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: