VIRGINIA — The Anderson family had a full escort Tuesday as they went to the Virginia courthouse. Police vehicles led the parade complete with the guests of honor standing in the back of a truck and supporters holding signs and cheering.

Bekkah and Joel Anderson and 12-year-old Xavier wore matching red shirts proclaiming “Family Forever” in gold. A yellow sign hung from the door of the truck they rode in that said “Adoption Day!” in big bubble letters.

The celebration was not because they were COVID free, even though the test results arrived that morning. They were celebrating because Tuesday, the courts finalized what they already knew- that they were a family. Now, they were on their way to be a legal family.

2 Become 3, 4, 5...

The Andersons have been foster parents in St. Louis County for the past two years.

“When we originally got into foster care, we were asked about being fos-adopt,” said the pair over the phone Monday night, referring to the foster-to-adopt label some homes' request while building their forever family. “We said ‘No, no. We just want to be a stop gap.’”

Once licensed they immediately received their first placement, a 14 year-old boy.

“It was an interesting thing to jump into,” recalled Joel. “We went from no kids to a teenage boy.”

While getting licensed they heard the common statement that people didn’t want to expose their biological children to the foster care world. “We thought, well, we don’t have that problem,” said Bekkah; the couple wasn’t scared off.

In the past two years, the Andersons have had 10 placements, all boys ranging in age from 6 to almost-18. Some were with them only for a short period of time, while others longer. After the conclusion of one long placement, the couple began discussing fos-adopt.

“OK, we can do this,” Bekkah recalled saying to Joel.

That was last June. They got the call in September.

“We prayed about it,” said Bekkah. “We hadn’t met him and didn’t know anything about him, but knew it was right.”

They recalled the first time they met Xavier. “Everything he said and did- we knew he would be a perfect fit for our family. For example, he said he liked trying new foods and loved seafood and sushi.”

Joel jumped in, “Not many kids say they like sushi! He just fits so well.”

Xavier began spending weekends with the Andersons as they got to know each other. “He would say, ‘This is the best home I’ve ever been to! You have so many different kinds of foods!’” recalled Joel.

At the time, the Andersons didn’t have a TV. Xavier was really into video games. What could have been an issue allowed them the opportunity to bond over board games. “We got to know him through them,” said Joel with Bekkah humming her agreement in the background.

By October, Xavier had moved in full-time.

“He is a happy kid,” said Joel. “That is neat because he has been through a lot but still has a lot of optimism.” Bekkah added, “He has a joyful personality in general.”

Then, the coronavirus hit, shutting down the nation and keeping kids home.

“We’ve tackled a lot of hurdles in a short period of time,” said Bekkah explaining that all the time together led to heightened focus on their relationships.

During the lockdown, the family grew and then shrank through other placements. Now, just the three of them, the family is taking a break while they get to know each other.

Thoughts on Foster Care

“When you go into a new country you have to learn their cultural norms- like how to sit at the dinner table and have a conversation and ask to be excused,” Bekkah said explaining this was a new experience for Xavier to learn. “It was a whole new mindset.”

Both Bekkah and Joel have traveled and know what living in a new culture is like. They credit those experiences for preparing them for foster care.

What advice does the Anderson family have for those considering becoming foster parents?

“Xavier said to say, if you are thinking about it, pray about it,” said Bekkah relaying the message. “If you think that it is good — do it. Because lots of kids need homes.”

Bekkah said they don’t have any regrets with their foster care journey.

Joel agreed adding, “You can’t go into foster care thinking it will be easy, it won’t be. Regardless of the difficulty, you are making a big difference in the lives of these kids by helping them through some really difficult times.”

Family Forever

On the eve of their adoption day Joel looked back. “Even though we’ve pushed the process as fast as it can go, it still takes a long time. We are excited to be done with that. A big part, too, is that we will no longer be connected to foster care and that will be incredible.”

No longer will social workers, guardians, lawyers and the court be ever present in their lives and in and out of their house. The parents won’t have to immediately pick up a phone when something happens - or is going to happen. The adoption makes Xavier an Anderson and Bekkah and Joel the decision makers.

“He is our first official child,” said Bekkah. “Maybe it is more terrifying to know that we don’t have to make those calls!”

The three Andersons are not in this alone. They have a strong support system including their church family at North Star Church in Virginia. One of these friends, Emily Heitke, was the organizer of Tuesday’s parade.

“I am organizing the parade because this needs celebrating!” Heitke exclaimed over email, Monday. She is friends with the couple and has supported their foster care and adoption journey.

“I felt both excited and sad for Bekkah as I learned their family was going through adoption. Excited, because I know her and Joel will, and have been, great parents to all of the kids they have fostered. They truly care about kids and teaching children what God's love looks like, by selflessly loving on each of the kids they have fostered, provided respite for, and are now adopting!” said Heitke. “I was sad, because adoption, while exciting and necessary--at times, is always born out of trauma and loss.”

The congregation of North Star Church recently completed a course on the book “Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-centered adoption and orphan care” and they make a concerted effort to support foster and adoptive families, of which the church has several.

“In the last couple of years, our church has had a heart at adoption and really supported that,” said Bekkah explaining that she organizes a clothing closet open to all foster families.

Reflection

On Wednesday, when asked how the big day went, Bekkah emailed saying, “The day was emotionally all over the place. We are all relieved to have it done. I think we were all holding our breath at the end so that we didn't say the wrong thing, but it went really fast. We can now travel to other states without having to carry around judge orders in our glove box!”

What do the new parents want Xavier to know when he is older?

“No matter the difficulty, we will continue to be your parents and continue to love you,” said Joel with Bekkah adding, “because God is faithful and has a plan.”

Heitke also has a note for the grown-up Xavier. “In 20 years I would want Xavier to know: Bekkah and Joel have always been and will be in this 100%. You are family, and this thing is forever! I hope you can look back on your Adoption Day with fond memories from the celebration, but also know that all of the emotions you have about your Adoption Day are 100% real and valid. I hope you continue to grow in your faith. It is going to be awesome to be able watch your dedication and church and celebrate with cupcakes! Xavier, you are a blessing, and I can't wait to see the plans God has for your life!”

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