Our children could see the abuse suffered by these little helpless children and were outraged. Their reactions gave voice to our own personal thoughts and ranged from "the people who did this should be put in jail for the rest of their lives" to "they should be taken out and whipped, or burned with cigarettes, or shot or electrocuted." There wasn't much grace or forgiveness for such people in their minds. Al and I, in our early years especially, often found ourselves feeling the same way.

But in 1986, four years into foster parenting, our lives changed dramatically. Al had been drinking excessively, and I was overcome with my inability to cope with it. We saw our marriage falling apart and feared divorce. Al decided to put himself into an alcohol treatment center and shortly thereafter, I discovered that I was pregnant.

One Sunday while he was still in treatment, I took the children to church and heard a sermon on Deuteronomy 5 addressing "the sin of the parents." God used that sermon to bring me to my knees and into salvation as I realized how the sins of my parents, grand? parents, and previous generations were affecting my life. Sins of bitterness, unforgiveness, lust, greed, and so much more. I saw with fresh eyes that those sins were at work in me and that Al and I, too, would be responsible for generational sin that would be reaped and repeated if there was nothing to stop it. Jesus Christ's sacrifice provided a way to break those curses. If I would confess my sin, I would be cleansed of "all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). I chose Jesus and prayed that the sins and curses I was living out would be broken and, through his blood, forgiven and cleansed.

Unbeknownst to me, Al was going through his own journey of discovering faith while in treatment. When he and I shared our newfound faith with one another, we decided to trust God to create a new life in us and a new marriage for us. After Charles was born, Al and I stood and confessed our commitment to Jesus in front of our entire family at a reunion. Al has not touched alcohol since his treatment and lives a life for Christ. Since then, God has brought us into a world of challenges that has grown our faith and called us to serve him fully.

Once we'd learned the truths of sin, confession, forgiveness, and spiritual growth, we realized that the care for our own children and those coming into our home needed to be not only physical and emotional care, but spiritual care as well. That changed everything. We saw that we had the responsibility to minister to these children with the truth that could also set them and even their families free. We could play our part in affecting lives for Christ no matter how much or how little time we had with each child. We were to share life with a future and a hope in Christ in whatever ways we could, so we made Sunday church attendance as a family a commitment, prayer a central part of our lives, and reading Bible stories to our children part of our routine.

Beyond that, we realized that we needed to accept the love God had for us and extend it to those who appeared in our eyes to be unlovely — abusive and neglectful parents. How, I wondered, could I come to love these parents whose children needed foster care? How could I accept that I was not superior to them — that we are all made of the same stuff? I didn't know, but it became my passion that God would work this miracle within me. And I realized that nothing short of a miracle was needed to bring about that love and forgiveness and grace in my heart.

A huge part of my growth in that journey took place as I wrote a Bible study for the crisis pregnancy center I served, to help some of our clients deal with the sexual abuse from which they had suffered. I, personally, had experienced such abuse in my early life and wanted God's truth to transform me. God showed me through the writing of that study that it was he who had the answers, and aside from him there can be little understanding or hope for healing. The self-published Bible study was called Secret Sins and was eventually used in a number of ministries by those counseling others and by those who wanted an individual study with biblical answers to the abuse in their lives.

As Al and I experienced our personal encounters with Jesus, his forgiveness, and the Bible, we worked at believing that since God's nature was forgiving, ours needed to become forgiving as well. We challenged each other to seek forgiving hearts toward abusive parents. Not that our conversion immediately altered our natural responses of anger and the desire for retribution. We saw no excuse for such behavior, and though it was a struggle, we sought a change of heart toward such parents through the power of God. It never got easier to see children hurt, especially by their own parents, and was upsetting every time a child was sent home after a parent fulfilled a list of hoop-jumping steps for the courts. Tragically, children who had been sexually abused were often sent back to the parent who didn't abuse but would probably not protect the child from the next boyfriend or family member who tried to abuse the child. Eventually, however, we realized that though we couldn't change a broken system, we were called to step into the lives of the children and parents for as long as God would allow and show them love and care and another way of living. We learned to explain to our children that this is what goes on in the world and all we can do is play the part we're called to play.

Only later would I learn that when called to play a part that seems impossible, God can make the impossible happen.

* * *

The first twenty-four hours with our new guest flew by. When Ally was awake, she was always in somebody's arms.

Fortunately, Ally did not show any signs of failure to thrive. From day one she was active and responsive to attention. She did, however, have withdrawal symptoms — a number of times. Her eyes got wide and she flung her tiny arms out, as if she were scared, and then she would cry. Sometimes she shook and trembled, prompting more tears. We did our best to help calm her with warm bottles, rocking, and singing. When I sang to her, she would look at me and pucker her lips as if she were ready to join in.

The day after we brought Ally home to our modest country house on Goose Egg Road, I received another call from Ellen.

"The baby you are caring for has siblings who need fostering too. Karen's parents are already raising the oldest child, but they are not in a position to take them all."

"How many more are there?" I had four youth beds for foster children, and the two little brothers we'd been caring for had been returned to their mother.

"Four," Ellen answered. "There is a six-year-old boy, two girls, ages four and five, and another boy, age three. If you are willing, you will be receiving them over the next week to ten days. They are scattered with different family members right now. Can you take all four of them?"


Excerpted from "Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Debra Moerke.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Carol Kent ix
A Note to the Reader xiii
Prologue xv

Part One: The New Arrivals
1 . An Easy Yes 3
2 . The Home on Goose Egg Road 13
3 . Clues 27
4 . Inklings of the Past 37
5 . The Bridge 49
6 . The Parting 57

Part Two: The Unthinkable
7 . Suspicions 73
8 . The Pageant 87
9 . The Yellow Phone 101
10. The Battleground 109

Part Three: The Fallout
11. The Ultimate Question 125
12. Unexpected Costs 133
13. Sacred Conversations 145
14. The Decision 155
15. Unexpected Standoff 165
16. The Arrival 173
17. The Painted Stone 181
18. The Ruling 193
19. Obstacle Course 201

Part Four: Going the Distance
20. A Tender Hello 211
21. The Garage 217
22. The Witness Stand 225
23. New Territories 239
24. Boots and a Badge 251
25. Ticking Time Bomb 267
26. Roots 277
27. Freedom 287
28. The Revelation 295
29. Only God 305

Interview with Debra Moerke 319
Acknowledgments 325
About the Authors 327

What People are Saying About This

Kyle Idleman

Like a single flickering light in the vast darkness, grace is best seen in the most unexpected places. Debra’s story is not one of preservation, but of perseverance in the midst of unspeakable heartache—a grace that only God can give and a story only God can write.

Darcie J. Gudger

Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace is a shocking story of surrender and redemption that will impact the lives of everyone who reads it. Moerke proves herself to be a master storyteller as she causes the reader to fall in love with little Hannah, which creates an intense roller-coaster ride of emotion throughout the rest of the narrative. Prepare for life disruption because this book is impossible to put down once the front cover is cracked. A must-read for fans of redemptive true-crime memoirs.

Ruth Graham

Once you start reading this book, you will be gripped by its powerful and, at times, unbelievable story; you will not be able to put it down. I couldn’t. By the time you finish, you will be gripped by the powerful grace of God. It’s a story only God could write.

Shauna Letellier

Deb and Al Moerke wisely built their house and life on the rock of Jesus Christ. If I had known them at the time, I might have expected God to spare them the steady rain, threatening floods, and repeated battering by the winds of tragedy. They were not spared. Their story rocked and inspired me. Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace is, at its foundation, a story of the undeniable, unexplainable, palpable presence of God who empowers radical obedience and provides miraculous heart change even when the tragedy remains.

Ann Spangler

A terrific story with surprising twists. You will not be able to put it down. It will both break your heart and mend it as you marvel at the power of love to overcome.

Kathe Wunnenberg

What a powerful story that touched my heart deeply, moved me to tears, and enlarged my understanding of what surrender and God’s amazing grace in action looks like. Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace is a must-read for foster families, adoptive families, birth families, social workers, judicial workers, or anyone who has endured loss of any kind and desires God to transform their pain into purpose. Thank you, Debra Moerke, for your authentic sharing and for opening yourself up to be a willing vessel to be the hands and feet of Jesus to reflect his love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

Customer Reviews