COLUMBIA, Tenn. (BP) -- Bryan and I married when we were young, silly, in love sophomores in college. We were barely 19. We had gotten engaged after dating just a couple weeks. We've always been people who once we know, and feel God's confirmation, we act. We did this in marriage -- and adoption was no different.
Bryan and I always knew we wanted to have a lot of children. When I started to have fertility issues and miscarry repeatedly, we decided to adopt sooner rather than later. We found an agency and rushed through the home study and application process in barely a month.
One day after our home study was approved, we were officially cleared to adopt.
After dropping off the last paper needed for our home study, I overheard a conversation with a social worker about a baby. There was a baby boy whose birth mother had HIV, and they were unsure of his prognosis. All I heard was "there is a baby boy." I went home and shared with Bryan.
Later that afternoon there was a call. "Would you be interested?" We hung up the phone and smiled big goofy grins and knew this was our promised child from the Lord. For this reason we named our first born Canaan, the land of promise after two years of wandering in the desert.
The next day we would find ourselves seated across a table with a tall athletically built woman in her mid-30's. She selflessly placed a most beautiful, afroed, chocolate-skinned baby in my arms and made my dreams a reality. I was now a mommy.
God has had His hands all over Canaan from the very beginning. They said at the hospital nursery that whenever he would fuss all they had to do is turn on a radio and music instantly soothed him. One of the nurses said "music speaks to him, even at a few days old." She was right. God has put a song in his heart from the very beginning. Canaan has been singing since his voice had breath, and he has unusual passion for the Word of God. He's memorized whole books of Bible through National Bible Bowl since the 5th grade.
He feels called into music ministry, and we know God will lead our music- loving sports fanatic. His life verse has always been Isaiah 43:1; "I have called you by name -- you are Mine. " We were unsure when blessed with Canaan whether he would receive a death sentence. Our mighty God chose life. By the time our sweet boy turned 3, we learned that Canaan only had the antibodies for HIV and that AIDS would not tear him from us. When our house burned down, and Canaan was trapped behind a wall of flames, not a hair on his body was singed. God has His hands all over this child; he is most certainly His.
Canaan was 8 months old when our agency approached Bryan and me about becoming foster parents. We were God's vessels for the following two and a half years. Seventy-two newborn drug and alcohol addicted babies graced our home. We were blessed to take the tiniest of God's creation, get these precious babes through drug withdrawal and place them with adoptive families, who like us, had dreamed of being parents. Baby 36 was a tiny 4-pound, 8-ounce, 16-inch-long diva. She was born with a blood alcohol level of .23 and tested positive for seven drugs in her system. She came at a difficult time. I was in the midst of another miscarriage. We had been matched with another HIV birth mom who had made the decision to parent her baby rather than place for adoption.
Most of our foster babies came with no name, so we plucked names from the Bible and temporarily called them Ruth, Job, Delilah and such. All of the loss we'd endured had taken a toll. My heart was weary when they brought baby 36. I explained to the agency social worker that she would have to be our last foster baby for a while.
There was such joy and redemption in loving and caring for these small, helpless, sick babies. We witnessed the transformation of a screaming, miserable baby in pain, weighed down by the side effects of drugs that caused their bodies to tremble violently as they left their system. They were unable to be touched or cradled like a healthy newborn because their underdeveloped nervous system caused them pain with each small stroke of their head.
We were privy to the most amazing transformation. We would see these babies go from their darkest days to the baby God intended them to be before their birth mom had tainted their bodies. Then I'd get to be the one to place these babies in their new parents' arms.
Most of the time this was the best job, but every time you love and give away, your heart is made bigger and left a bit frayed. Due to all the loss and leaving, my heart was unable to think of giving away again when baby 36 arrived on that Saturday afternoon. We didn't even name her. We called her Noname (pronounced no-NAH-may).
Monday morning our phone rang. It was the agency. "If we let you keep her, will you keep being our foster parents?"
"What? I don't understand."
"If we let you keep her, will you keep being our foster parents? We'll take care of everything. We can sign papers later today."
"Oh my goodness. Really, she's ours?"
"Congratulations, it's a girl! We'll be there with another baby this afternoon for you guys to foster."
We hung up the phone and it didn't really seem real. But at that moment, we went from having baby Noname to sweet baby Addison. Addison was a hard baby, the worst we had had thus far. She screamed continually the first 6 months. She was delayed in every way. We worried that she wouldn't walk or talk. But if you know Addison's spirit, you know she's one tough cookie. She takes everything head on. She's determined to prove beyond a doubt that she can do it. She amazed every speech therapist, physical therapist and doctor we met. She would get that fire in her eyes and she would do whatever she set her mind to. As she has gotten older, He has made her a gifted athlete. The little girl whose stiff legs and arms I'd have to move in therapy is able to outrun, outplay and always outdo others with a smile. We've watched God break our daughter's strong rebellious spirit and turn her to Him and make her a passionate young woman who fights for the Lord.
We continued to pursue growing our family through fertility treatments, 19 miscarriages and countless rounds of fertility drugs. We added Malachi, Aidan, Brysan, Gideon, Emerson, our twins Judah and Harper, Solomon and Storie. And with no trying or loss, and just because God likes to show off when the medical world said it wasn't possible, God gave us a surprise -- our newborn daughter, Jericho. We have 12 children that God has given us the honor of raising up for Him.
I've often referred to adoption as a kaleidoscope. I have always loved looking through them, the way the light shines and how each turn creates a beautiful random pattern. I've always been fascinated when I try to turn the cylinder to form the pattern I want; the beads all crash and create something so much prettier than I could've made all on my own. Each little mosaic is different, reflecting light in its own way. They are beautiful and different and no matter which way things turn, light shines from them.
I know that with God we can make a Malachi and an Aidan and Harper. But we could never make an Addison or Canaan. Like the kaleidoscope, God gave us something that after the beads all crashed down was much prettier than anything we could've made on our own.
Valerie Foriest is a member of The First Family (First Baptist Church) in Columbia, Tenn.
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