Thanksgiving sweetened by Baptist children's homes

NASHVILLE (BP) -- In one Tennessee household, this year's Thanksgiving table will include an unusual centerpiece: the letters Y-E-S made of black pressed wood.

Charla (right) will spend her first Thanksgiving with her forever family after being adopted by Jennifer (left) and her husband through the Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes.
Submitted photo
With a new 10-year-old daughter in their house, Jennifer and Rusty plan to place the letters on their table as a reminder of what God does when believers say "yes" to His will without knowing precisely where He's leading. For them, saying yes led to adopting a child through the Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes.

Jennifer, whose last name has not been disclosed by TBCH request, told Baptist Press her expanded family will "be the center of what we're thankful for."

Theirs is one of many stories of new and renewed families to emerge this fall from Baptist children's homes affiliated with more than 20 Baptist state conventions. Among those stories also is a former drug addict in Arkansas spending her first sober Thanksgiving with a 7-year-old daughter and a New Mexico family who adopted two severely neglected sisters in October.

'The one for you'

"I never realized how good it would feel to hear somebody call me daddy," Rusty (right) said of his daughter Charla.
Submitted photo
Jennifer and Rusty's journey toward adoption began 12 years ago when they married knowing they probably could not have biological children because of damage to Jennifer's body caused by cancer treatments in her early 20s. Yet after a decade of marriage, they each began praying independently for a child.

During their season of prayer, Jennifer and Rusty heard a revival preacher who told believers figuratively to "put your yes on the table" before God, assuring Him of obedience no matter where He leads. The message was so striking that they purchased their pressed wood letters and literally laid them on the dining room table -- with a sense that saying yes somehow applied to their desire for children.

Within a year, an opportunity arose to open their home periodically to a TBCH resident named Charla who did not have any family members to visit during designated off-campus holidays like Easter and spring break. As the relationship blossomed, "we just really felt like God was telling us, 'Charla's the one for you,'" Jennifer said.

So they took Charla into their home for a full two weeks last Christmas, then every weekend from January through May. She became their foster child in May, and now they are in the process of attempting to gain legal custody.

Since joining the family, Charla has made progress academically, socially and spiritually, Jennifer said. After professing faith in Christ as her Lord and Savior at the children's home last summer, Charla is learning to pray and worship in her new home.

Though the journey has challenged their family at times, Jennifer recently overheard her husband tell someone, "I never realized how good it would feel to hear somebody call me daddy."

'Everything is being restored'

Jill, a resident at the Jonesboro Family Care Home of the Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes (ABCH), will be celebrating her first drug-free and sober Thanksgiving of her 7-year-old daughter's life.

Jill, 29, has been battling alcohol and drug abuse since high school. She graduated from a Christian-based rehab program in August, however, and now is living with her daughter Laela in an ABCH program designed to teach her life skills and nurture the personal relationship with Christ she began last year.

"I'm thankful for my sobriety," Jill, whose last name has not been disclosed by ABCH request, told BP. "I'm thankful to be saved ... God saved me, and I have a new way of thinking. I can actually be happy now. Everything is being restored with my family."

Growing up in a tumultuous and subsequently broken family, Jill began drinking as a teenager. Her habit progressed to include marijuana and later harder drugs. Even Laela's birth, with no father in the picture, did not drive Jill to sobriety. In fact, by babysitting virtually anytime Jill requested it, her mother unintentionally enabled her substance abuse.

"I wanted to be involved in my daughter's life but couldn't function if I didn't get high," Jill said.

Finally, desperation yielded the courage to enter rehab in August 2015. Within a week, she repented of her sin, committed her life to Christ and was baptized. Jill is not sure whether her repentance marked her salvation or the renewal of a relationship with Christ she began earlier in life.

Upon graduation from rehab a year later, Jill discovered the ABCH's program for struggling single moms and their children, entering in September. Now she is working a steady job and considering entry to the dental hygienist field.

"I prayed for a place for my daughter and I to be able to be together and get back on our feet," Jill said. The Family Care Home "is just perfect. This is what we needed."

'A bountiful blessing'

In New Mexico, Thanksgiving week will mark the one-month anniversary of two sisters being adopted into their "forever family," according to a news release from the New Mexico Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries.

The unnamed girls "were severely neglected when taken from their home several years ago, requiring significant help to navigate their past trauma," the NMBCHFM release stated.

After working with "a couple of higher-level care organizations" and experiencing multiple failed adoption attempts, the sisters found themselves at the NMBCHFM campus in Portales, N.M.

"They folded nicely into our home as they made friends, got involved in church, embraced their new home and instantly became a part of the NMBCHFM family," the release stated. "They fell in love with the campus, the people and the animals in the 4H program."

Soon they were connected with a nearby couple who had been struggling with infertility and praying for daughters.

"On Oct. 21, 2016, the girls left the NMBCHFM and went home with their new family," the release stated. "We were blessed to be a part of God's plan to help bring this family together. A common custom when children find a forever family is a small candle-lighting ceremony to mark the children's journey. Milestones, represented by lit candles, will continue to burn even as the final candle is lit in representation of their new family."

The NMBCHFM's assessment of that family applies equally to all the families united and reunited by Baptist children's homes this fall: "No doubt Thanksgiving will hold whole new meaning for this family -- what a bountiful blessing!"

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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