As a single mom to eleven and thirteen year old daughters, one thing I have found to be true is there are always two sides to every story. With that in mind, I enlisted the help of my thirteen year old daughter, Angel, to help me tell our adoption story.
After watching a single mom in our church take in three little boys and walk through healing and restoration with the family, in January of 2008, my then husband and I started praying about being foster parents. We had been married for four years, just built a house, had no kids of our own and knew the Lord was stirring something in us to do more than create a life that revolved around ourselves. Finally in April we decided to move forward with the process. I made the proper phone calls and before we knew it on May 8, 2008, we started our foster parenting certification classes. We went through months of classes, background checks, home studies and paper work that never seemed to end. On September 15, 2008, we were officially certified to be foster parents. We had no idea there were two little girls whose worlds were being turned upside down at the very same time we were getting ready.
As long as I can remember we lived in a trailer with my mom and dad, my nana and paw paw, my aunt, her boyfriend, my uncle & his wife, another aunt and uncle I don’t remember their names, and my 5 cousins and of course my sister. We weren’t the richest people but I didn’t know any different. I also thought every other family all lived together, it seemed like it was normal. We were pretty much unsupervised. I went outside whenever I wanted to, did whatever I wanted to, looking back it was really dangerous. But again, that’s all I knew. We didn’t always have electricity, running water, or healthy food. We didn’t bathe every day, and our clothes didn’t get washed very often. As you can imagine we stayed dirty and stinky. We had lice all the time and even scabies. I was the kid that got made fun of at school. It made me feel like I was an outcast from the “normal” kids. Until I got home and everyone else was just like me.
My dad was never really around, he was in and out of jail, and when he was around, he and my mom fought all the time, to the point when sometimes he physically abused her. I remember one time he tried to set our trailer on fire. Not good. The police were at my house just about every time he was there. All that to say, I wasn’t very close to my dad. My mom on the other hand, is a different story. I was very close to her. I knew that she loved me even though she didn’t take the best care of me. I remember times when she would drink too much and not get up until late in the afternoon. But it was okay because I lived with 15 other people.
On September 15, 2008, our final home study was done and before our OCS worker left the house she asked Matt and I if we would be interested in taking an 8 year old little girl. We looked at each other, shrugged and said sure! She stepped outside to make a phone call and came back in with a smile on her face. We should be expecting a phone call the next morning with the details. Sure enough, like clock work, 8:00 am rolled around and I got a call from Elizabeth, a social worker in Livingston Parish. She started giving me information about a little girl named Angel. She was eight years old and had lived in three other foster homes. My heart broke. Elizabeth gave me a list of things I needed to do before she would drop Angel off to me the next day. That’s right. The next day! I didn’t even know what school district we lived in much less how to go about registering a child that I had never met. Needless to say I figured it all out. I picked up a couple of things to make our gender neutral room a tad bit girlier and proceeded to try and wrap my mind around what was happening. This is what we wanted. It’s what we signed up for. It just happened so fast.
I will never forget the day a lady named Miss Elizabeth came to school and checked me out. Little did I know I would never go back to the place I called home again. It wasn’t just me; it was me, my sister, and 5 cousins. We entered something called foster care that day. My life changed forever. At that point I remember really needing Jesus to help pull me out of the dark and into his light. You might ask how dark could it be for an 8 year old? Well, I’ll tell you. There I was with a stranger wondering, does my mom know where I am? Am I going to get in trouble for going with a stranger? Where is this lady taking me and my sister? What am I doing in this office? What did I do to be put in this office? I had so many questions and no answers. As the afternoon went by I got a few answers. Ms. Elizabeth tried to distract us by taking us on a shopping spree at Wal-Mart which we had never done before. I was still wondering when I was going to see my mom again. It turned out it wasn’t going to be that night. Miss Elisabeth took us to a complete stranger’s house and expected us to stay the night there. The only bright spot was seeing my cousin, Brittany. She had her own lady check her out and take her shopping. We were so happy to see her when we got there. All this happened on a Friday night and we ended up staying for the weekend.
When the weekend was over we went to another stranger’s house. Their names were Mr. Eric and Mrs. Mary. With this move came a new school. There was only like another month of school left so we didn’t have enough time to make friends, or get used to the new school. It wasn’t long before we ended up back at the same office for a visit with my mom. When we saw her we all embraced each other. We talked about what happened and she explained that she had to take care of some things before we could come back and live with her. It was sad because we only got to see her once a week.
Summer came and we were still at Mr. Eric and Mrs. Mary’s house. They eventually got two more foster kids. We had fun, but still wanted to be with our mom. In the meantime, four of my other cousins lived with my Aunt and our cousin Brittany lived somewhere else. Every Monday we visited our parents. It was like a family reunion. Mondays became bitter sweet. While I loved seeing my family, I detested leaving them.
For some reason our time at Mr. Eric and Mrs. Mary’s ended. That’s when me and my sister moved to Mrs. Sharon’s house, it was awful. We started a new school, I was in second grade, for the second time, my sister was in first grade. It was awful because Mrs. Sharon was super mean, treated us like slaves, and worst of all she cut my hair funky. It’s the worst thing you can do to a dirty, stinky new girl on the block.
After several weeks my sister was moved to a different foster home. Mrs. Sharon said she couldn’t handle the two of us. There I was alone for real this time. A week went by and once again I was packing my things (and by my things I mean the stuff I acquired that fit in a small suit case and a big black garbage bag.)
On September 17, 2008 Mrs. Elizabeth (the social worker, who at this point was the only constant thing in my life) picked me up early in the morning. We journeyed to a new house where I would be staying for who knows how long. Mrs. Elizabeth told me about a young couple who had no kids. I was nervous to meet these new foster parents of mine. Once again I was in the same position as a few months earlier. I had a lot of questions and no answers. Would they like me? So far, the other foster parents got rid of me so quickly. How long would I be there? I hadn’t stayed more than two months at any of the other houses. Would I have to change schools again? I was already on my third school in less than one year. When would my mom get her things taken care of? All I wanted was to go home.
The trip felt like it took ages. We finally arrived and I grabbed my trash bag and Miss Elizabeth took my suitcase. I was about to meet a new stranger. We rang the doorbell, which was awesome, because I didn’t know what that was. I was greeted by someone that for the first time in a while seemed happy to see me. That’s the day I met Mrs. Jess. She explained to me that she was married to Mr. Matt and he was working and would be home later that evening. She showed me to my room. MY ROOM! For the first time in my life I wasn’t going to have to share a room with anyone. It was amazing! We unpacked my stuff and put most of it in the washer. We had a busy afternoon ahead of us. We went to register for my new school, Denham Springs Elementary, more new teachers, more new rules, hopefully more new friends. After getting settled in, Mr. Matt came home and we had dinner. The first of many family dinners we would have together.
There I was on September 17, 2008, pacing back and forth. I couldn’t possibly wipe the counters down one more time. I had carefully picked out my outfit. Clearly, I was worried about the important things. I prayed, I read my Bible, I journaled, I wiped the counters some more. I was a nervous wreck. Around 10:00 the doorbell rang. There she was, the little girl that would become my daughter forever. She was filthy. The roots of her hair screamed that it had been bleached. With a trash bag in hand, she just smiled at me nervously. I introduced myself and asked her if she was nervous. She told me yes and I told her we had something in common because I was too. She just giggled.
We went through our day getting to know each other and nervously fumbling about, trying to make this seem like the most normal thing on the planet. I’m here to tell you, kids being removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect and moved from stranger to stranger is not normal. It should not be this way. I went to bed that night and sobbed.
The first several weeks were rough. Matt and I went from living our own life with each other to over night sitting in carpool, calling out spelling words (the wrong ones at that). It was a huge adjustment for the three of us. It wasn’t long before Miss Thang, Christal, came along. First it was for a visit, then it was for good. Matt and I felt very strongly that siblings should be able to stay together so as soon as we found out Angel had a sister, we were all about taking her in too. In November of 2008, six year old Christal moved in and brought the sweetest, cutest and sassiest personality with her. We weren’t ready to say the least. Once again, we all had to adjust and figure out what it looked like to live life together. What did it mean to me a child of Matt & Jess Lawrence?
It didn’t take long for us to get into a groove, but it was definitely a learning experience every day. The Lord was so faithful to give us exactly what we needed when we needed it. Being a foster parent is not for everyone. We had weekly visits with the girls’ family, counseling appointments, time with CASA workers, OCS visits at the house, tutoring, court dates and learning how to parent kids that have been through things kids should never know about. It was hard.
The time came when the decision was made that the girls would need to be adopted. As their foster parents, we got first dibs. After lots of praying and talking we decided to adopt them. So on July 14, 2010 we became the Lawrences. We were officially a family. We became their parents and they became our children. Nothing magical happened. The only thing that changed was their names. It was such a picture of what happens when we are adopted by our Heavenly Father. Our names and hearts change immediately, but boy do our minds and bodies have to continue to figure out what it means to be God’s child.
That was three years ago. Adoption has changed our lives. Adoption gave two little girls the chance at a new life. Adoption broke the cycle of their biological parents. Adoption made me a mom. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m a mom… a single, full-time working mom, whose kids call me Ms. Jess. Adoption rescued and redeemed all of us and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Where my story met Angel’s is a beautiful place. I just wonder how many other kids are out there writing their side of the story. Maybe your story has another side…