‘Anthony was the ‘throw away child,’ in and out of foster care since 4 years old.’: Family adopt teen stuck in foster care

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“I was once told by a fellow adoptive mom, ‘Adoption is not for the weak of heart.’ And I held that nugget of knowledge in my journey. I had been blessed with a life filled with children. I was a youth minister for ten years, taught preschool, substituted in the public school, and raised two biological daughters. I think from being a parent and working with children most of my adult life, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The majority of parents are great, but those are not the children that burrow their way into your heart in a special way. It is the broken and bruised keeping me up, praying for their safety and planning ways to let them know they were wonderfully created with a special purpose. I wanted to plant a seed deep in their heart they could grow with the right love and care. It was a burden I carried with me. I wore it as a badge of great honor to have the opportunity to fill a broken heart with love that did not come from me. It was a God-blessed calling.

As my children grew, I felt God leading me to ‘go’ to Africa. This was not something I had ever planned on doing. It was a challenge I was afraid to accept. It would mean risk and being an ocean away from the safety of my family. So, I prayed and prayed. I asked my family to give me their blessing. They reluctantly did. As I obeyed God’s direction, I saw such wonderful and heart-breaking things. I felt vulnerable and leaned into God’s great strength, and He guided me through a deeper lesson of suffering. It was here that God put the desire in me to adopt. I assumed the child would be from Zambia, and I even had met a child I believed I would adopt. But God had other plans…

Courtesy of Valerie Devine

As I led the youth ministry in El Paso, Texas, I met my son. I worked for Young Life there. Each summer, we took kids to camp. One morning a middle school child showed up at my home. He was a foster child and his foster mom had the wrong date. He was a week early. He was so disappointed. And my heart tugged a little for this little boy. He was so sad. He was a chubby boy. His name was Anthony. He had been in and out of foster care since he was four years old. Eventually, he went into foster care permanently.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine

When he was about six years old, he went to school and came home to find out his brother had been hit in the stomach by the foster dad. His brother died of internal bleeding. His family was separated and, eventually, his two sisters were adopted. Anthony was not. He was placed in another home without his sisters. I can only imagine the heartache Anthony suffered. Anyone who works with children know they cannot express deep grief, sadness, and rejection in healthy ways. Anthony’s behavior became out of control and they sent him to a residential treatment home. By the time Anthony was about nine years old, he had become known for running away and he had received so much trauma. Anthony was what one could call a ‘throw away child.’ But God had a different story for him to tell.

Anthony was brought back to El Paso and was placed with a lady who worked with difficult children. She nurtured him, and he settled in. He felt safe and loved. It was through the older boys Anthony was able to go to camp and how God introduced me to my son. At camp, Anthony was a handful. Anthony was Black and Mexican and would later define himself as ‘Blaxican.’ He was proud and very defensive. At camp, they had a dress-up day and it was supposed to be a certain theme, but Anthony decided he would be 50 Cent. He was rebellious, but loved to swim and came home with the worst sunburn. He lived in the pool. I did not go to this particular camp. We would meet again later. Anthony was 12 when he went to camp.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine

Later that fall, I took high school students to a camp and who would I meet again? Anthony. Anthony was too young to be at this camp. He came with a rough crowd. My mama’s heart kept a close eye on him. It wouldn’t matter if I did because he wanted to be with us. It was during a worship time where I felt God telling me, Anthony was to be my son. I made the decision to go home and check the adoption list to see if he was available to be adopted, so I could be his mom. And he was available for adoption. We immediately took the classes and within six months we were visiting, and he moved in. I remember our first meeting — we went for Chinese and it was Anthony’s 13th birthday. He loved Sesame Chicken. He was shy, but polite. I fell in love and I was his mama. I thought of him all the time. I prayed for him and our hearts began to intertwine. He was my boy.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine
Courtesy of Valerie Devine

My family was from the Midwest and we are White. We had been in El Paso for about ten years. We had learned so much and the Lord showed me so much on the three trips to Africa for missions and missions in Mexico. But, it was not enough to prepare me for the resistance we still have about interracial relationships. When we went out I could feel the judgement from all directions and it was directed at my son. Judgement fell on me as if I committed some deep sin. Tolerance had been shown towards him by others, but tolerance is not acceptance. It is just the politically correct way of being relevant.

I can say my heart broke more in this time than any other. Anthony had been put in a behavioral class and was tormented daily. See, Anthony had a joyful nature but had to hide it to survive. He was called the N-word and treated rudely by the Hispanic and White kids. He was in between and did not belong. So, imagine when his White mom came to pick him up from school. The teachers gave him a pass and did not require much as far as academics. As I said before, he was a throw away child.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine

Courtesy of Valerie DevineI say this because it was my job as his mom to advocate on his behalf. And I was at the school many times, doing that job. People could not see the child he was going to become. They just saw the broken child. They did not see the child who sat at our table, happy he was squished in between his brother (his mentor) and sister, having a family meal. It was important for me to have a mentor for Anthony, and he had a few, but one he called his brother. He was so happy to belong. But the world’s rejection and the pressure became too much. Anthony hated school and would actually try to run away. It was in this one bad moment, he decided to reject us. And I was exhausted and let him. Anthony moved away. I was devastated. But God wasn’t finished with me or Anthony.

Anthony was removed from our home. Days after he left, I was back at the foster care agency trying to get him back. I was told I could not visit him. It was a sad time where I hoped to see him. I tried getting in contact with people who knew him, but it went silent. Until one day, I got a call from some unknown phone. Anthony had decided to borrow a phone and called. He said, ‘Hi, mom. How are you? Oh, I got to go.’ My husband and I began foster care classes and within a year Anthony was back home with us.

When Anthony was with us the first time, he spoke at our banquet. Here is his speech:

My name is Anthony Sosa. I go to Indian Ridge Middle School. I am in the eighth grade. I went to Wyld Life Camp two times. Camp was fun and beautiful. I spent most of my time at the pool and on the slide. I was scared to go on the mountain bike trip, but I went and ended up falling. I felt like laughing. I learned from God nobody is perfect, and he still loves us. After that, I went to Winter camp where I met a family I did not know was going to adopt me. But look where I am now, I am being adopted and I feel happy. 

Courtesy of Valerie Devine
Courtesy of Valerie Devine

Adopting a teenager with many hurts and a lot of anger is delicate work. Knitting them a knot into the family takes time and many failures. But it is the picking up and starting over attitude that wins. It is reassurance and love that can begin to heal many wounds. As much as I loved my biological children, I loved my son. It took many restarts.

Anthony graduated with his grade, but it came with many arguments and tears. Tennis became a saving grace and motivator for him to go to school. Anthony visited his sisters and was as secure as he could be. Anthony graduated in 2012, and the summer was one of many trials. He moved in with his sister for six weeks. I let him go with my blessing. I was afraid of losing him, but he would call me daily. He was on his journey of discovering who Anthony, the man, would choose to be. For any man, this is a trying time. College was a struggle and he was striving to join the Army. Who am I? Where do I belong? These were questions haunting him at the time. I know he knew this mama loved him, but so many things were confusing him. Anthony had forgiven the man who killed his brother, but the wounds were deep.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine
Courtesy of Valerie Devine

Anthony eventually moved home and was working toward the goal of joining the Army. When a child has grown up in foster care, they do not have the same life skills as a child who has not. They have been told what to do most of their life. It takes more time for them to mature.  The freedom is difficult. Boundaries become blurred and the freedom brings temptations that can distract you. Anthony was very involved in his youth group and I leaned on his mentors to help guide him.

I did not know the Lord was going to only bless us with him for a few years.

On December 19, 2012, Anthony went to youth group and came home. He was a little angry before he left for youth group. But Anthony always said ‘I love you’ before he left. He came home, checked on me and said he had a headache. At 5:30 a.m. on December 20, 2012, I went to wake up Anthony. He was not responsive. We called the ambulance, they took him to the hospital. I remember feeling like a child (so small) as I rode with him in the ambulance. He was somewhat alert and became scared. I could hear them telling him to calm down. I told him I was there.

The family arrived at the hospital and Anthony was slowly slipping away. He had a brain bleed. They showed us a scan. Anthony was brain dead. I remember the moment I felt him slipping into the Father’s arms. He had been holding his hand and they had given him some platelets and I remember at one point telling him, ‘It’s okay to go.’ I would see him again. His hand went limp. His spirit was free. But I was left here without the boy God had blessed me with for such a short time. I remember falling to the floor and some cry that comes from the depth of your soul came out. I remember the pain beyond anything I had experienced. My son was gone.

Courtesy of Valerie Devine

We had a memorial celebration and many of Anthony’s classmates showed up. We praised God and shared memories. Anthony was in his forever home. It wasn’t quite as easy for me. It gets less painful, but this mama misses the hand that would slip into mine as we watched TV. The belly laugh that would come from his joyful heart. God knows I miss that boy. He will forever live in my heart. I know he is at peace and he knows his mama loved him.

We eventually adopted another teenager and fostered many children. The grief journey is one you continue on until the day you meet again. Have grace for your broken heart. It will begin to heal. Telling Anthony’s story keeps him alive and I hope encourages others to adopt. I know my journey started with God calling me to this child. And I will forever be grateful for this gift. Even if it were short. Adoption is not meant for the weak at heart. It is meant to break us and build us up again into a family. Our whole family took their own journey during our adoption journey, they were equally as important, and their stories will all be a part of the purpose God lays on their hearts. We did it together.”

Courtesy of Valerie Devine
Courtesy of Valerie Devine

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Valerie Devine of El Paso, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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