2 years ago tomorrow (Nov. 23) at 6pm, my life changed forever.  That was the day that three beautiful children walked into our home.

Dwight and I had done Foster Care before.  During our third year of marriage, we got hooked into an agency called San Mar in western Maryland that trains, licenses and resources families to do “Treatment Foster Care.”  This is normally a group of kids who have higher levels of need, either because of medical issues, developmental delays, or psychological issues.  We spent almost a year working with San Mar, and had two Foster children during that time.

When we moved to West Virginia, we decided that we needed a break, especially since Dwight was working at a job with the same demographic of teens.  But after a year of living in a huge house with extra bedrooms, our home and hearts felt empty without the laughter of children.  So we geared back up, found a wonderful agency called the Children’s Home Society, and got re-licensed.

We spent three months taking classes on stuff we’d already learned and lived in real life.  We re-did our CPR and First Aid, filled out tons and tons of paperwork, got fingerprinted, had our background checks re-done, and asked friends to write references for us.  We finished our part of the process in April and every month I would call and ask the worker if she’d completed and processed our paperwork so that we could be matched with a child.  They were extremely backlogged.

Finally in November of 2011 we got the call.  “We have a sibling group of 3 girls that we need to move into a new home.  We’re going to rush through your license because we think it would be a good fit.  They are 15, 6, and 5.  What do you think?”  Dwight and I were hesitant to take teens again, but knew that placing a sibling group like this would be hard for the agency to do. So we prayed, took a deep breath and said yes.  Then we began preparing.  We put out a call to friends and family asking if anyone had an extra twin bed.  “No rush” we said, because the agency thought we would take a couple of weeks to complete the transfer.  We’ll do a couple of get-to know you meetings, and then maybe try an overnight, and then a weekend, and make the transition go smoothly they said.  The next day they called back and said, how bout we bring them over next week? Sure, I replied, trying not to panic.  After a second call for twin beds, we had friends who could give us two.  We ended up only having to buy one (and the company threw in a free cover!)

We began leisurely moving things that had been stored in our extra bedrooms to new homes.  Not worrying too much, because it was the week of thanksgiving, and we wouldn’t be getting them until the next weekend.  It was our year to host thanksgiving again, and this year my whole family came.  All 7 siblings plus a brother-in-law, my parents, 3 nieces and a nephew, 1 cousin.  Normal for us.

And then my cell phone rang again.  Can we bring them over tonight?  I told the worker that my whole family was there (and explained what that meant in terms of numbers!) We were fine, my family is used to lots of people, but I didn’t want the girls to be overwhelmed and the placement to fail because of it.  “We’ll be there at 6,” he replied.

The last twin bed got delivered at 5pm.

So in the girls walked.  2 little girls with round faces, one exuberantly chasing after the cats right away (that hasn’t changed) 1 a little shyer but with sparkling brown eyes, and 1 quietly reserved teenager (that has changed!)  I shook the teenager’s hand, and introduced myself, and then knelt down to do the same to her sisters.  “I’m Tricia, and this is Dwight, nice to meet you.”  The teen quickly piped up, “can they just call you mom and dad, they aren’t good with names, and it’s easier.”

And that was it.

I asked them today if they remembered the day they moved in.  Ivy said all she remembers is that it was a lot of people she didn’t know.  “But now I do!” she said.

It’s two years later, our teenager will be 18 in just a few weeks, but she is legally ours forever.  Her sisters are 7 and 8 and I just tucked them into bed.  This week the 8 year old told me that she was jealous that “sissy’s” adoption was done and hers was not.   She was afraid that it would not happen,  that we would change our minds and she wouldn’t be our “forever daughter” like Amira is.  I reminded her of the state’s rule, that they have to live with us in Maryland for 6 months (even though they’d been with us in WV for over 6)  But we already filled out the paperwork, waiting for the deadline.  I reminded her that we’d fought and fought and fought for them to come back and live with us again, and we would never let anyone change that now.  I kissed her and hugged her and told her that she was already my “forever daughter,” the rest is just paperwork.

It’s been two years of waiting.  Two years of court dates, and therapy appointments.  Two years of social workers and endless paperwork.  Two years of driving them to visitations with bio-mom. Two years of transitions.  Two years of heartbreak when they weren’t with us, and hard goodbyes.

But it’s also been two years of miracles.  Two years of hugs and kisses at night.  Two years of watching them learn to talk to God when they’re scared or worried.  Two years of “can we snuggles,” and “can I have a kiss.”  Two years of reading storybooks and helping with homework.  Two years of singing songs in the car, and two years of “I love you.”

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Two years of being a family, even when we were not.

People always tell me how lucky the girls are to have us, but I know that the really lucky ones are Dwight and I.

So tomorrow at 6pm, I will offer up a simple prayer of thanks for my family.  We won’t all be together, but I know that each of us will think of our first thanksgiving together, and can’t wait for more to come.

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