“When I stop to think about how this journey began, it’s rather humbling. Ever since I was in high school, I had this longing to ‘save’ a child, and adopt them. How ironic that in the end, 10 years deep in foster care and adoption, I was the one being saved, in more ways than one. I don’t know where this longing came from, except straight from the Lord, but the longing for it, never dulled.
During my sophomore year, I fell in love with my high school sweetheart, who is now my husband, Eric. We actually met a little restaurant in our hometown called Hot Dog Heaven. The restaurant was part of our local prison work-release system, so we had inmates working with us during the day. A bus would drop them off in the morning to do their shifts and pick them up in the afternoon to return them to jail. I really believe the Lord put me in this restaurant to learn how to build relationships with women who had made mistakes, some BIG mistakes, and to show me how they were worthy of the same forgiveness we all are. I quickly made some lasting friendships with these women, some I still carry to this day.
Eric and I were married on Oct 20, 2007, after three years of dating. Married life came with its challenges but we embraced life together. Those years of growing together before our lives turned upside down were so bittersweet. Two years after getting married, I gave birth to our son, Ryder. He was perfect but that new parent joy quickly faded. During my pregnancy, I had a freckle that had changed colors. I didn’t think much of it because your skin does some crazy things when pregnant. After his birth, I went to get it checked out, as it had started turning black. I was officially diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma just 6 weeks after giving birth. I remember leaving the surgeon’s office when he told me I had a 50/50 chance it had already spread throughout my body. When I came out of surgery, they let us know they were able to remove every last bit of it. We were overjoyed, to say the least, but knew my child-birthing days would need to come to an end to lessen the chances of my melanoma reoccurring. I was devastated at the thought of not having any more biological children but knew the Lord was calling us to adopt. We needed to step out in faith and start the process.
We quickly flew through the application, classes, home study, and started the waiting period to be matched with a child 0 to 5 years old. When they say you hurry up to wait, they aren’t joking. We waited for an entire year and the phone never rang. It was during this waiting period I started to look into foster care. The more research I did, the more I questioned if I could say goodbye to a child. I just kept feeling like the Lord was telling me to trust, have faith, and say yes. I brought foster care up to Eric and he was 100% a no. His family had fostered a sibling group once when he was young, and he had a really bad experience. The more I brought it up, the more he didn’t budge. I finally prayed, ‘Okay Lord, I feel called to take this step, so I need you to either change his heart, or change mine.’
Three months later, we were eating dinner and he randomly just blurted out, ‘I think we should try this foster thing.’ I was through-the-roof excited. Our sweet license lady showed up at our house to do a walk-through, and while we were chatting, she asked us what our ‘end goal’ was. I told her we would love to adopt and before I could finish my sentence, she stopped me. ‘Mrs. Harris, kids don’t just come into foster homes ready to be adopted. The goal of foster care is reunification.’ I told her we knew that but would love to adopt if that ever happened to a child in our care. As I type these words 10 years later, I can promise you that was not my heart. My heart was adoption but boy, did that change that first year.
I remember the phone call so vividly. I was standing in front of our kitchen window looking into the backyard when Mrs. J called. She said, ‘Mrs. Harris, your license just came through. I’ll put it in the mail, but we have a child that needs a home. And, well, you’re not going to believe this, but she’s coming up for adoption soon.’ My heart literally stopped. Tears started to run down my face and I said, ‘Mrs. J, you told me this doesn’t happen.’ She replied, ‘It doesn’t.’ And just like that, I knew we were right where the Lord wanted us to be. Three weeks later, standing in a Department of Social Services hallway, a bouncing 3-year-old girl came around the corner. Her name was Abigail and she changed my life for the better that day. This is where my personal growth journey started.
Almost a year later, we had a court hearing. Both of her parents hadn’t asked for visitation and been pretty MIA the entire time she was in care. I was beyond shocked when they told me her biological father had driven up from Florida to the hearing. I was terrified he had come to try to get her back and contest the hearing. We gathered in the courtroom and he took a seat right in front of me, not knowing who I was.
Before I knew what I was doing, I tapped him on the shoulder, and said, ‘Are you Abigail’s biological father?’ He said, ‘Yes I am.’ I said, ‘Hi, my name is Alisha, and my husband and I are her foster parents. We are in love with your daughter. She is bright, fun, has the best laugh, and we would love the chance to adopt her.’ Without saying a word, he stood straight up in the pew, walked around to mine with tears streaming down his face, and hugged me. He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘I would want nothing more for my daughter than for her to grow up loved and a part of your family.’ We both cried.
That day, in a courtroom full of lawyers and caseworkers, he took the stand to ask the judge to let the foster parents – us – adopt his daughter. He said he knew he couldn’t be the father she needed or deserved, but we loved her and would be. I love telling that story to Abigail. We adopted her in 2014, in a courtroom just like that one, full of family and friends who loved her. To this day, we stay in touch with her biological parents and she will never wonder if they loved her. She already knows they loved her so much, they chose to put her needs above their own. Her father changed my viewpoint on birthparents that day.
Our family started taking in foster children left and right. We would get kids for overnight emergency placements and weekends. We would get children for 6 months, 9 months. The calls never seemed to stop. Eric and I had decided we wouldn’t say yes without calling the other first, to make sure they were okay with it. Boy, did that fly out the window quickly. Eric would show up to the house after work to find one, two, or three extra kids. The need was so great children were sleeping at the office during the night while caseworkers would work the phones, begging people to find a bed for these kids to rest. There were so many days, I’d drop off children to be reunified with their parents at the office after a court hearing, and a worker would come running out to my car asking if I could take a child that had just come in.
Those first few years seem like a huge blur. One thing was for certain, though. My heart was growing more and more every day not only for these children but for their biological parents, too. I loved meeting them, emailing them, sending them pictures, letters, updates about their children, asking them what their needs were and trying to help them. I quickly learned a huge majority of these parents were caught in a terrible family cycle of abuse and neglect. Not only had these foster children suffered abuse and neglect, but a lot of these parents were also former foster children themselves at one point. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse were going from generation to generation, without fail. I was reminded of my friends back at Hot Dog Heaven that were on prison work release. These women had made many poor choices, but they were deserving of forgiveness and so were these parents.
In 2015, I got a call in the middle of the night for a 4-year-old. He had been physically abused by his father and needed placement. We had a crazy weekend planned. It was our son’s birthday, and we had family coming into town. I just felt like the Lord was telling me to say yes, so I did. This boy showed up in a men’s XL undershirt, no underwear, and had one adult pink flip flop on his left foot. He also had cuts and bruises all over his face. He was such a ham, though. He could make you laugh at a drop of a hat, and gave the best hugs. His case was such a rollercoaster. Every court hearing seemed to get postponed, and parents would be given more chances. I absolutely love when parents show up and fight for their kids but his parents weren’t and it was breaking his heart and mine. So many no-shows to visitations, and broken promises.
Year one flew by, then year two… as year three started to approach, we realized this was going to be going toward adoption. Eric and I struggled with the decision to adopt him. We both felt like the Lord was telling us we weren’t his forever. I got a call one night from his kindergarten teacher. She was asking a lot of questions about him and finally told me she was interested in adopting him. I put her in touch with an adoption worker, and she and her husband went hard to work to get approved. They eventually got approved and not only adopted him BUT also his teenage brother who had been placed in a group home! We now live 5 miles from each other. We are best friends and we get to see him weekly, if not more, and she has promised me she will share the mother/son dance at his wedding. God sure does write the best stories.
On December 12, 2015, I was sitting in my Meme’s kindergarten classroom helping the kids decorate a cake, when a call came. I scurried off to the bathroom so I could hear without 20 kindergarteners playing, and it was the same lady who called me for Abigail. She said, ‘We have a baby that hasn’t been born yet, we need placement. He has a brother but he is with family that can not take the new baby. Are you willing?’ I said, ‘YES!’Eric majorly eye-rolled when I told him later but of course, he helped me rearrange our 980 square foot house to welcome a fifth child! I waited and waited for him to be born. On December 23, I got the call a baby had been born and it was a boy. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to go scoop him up.
Christmas morning came, and they called saying I could come to get him. They had me go through a back door to sneak in. They took me down to the children’s emergency room, as it had been closed, and then wheeled in the biggest baby I had ever seen. I was used to picking up preemies and tiny newborns, as a lot of foster children at birth have been neglected or have drugs in their system. I laughed when I held up the clothes I brought because here was this 10-pound baby. As excited as I was to be getting a baby, my heart broke for his birth parents. I couldn’t imagine leaving the hospital empty-handed on Christmas day. I briefly asked about them, and they said they had been discharged that morning, but were waiting in the lobby until they knew their baby had gone. It broke my heart. I loaded him into my van and drove to Meme and Pa’s house for our family Christmas. Everyone was smitten with that big boy. He brightened up our home and brought us so much joy.
The years went by so quickly. His parents were doing their treatment plan but it didn’t look like he would be going home. Selfishly, I prayed he didn’t. I didn’t want to lose this baby that called me Momma. On the other hand, I had bonded to his birth mom so much and loved her dearly. She wasn’t sure she could do it but I put my pride aside and encouraged her. I sent her updates, pictures, and shared everything I could with her. Our relationship was turning into such a sweet friendship I still cherish to this day. Knox turned 2 and a half, and we had a big court date coming up. We weren’t sure how it was going to go, but I prayed and I prayed and I prayed for God to move mountains so I could keep him. I couldn’t lose him.
I’ll never forget when I got the call. I fell to my knees. It couldn’t be. This baby boy who thought I was his momma was going to go to an entirely new home with a new momma. Suddenly, I realized instead of our usual foster children that had felt abandoned by their parents, in his eyes, we would be the ones abandoning him. All of the what-ifs came flooding to my mind. I cried for days. My heart broke in two. Friends and family rallied around us. I begged God to let me see the good in this story. I decided I could wallow in pity, or I could be the good. I asked for donations for his family in diapers, heaters for their house, beds, dressers, clothes, shoes. I didn’t want any financial stress to make this transition any harder on them or him. I would come home from errands and there would be donations waiting for me on my porch. Flowers, and sweet cards from friends and family telling me they were praying for me, for our family, for his family. I knew in my heart God would get me through this. I had said goodbye to almost 50 children by this point, but this one was different. I wrote down his daily schedules, the songs I sang to him before bed, his favorite foods. I thanked God for my time of getting to be his momma, while his biological one was able to get help and work on herself.
March 16, 2018, nearly broke me. It’s like photographs etched in my mind forever. The goodbyes. How bittersweet that drop off was. So thankful for his momma, hugging her neck and crying and sobbing as she held me and told me how much she loved me and thanked me for standing in the gap for her. That friendship that had blossomed held me up. Driving away from that house was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.
I remember the peace that flooded me. And oh the heartbreak. So many nights crying myself to sleep, praying he was safe and loved. His momma would send me pictures and keep me updated. They even let us get him every other weekend. When I would drive him back home, he would sob and sob when I turned on their street saying, ‘No, Mommy, no.’ It was unbearable.
6 weeks later, I remember sitting at Sonic with Ryder and Abigail. We were waiting for two of our foster children to finish up a visit with their mom and the phone rang. It was placement. ‘Ms. Harris. we have a previous foster child coming back into care that was placed with you.’ I hate these calls. I always dread hearing the names of who it is. When she said his name, I thought I was going to throw up. Then she said, ‘His brother is also coming into care. The family members that previously had him are no longer able.’ I started saying, ‘YES YES YES,’ as fast as I could. I called Eric in tears. They hadn’t been removed yet, so we had to keep it a secret until the judge was able to sign off on the removal order.
Three long weeks later, I got the call they were being removed. I will never forget driving down to the office to pick them up. They were so happy. I was so happy. But a heaviness was on me. I didn’t know how long we would have them or if their parents would get another chance. I couldn’t give them back again. I couldn’t.
That next week, at the court hearing, I held his momma as she sobbed into me. There is no joy in a mom losing her kids, no matter how deserving you think they are of it. I was once again sending updates, pictures, and telling her how they were adjusting. She was heartbroken and I wanted to continue to encourage her.
Meanwhile, at home, we were adjusting to this new ‘normal’ at our house. These boys had severe trauma and we were trying everything we could to show them we loved them and weren’t going anywhere. We did so much therapy, family, solo, one-on-one. We read so many books. Flight or fight mode is a real thing, and my body took the brunt of it. I cried myself to sleep many nights, wondering if we were equipped for this task. Our Pastor, Don Brock, says, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.’ Our family and friends once again rallied around us helping us in any way they could. We started to see little breakthroughs with Knox’ brother, Z. He was starting to trust us, to love us. About a year and a half into him living with us, I remember one night, he came to me before bed and hugged me. This was huge. I looked at Eric and we were both shocked. I told him goodnight and he walked off. The next night, he did the same thing and every night after. A few months went by, and he would hug me and then go to hug Eric. We looked like kids on Christmas morning, we were so excited. Piece by piece, he started breaking down his walls and accepting our love.
On March 16, 2020, we signed adoptive placement paperwork, not only for Knox but also for his brother Z, two years TO THE DAY we dropped Knox off with his parents and said our goodbyes. I thought this story was over but when I dropped Knox off, it had just begun. I don’t question why God did this. I see his plan for their lives. I see his hand in this entire story. I understand why Knox went home… God had bigger plans. He gave me another son, Z. We finalized their adoptions on September 1, 2020. I guess you can say 2020 ain’t all bad.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alisha Harris from Lexington, SC. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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