Our Story: The Stanley Family
My wife Diana and I had six kids — 5 boys and 1 girl — so imagine the surprised look on my face when she said to me, "What do you think about doing foster care?" Now as a husband and a father I simply gave a typical man response, "I think I would rather have a boat." She smiled and said, "Just pray about it." You see, Diana has always had a heart for foster kids because her parents were foster parents when she was a teenager. As I prayed about it, I soon realized God wasn't going to change His stance on foster care and as a Christ follower I had a responsibility to walk in obedience, even if that meant becoming a foster parent.
I agreed to look into it and go to some of the classes that a local foster care agency was teaching. As I began to listen I had no idea of how big the need was for foster care nor did I realize how many issues kids were facing. At this point there was simply no turning back. Don't get me wrong, I want to walk in obedience with what the Lord asks of me, but I sometimes try to tell Him the perimeters. For example, I agreed to the possibility of adding a kid (or kids) to our home; just don't give me anyone over the age of 10. The last thing I wanted was another teenager.
Only a few weeks after finishing all of our foster care training we got our first call. It was about a kid named Josh who had lost his dad when he was 7 years of age and his mother died when he 13. As I heard his story, my wife and I really wanted to help. As we were taking in all of the information, the big obstacle surfaced: Josh was 18. Now I had a couple of thoughts at this point. The first one being this is what I get for telling God my "perimeters." and my second thought was "Okay, this is February and he will graduate in June and then he will be on his own. Surely I can handle a few months." Diana and I agreed to take in Josh and began to prepare our home.
I will never forget Josh standing at our front door and me looking through the blurry glass on the door trying to see what the kid looked like. As I saw him standing there I told my wife, "Based on how he is dressed I don't think we have anything in common." She said, "Would you open the door please?" When I opened the door to this complete stranger, I had no idea the journey God was going to take us on.
Josh comes into our home and as we are signing all of the necessary paperwork I am trying to make small talk with him. So I said, "Hey Josh, since you are 18 and a Senior what are your plans when you graduate?" Josh said, "I am only a Junior." Suddenly I realize my four months of getting my feet wet in foster care just turned into a year and four months. God loves throwing me curve balls!
As we started talking to Josh we realized how badly he was doing in school. He was basically failing every class, had no motivation and the only thing he seemed to care about was a girl. This is the typical teenager that I was telling God I didn't want to take into my home. As we were getting to know Josh, Diana asked, "Josh, what is it that you want?" What does the typical teenager say? "I would love to have a cell phone." Now I am thinking, "Yep, typical teenager and there is no way I am getting this kid a cell phone." After all, I was already paying for five phones and the bill was high enough. I just knew Diana would shut this down quick. She said, "Josh," — in my mind I was thinking, “you tell him babe!” — "if you bring your grades up to passing we will get you a cell phone." I was like, "Say what?" That was not the response I was hoping she would give. Even so, I still expected I to be in the clear because I thought there was no way Josh would bring his grades up.
Every day, Josh would get off the bus and do homework or study until dinner time. Then he would study again until bedtime. Every day. After about three weeks we went to a meeting at the school to meet his teachers. Come to find out, Josh was now not only passing, but making straight A's. Josh is thinking "cell phone" and I am thinking "$$$$$$$$" as well as "Thanks Diana."
So thanks to my wife Josh is sporting new clothes, new shoes and now a shiny new cell phone that is suddenly glued to his ear. All this is doing is attracting his friends. A kid named David who is the same age as Josh and was actually a foster care brother at Josh's old home walked about five miles to our house one day to see Josh. David is a special needs kid. He has an intellectual disability, which means that although he is 17, he is mentally more like 9 — and he walked five miles to see Josh.
David knocked on the door and asked if he could speak to Josh. I shut the door to let Josh know that his friend is outside. When Josh goes out on the porch to talk, I told Diana, "You see what’s going on? This kid sees that Josh looks different, smiles all the time and has a cell phone.... he is going to want to move in next." My wife responded, "What is wrong with that?" It was then I realized I was in a losing battle.
As the Lord would have it, David ended up spending the weekend with us. When we called his foster family to ask what time they would like David to return home, they stated they didn't want him back. Long story short, my wife began making phone calls and David ended up moving in with us, which I believe is what I said would end up happening. Not long after David moved in we began noticing these crazy fits he would throw. As my wife began to work with him about how to handle a situation when he was upset or how to communicate his feelings, slowly but surely the fits stopped. David is a great kid with a very tender heart. He plays Special Olympics basketball and has a part time job and a girlfriend. He bought an Xbox and, of course, every kid needs a cell phone. He is probably one of the most content kids that I know and understands that true happiness is valued by the love and support of a family. With his disability, we will probably have David for a very long time. It wasn't that long ago that we went with him to the county where he was raised, met with an attorney, stood before the judge and changed his last name to Stanley.
One of the things I noticed about Josh and David was their inability to make a decision. I learned first hand that most foster kids were never asked, "Do you like steak or chicken? Red or blue?" They are just given things and usually left overs. I believe it is best to treat a foster kid just like you would one of your biological kids and teach them how to make good choices. Both of those boys have come a long way. David still lives with us but Josh has moved out and is trying to create a life for himself. We still keep in touch with Josh and hear from him frequently.
This is where our story gets crazy. One day we were at lunch with Diana's parents when she received a call that our agency needed a home for a five month old African American baby girl. I had just made the statement to my wife a few weeks before this that I think I am done with being a foster parent. My wife looked at me with those beautiful eyes of hers asking if we could take in the five month old, and I caved and said yes. As we rushed from the restaurant to get home to prepare for a baby, she got another phone call from the agency. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I did hear these words, "No that's okay, we will take them too. We will figure it out." When she gets off the phone she tells me that she agreed to take the little girl's brothers that were ages 1 and 6 because they were going to put them in a homeless shelter. Instead of preparing for one kid, we are now racing home to prepare for three. All the way home I am thinking, "My wife has lost her loving mind." I never will forget that day.
When they arrived, the 5 month old was in a car carrier crying at the top of her lungs, the 1 year old was standing on my coffee table and the 6 year old was already into the fridge saying, "I'm hungry I need something to eat." All the while I am trying to sign my portion of the paperwork when the case worker said to me, "Mr. Stanley I can't believe that you guys are willing to do this. We are so happy." Without missing a beat, I signed the paperwork and responded, "I can't believe we are doing this either."
So we added three kids to our home in less than two hours and I have learned, in foster care, to "expect the unexpected." Maya, Caleb and Demetries came with one Wal-Mart sack that was half full. What they were wearing was too little and as much as I was asking myself, "Why did I let Diana talk me into this?" my heart went out to these three because it was no fault of their own that they ended up in foster care, much less our home. Remember I said I didn't want any kids over ten? Well I got my wish and I soon realized that having teenagers wasn't so bad. We now had a baby, which meant diapers, making bottles and very little sleep. Sometimes we would put the kids to bed around 7:30 and my wife and I would look at each other because we were so exhausted. As tiring as it was, we began to fall in love with these kids. Again it was important to treat them as our own and that we did. They came from a situation of neglect and abuse and now suddenly all their needs were being met. Demetries one time asked Diana, "Mom how you know how to cook all this stuff?" Before, if he did eat, it was something that could be made quick like pizza pockets in the microwave. To this day, Caleb loves potato chips because that's what he usually ate. While mom had the baby, Demetries and Caleb (ages 6 and 1) would run around the neighborhood looking for food.
After getting to a point when the kids felt settled and adjusted to our family, one day we received an email that two Hispanic girls from San Antonio needed a forever home. They had an older sister that was adopted and a younger brother that was adopted. These two girls had moved from home to home and in some ways were trying to take care of each other. In fact, the foster parent they were with right before they moved out told them, "I will be glad when ya'll move out so I can get me some good kids." Imagine how those words must have hurt two little girls who did not ask to be thrown into foster care.
It was snowing the day they moved in and they had never seen snow before. They headed straight to the toys when they first got to our house while Diana and I couldn't stop talking about how cute they were. Don't let the cover of the book fool you because as cute as they were, they came to us with so many issues. After having Julianna and Juliette for a couple of days, we noticed that though she was almost finished with first grade, Julianna had no idea how to read. In fact, she was so far behind in school that we made the decision to have her finish out the year in Kindergarten. That was a wise decision because now as a second grader she has report cards with straight A's. Once Juliette got started in Kindergarten we saw the same problems in her learning. She just couldn't grasp it so she is in her second year of Kindergarten but is doing so much better. Statistics show that every time a foster kid moves it can set them back a full year. We have found that to be true, especially when applied to these two girls. They are full of life and though we have had our struggles with them, the reward of watching their progress is so worth it.
On National Adoption Day in November 2015, we made the decision to adopt all five of these kids. We call them our FAB FIVE. It has been incredible being the parents to these kids. Everything in life comes with challenges and its no different being a foster parent. As Christ followers it is our responsibility to take care of foster kids. Sometimes it is selfishness that keeps people from getting involved as a foster parent and for others it is the difficult situations that may arrive from time to time. I am learning that just because it may be difficult at times doesn't mean that we should shy away from being obedient. Following God's plan should always take precedence over what we desire. Yes life as a foster parent is hard, but honestly parenting is hard whether it is your biological kids, your step kids, your adopted kids or your foster kids. At the end of the day, becoming a foster parent will be one of the most rewarding things you could ever choose in life.
So glad I didn't buy a boat.
Thanks for allowing us to share a small portion of our story.
From the heart,
Jeff & Diana Stanley