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July 23, 20200

Susanna and Doug knew they wanted to adopt a child who needed a family “someday.” But after going through fertility treatment, two unsuccessful pregnancies, and Susanna being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, “someday” quickly became “right now.”

They began by reviewing the children listed on the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE) website, which has profiles of nearly 1,000 children in foster care who are available for adoption.

“We actually fell in love with a sibling group of three,” said Susanna. “That’s when we decided we definitely wanted a sibling group. We thought it was going to be a perfect match. We took it as a sign that this is what we were supposed to do. So, we started the adoption process with these three kids in mind.”

They didn’t realize the investment of time and effort it was going to take. Six months later, on the very day they became certified, Doug and Susanna received word that the three children they thought were their perfect match, were matched with another family.

“We were too late,” Susanna explained. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘but there was a sign! They were supposed to be with us!’ So, we had to take a step back. But we realized it’s not just about us, it’s about kids who need a family and how we can help.”

Their next challenge would soon present itself. They were asked if they would consider a “legal risk” adoption. Which meant there was a possibility that the birth parents could get their children back.

“That was something we really had to pray about,” Susanna shared. We’ve had friends who fostered, and it was very difficult on them when their foster kids returned home. But we agreed to consider a legal risk adoption.”

Susanna is a 34-year-old high school assistant principal and Doug is a 37-year-old former Marine turned software manager, so they were prepared for, and opened to, any age, any group, any ethnicity. They even “put in” for a set of 17-year-old twins!

“During the year long process, it was heartbreaking to see all the emails, week after week, of all the kids that really needed a family,” explained Susanna. “So, we just put our name out there for a lot of different kids and sibling groups, all ages and ethnicities.”

They were eventually matched with an infant, and were told they were in the “final staffing.” The decision had been narrowed down between them and one other couple. They excitedly bought a crib and got everything ready, just in case.

“We were not chosen,” said Susanna. “Again, we were heartbroken. Just devastated. Doug and I talked about it…is this for us, this never-ending cycle of heartbreak? Gregory (their Arrow adoption coordinator) told us, ‘Look, when it’s right, you wouldn’t have imagined it any other way.’ My mom told me, ‘I don’t know why, but God is telling me that you don’t know the whole story.’”

Doug and Susanna took a break to allow for their own emotional healing, but after about six months they decided, “No, this is what we really want to do.” So, they “put their name in” on a set of six-month-old twin baby boys…it was a “legal risk” adoption.

“We mostly looked at sibling groups of three or four,” said Susanna. “We just wanted to help some kids and we wanted to have a family. We didn’t have any expectations of matching or not matching.”

It came as a complete surprise when three weeks later, Gregory called to let Doug and Susanna know that they were in the “final staffing” for the twins. The day the decision was being made between Doug and Susanna and the other family, Susanna was at her school giving a presentation to a group of 20 teachers. Her phone rang. She excused herself to take the call, but by the time she reached the hallway to answer her phone, the caller had hung up. Susanna decided to finish her presentation while she was still composed, and then return the call in case it wasn’t good news again.

“I wasn’t able to get a hold of anybody,” Susanna explained. “I finally called Doug and he asked if I had talked with Gregory. I told him ‘no’. But apparently after they couldn’t reach me, they had called Doug. He said, “We got them.” When I realized the twins were ours, I screamed, I was dancing in the parking lot at school. I was crying and the teachers started coming out to see what was going on.”

Despite all the excitement, there was still the possibility the twins could be reunited with their birth parents if they fulfilled the court’s orders, which included overcoming their drug addiction.

Doug and Susanna made 11 trips total between their location and three hours away, where the twins were being fostered, to begin the bonding process. Their first trip to be with the twins was a four-hour visit, then eight hours, then an “overnighter,” then weekends, and a whole week.

The boy’s foster parents had some concerns about the Susanna and Doug having pets at home since the twins had respiratory issues after being born premature. So, during one of their trips to see the boys, they drove the them to two hours to another large city to see an allergist and a respiratory specialist, and paid out of their pockets to have the twins tested for allergies. Everything came back negative, so the pets weren’t a concern.

Now came the most significant threat to the adoption being consummated. The birth parents decided they were going to fight for custody. A court date was set for a permanency hearing.

The day before the hearing, the call came that nobody was expecting. The birth parents had looked through the Susana and Doug’s life book, realized what awesome parents they were and what kind of life they could give the boys…and they relinquished their rights!

“We just broke down of course,” said Susanna. “Lots of tears, and just realizing, we only had to wait six more months and these two beautiful boys would be ours!”

They made the three hour trip to where the boys lived for the adoption. It was the last day the court would be open for two months because of the pandemic, and Susanna and Doug were scheduled to be the last court case of the day.

“Our lawyer asked which of us would respond to her questions when we go before the judge,” said Susanna. “Of course, it’s me. I’m quite the talker. So, we walked into the court room, and immediately I started bawling. I was incapacitated. I couldn’t say one word. It was tears of joy and relief, knowing they’re finally going to be our boys. It was healing. I cannot imagine our lives without these boys. They’re perfect for us, and we’re perfect for them…and it’s…it’s amazing! Gregory was right, I could not imagine it any other way.

“When we saw the picture of our boys in an email broadcast, we took a chance and leap of faith to love more and believe in something bigger. We never imagined our life where it is right now. Our house is chaotic and cluttered with toys. We have two of everything. We are exhausted (lol). But…we got to experience our boys first steps, the first time they said mama, their first teeth (that was rough times two).

“This week Jacob ran up to me and held my hand as I was walking out to get the mail, and I just about burst. I live for these “small” moments now. Our hearts and our arms are so full. This whole experience brought both of our extended families together, and Doug and I as well, in such an amazing way. Bradley and Jacob have completely stolen their papa’s and gramma’s hearts.

“Originally when we started this process, we thought we may not be chosen because of our demanding careers. But now I’d tell anybody, you can have both. You can love your job and love your kids. I am so glad we said ‘yes,’ because although, in a way, foster parents save kids’ lives…in reality, it’s more like they save ours.”


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August 16, 20190

When Aurora and Michael met 10 years ago, it didn’t take long for the conversation to include plans for a potential future family. In fact, they had only known each other for about four hours when Aurora said, “You know, I’ve always seen myself adopting…but older kids. I don’t mind having bio children, but I’ve always had a heart for older kids, older teenagers.”

Aurora had been a motivational speaker for students. She was one of the female youth directors at the church she attended while in seminary.  Even as a teenager, she worked with teenagers in a leadership role in high school. So wanting to adopt teens was just a progression of where her heart was.

The fact that Michael didn’t flinch at the idea of adopting teenagers, and instead indicated that he would “love that,” pretty much sealed the deal, and they were married in November 2009.

Around that same time, two sisters and their younger brother were placed into their first foster home. The three Hispanic siblings, ages 7-10, would be placed in five more foster homes over the next eight years and wind up living in a group facility before becoming available for adoption. But God had a plan for Brenda, Gracie, and Gerson, which started with the siblings never being separated during their entire ordeal in the foster care system. A miracle in itself.

As Aurora and Michael began their life together, they weren’t in a hurry to have their own children or adopt. They agreed to wait until they felt like it was the right time to add to their family. About six years later, the time to adopt seemed to arrive.

Aurora and Michael are both half Hispanic and have family and friends in Mexico. One of those friends, who was finishing college in the US, was in town. When Aurora answered the knock on the door, her friend was visibly upset and crying. She said her sister was pregnant, and they were desperately searching for a home for the baby when it arrived. Aurora was asked if she would take the baby.

Aurora immediately thought, “Wait, we wanted teenagers, what happened?”  Aurora told her friend she would talk to Michael about it, but they had lots of friends who would love to have a baby.

When she told Michael, his response was somewhat in jest, “Someone offered you a baby and you didn’t take it!” Aurora wasn’t against adopting a baby, she had just prepared herself for teenagers. So, she called her friend to accept the baby into their family.

They immediately began preparing. Aurora left the photography business, they cleared their calendars for the next six months, Michael took maternity leave at work, and they were getting all the baby things ready. Then their world came crashing down. With six days left during the period when the birth mother could change her mind…she did.

Devastated, Aurora said, “The baby was gone. We were just standing in the house and thinking, what do we do now?”

The Bradfords got on with their lives. But at that point, they were not going to consider adoption again.

After about a year, out of the blue, Michael asked Aurora if she would like to attend a CPS meeting about adoption. She nonchalantly said, sure. Aurora had a girlfriend who was a foster mom that was looking for more respite providers, so she thought, “we’ll just do respite now and get our feet wet.” But then she heard about the need for more foster families at the meeting.

“I remember sitting at that table, and we were told there was like 13,000 kids in foster care and Texas was in the middle of a crisis,” said Aurora. “At that time, there was a newspaper article about children sleeping on floors in the CPS offices, and how there was a desperate need for homes for these kids.”

Suddenly, adoption was back on the table!

At the meeting, they were presented with a list of potential agencies and the Bradfords emailed Arrow and two other agencies. With Aurora’s driven nature to get things done, she decided whichever agency had the next available class to attend, that’s who they would go with. As the greater plan continued to unfold, Arrow’s staff emailed Aurora with info on a class that was being held the very next day. Of the two other agencies, one never contacted the Bradfords and the other one responded long after the Bradfords already had children in their home.

After being licensed, the Bradfords submitted their interest on several different sibling groups. Then they received information on a sibling group of three: Brenda, Gracie and Gerson. Aurora hesitated because the youngest was 12.  “Oh, I don’t know,” Aurora said. “They’ll probably find somebody to adopt them. I really want older kids that are harder to place.”

The Bradfords actually passed on the opportunity to submit their interest in adopting the trio. Later, Aurora had a change of heart, but the deadline had already passed. Arrow staff told Aurora, “Oh it doesn’t hurt. We can go ahead and submit. The worst they can say is ‘no.’”

As the plan progressed, the Bradfords were chosen by the adoption selection committee. “In our minds, they were already our kids,” Michael proclaimed.  Aurora added, “We just had to wait on the paperwork from CPS so we could read their history and sign the papers saying we would take them with their background.”

During the four months the Bradfords waited for the CPS paperwork, they passed on two other sibling groups. The “sales pitch” on one of the groups was, even though there are five children, they’re all younger and would be easier than adopting three teens.

“That’s not why I’m here,” Arora declared. “They thought we couldn’t have our own bio kids. We were very capable of having our own, but I wanted to be the solution to a problem instead of hoping someone else would do it.”

The Bradfords were more determined than ever to “fight” for Brenda, Gracie, and Gerson. So when the 4,086 pages of background information on the kids finally arrived, Aurora and Michael split the stack of paper and pulled an “all-nighter” reading every single page.

“I was looking for examples of sneaking out, or drinking, and things like that,” Aurora said. “I was so perplexed. Everything in the report was just regular teen stuff that all kids do. There was nothing bad in the report.  So we signed on the dotted line.”

The kids were living in a shelter in the Houston area, and the Bradfords lived in Dallas. After meeting the kids, Brenda, the oldest, let the Bradfords know she didn’t want to leave in the middle of the school semester, so it was decided the kids would stay in the shelter until the end of school.

Before the kids came for their first visit, Aurora went to great lengths to prepare their bedrooms so it would feel like “home” to them. She painted the walls, hung an old, fun chandelier in the girls’ room and embroidered the girls’ names on their pillowcases. “I wanted their room to have the feel of a five-star hotel…glamorous and beautiful,” said Aurora.  “For Gerson’s room, I put a big “G” on the wall and since he as a big reader, we gave him three bookshelves in his room, each eight feet long.”

On their first trip to Dallas, the girls gasped when they saw their room and their names embroidered on the pillows. When Aurora saw Gerson struggling with his big, heavy bag and a backpack, she pointed out that his sisters were sharing one backpack and she asked him what he was bringing for the weekend. Gerson told her, “They’re my books. I’m moving in.”

“Michael and would I drive down to Houston every other weekend and bring the kids back to Dallas,” Aurora explained. “We’d leave after work on Friday, and have the kids to our home around midnight. We’d have a great time together on Saturday, then leave about 4:00 Sunday afternoon, drop them off and be home by 1:00 in the morning.”

The Bradfords made the round trip to Houston twice a month from January until May. Many times, they would make multiple trips in a week to attend all of the kids’ events, like the other parents did. Then school finally ended and Aurora, Michael, and the kids made their last trip from the shelter to Dallas.

Brenda, Gracie, and Gerson officially became Bradfords on the November 3, 2017, National Adoption Day.  Since then all three kids have just blossomed.

Brenda, now 18 years old, will be attending Texas State University. She’s not sure what she wants to study, but she’s considering social work as her major.

Gracie (16) and Gerson (15) are taking dual college credit classes from the local community college while being homeschooled. When they both graduate in December 2019, they’ll each start college with 27 hours of college credit.

Gerson was invited to take a private tour of the College of Engineering at the University of North Texas. As the Department Head and one of the professors were giving Gerson and Aurora the tour, they sat in on a class where Gerson raised a question that demonstrated his grasp of the topic. Later Aurora asked Gerson if he understood what they were talking about, and he replied, “I understood what they were doing, but I just didn’t understand how they got to that point.” Gerson has his eye on computer science.

Gracie has shown the greatest transformation of the three kids. As the one who rarely spoke up and complied with others, she stunned Aurora and Michael when she came bounding down the stairs to tell her them she needed to buy a dress because she had been accepted for an interview to enter the Miss Teen Texas, which is part of the National American Miss organization. Gracie had taken the initiative to apply online, and was about to embark on an incredible journey.

The day of the pageant, Aurora shares the scope of Gracie’s transformation, “When we met this girl she said a handful of words a day. Last year, she was almost in tears at the idea of speaking to a crowd of people. Today she is not only giving speeches to large audiences, she is presenting herself to people as a role model for other girls. Winning the crown would be exciting, but what all the people in that room tonight don’t know is, this little girl had all the odds against her just a couple years ago. She told me once that she stopped dreaming about her future because she knew it would never happen. Now, all she talks about is what she wants to do and what part of the world she wants to see next. She represents 68 of the bravest girls in Texas. Little Gracie has become a completely different girl. She is Gracie Bradford and she is our winner!”


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August 30, 20180

At the age of 30, Chris and Stephanie Johnson had their first child. Three years later they wanted to grow their family, but they soon discovered adoption was the only way it could happen. They didn’t have the $30,000 to $60,000 it would take for a private adoption, so they put it in God’s hands, and for nearly a decade they just went on with their lives. That is until last year, when God used a truck in need of repairs and the flooding of Hurricane Harvey to fulfill Chris and Stephanie’s greatest desire.

In March of 2017, Stephanie began feeling the pull to complete her family. Even though Chris thought after 10 years they had waited too long, Stephanie hopefully said, “No, let’s just pray about it.”

“Okay, God is going to show a sign,” Stephanie told Chris. “God is going to start opening the doors. When he does, are you ready?” Chris was onboard, but neither of them dreamed it would be just three months later when doors would start opening.

Chris was at the car dealership in Winne, Texas where he was the service manager, when Gregory Wysingle, an adoption coordinator for Arrow came in for truck repairs. Gregory had been on his way to court to participate in a case to have parental rights terminated when he realized he had pushed his luck too far with his truck. It had to be repaired now, even though he was far from home.
During their conversation, Gregory shared that he facilitates adoptions for children in the foster care system. And Chris shared that he and Stephanie had been praying that God would provide a way for them to adopt.

“When Chris came home, he laid Gregory’s business card on the counter,” said Stephanie. “I was in the middle of dinner. Dylan (their 15 year-old son) wasn’t having a good day. And when Chris told me he had a visitor today, I sarcastically told him…you have visitors every day. He said it was a special visitor, and I told him, yeah, I really don’t want to hear about it right now.”

So Chris just left the business card on the counter and went to change clothes. Stephanie looked at the card and saw Gregory’s title.

“So here I go chasing Chris through the house,” said Stephanie. “He told me about Gregory and that he was willing to come to the house to give us more information.”

When Gregory explained all the subsidies adoptable foster children qualified for, and the minimal cost to the adoptive parents, Chris and Stephanie were ready. But then Stephanie described the child she wanted to adopt, and Gregory explained it didn’t work like that. Stephanie needed time to process the idea that she wouldn’t be able to get the child she had longed for over the past 10 years.

Chris and Stephanie discussed the adoption opportunity during a long driving trip all the way to and from Florida. They agreed to hit the ground running as soon as they got back. They completed their foster parent training in just four weeks, and a month later they were licensed foster parents. Thinking they had several months to prepare for their first foster child, they were surprised when in just a matter of days they got the phone call.

“She asked me if we would take a respite,” said Stephanie. “I told her I must have slept through that part of the class, and I asked, what is a respite?”

Stephanie was told there was a foster family that had a 4 year-old girl named Destany, who just needed a temporary place to stay for five days. Even though everyone in southeast Texas, including the Johnsons, were getting ready for Hurricane Harvey, Stephanie agreed to take Destany…for five days.

Destany’s foster mom called Stephanie to arrange the transfer. She explained that Destany’s brother had medical issues, which meant lots of doctor visits. And because of all the attention her brother was needing, Destany would act-out with self-inflicted scratches, and self-inflicted head wounds. The mom would continue to foster Destany’s brother (and later adopt him), but Destany was just too much for her to handle.

“When I got off the phone, I thought, oh my dear lord, what have I gotten myself into,” said Stephanie. “Then when I went to pick up Destany, the foster mom brought more than just a few changes of clothes. She brought all of Destany’s belongings.”

When Stephanie called the Arrow Beaumont office for clarification, she was told that the foster mom couldn’t handle the children by herself anymore and they wouldn’t be going back. Arrow explained they were hoping to find a placement for Destany during the five days she would be with the Johnsons, but that the foster mom had been specifically told not to bring all the child’s belongings.

That night, the flooding of Hurricane Harvey started. The next morning Stephanie and Chris were having a cup of coffee and watching the hurricane updates when they heard the pitter patter of little feet coming down the hallway. Destany turned the corner, threw up her hands and exclaimed, “Momma, I’m home!”

Stephanie looked at Chris and said, “What do we do? She’s not home. She’s only here for five days!”

They attempted to discourage her, but Destany wasn’t buying it. And when Stephanie told her their first names, Destany said, “No. Mommy. Daddy.” And after introducing their 15 year-old son Dylan, Destany instead, called him “bubba.” Destany was very emphatic and could not be swayed.

Then five days turned into 10, then 15. This was Destany’s fifth placement since entering foster care at 16 months-old, and Stephanie told Chris that something had to be done.

“Are you ready to let her go,” asked Chris.

“No, that’s the problem,” said Stephanie. “She’s forming a bond with us. And if they don’t move her, it’s only going to hurt her more, and it’s going to devastate me.”

Once all the flooding receded, a CPS caseworker came to do a home visit so Destany could stay, but she wanted Stephanie and Chris to also take Destany’s younger brother. But Stephanie explained that Destany had not once acted out or hurt herself since being away from her brother, and they weren’t going to disrupt Destany’s progress by bringing her brother into their home. The caseworker went back to her office and explained to her supervisor the remarkable change in Destany. They decided to arrange a conference call between the CPS staff and Arrow staff to decide if the siblings should be separated.

“On the day of the conference call I was on pins and needles,” said Stephanie. “I was just watching the clock and praying. Then the phone rang. They said I could tell Destany she was home. So when she woke up, I told her she was home, that she wasn’t going to have to move anymore, and that this was her home forever. She looked at me with the biggest grin, and said, ‘I know that.’ Then turned around and walked off.”

After delaying the adoption because of Chris’ mother being ill, the adoption was consummated on June 28, 2018, Destany’s fifth birthday. Along with her new family, she now has a new name, Alivia Joy, who on day one with the Johnsons, prophetically proclaimed…“Momma, I’m home!”


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August 8, 2017

 

 

The medical staff at the hospital said the newborn wouldn’t live for more than a couple of weeks. But they hadn’t met the tenacious Tiffany Ross yet.

Tony and Tiffany Ross had married very young, but they stuck together through the struggles, and reached the point where they were content and happy with their lives. Tony had a good job, they had a nice house, and Tiffany was a stay-at-home mom raising their three kids.

In obedience to God’s calling to foster children in need, Tony and Tiffany have fostered about 25 kids over the years. “We both agreed, we don’t need a bigger family, we don’t want a bigger family,” said Tiffany. “We are fostering. That’s our ministry. That’s what God has called us to do.”

They understood their role was to take in broken children with various limitations, do what was necessary to see them healed and whole, and transition them to their forever adoptive home. But through a series of signs they couldn’t ignore, God changed their ministry to include adoption.

Tony and Tiffany have since adopted Joshua now four years-old, and Gracelyn now 3 years-old. Because of state regulations, another adoption would close their home to foster care. Since they wanted to continue fostering, Tony and Tiffany weren’t planning to adopt again. Not until a series of miracles indicated there was one more child who desperately needed them.

Tiffany was convinced that God wanted them to foster a child who had been diagnosed with a terminal condition. On a Friday, while driving to a couple’s retreat, she called Arrow’s State Director of Health Care Services Sharon Kiely to ask if there was a need for a foster home like that. Sharon told her there wasn’t that need right now, but if God was speaking to her heart, He was preparing her. Since Tony had not received the same message, Tiffany asked Sharon to pray for them as they considered taking in a child and loving on them during their last days.

The very next day, a little boy who was scheduled to be adopted was born in Amarillo, Texas, but because of a defect, the doctors didn’t expect Braylen to live more than a couple of weeks. Of course, the adoption agency backed out of the planned adoption. And two days later, Braylen’s mother abandoned him at the hospital.

The very next day, 650 miles away in Beaumont, Texas, Tony lets Tiffany know he also has heard from God, and they need to prepare to minister to a terminally ill child.

The very next day, Child Protective Services calls Sharon at Arrow asking about a possible home for Braylen. Sharon immediately called Tiffany. Tiffany responded, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

The very next day, the medical staff, social services staff, along with Tiffany and Tony conferred on Braylen’s condition. It was decided that Tiffany would fly to Amarillo to bring Braylen back to Beaumont.

The very next day, exactly one week after calling to ask about the need for families to foster terminal children, the CPS supervisor and case worker picked up Tiffany at the Amarillo airport, and took her directly to the hospital. Shortly after arriving, Tiffany shared contact information for the Texas Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic in Houston. The nurse called the clinic to schedule an appointment for Braylen when they were back home. Normally, an appointment wouldn’t be available for weeks to months, but the clinic was able to see Braylen as soon as they returned, first thing Monday morning at 9:00 am.

Tiffany spent the night with Braylen, and it couldn’t have gone better. Braylen had not been able to finish a full bottle of formula and was being fed through an NG tube. But through the night, and into the next morning, Tiffany was able to get Braylen to take four full bottles. The doctors ordered the NG tube removed.

The very next day, Tiffany and Braylen spent time cuddling and getting to know each other. The connection was instantaneous, Tiffany completely fell in love with this little miracle. Before they left the hospital, the doctor told Tiffany that even though they initially thought Braylen would not be able to survive for more than a couple of weeks at the most, now they really weren’t sure because of his incredible response to Tiffany.

Later that day, when Tiffany arrived at the airport, she noticed things seemed strangely quiet, especially since it was the Christmas season. No people coming or going. The airport seemed almost deserted. As she walked down the hallway with Braylen in her arms, she began to hear singing. She turned and looked into a glass room, and there she saw the back of a choir on risers. They were singing about the newborn Christ-child, “Away in a Manger.”

At the ticket counter, the agent mentioned how precious and tiny Braylen was, and Tiffany responded by telling the agent she was concerned that the flight might be painful for Braylen. The agent assured her that he would be fine. Prior to take off, the pilot and another crew member came back to Tiffany’s seat to talk with her. They understood Braylen had just come from the hospital and that she was concerned about the effects of altitude pressure. The pilot explained that he found a lower altitude that they were cleared for, so he would be able to fly at a level that would have the least possible impact on Braylen. Then the pilot escorted Tiffany and Braylen to first class.

As they flew home through the dark, Tiffany looked down at the clouds and watched a beautiful glowing light below the clouds that led them on their way home.
At Braylen’s Monday morning doctor’s appointment, the prognosis was the same. Braylen had Hydranencephaly and was still considered terminal, with no prediction on how long he might survive.

Within the first month, Braylen’s head started growing exponentially. It surpassed the second and third percentile, and continued to grow until it was no longer measurable for his age category.

Braylen desperately needed surgery to relieve the building pressure in his head, but the earliest the surgeon would attempt it would be at the age of six to nine months. Braylen was 1 month old.

“Braylen was in such pain, he would scream day and night,” Tiffany said. “I stayed with him during the day until Tony came home at 5:00 or 6:00 and I would sleep until midnight. Then I’d stay up all night with Braylen while Tony slept. Tony would go to work in the morning and we’d do the same thing all over again.”

The situation finally escalated to the point where Tony and Tiffany had to take Braylen to the emergency room. While they were waiting for all the consults, Braylen started sundowning. Changes in his condition were changing so rapidly, the hospital admitted them.

The surgeon and two teams examined Braylen and came to the conclusion that Braylen’s discomfort wasn’t from increased intracranial pressure, but was just acid reflux. They put him on Tylenol around the clock and anti-reflux medication. Tiffany wasn’t buying it. She told them, “We’re not going home until we have a happy baby.”

After Tony and Tiffany spoke with another doctor, and after getting patient advocates involved, the surgeon finally agreed to put in a shunt to relieve the intracranial pressure.

When the doctor came out of surgery to let Tiffany and Tony know how the surgery went, he told them that when they pierced the membrane in Braylen’s head, there was quite a bit of pressure that was released. Tiffany thanked him for acknowledging and confirming her diagnosis.

“Braylen was a completely different kid,” said Tiffany. “He was happy. His head growth reverted to a normal growth rate. But even though the procedure brought relief, Braylen still had the looming ‘terminal’ label.”

At their next follow up visit with the surgeon, Tony and Tiffany meet with a palliative care team, who would help keep Braylen comfortable as the end of life came near. They also encourage Tony and Tiffany to prearrange funeral services, which they did. And then they consulted with the Gift of Life team about organ donation.

But Tiffany wasn’t ready to give up. She had been researching online, and found a place in Philadelphia that worked with brain injured kids. On the website, she read family testimonials, she watched videos that demonstrated the progress achieved by patients. Encouraged, Tiffany reached out to them, but never heard back.

While making funeral arrangements, Tiffany was asked if she wanted a burial or cremation. Fighting back the tears, she said she just couldn’t make that decision right then. Then her cell phone rang.

The caller ID on her phone said Philadelphia. Tiffany thought to herself, “Is this somebody calling about my student loans again, or is this actually what I pray it could be?”

After everyone left, she ran outside to a quiet spot and returned the call. It was the team at the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential. Tiffany knew right at that very moment, God was saying, “Don’t give up hope yet.”

Tiffany explained Braylen’s condition, and the response was “That’s great! Let me tell you how we can help and you can see if that works for you.”

Tiffany breathed a prayer, “God, you didn’t give me a kid that was hopeless, you gave me a kid that I could fix. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

The Philadelphia team is currently overseeing Braylen’s intensive treatment program and working with the doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital, but it’s Tony and Tiffany who are administering Braylen’s daily therapy. They send the team videos of Braylen’s progress so adjustments in therapy can be made if necessary. And right now, Braylen is doing remarkably well.

Tony and Tiffany had a big decision to make. Do they continue to foster Braylen, or adopt Braylen giving him a forever family, but at the same time creating a “full house” which closes their home to fostering any more kids.

They had come too far with Braylen. He was already their son. Now they just needed to make it official. So on June 1st, the family celebrated the consummation of Braylen’s adoption. Their new son joined his other five siblings in completing the Ross family. Tony and Tiffany expressed their appreciation to everyone that helped them on their journey in the following note:

“We want to take a moment to say a HUGE thank you to everyone for their help, thoughts, and prayers! Today was a landmark day in Baby Braylen’s Journey as he was “officially” adopted into our family! A day, early on, we weren’t sure he’d live to see, but God clearly has big plans for our little man!

“It was so beautiful to see everyone who came out to support us today! What an emotional experience… adoption is a little like the birth experience in the sense that emotions are high and the love for your baby is overwhelming! But it’s also a bit like a wedding, where everyone is there to witness as you vow before God and the court to raise that child as if he were born from our own bodies. The magnitude of that responsibility is so great, yet it’s such an easy thing to commit to!

“Braylen is such a huge part of our lives and the love we have for him has taken over our hearts so much that it really feels like he was born from my body…adoption is definitely a God thing! And we’re so blessed and honored He chose us to be Baby Braylen’s mom and dad!!!”

Tony & Tiffany Ross


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May 16, 2017

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None of the treatments were working. According to the doctors, there was no medical reason why they couldn’t get pregnant. But Valarie and Evan Maier were trusting in God’s plan and His timing.

“We never prayed for a baby,” said Valarie. “We prayed and prayed for a family.”

The Maiers began looking into adoption but quickly discovered that the cost of a traditional adoption was prohibitive for them. Then a friend, who was a foster parent, explained how inexpensive it was to adopt a foster child and how the state even pays for the child’s support while they are in foster care.

“We decided that while we were waiting to see if the Lord would give us our own bio child…we could give one of His kids a home,” said Valarie.

Valarie and Evan were attending a CPS meeting where they heard about a lot of different foster care agencies, but Arrow’s foundational scripture resonated with them. Psalms 127:3-4 says “Children are a gift of the Lord…like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” For them, confirmation they found the right agency was when they met the Arrow staff. Valarie said, “We just loved the people. They were wonderful!”

The Maiers desire was to foster one child who was 6-years-old or younger. So when their first Arrow fostering experience turned out to be providing respite care for two African-American sisters, one of which was 8-years-old, the Maiers realized their vision was too narrow.

“It didn’t make any sense,” said Valarie. “Why are we putting parameters on what God can do? So we said we’re just going to be open.”

Valarie and Evan grew to love the young sisters, so much so that they tried to adopt them twice. Even though they were being considered, ultimately another family was chosen. Their trust in God’s plan and His timing remained strong.

The first foster child to be placed into their care was Vaughn, a newborn whose drug addicted mother was going into rehab for several months, and his father became incarcerated.

Ironically, just days before Mother’s Day 2013, Vaughn’s parents relinquished their rights. Vaughn’s mother told a case worker that she didn’t think she could make it on her own with him. She also expressed how thankful she was for the good care that Vaugh was receiving, and how she wanted him to stay with the Maiers. During a court proceeding, when Valarie and Evan just happened to be in the room, Vaugh’s father told the judge he couldn’t take care of himself, how could he care for a child.

Adopt VFinally, through Vaughn’s adoption at 15 months old, this loving couple had become what they prayed for…a loving family. But the Maiers were about to experience Ephesians 3:20 which says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”

Less than two weeks after Vaughn’s adoption, Valarie received a call from Arrow asking if they would be open to another placement, a 6-month-old boy named Jace. Valarie and Evan enjoyed plenty of bonding time with Vaughn before his adoption, so the answer was “yes.” But Valarie had the same questions she had asked when they took Vaughn into their home, “What’s the situation with the bio mom…is this a long-term placement or do we have any idea?”

The answer shocked her. Jace’s mom was 14-year-old Ashlyn, whose mother was living with a possible sexual predator accused of raping one of Ashlyn’s school friends, and he was on the run from police. But Ashlyn wasn’t being removed because there wasn’t a group home who could take her. Valarie asked if they were actively looking for a home for her, the surprising answer was “Not at this time.”

Valarie wanted to take Ashlyn and her son Jace, but their license wasn’t adequate. The Arrow staff helped Valarie and Evan get everything taken care of in less than a week so they could open their home to Ashlyn and Jace.

Valarie called Ashlyn and asked if she was planning on raising Jace, or if she thought it might be too much for her to handle. Ashlyn was emphatic that Jace was her son and she was going to raise him. She said, “This is not my fault. I don’t have a job, and I can’t get a job because I just had a baby.” At this point, Ashlyn was an 8th-grade dropout with a six-month-old baby to raise.

After the state placed Ashlyn and Jace with the Maiers, it wasn’t long before Valarie was able to get Ashlyn back in school, partly because of a wonderful teen mom program the school offered. The school bus would pick up Ashlyn and Jace, take them to Jace’s daycare where Ashlyn would check him in every day, then the bus would take her on to school. After school, Ashlyn rode the bus back to pick up Jace before going home.

“She got him dressed every day, she fed him every day, and we did our very best to make sure she understood the difficulties she was facing as such a young mom,” said Valarie. “Their placement in our home came with the condition that we supervise her parenting efforts. But if she wanted to parent, we were going to allow her to be a parent.”

The unique situation of Ashlyn raising 6-month-old Jace while Valarie was raising 16-month-old Vaughn allowed for many practical teaching moments to reinforce Ashlyn’s growing parenting skills.

Ashlyn had been to church a few times in her life and had even accepted Christ as a child, but she never really understood what it meant to be a follower of Christ. Through Valarie and Evan’s strong faith example, and Ashlyn being able to attend church on a regular basis, it wasn’t long before she developed a true relationship with Jesus, even if it did start out a little rough. At the beginning, she begrudgingly attended church, assuming everyone would be judgmental and condemning. Instead, she was embraced and loved by everybody. They even started a single moms group to minister to Ashlyn. One of the focal points of the ministry is called Embrace Grace, which is a combination baby shower and “princess day.” Older ladies in the church cook food for the event, and bring baby gifts, while the young moms get all dressed up so they can see themselves as the Lord sees them – pure and whole, and completely spotless.

After about a year with the Maiers, Ashlyn’s parents relinquished their rights, which presented Ashlyn with multiple options. But because she didn’t have a job and couldn’t support herself, emancipation wasn’t one of them. She could continue in foster care with the Maiers, or they could adopt her. Or she could move to a group home that would take teen moms. Ashlyn said, “I want Jace and me to be a family. And I need a family because I need help.” Ashlyn chose adoption.

Ashlyn AdoptionIn December 2014, Ashlyn’s adoption was finalized, and the state dropped Jace’s case since he and his mom were now in a stable home environment. Not only did Valarie and Evan have Ashlyn as a new daughter, but they also had Jace as a new grandson. But the biggest surprise of all happened just three months earlier when Valarie gave birth to their newest daughter, Meridian. With three kids under three-years-old, “It was a party at our house all the time,” said Valarie.

Having experienced the placement of two babies in their home, and having to scramble to purchase all the baby things they needed, Valarie and Evan decided to start FAM (Foster & Adopt Ministry) to provide the things foster families need for an infant placement. They maintain a clothing closet with prepacked bags of clothes for all different children’s age groups and sizes, plus they provide things like baby beds, bouncers, and walkers. Valarie explains, “Our goal is to fill the gap between the phone call for placement and the child arriving. We bring the practical things the family needs so they can have time to bond and not have to run to the store on day one.”

Valarie’s passion for helping foster kids also led her to train to be a CASA volunteer to advocate for foster children in court. And she continues to encourage others to foster, “Many times I’ve shared with people, anytime you sit at the dinner table and there’s an empty chair, or you walk down the hallway, and there’s a bedroom with no one sleeping in it, that’s an opportunity that’s being missed to witness to and love a child. And they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s the parent’s fault this kid needs help, so help the kid!”

Family outdoorToday, Ashlyn is a high school graduate, she is employed, and Jace is in school, and they have their own apartment. The desire of Ashlyn’s heart is to help other kids who go through the same type of turmoil she has overcome, so she is currently considering her college options in order to pursue a career in counseling.

Ashlyn and Valarie have a fairly typical mother-daughter relationship. “She probably calls me five times a day,” says Valarie. “It’s great! She’s my daughter…it’s just how it is!”

Once again the evidence is undeniable…God’s plan and His timing are perfect.


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December 21, 2016

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At six years old, Raven was often left alone to take care of her baby brother Benji and her four year-old brother Gavin, while their drug and alcohol addicted mother would party with her friends. There were even times when their mother would drag the three children with her while she got wasted.

Neighbors took notice of the children’s situation and called CPS, but when the knock came at the door, their mother told the kids to hide and be quiet. It wasn’t until Raven showed up at school wearing her mother’s clothes that raised a red flag, and school officials intervened.

Their mother was allowed to have a final meal with the children at a McDonald’s before CPS took Raven and her brothers away. For the kids, it was just normal day playing on the McDonald’s playground equipment. Then their mother called them over and began crying as she told the kids they were going to be taken away from her, and she couldn’t do anything about it. The kids started crying and didn’t understand what was happening to them. Emotionally exhausted, Raven fell asleep on the long drive to their new foster parent’s house.

“We were in that home for about two years,” explains Raven, now 19 years old. “But those foster parents only wanted to adopt my baby brother, they didn’t want us older kids.”

The children’s Arrow Ambassador Family Specialist would not consider splitting up the siblings. She told the foster parents it was an all or nothing situation. So Raven and her brothers were taken to the home of Frank and Pam Rogers.

The Rogers had just previously fostered two other children they were hoping to adopt. But they were devastated when the judge granted custody of the children to their biological grandmother. Frank and Pam decided they just couldn’t go through that kind of heart break again. But Mala Ganapati, Arrow’s regional adoption coordinator, contacted the Rogers, and explained how much these three children needed them.

“My first impression of them was that they were very nice,” said Raven. “It’s funny, but they gave us presents the first night we got there, and of course, as a young kid, you’re automatically going to like those people. They were really good at making us feel welcome and making sure all of our needs were met. They always made sure we were doing something fun.”

As wonderful as the Rogers were to Raven and her brothers, Raven still had a lot to overcome from the years of neglect she suffered.

“I suffer from mild depression,” shares Raven. “I used to have to check all doors and windows to make sure they were locked. I also have a mild eating disorder, and once had to have food close to me constantly. I guess I was afraid I might not get any more.

“It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies. We definitely have had our problems, but we work it out. I’m very fortunate to have the parents I have now. I think if I were still with my birth mom now, I’d probably be pregnant, or on drugs. I may not even be alive.”

With Frank and Pam’s love and support, Raven is discovering her purpose in life. Which in many ways began when Frank and Pam were blessed to witness Raven’s baptism in 2014. Then this past semester at the University of Dallas, Raven began to get a clearer picture of what she wanted to do with her life. Even though Raven loved playing basketball for the school, which gave her a higher self-esteem, taught her discipline, and challenged her through competition, something in her heart was changing.

“I felt something much stronger pulling at me, kind of calling out to me to do something different,” said Raven. “I felt a much stronger need to start my future with social work and helping others, sooner rather than later. I really want to help other kids who have experienced the same things I did growing up.”

To follow Raven’s “calling,” she is transferring to a community college near her home, and she is switching majors from psychology to social work. She also contacted the local Arrow office to inquire about an internship or volunteering opportunities.

“I feel like I broke the cycle,” said Raven. “I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I think I’m a pretty good person. I work hard. I am very caring. I’m a strong Christian. I don’t drink or do drugs. I make good grades, and I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college with a degree. I think I turned out well.”

We think so too!

There are many ways to help a child who has suffered abuse or neglect. Of course, by becoming a foster parent, you’ll have the opportunity to make a direct and eternal impact, just like the Rogers had in Raven’s life. Learn more about fostering by attending one of our monthly information meetings. Details are available at www.arrow.org/meeting.



March 23, 2016

shutterstock_336280856Our children are our future and a gift from God. In light of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we’ve gathered some information on the signs of child abuse, what to do if a child comes to you, how to report child abuse, and ways to prevent child abuse.

Signs of Child Abuse

Note: This list is not exhaustive. Trust your gut instinct if you suspect abuse and report it.

  • Unexplained injuries – visible signs of abuse in the form of unexplained bruises or burns, sometimes in the shape of objects; child may have unconvincing explanation of the injury
  • Changes in behavior – scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, aggressive
  • Returning to earlier childhood behaviors – fear of the dark or strangers, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting
  • Changes in eating – the stress caused by abuse can lead to weight gain or loss
  • Fear of going home – kids may express anxiety/apprehension about leaving school or going places with the abuser
  • Changes in sleeping – frequent nightmares or difficulty falling asleep, thereby seeming tired or fatigued
  • Changes in school performance/attendance – difficulty concentrating in class, or excessive absences, especially if adults are trying to conceal injuries
  • Poor personal care/hygiene – appearing uncared for, consistently dirty or have severe body odor, lack proper clothing for the weather
  • Risky behavior – kids abused may participate in risk-taking behavior such as drug use or carrying a weapon
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors – demonstrates unusual sexual knowledge or explicit sexual language

If a Child Comes to You

Should a child come to you and report he or she is being abused, it’s important to remember the following tips.

  • Keep calm and just listen. Try to remain as neutral as possible as the child speaks to you about the abuse. Do not display disgust or shock, as the child might think it has to do with them and not about what has happened to them.
  • Don’t promise not to tell. Instead, say you’ll promise only to tell people who need to know and that you’ll let the child know beforehand.
  • Reassure the child they did the right thing by telling you.
  • Write down everything while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • Report the abuse. You have the power to help a child who is hurting and in danger. You can report anonymously should you so choose.

“Don’t let fear of getting involved prevent you from reporting concerns. It’s our responsibility as a community to prevent abuse,” says Andrea Requenes, Regional Director at Arrow Child and Family Ministries.

How to Report Child Abuse

To report cases of child abuse, contact your local Department of Family and Protective Services. In the state of Texas, this number is 1-800-252-5400. Nationally, you may contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

Ways to Prevent Child Abuse

Scott Lundy, President and CEO of Arrow Child & Family Ministries (Arrow) and President of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, declares, “There needs to be a revolution at the taxpayer level to reach out to our elected officials to demand that more funding be allocated to child abuse prevention services. We have to be able to begin to slow the rate at which children are being abused at home.  It takes the right prevention services to make this happen.”

In order to strengthen parents and families and prevent the cycle of child abuse from occurring, it’s important that parents and caregivers feel they have a support system in place and resources readily available to them. Here’s how you can help.

  • Be willing to be a support system for your neighbors and their kids and grandkids
  • Volunteer in the community by becoming a mentor to kids, or donating time or resources to community organizations
  • Help a family under stress. For example: babysitting, running errands, or helping with chores
  • Get involved in a local school by attending their events (plays, sports games, performances), join the parent-teacher organization, or even start a neighborhood watch

Additionally, make sure to check out the Safe Families for Children program. Safe Families provides breathing room and support for parents in crisis who may need help caring for their children until they can get back on their feet. Volunteers in this program aim to reduce the risk factors for child abuse by coming alongside parents before a situation escalates.

New Program Coming Soon

Arrow Child and Family Ministries in partnership with several area agencies in Houston is excited to announce a new program coming soon called ParentingHelp. Preparing to launch in April, the program will offer resources such as in-home training and support services for families at risk for abuse. For many, these resources couldn’t come at a better time. Those looking to take advantage of the program can expect to receive parenting and discipline techniques as just some of the many benefits through ParentingHelp.

Want to know more? Attend an informational meeting to learn ways you can be involved in a child’s life.

Source: https://www.childwelfare.gov/



March 1, 2016


Baileys2Recently Misty and Randy Bailey adopted Hagen after fostering him for nearly three years. During their journey, the Baileys faced every possible emotional and physical challenge any home could possibly take.

Misty and Randy Bailey started fostering with Arrow at the beginning of 2013, and one-year old Hagen was their first placement. At the time, the CPS worker indicated Hagen would most likely be adoptable since there was no family member currently taking any of the necessary steps to get him back.

Nearly a year later, Hagen’s birth mother showed up. Since she was pregnant again, she decided to start complying with CPS to get her life in order, and possibly have Hagen returned to her.

Misty had never asked Hagen to call her mom, but during his time with the Baileys, Hagen naturally began doing just that. But during Hagen’s family visits with his birth mother, she told him that Misty “isn’t your mother…I am!” At just two years old,  Hagen was confused and distressed. For Hagen, Misty and Randy Bailey were his mom and dad.

The emotional upheaval took its toll on Hagen. His bathroom training regressed, and he starting hiding soiled clothing around the house just to have some kind of control in his life. Then Hagen was hit with another devastating blow when his birth mother passed away a few weeks after a tragic accident.

Misty and Randy struggled with continuing to foster due to the extreme emotional turmoil Hagen was going through, but they never gave up. They believed this little boy’s life was in God’s hands, and through His providence Hagen would eventually be where God wanted him to be. After nearly three years of struggling, growing and loving together, prayers were answered recently when Hagen’s adoption was consummated. And yes, Hagen Wesley Bailey is exactly where God wants him to be…at home with his real mommy and daddy, Misty and Randy.



November 19, 2015
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Savannah (second from left) with her father, mother and three brothers.

 

Last year, 20,936 teens in foster care awaited adoption, but less than a quarter were welcomed into a permanent family.

That’s just one reason why 14-year-old Savannah’s adoption Wednesday was so special.

She joined her adoptive family in front of a judge on Wednesday, and told him she wanted to officially become a Larramendi. When the judge granted the adoption, applause erupted in the room.

For Savannah’s father, Ulises, finalizing the adoption was just icing on the cake. To him, she was already his daughter.

“I knew she was my daughter when she came to us in June,” Ulises said. “We’ve thought of her as our daughter since day one. God has been impacting our lives through her from that moment on. It’s an eternal thing.”

Maria and Ulises Larramendi felt God had called them to adopt a teenager, and Savannah was placed with them about six months ago, after being in the foster care system for more than two years.

Savannah described her parents as “pretty chill,” and her three older brothers as “very protective.”

“In my bio-family, I was the oldest, but now I’m the youngest, so I’m getting used to that,” she said.

Ambitious and confident, Savannah has big plans for the future.

“I want to go to college at Texas Tech and become a choir teacher, and the color guard director,” she said. “I love music, and those have always been my favorite electives in school.”

Now with the full support of a permanent family, her dreams are closer to reality than ever. Her parents couldn’t be more proud of her.

But that’s not to say there haven’t been bumps along the way. Parenting a teenage girl is always difficult, and throwing years of being in the child welfare system on top of that just adds to the challenge.

Ulises said that he and his wife both get emotional when they look at baby pictures of Savannah, wishing that they could have adopted her before she went through so much hurt and trauma. However, they trust that God put them in her life at the right time.

Ulises credits Arrow staff for helping him prepare for the difficulties of being a foster parent by being upfront about its realities.

“One thing Arrow did in every class was be brutally honest, and encouraged us to be brutally honest as well, and now I know why they do it,” Ulises said. “When Jamie (a former Arrow Family Home Developer) said ‘You need to pray this up every day,’ now we know why. But at the end of the day (Savannah’s) life has changed, and God is glorified.”



November 5, 2015

Arrow recently joined forces with Hope For Tomorrow, a fellow Christian foster care agency in Texas, and will operate in four new cities as a result of the acquisition—San Angelo, Brownwood, San Marcos and Harlingen.

Hope For Tomorrow offices in Amarillo, Granbury and Copperas Cove will merge with existing Arrow offices, bringing new resources, staff members and foster kids into the Arrow family in those regions.

Arrow now operates 12 offices across the state, and is providing our exemplary care and services to more than 200 additional foster children, for a total of 1,200 children across the nation.

“This joining of forces makes Arrow the largest foster care agency in the State of Texas,” said Arrow CEO Scott Lundy. “This only serves to position Arrow as a leader in the National Child Welfare arena.”

To find out more about becoming a foster parent, visit www.arrow.org/foster.

new offices


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