Opinion: A profound reason to be thankful

As we head into this week of Thanksgiving, I’ve been overcome by so many things.

Things like the divisiveness of our nation. Things like witnessing blatant racism in our communities and across the country. Worrying about whether my child is safe in her school. And lately I’ve had the overwhelming urge to stand up for myself and others who have chosen journalism as their profession and livelihood. On top of the day-to-day pressures that come my way, today more than ever in my lifetime, the colliding weights of life and society seem heavier, more personal and unwieldy. You may feel the same.

This week, though, I’d like to challenge you to join me in setting aside the worries to listen as you breathe, to laugh a little harder, to smile more, to love harder, to forgive and to simply be grateful. I think we can agree that our list of the things we are or should be grateful for is a much longer list than the things that may keep our blood pressure rising. I’m not suggesting that we ignore or pretend we don’t have things pressing on us, but I do believe that we sometimes must be reminded about those things that make life good.

This column is devoted to something that makes life good for someone else: Adoption. November is National Adoption Month, focused on raising awareness of children in foster care waiting for their “forever family,” the term often used to refer to adoptive families.

We use this space in the newspaper to raise awareness on all types of things. This topic – Adoption – is one that I feel pretty qualified to write about. And it’s timely too. After all, National Adoption Day is observed annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

I’m by no means an adoption expert, but on Dec. 16, 2014 I became a mom. Well, sort of. That was the day a Texas judge granted my adoption. I say that I sort of became a mom that day only because I believe I truly became a mom the day I made the decision to adopt. At that moment I unselfishly turned over myself emotionally, mentally, and physically to a greater calling. At that moment I discovered, submitted and committed to what I then believed was, and still believe is, my ultimate purpose in life.

I started the process in 2012, almost two years exactly to the day my adoption was finalized. I’ll admit that the process wasn’t easy, but to say it was worth it would be an understatement. There’s nothing I would change about my adoption process, roller coaster ride that it was.

My daughter was in pull-ups and just shy of two years old when I first met her in a foster care home in Texas. She was placed in foster care at age three months after being removed from her home for abuse and neglect. The foster mother she was with had her until I adopted her at age 2. But that same foster mom told me she had cared for at least 70 children in and out of her home during the time that my daughter was there. I’m grateful to her for the love and care she showed not only to my daughter but all those other children.

We need more foster parents like her. Without them, these children would likely have nowhere to go. Recently I’ve come across several people who have considered fostering or adopting. When they hear about my journey they often tell me they didn’t think they could go through with it or believed it wasn’t possible for one reason or another, er, one excuse or another.

If you’re someone who has thought or is thinking about it, I’m here to tell you yes, YES, it’s possible. I was single, divorced, in my early 40s, and didn’t think I stood a chance because my family structure didn’t represent the “traditional” family unit. Heck, I was the unit!

I urge anyone thinking about fostering or adoption to set aside the uncertainties. You must believe that this is your chance to make life good, better than good, for someone else. I don’t know where my daughter would be today. By the time I adopted her, she was already considered a “special needs” child because you see, most people, want to adopt infants. By age two, children in some states are considered harder to place for adoption. Sad but true. The older these children are in foster care, the harder it is “place” them. As if age makes a difference in whether a child needs a good home or the same love, care and guidance as any other child. Older children and siblings are in particular need of adoptive homes.

If that doesn’t convince you to stop just thinking about it and do it, perhaps the numbers will convince you. The need is great, and the numbers prove it. There are nearly 14,000 children in foster care in Georgia, up from 7,500 in 2011. According to Families First, 50 percent of them are less likely to graduate from high school; 40 percent of them have had more than two foster home placements; and their chance of homelessness grows as they grow older in the system.

Families First is a nonprofit that promotes family self-sufficiency and helps provide stable homes for children through adoption and foster care. Services include parenting classes, education support, counseling services and supportive housing. The agency started in 1890 as an orphanage on the Westside of the city on what is now the Spelman College campus. Among others, it’s a good place to start if you want more information on how to begin the process. Full disclosure, it was the agency that handled my adoption from beginning to end but there are plenty other agencies in Georgia that can help you, too.

Perhaps adoption is simply out of the question for you. Maybe you can’t commit to fostering. Think about others you know who are in a better position to make life good for a child in need. Urge them to do more than think about it. Their lives will be better for it and a child’s life will be forever changed. Tell them about me. I felt alone. I felt old. I felt like I wasn’t ready. I felt like I couldn’t afford it. I felt like I wasn’t mother material. I felt all those insecurities and more. Funny, I still feel those things but today my daughter is six years old and the happiest child you’ll ever meet.

Successful adoptive parents can be any one of us: single, married, divorced, with children or without children, LGBT, young or old, homeowner or renter. The system is looking for people who will open their hearts and homes to a child.

As the holidays approach, I hope you’ll think of all the things and all the people in your life who make life good. I hope you’ll be grateful. And I hope that someone out there will consider adoption or fostering and make life good for someone else. Happy Thanksgiving!

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