If you haven’t read the other 3 posts, a great place to start is in the beginning.
After the ISP meeting at the courthouse, Matthew’s biological mom began to realize that this case would not last much longer. They had coasted for 13 months, and time was running out. During our GPS training classes we discussed a child’s need for permanency, either with bio-parents or adopted parents. Children thrive when they have structure and stability, so DHR owes it to each child to settle their cases as quickly as possible. If reconciliation is achievable, then it should be done as soon as a safe environment for the child is provided. If an adequate amount of time has passed and reconciliation looks less likely or impossible, then there comes a point when the court has to terminate the parent’s rights (TPR) and place the child with an adoptive family that can provide that stability they long for. A Bill passed in the State of Alabama in February of this year requires TPR to be filed after the child has been in foster care for 12 months (it was previously 15 months which is what happened in Matthew’s case).
Bio-mom began looking for a job with a little more diligence. We even helped her fill out some applications, but a good job wasn’t that easy to find. She finally got hired on second shift at a gas station, but it only lasted for 4 hours before they sent her home (I still don’t know the reason). Around the same time they moved from their trailer back into the motel room and took two steps backward.
Mandi and I were experiencing an emotional tug-of-war during this time. Our lives had become irrevocably intertwined with Matthew’s, and we knew that his bio-parent’s success meant that he would go back home. It would have been easy to cut ties and let them sink or swim on their own, but if there was a chance that Matthew could stay with us forever and ask one day about his biological family, we wanted to be able to say that we did everything we could to help them make it. This wasn’t just about Matthew, and this wasn’t just about his parents. God called us into this, and we were serving Him. Mandi and I held on to the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:40. His disciples asked, “When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?” and Jesus replied, “I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
The next few months dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Uncertainty weighs heavy on your soul and has a way of slowing down time. With no forward progress attained, DHR filed for Termination of Parental Rights in November 2012 and scheduled a hearing before the judge. They don’t typically schedule special hearings in December because of the holidays, so that pushed us into the new year. A newly elected judge was set to take the reins in January, but at the last minute he was appointed to a higher position and all cases were postponed until another judge could be selected to serve in Marshall County. When the new judge was finally in place, the docket was so far behind that the first hearing date available was April 3, 2013. Seven full months since Matthew’s permanency goal was changed to adoption, and for us, seven full months of that tug-of-war emotional uncertainty.
Just before the court date in April, there was a last minute panicked attempt from the Bio-parents to get things accomplished, but it was too late. The damage had been done. As we entered the courtroom it more closely resembled something on TV, since it was reserved only for Matthew’s case. The bio-parents were seated on one side of the court with their attorney, and the social workers with DHR’s attorney were seated on the opposite side.
As foster parents, Mandi and I were only responsible for Matthew’s care. His permanent custody hearing was between the bio-parents and the State of Alabama, so we were allowed to attend, but had to remain silent observers. I won’t go into the details of the four hour hearing, but it was excruciating for Mandi and me to be a third party in the courtroom, unable to speak on Matthew’s behalf. After the witnesses were called and the evidence presented, the judge announced that he would issue a ruling in a few days then dismissed the courtroom. A few days later I wrote the following to a friend:
We finally received word this morning that the judge has made a ruling in Matthew’s case and has terminated his biological parent’s rights. Their name will be stricken from his birth certificate, and when his permanent adoption occurs, our name will be written in it’s place. He’ll be given the new surname, Reed, and will forever become our son. It will be as if he never knew them.
Our family is grateful for the ruling that was handed down today, and we can only imagine the path Matthew’s life would have taken if the outcome had been different. At the same time my joy is tempered with grief as I think about another set of parents who received a call with bad news this morning. They were told to prepare for one last farewell visit with their son. Through it all, I’m convinced that Matthew’s parents truly loved him. They rarely missed a visit, and they sent text messages to check on him often. They just didn’t love him more than they loved themselves. They have been quick to profess their love, but seemingly unwilling to do what it takes to provide a stable home for Matthew.
Even after the TPR was finalized it still took a few months to complete all of the paperwork for adoption. Matthew’s case was handed over to a different social worker at DHR that specialized in facilitating the adoption of children in foster care. She walked us through all the steps. We secured an attorney to handle the paperwork and filing on our behalf and requested one more hearing before the judge to finalize the adoption. When the call finally came from the attorney’s office to inform us that we had been given a court date to sign the adoption into law, we were overcome by God’s provision and blessings. The date was August 22, Matthew’s 2nd birthday.
At the time of adoption, we changed his last name (of course) and could have legally changed his first name as well, but we decided to leave it alone. He would always be Matthew to us and any other name would seem unnatural at this point. Besides, we couldn’t have picked a better name. “Matthew” means “gift from God” and he certainly is.
“If anybody understands God’s ardor for his children, it’s someone who has rescued an orphan from despair, for that is what God has done for us. God has adopted you. God sought you, found you, signed the papers and took you home.” –Max Lucado
Adoption is a wonderful picture of the Gospel. We recognize ourselves as spiritual orphans; lost sinners in need of a Savior. But Jesus came to earth to redeem us and give us the gift of salvation and a way to the Father if we will put our faith and trust in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” -Galatians 4:4-7
I believe this whole journey has given Mandi and I some insight into the lives of everyday people who say they love God, but are unwilling to surrender their will, their actions, their very lives to Him. All around us people are quick to name the name of Christ, but they seem content to visit Him once a week and spend the rest of their lives doing what they want to do. Matthew’s bio-parents were an extreme example of nominal Christians who say they love God, but do not posses any of the fruit of the spirit. Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew immediately come to mind when he said “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” I’m also reminded of John 14:15 that says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Christianity really is that simple, but it’s also that difficult. Are we willing to do what it takes? Do we love Jesus more than we love ourselves? Do we spend our money and time on useless frivolity instead of giving our all to the Son? One day it will be too late. Time will expire and people will scramble to make last minute confessions, excuses about their inability to meet minimum requirements. They’ll have one last farewell visit with The Son. Then God will say, “depart from me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)
Even though the adoption is complete and they have no legal standing, our family continues to visit Matthew’s Bio-parents on occasion. We’ve met them at a local restaurant a couple of times and presented them with a Bible and devotional book to read. They text us less frequently now, but still check-in from time to time and see how he’s doing. I’m not sure what our relationship will look like in the future, but we will continue to pray for their well-being and their salvation even if they move on to another city or state.
Matthew’s adoption journey ends here, but our journey as a family is still being written. We feel certain that God has more in store for our family through foster care and/or adoption, and we’re confident that whatever He leads us to, He’ll lead us through. We cannot abandon the call of Psalms 82:3-4 to “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
If you’ve read this blog and God is moving you to action I’d like to recommend a few ways that you can get involved:
- Pray – The children in foster care, the parents trying to straighten their lives out and get their kids back, the social workers that deal with problems every single day, all need our prayers.
- Contact DHR and attend a GPS class – There is no commitment involved. These classes are for you to decide if foster care is right for your family.
- Provide Respite Care – Foster families need a break from time to time and DHR is always looking for families that can keep foster kids just for the weekend, or maybe during a week-long vacation.
- Donate – When children are removed from their home they often leave so much behind while they’re in foster care. Help DHR provide clothes, stuffed animals to comfort children, suitcases for their belongings, etc.
- Get Informed – Check out Jim Daly’s recent blog at Focus on the Family’s website. You might be surprised to find out that 450,000 children are currently in foster care in the US. Of those, 100,000 have parents whose rights have been terminated and are immediately available for adoption.
“Do you want to do something beautiful for God? There is a person who needs you. This is your chance.” –Mother Teresa (very famous Albanian)