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
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