Empty vodka bottles surrounded the body of a 2-year-old boy named *Bud. He wasn't dead, just "zoned out," his way of coping with the trauma of his life. Adults were present in the home, but unavailable - they were all passed out, drunk.
On a different day, in the same house, a terrified 3-year-old girl named *Sister stared out the kitchen window, paralyzed as she watched her father set her mother's hair on fire. This was after her mother had been dragged from the house by her hair. The fight had started several minutes earlier at the dinner table.
After several instances like these, law enforcement removed Bud, Sister, and *Mini -- another sibling -- from their home near Tulsa in January 2010. Authorities placed the trio first in state custody at the Laura Dester Shelter and then into a series of foster homes. After almost two years, court officials terminated parental rights, and the children -- now adoptable --were matched in October 2011 with a newly married couple named Jason and Lindsay.
During November's National Adoption Month, stories of kids like this sibling group are highlighted to raise awareness of the thousands of children in state custody needing a home and a family.
Jason and Lindsay had been high school sweethearts and were in no hurry to have children. Lindsay, herself adopted, had thought about adoption but had put it on the back burner until she met an unforgettable little girl named *Jessie at the Bixby public school where she worked as a teacher's assistant.
"Jessie was in my kindergarten class. Although she smelled like pee all the time, had holes in her shoes, and struggled in almost every subject, she had the cutest smile and the sweetest disposition," Lindsay said. "She literally made my heart feel like it was melting. I knew she was not taken care of, but I also knew she was in the care of her biological family ... [so there was] not much I could do."
Lindsay and Jason made inquiries with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services about the girl's situation, but outside of asking about Jessie, they felt helpless to do anything to assist her.
One day, Lindsay went to work and heard from the teachers that Jessie and her brother had moved out of state to live with relatives. And just like that, Jessie and her brother were gone. Lindsay was devastated. "I was so sure in my heart she was the one God wanted us to go after, but in hindsight, she was the catalyst for something else for us," she said.
In the summer of 2010, the couple made friends with a woman named Heather Elyse through their local church, Lifechurch.tv. At the time, Elyse had adopted seven children through DHS as a single woman, starting at age 20. (Since then, Elyse has adopted several more children, including some from Haiti where she works as a missionary.)
"She began telling us statistics about abuse and neglect in Oklahoma, and about the foster-to-adopt system in general. That's when we really got serious about it, and started the paperwork process," Lindsay said of her discussions with Elyse.
The couple thought that the process of getting approved to adopt would only take a few months. They thought they would have a child by Christmas 2010.
In reality, after a series of delays, their process took closer to a year and a half. When dealing with DHS, "You have to really want to do it," Lindsay said.
But in October 2011, things started to look up when the couple received a letter stating that they had been matched. When Lindsay saw the picture of one of the cases they were matched to, an adorable sibling set of three, she knew almost immediately that they were meant to be her and Jason's kids. "Oh my gosh, I love them!" she remembered thinking. She thought it probably felt very much like a mother who gives birth and meets her child face-to-face for the first time in the delivery room -- even though they were strangers at the time.
The couple met the kids in January. The connection was instant and after several weeks of visits, the children moved to their new home in March. They had found their forever family.
Many changes have occurred since the kids came home. Each child came with his or her own set of obstacles. They also had to adjust to living with each other because at times they had been in separate foster placements.
An important decision the couple made was to home-school. "We chose to home-school because we really felt there was a level of bonding that our family needed that wouldn't be achieved had they been in public school. We are still getting to know them, and they us, and it's been the best decision we've made," Lindsay said. Besides academically, Lindsay believes that home-schooling has helped their children both intellectually and emotionally.
Through consistency, love, and faith, each child is showing remarkable growth. "They are becoming respectful of our family model," said Lindsay. Now 6, Sister is learning to express her feelings and how to bond. Bud, now 4 years old, was diagnosed as autistic. Rarely speaking above a whisper before, he now loves to laugh, learn, and be around others. And Mini, their active 3-year-old son, is learning all about healthy boundaries.
After their adoption is finalized, hopefully by Thanksgiving, Lindsay and Jason plan to adopt more children. "We believe that as long as God is blessing us with the resources -- and energy -- to do this, we can't stop! The kids are a part of that decision, and they are excited and can't wait!" she said.
When asked if they planned to have biological children too, Lindsay said, "If [pregnancy] is God's will for us, it will happen too. But adoption is something we have clearly heard him call us to, and do not feel it would be obedient of us to say, 'We need to have our own first.'"
"I think that since there are so many children in state custody that it would be selfish not to adopt," Jason added.
Lindsay agreed. "Many will only consider adoption as a last resort to make a family when fertility has failed," she said. "[T]hese days, you can make very specific choices based on the birth families' background [in private adoptions] ... With DHS, you can't do that. Sure, there are some details in the file, but there are so many unknowns."
"Those are the hurting kids ... the ones who eventually lose hope when they move past that baby age ... the older, more damaged, and sibling groups. Adopting through DHS gives these kids a family and history and a place to belong when they might never have one otherwise," Lindsay said.
And whatever happened to Jessie?
"I do think about her all the time, and wonder where she is now and how she is doing," Lindsay said. "She is in third grade now. I hope she is loved."
But for now, three more Oklahoma children have found love, safety, and a forever family.
*All children's names used are nicknames to protect their privacy.
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