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Meeting Mara (our story of fostering and adoption)

July 15, 2019. The text read, “Hey Autumn, are you still interested in foster care? Remember when you said to let you know when I think I have someone that would potentially be a good fit? Well, I think I have someone…”

Months prior, I had spoken with a friend at church who worked in a teen shelter. I mentioned I’d always wanted to foster and that my heart was with teenagers, BUT I was hesitant, since I still had a younger child at home. At the time, I didn’t know how a teenager would influence my younger child. Side note: this seems to be a very common fear that people have in fostering teens. But I have discovered that teens are just teens. They’re not scary. They’re just older kids who still need unconditional love. Anyhow, I mentioned that if she ever had a teen girl that she felt would be a good fit in our home, to please contact me… About 8 months later, that text came. Her name was Mara.

I spoke with Mara’s caseworker, and then a few days later, headed out to a Rachel Hollis conference. At the conference, we were asked to write down some of our dreams and goals in life. At the top of my list was fostering. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to foster children. I have always believed that every child deserves to be loved unconditionally, cherished, and truly seen for who they are. The whole weekend, all I could think about was this teenage girl, sitting in a shelter without a place to call home. I just KNEW we were supposed to welcome her into our hearts and home. The only obstacle would be getting my husband on board. Josh and I had spoken about fostering many times throughout the years. He and I had even gone to speak with an agency a few years prior so that we could learn more about the process. I felt it was my calling. He felt it was not his. I truly believed in my heart, though, that if God gave me this man to call my husband and also gave me this calling, tugging on my heart almost daily, that a way would eventually be made.

I arrived home from the conference a few days later and we attended church that weekend. Our church does an annual series each Summer called “At the Movies”. Basically our pastor takes a movie and shows snippets of it to create a theme and message for that weekend. This particular weekend, the movie used was “Instant Family”, a movie about fostering and adoption. I had already seen the movie, so approximately one second into it, I was already uncontrollably sobbing. Josh realized how convicted I felt about this and finally decided that we could start the process of fostering.

Six days later, I drove to the shelter to meet Mara for the first time. She seemed nervous, yet excited. She and I sat in my car and I asked her to share her story with me about how she had ended up at this shelter for teens. She started to explain how she entered the foster care system. The different homes she had been in. The different things she had experienced in her short 16 years of life. I listened as she picked at her cuticles while she spoke. Her and I share that same nervous habit. I hurt for her. I wished she had never endured so many of the things she had in her young life… I remember stopping Mara in the middle of her story. I needed her to know we already wanted her as part of our family. She was already chosen. Our decision was not based on what she told me about herself that day. God had already shown me that this beautiful, brown-eyed girl was supposed to come be with us. We had a good cry that day together, and I walked away knowing I was capable of loving this girl in the same way that I loved my other two girls. Three weeks later, Mara and her caseworker arrived at our home along with all of Mara’s belongings.

The first week was a little strange. Mara fit in easily and we all got along fine, but essentially we were still strangers. So while I’d like to say that it felt comfortable right away, that wouldn’t be quite true. As time progressed, feelings of normalcy set in. Mara got a job, was doing well in school and making new friends. Eventually she got her permit, then her license, and a car. The dinner table became “comedy central” as she and our other teenage daughter, Kaylee, started cracking jokes just about every night. Our family loves to laugh and can be a bit sarcastic and funny, so Mara fit right in. Side note, she is like the queen of fast comebacks-the girl makes me laugh with her incredible wit!

I remember one particular day, when everything seemed exactly as it should be. My husband was driving our family to grab a bite to eat after my youngest daughter’s softball game. The typical family banter started, Josh cracked a joke, and everyone started laughing. I remember looking in the side view mirror and the sight of Mara laughing hysterically overwhelmed me with gratitude. While everyone else was laughing, I was crying. I realized that our new normal was exactly how it was meant to be all along. The thought of Mara not being there with us made me sad to even think about. I couldn’t picture our lives without her. And I didn’t want to.

When Mara was 12 years old, her parents permanently lost their parental rights and Mara could legally be adopted by another family. At 17 years old though, the decision to be adopted was completely up to Mara. At this point in her life, she had envisioned aging out of the system. She had given up on the possibility of being adopted before even meeting us. Honestly, I think she had given up on the possibility of people really loving her for her. Fostering is messy sometimes. Essentially, you are bringing a child into your home who has possibly called many different places “home”. They’ve experienced many different rules and parenting styles. Views within the family and cultural norms, religion… so many differences. They have to adjust to new people and a new home and a new everything, each and every time they switch homes. I can’t even imagine having to do that once or twice. But y’all, some kids do that 20, 30, 40, 100 times. Mara had been in a handful of homes before ours. And then of course, the shelter. In my opinion, that was still too many.

Eventually, after many open and honest conversations, Mara made the decision to be adopted. She also decided that she wanted to change her last name. Via a zoom call, Mara officially became a “Moore” on May 8, 2020. I realize that 2020 was a difficult year for so many with Covid. It makes me sad to even think about what so many people have endured. But for our family, 2020 was a time for us to all grow closer to one another. 2020 was the year we officially went from a family of four to a family of five.

I’m often asked if it was hard to bring a teenager into our home. If I am answering honestly, the hardest part, selfishly, was missing out on the first 16 1/2 years of her life. The hardest part is knowing the pain that she’s endured in her young life. And knowing that I can’t make any of that go away. The hardest part is knowing that her whole biological family has been split into pieces. It’s knowing that in order for us to gain her, other people had to lose her. And Mara had to lose them.

Mara will be 18 in February. She is currently working ahead in school to graduate a year early, working a job, and budgeting at least 6 months worth of living expense for the day she decides to move out. She plans to attend college in the fall of 2021 and is motivated to one day help children who have experienced similar life situations. She tells me she will probably come spend the night at least once a week because she will miss us. And while some days I feel sadness knowing that she will be moving out soon, I am also excited to watch her blossom into an adult. I am ready to see what this next season looks like for all of us.

As for our family, I hope to continue fostering children, and also have ideas I hope to turn into action to improve the foster care system in general. I believe we can do so. Much. Better. Not only for the youth in our system, but for the biological parents of these youth, that are most likely a product of traumatic childhoods they never healed from themselves.

I was asked to share our story with ‘Love What Matters’ and wrote this specific piece for them to use. You can find the article here:

‘She was sitting in a shelter with no place to call home. A teenager, she’d already given up on being adopted. Then I received a text: ‘Hey, Autumn. You still interested in foster care?’: Couple adopt teenager from foster care

Consistency

Consistency. I often hear people say that they lack consistency. I used to think the same thing about myself. That I had a “consistency issue”… but honestly, none of us really lack consistency. We are all consistent with something.

If you’re not consistent with working out, you’re probably consistent with not working out. If you’re not consistent with eating healthy, you’re probably consistent with eating unhealthy. If you’re not consistent with working your at home business, you’re probably consistent in doubting your capacity to do it. Or to be successful.

I have been really digging deep lately. Trying to figure out ALL of the things about myself. What I like and why, what I believe and why, why I do what I do. ALL. Of. The. Things. Here’s what I have figured out. I actually do NOT have a consistency issue at all. I have a belief issue. Believing that I am capable. Or good enough. Or even worthy. And when I really dig deep, I realize that most of these beliefs were formed in childhood because of how certain people spoke to me, or treated me, or excluded me. Even worse, many of these people were in a position of power. Why am I holding onto beliefs stemming way back from childhood? They didn’t serve me then and they certainly don’t serve me now. Furthermore, why is it that we have an easier time holding onto the negative beliefs, versus the positive ones…?

So this blog. I have not been consistent with it. Instead, I have consistently believed that I really may not have anything important to say. Or that nobody cares what I have to say. Or that maybe I might say too much. Or possibly hurt other people while speaking the truth about my life.

Somewhere deep down though, I know that I am supposed to continue sharing. I have felt God nudging me in that direction. My truest thoughts and feelings come alive when I write. Maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it won’t. But it definitely always helps ME to dig through my own thoughts and feelings, through writing. And since I am on this journey of speaking my truth and being the truest version of myself, without apology… I figure I owe it to myself to stick with something that I want to do and feel called to do.

I pray that if you’re struggling to remain “consistent” in something, that you start digging a little deeper. Chances are that your lack of consistency, really has nothing to do with consistency at all. It probably has more to do with a lack of belief. Belief in your own abilities. Belief that you are enough. Belief even in what you are doing, or how you are doing it. But chances are it comes back to a lack of belief.

That’s always worth exploring.


Iba Girl

Ten years ago, Josh gave me two options for my birthday present:

1. A front load washer and dryer (I had really wanted a set).

OR

2. A Weimaraner puppy.

Honestly, at the time, the washer/dryer appealed to me more…but I also knew that Josh had always wanted that breed. And a puppy. I mean, who really can resist? So along came Iba. 

I called her my “smart, dumb dog”. Ever seen Clueless with Alicia Silverstone? That was Iba. Super smart. Kind of ditzy. 

She would do things that kind of blew my mind. Sometimes she would just have me cracking up. Sometimes she would do things that made me super frustrated. But at the end of the day, she was fiercely loyal and loved her people hard. And we loved HER. So much.

Today, Iba started acting super strange. Yelping and moaning. Not able to move around. Her legs were going out on her when she stood up.

So Josh took her to the vet. Due to coronavirus, Josh loaded her onto a gurney, curbside, and waited in his car to hear from the vet. 

My girl never made it home. 

Turns out Iba had a huge mass pressing on her spleen, amongst other things…And with her age, it didn’t sound like she would’ve handled the surgery well. 

My heart hurts today. I can’t stop crying. I’m dreading finding all of the things that remind me of her all over my home. I’m praying that tomorrow I can keep it together a bit better. Especially for Gracie. Iba has been in her life since the day she was born. 

My husband and I joked once tonight. He said that maybe I should’ve taken the washer and dryer so we wouldn’t have to feel the pain of losing her. But honestly, I’ll take the heartache for all of the amazing memories with my Iba girl. She will be missed so much.