Foster parenting and adoption were not things that Criss and I set out to do. God lead us there step by step. We had somehow gotten on the mailing list for the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCH). We would get their magazines in the mail every few months and talked in general terms about foster parenting, but never very seriously. While teaching first grade, I did new parent conferences each year. If a family was new to the school, we would set up a conference within the first few weeks of school. While meeting with one of these families, I found out that the mom worked at ABCH. She encouraged me to think about doing respite care. Respite foster care parents are fully certified just like full-time foster parents, but they only keep kids for a few days or a week at a time while the child’s full-time foster family goes out of town or has other activities planned for which they need someone to keep the foster child for more than 24 hours. Criss and I discussed this, and decided it was something we should do.
By the next May, we had attended GPS training (30 hours of classes that must be completed to become a foster parent), completed our background checks, and done our home study. That summer, the kids started coming. Sometimes it was just one child, and other times it was a sibling group. Most were babies or toddlers, but a few were older. They were each with us just a short time, but we fell in love with them all. This continued for about two years.
In the spring of 2005, I found out I was pregnant (with Silas), and our foster parenting plans were about to be put on hold for a while. But God had different plans. That August we met Autumn. She entered the foster care system that month, and the foster parents she was placed with already had Auburn (football) season tickets and several other trips planned, so she stayed with us often. She soon found a special place in our hearts, and we looked forward to seeing her each time. I remember going with a group of ladies to a Beth Moore Conference in Tennessee. Autumn was so heavy on my mind, and I could hardly think about anything else.
First, let me say that adoption is not the goal of the foster care system. Its purpose is to work towards reunification with the birth family. Criss and I did not become foster parents for this purpose, and if you become a foster parent for the sole purpose of wanting to adopt, you will likely end up very disappointed if not completely heartbroken. However, we had such a burden for her, and when no one was around, we would ponder what it would be like if we could adopt her one day. This was something we kept between ourselves and never mentioned to anyone else.
The foster family that Autumn was staying with (Mr. & Mrs. J), while not old, were at the age that they would not be considered a permanent placement if Autumn became available for adoption. Not much was happening with Autumn’s birth family, and Mrs. J took it upon herself to find Autumn a placement that could become permanent if reunification with the birth family were not possible. One day while picking Autumn up after one of their weekend trips, Mrs. J gingerly approached the subject. Criss and I were surprised. While we had discussed it between ourselves, we had decided that it was not something we were going to pursue on our own. If it was something God wanted us to do, He would make it happen. And that He did.
It still was not an easy decision. We were going to have a newborn in the house (Autumn would be one year older), and I had just quit my job to stay home with the new baby. Besides this, there were many other issues involved (some very serious) that I am not free to discuss here. As I prayed for guidance, James 1:27 came to mind, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” After God reminded me of this verse, it seemed to pop up everywhere, and I knew He was confirming that this is what we were supposed to do.
Silas was born December 21, and the ABCH social worker called several weeks later to see if we were still willing for Autumn to move in with us. Again I prayed. Could we really afford to do this with me quitting work to stay home with a new baby? This time a different verse came to mind. It was 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” If God was calling us to do this, He would supply us with everything we needed to make it happen. At the same time, I was preparing for Silas’ baby dedication at church. While looking up the meaning of his name, I decided to check Autumn’s as well. When I found it, chills ran through my body. The meaning given in that book was “abundant grace.” It reminded me of the verse that had been running through my mind the last few days. (Notice the underlined words in the verse above.)
Autumn’s social worker wanted her to visit a few times now that Silas was here, so she stayed with us for one week in February and then a weekend before moving in for good on March 14, 2006. Silas was just two months old. We did not know how long Autumn would be with us. All we knew is that we would give her all the love and support we could – no matter how long or short the time we had her.