“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:16-18 NLT).
When Manny and I were getting to know each other in 2010, we talked about being foster parents. He was on board to take in babies and toddlers, but I was thinking along the lines of a teenager. I guess I always liked adventure. What really made me desire to want to be a foster mother was the love my stepdad, “dad,” showed me. My mom married my dad when I was 15, and we packed up and moved from Argentina to Kennesaw, Georgia. Most people do not believe it now, but I was a difficult teen. Looking back, I do not know how my dad really put up with me, but he stuck around. When I was 19, and my mom died, dad and I stayed together. We held each other up. I think it was sometime during those years that I figured out that my dad really loved me for who I was. Not only that, but he believed in me. He supported me all through college, until I got my Master’s degree in Social Work.
There I was. On my last year as a graduate student, completing a fellowship at Families First as a Continuous Quality Improvement Intern, when I met Manny. I was a different woman than when I was 15, not only because I was older, but because dad had stuck around and believed in me. And after a while, I started to believe in me, too. So I knew that the man I was going to marry needed to be willing to believe in some teenager long enough for he or she to believe. Manny agreed to think about it, and that was good enough for me.
Fast-forward to Mother’s Day weekend of 2011. I am graduating with my master’s degree (picture above), Manny is getting his undergraduate degree in engineering and commissioning into the Air Force, all his family is in town… and oh yeah, we also got married.
A month later, we waived our honeymoon, and we embarked on a mission trip to Ukraine with the Mount Paran Choir and Hope House International. Manny and I, along with other choir members, visited 10 orphanages and talked to children about God. It was a life changing experience, and we came back wishing we could have done more. Manny was really impacted by a little boy in Ukraine and was moved by the thought of so many children without parents. I shared his feelings, and I told him that I could take him somewhere in the US where children also need someone to be there for them. Remember Families First? The place where I was doing my fellowship while finishing my graduate degree? Well, I started working with them as a case manager at a group home for teens in foster care. It just happened that, before Manny and I got married, I heard that Families First (which by the way is an amazing non-profit serving families and children) was developing an innovative program called “Make it Click.” This program trains volunteers to become mentors for youth who are in foster care, but the cool thing about it is that they do not match volunteers with youth. Instead, they provide opportunities for the volunteers to meet the youth and develop relationships organically. I was all about that! So when we got back from Ukraine, I insistently “encouraged” Manny to join Make it Click with me.
It did not take long for Manny to be excited about the opportunity. When he met Valodya (aka “V”) at the first “Make it Click” event, they instantly “clicked.” Manny began visiting the group home where V was living, and eventually became V ‘s mentor. Turns out that V is originally from Ukraine! Who would have thought? God did! Everything came together full circle: Manny was mentoring a wonderful teenager from Ukraine shortly after we got back from Ukraine. Later, we learned that V was once in an orphanage in Ukraine and came to the US when he was 5 years old.
During the holiday season, Manny and I realized we really wanted to spend Christmas with V. We had to go through a process, but the Department of Families and Children Services (DFCS) approved visits just in time. We were ecstatic! We could not stop thinking and talking about the upcoming visit! On Christmas day, we picked V up at 7am, made breakfast, opened presents, went to church, and bummed on the couch watching the Christmas parade and hanging out with friends the whole day.
Christmas was outstanding, and really inspired Manny and me. We knew that, with Manny going into the Air Force, we were going to move to Florida. The more we thought about it, we knew we could not leave V behind. Manny and I knew that God brought the three of us together for a purpose, so one night, before going to bed, Manny and I decided that we were going to pursue adoption.
Once we started the process of obtaining guardianship, we visited offices, exchanged multiple emails and phone calls with DFCS, and waited. The process was long and complicated, and there were barriers, tears, hope, and fear of the possibility of a”NO.” However, on May 2, 2012, Manny, V, and I became a family, thanks to God and all the people involved to make it happen! Manny moved to Florida on May 6th, and V and I followed on May 16th, after V finished the school year.
Now in Florida, we are going through this journey together, as we seek to become a stronger family who lives a life wholly devoted to God, understanding that he brought us together and will bring us through. I hope you can join us in this journey and follow us as we learn to live healthy from the inside out, honor God, and love each other.