I was so glad to be able to share on PJNet.tv recently. Mark Prasek is a gracious host. We spent most of the time discussing my foster care and adoption experience, and we talked some about what it means to me to be a Christian Fiction author. Highlights of the interview are below, or you can watch the full interview here.
I'm trying to get comfortable sharing messages on camera every once in a while. (TikTok filters really help.) So here are some thoughts about an experience I had recently, when I was convicted in my spirit for saying "I can't." I hope this message encourages you.
The night before the adoption ceremony, I felt nervous. We had waited so long for the day—to make this beautiful, affectionate three-year-old our son—yet, I had this jittery feeling, and that led to guilt. Was I second-guessing our decision? Wasn’t I absolutely sure that I wanted to parent this boy for the rest of my life? Then I realized, my nervousness wasn’t because of doubt. It was the same kind of feeling I had the day I got married. It was very similar to the case of nerves I experienced the morning of my scheduled c-section with my second child. It was the same as any other time someone stands on the edge of forever and is about to take the next step.
I’m not sure when God planted the seed of adoption in my heart. Maybe it was when He adopted me into his family when I was a child. But I had the dream, the desire, the life goal to adopt, for a very long time. My heart cried out at the words of James 1:27. Every time I saw a website or a television spot about children in need of a family, I wept. For years, I read profiles on the Children’s Home Society of NC page and ached for the children. But when was the “right” time to do something about this longing?
Thankfully, my husband, Alex, had the same desire to welcome a child through adoption. After we had two precious girls—Elizabeth in 2007 and Sarah in 2010—we thought, “Okay, we’ll adopt the third child, one day.” Then in 2013, Daniel was born, and we had to say, “I guess we were supposed to have three and adopt the fourth.” That’s when the vision for the future really started taking shape. I had the idea that we would wait until our kids were old enough to be involved in the process—the youngest would be around seven—and, as if I could actually manufacture the scenario, we would adopt a three-year-old. The child would be a boy, because the two girls were already sharing a room, and when I envisioned him, this fourth child of mine had darker skin than me.
In November of 2017, when the tug at my heart was so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I suggested to Alex that we go to a local children’s home—a Christian agency that also does foster care licensing—for an information session. He agreed, though he’d always felt like God would put us in a situation to adopt, outside of the foster care system. After speaking to the licensing specialist for forty-five minutes, we left with an application and paperwork for foster care training in-hand. In the parking lot, Alex said, “So, are you going to fill those out today?”
We began our classes in January 2018, and, long-story-short-- after a tedious process, rife with frustration—we were finally licensed in October of that year. Little did I know, the waiting had only just begun. (Note: we met some remarkable people during the process that we are so glad to have in our lives now.)
I don’t remember when the first call came, but sometime between October and March, we said yes to NINE placements. Do you know how many of those children we helped? Zero. (I wrote about the waiting in this post.) For whatever reason, those children all went other places. When we finally got our first placement in March (I say finally with hesitation, because, while we were eager to help, foster care always means a child has had to experience trauma) it was a seven-year-old boy that we knew would be with us for a short time. I didn’t know it would only be six days. Even though he wasn’t with us long, we cried when he left, and I think of him often.
In May of 2019, I shared with new friends at a writers’ conference that I was anxious to do what I felt God had called us to do. I didn’t want a child to need our family, but I knew there was a child somewhere that did, and the waiting was gut-wrenching. Multiple people prayed for me at that conference, and for God’s will to be done for our family. The next weekend was Memorial Day, spent having a great time at the beach. On the drive home, Sarah made the statement that she felt like someone was missing (which I talked about in this post.) And someone was. The next day, we got the call. The social worker from our agency said that a two-and-half year old, African American male needed a home. She spelled his name but wasn’t sure how it was pronounced. She told me he had asthma (he doesn’t) and that he was non-verbal (he definitely wasn’t.) She was able to give me a few other details about his medical history, and she said that he was coming from another foster home. Around 7:30 pm, he arrived.
I’ll never forget the site of him--this angelic-looking little boy in a dinosaur t-shirt, pulling his tricycle from the county social worker’s car to our front door. She told us that he was very independent. To our surprise, as both social workers (county and licensing agency) sat in our living room going over information, while he played with a toy truck on the couch, we learned that a court hearing to terminate his biological parents’ rights was already scheduled. He had been in foster care, basically, his entire life.
From the beginning, this was not a “typical” foster care scenario. There was a very strong possibility that we would be able to adopt this child. Even though we had trained our minds and hearts to believe in and champion the unofficial foster care motto—"Reunification is always the goal”—that wasn’t the direction his case was headed. And it finally made sense—all the waiting and rejection. The entire time, we were expecting our son. There was no one else that was supposed to be part of our family, either temporarily or permanently. It was always him. From the moment he was born, God knew he would be my son. My husband and I were foster parents, but not really. We were just his parents. God spared us the heartbreak of wondering if we would have to say goodbye, though we still had to go through a long birthing process of waiting.
The first court date was just two weeks after our son came to us. It was a standard “update” hearing. We went, though it wasn’t required or expected. Without going into a lot of detail, we heard things in court that made us cry. Alex and I both fought to maintain our composure, but we couldn’t keep from sniffling as we choked back tears. We were later reprimanded by one of our social workers for our “behavior” in court, as though we could have helped it. We apparently showed too much emotion. That was the first of many times we felt unfairly scrutinized by the system.
The TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) hearing (I think in late July) took several hours and was continued to August. Based on what we knew, we were genuinely surprised when the judge ordered the termination at the August court session. However, our son would not become eligible for adoption for some time. It took five months for the judge to actually sign the termination order. After that, we had to wait thirty days to see if either of our son’s biological parents would appeal the termination. They did not.
In late February 2020, we were able to formally start the adoption process. (Which meant a switch to a different agency social worker who was very kind and helpful.) More paperwork, more waiting. When the pandemic hit in March, our monthly home visits, and the monthly required meetings with our agency, began to all be done by video. This was actually a huge weight lifted. But I also wondered if the adoption process would be hindered by the pandemic. As it turned out, Covid did slow it down, and it definitely made it “different” in a lot of ways (like signing final paperwork in the heat outside DSS office while wearing masks,) but I’m finally able to see that it has all been on God’s calendar anyway.
Around the time it started to seem certain that adoption would happen, we began transitioning our son to his new name. We decided to change his name for several reasons and felt he was still young enough that it wouldn’t be traumatic for him. We often called him by “pet names” anyway. He didn’t know his middle (or last) name, so there was no attachment. And I wanted him to have a name that meant something. We named our son Benjamin because it means “son of my right hand,” and we kept his given first name as his middle name. The boy who was known mostly as “CarCar” became Benjamin Acara, and, on his own, came up with the nickname Benji.
On June 18, 2020, we received word that we had been approved to adopt Benjamin. Then we had to wait for the “when.” This was the hardest period of waiting for me. Somehow, it was even more difficult than waiting to see if his bio parents would appeal the termination, which would do nothing except prolong the process. He was ours, but not legally, and waiting for the adoption ceremony to be scheduled was excruciating. At church, I requested prayer for either patience, or for someone to hurry up and push that paperwork through.
Early on Monday, July 27, I checked my email for the tenth time that morning and there it was—an email saying the adoption ceremony would take place that Friday, during our scheduled beach vacation. We were overjoyed.
After fourteen months of life and memories, we would be able to officially make him part of our family. To my other three children, he was brother from day one. To me and Alex, he was our son from day one. In the last fourteen months, he had been with us to museums, the zoo, aquariums, parks, Vacation Bible School, football games, plays, and family get-togethers. We took him to the beach for the first time last September, and he loved it! We had a party for his third birthday in November, and we wondered if it was his first. He had been with us through good times, like new jobs and three of my book launches, and also bad times, such as the deaths of church members and a painful rift within our church family. He was also there in the wild season of pandemic parenting, as we both worked full-time with four kids at home. Benjamin was already an integral part of our family, and now we would be able to shout it to the world.
On Friday morning, July 31, 2020, at 10:00 am, we gathered around my laptop, at my husband’s parents’ beach house, for a “virtual” adoption ceremony. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (and some great and helpful social workers) on the video conference, all eager to witness the moment Benjamin officially became ours. It was so wonderful to have all these people cheering us on, cheering for him. He is loved by many, and he will grow up knowing that they were as overjoyed as we were to make him family.
I haven’t said a lot about who my son is as a person, but this story is more about our journey to becoming his parents. Maybe soon I can write about how affectionate, smart, athletic, musical, and funny he is. I’d love to tell you about his likes and dislikes, and cute stories about him and his brother and sisters. Now, we have a lifetime to live and write those stories.
I could also tell you how he came to need our family, but instead, I’ll summarize by sharing something I’ve learned, in general: It takes extreme circumstances for a child to be placed in foster care, and parents are given opportunity after opportunity to reunify. I am confident that, in Benjamin’s case, foster care, then adoption, was the only right path.
Of course, as much as we love him, parenting Benjamin can be challenging, too. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if behavior issues are related to trauma or just being a three-year-old. I think it's normally the latter, having parented three three-year-olds before. There are many studies related to the long-term affects of childhood trauma on the brain, and some say that no matter how a child arrives at adoption, they will always have psychological issues as a result. While I understand the science behind those viewpoints, I also know that God is bigger than science. I believe that He can and will heal Benjamin of any and all physical and emotional impacts of trauma and of his medical history.
Looking back at my original dream for adoption--the one I formulated when Daniel was just a baby—I’m amazed at how God delivered. Daniel is now seven and Benjamin is three—just like the vision. I can't think of any other time in my life that God allowed me to have such a clear glimpse into the future. I thank God for my family and for dreams that come true, and I feel immensely blessed that Benjamin is part of both.
'Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' Galatians 4:4-8
Just over a week. That's how long we've been a family of six. For the first three days or so, it was hard to grasp. It's an understandably difficult concept to go from being the parent of three children on Monday- picking out three sets of clothes, making three snacks at a time, tucking three kids into bed at night- to being the parent of four kids on Tuesday. But very quickly it became "right". It wasn't even our new normal. It was just the normal we were always supposed to be. Our "finally" normal.
Even as I express how relatively easy this foster care transition has been, and how right it feels, I fully understand that at any moment things could change. We're only responsible for this two-year-old boy for as long as someone else will let us be. Somewhere between one more day and forever, that's all we know. But for now, he's part of the family.
So, how does a stranger become family so quickly. Is it because he's adorable? No, though he is. Is it because he's a "good" baby? No, though he is. Is it because his laughter makes all our hearts melt? No, though it does. My children have taken him in as a brother, and my husband and I have taken him in as a son, for only one reason: GOD. It’s supernatural. Beyond our capabilities. God makes that kind of thing possible. Not us. Psalms 68:6a says, "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains:"
The day before "A" came to us, my eight-year-old daughter said, on the ride home from the beach, "I feel like we're missing somebody." All of us were there in the van, including our two dogs. She wasn't talking about Grandma and Grandpa that we left behind at the beach. She was talking about "A", though we didn't yet know who he was. And I knew exactly how she felt. God had been stirring anticipation in our hearts for many months.
On our refrigerator, we have our names linked together, written out in magnetic Scrabble tiles. Just as easy as it is to add our foster son's name to our five, that's how easy it has seemed to make him one of us. He slipped right in like the letters of his name on the board. And it's a perfect analogy of what God has done for us.
In Romans 11, Paul uses the example of an olive tree. The natural branches he speaks of were the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. But we- believers who aren’t descendants of Abraham- being the wild branches, have been grafted into the tree. He added us into the family. He has made us a part of Himself.
Galatians 4:4-5 says it plainly. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
How can someone become part of a family so quickly? God. With our foster son, it’s God’s love in our hearts and a divine plan that makes it possible. For the seeking soul, it’s a measure of faith and God’s grace by which they can instantly be made His child.
Eight times. That’s the number of times, so far, that we’ve been passed over for a foster care placement since becoming licensed in October of 2018. And it hurts.
The entire nine-month process of becoming licensed, and now the waiting, was and is an act of faith. I have never had to rely on God more, because I have no control over this situation. And even in my frustration, I recognize this as an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord as I learn to trust in His timing. So, even though I express sadness at not being selected, I still trust that God has a perfect plan, and I only want what He has in store for us. Nothing less. Nothing more. But being passed up still hurts, and it’s something I didn’t expect going into this.
Not all eight have been outright rejections. Sometimes, the situation just changed. And the truth is, none of them have been rejections of us. I know this isn’t personal. There are lots of circumstances involved. Most of them time, we’re given little information, if any, about the decisions that are ultimately reached for each child, but I’ve been assured there’s nothing in our profile that “handicaps” us when it comes to being selected. But it still hurts.
On one hand, I rejoice over the fact that we don’t have a placement, because that means there isn’t a child that needs us because he was taken from his family. We are currently only licensed to foster one boy under the age of six, so obviously, that limits the amount of calls we get. But if we were able to take siblings, or a teenager, no doubt we’d already have a placement. So, the need is real, and I’m hesitant to say anything that might discourage someone from becoming a foster parent. I know that any inconvenience to me, or any emotional upset I have over the waiting, is nothing compared to the trauma these children bring with them when they are placed. But it still hurts.
I’m ready to do what God has called us to do, and to not have the unknown looming over our heads. Even so, I trust that God is protecting us from the wrong assignment and preparing us for the right one, and that He has it all worked out. But it still hurts.
We should hear back about our ninth "yes" on Monday, 1/28.
Nine months. That’s approximately how long it takes for a baby to fully develop inside its mother’s womb. It’s also the time it took Alex and I to complete all the requirements and get our application for foster care licensing submitted to the state. The irony of the timing wasn’t lost on me as I signed my name to the paper today.
There are so many unknowns about this process. We don’t know exactly when our application will be approved. Possibly in the next couple of weeks. We don’t know who God has chosen for us to invite into our home and family, or when He’ll send them, or how difficult the adjustment will be. We don’t know if we’ll be called to minister to a child’s needs for a short time or, perhaps, forever. As I held the pen to sign the application, fear of the unknown brought worry. But I am reminded of some things I do know.
I know God has called us to this. I’ve known it for a very long time. I know that every life is precious, and there is a child that needs my family to teach them they are a valuable creation of Almighty God. I know that providing a child with a safe and loving environment will have a positive impact on future generations. I know a foster child will mean added stress, but I also know God’s grace is sufficient. I know God’s love is a free gift that replenishes in my heart as I share it with others, and it’s His will for us not to be stingy with it.
We didn't go through the process of the last nine months because we enjoyed it, but I know God has used the "gestational period" of foster care licensing to prepare our hearts for His purpose. I’m sure there will be many more revelations as the plan unfolds. For now, I'll hold onto these truths as we continue to wait.
I'm not a very patient person. I think I get it from my father. Or, at least, since he has the same character flaw, I can claim it's a learned behavior or some undiscovered genetic predisposition and give myself an out. But I guess it really doesn't work that way.
The older I get, the worse my impatience grows. I generally show grace, but often fail when it comes to customer service hold times and waiting for a table at restaurants.
Lately, I find myself waiting for a lot of things.
The writing-related things on my list are normal. Just part of the process. So, I'm not complaining. No one has dropped the ball or has been too lax about anything. They are working on multiple projects for different authors, not just me. I'm just impatient.
The last item on the list, simply by nature of the process, takes a long time, too, although it's frustrating.
But I had a revelation today: I need to be waiting on something even more important than the things on my list. The words of Jesus in John 14:30 reveal the thing I should anticipate most anxiously.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
It's so easy to forget, or take for granted, or push to the back of our minds, the promise of Christ's return. But the expectation of His second-coming is fundamental to our faith. We are waiting. Not just waiting, but in a constant state of waiting, watching, and working, as we continue to live and enjoy the life He has given us.
I'm in a season of waiting now. But that's where I should live! Expectant!
When I stop and put things into perspective, the nearer-every-day reality of my blessed hope as a believer should make me more patient when it comes to all the other, lesser expectations in this life season. I'm thankful that, as with Jesus' return, God controls the times and the seasons. Everything works out for good, no matter my perceptions of "on time", "quickly", "slowly", or "delay". I need to trust God's timing every second of my life, even when I have to wait longer than I'd like for a book layout, a life-changing situation, or a pizza buffet. And may we all wait together anxiously for His coming.
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