‘Can you take a pair of siblings?’ 45 minutes later, we met our boys. Babies? Easy. Toddlers with trauma? Not so much.’: Couple adopt ‘forever sons’ from foster care

family with two adopted sons

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“Every story has a backstory, or as in most superhero movies, an ‘origin story.’ Not that we are superheroes, but there’s a story behind the current journey. My name is Tony, my wife is Carla—she is beautiful, amazing, and my best friend. We met in 1997 when Carla was going through a rough patch of life that ended in a divorce. We met at my family’s restaurant and started talking as friends. However, one day, a coworker of hers told me to ask her out, and this was the beginning of our life together. I started as a dad from day one—Shelby, her two-year-old daughter, melted my heart from the start and we became a family. Eventually, we were married and began to settle into life. Sydney, our second daughter, came along and our little family began to grow. Five years later a miracle happened, and Sawyer, our son, was born.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

Later down life’s road, we attended an adoption seminar that sparked a small ember in our hearts. We were inspired by friends who had been talking about the adoption/fostering seminar. We were seeking information about the process and we were just dipping our toes into the world of foster care. This seminar is where we first learned about trauma and neglect, TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention), and Dr. Karen Purvis. Knowing we had space in our hearts to become foster parents, we hesitated and didn’t follow the calling standing before us. You see, we have a deep and abiding relationship with our creator who set that ember in our hearts for the ‘least of these,’ meaning those who cannot defend themselves. The Bible outlines this point in James 1:27, which reads, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

In 2011, we started teaching Sunday School at Olive Baptist Church to kindergarteners. It was there where we met, face-to-face, the need outlined in James 1:27. We had numerous foster children come through our class, and met numerous families who fostered in our church. Some of these families were older and more seasoned in life. Carla and I looked at each other and said, ‘If they can do it, why not us?’ Those heroes of fostering helped guide us and steer us towards the beginning of becoming foster parents. Sadly, fast forward to 2015, and I lost my job. No money, and lots of stress, but this was God’s way of showing us we had a bigger calling and purpose. Our ‘WHY’ was being revealed for our family. Then, after a few months, a stable position came along and we began to revisit our foster mandate and take classes.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

In the fall of 2016, we took classes called QPT, or ‘Quality Parent Training’ classes. We learned and listened about the reasons children came into foster care and how to become the ‘middle parent.’ Middle parents, a lingo in the foster care/adoption world, is where you are the parent between the biological parent and the adopted parent—you cannot adopt them for any of the various reasons, however, you love on them and care for them as your own. The classes taught us how to help a child feel secure and safe. Then, in September of 2017, our classes were complete, paperwork was finished, and our home study was approved. We had finally met the goal of becoming foster parents.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

Three hours after, we received our first call—there was a five-day-old baby who needed a home. Our reaction was, ‘WOW. Already? Are we ready? Okay, scramble to get all the newborn gear we do not have.’ Our community of friends and family (church, homeschool, etc.) gave us tons of gear or brought meals, and just rallied around us getting this little boy. This baby was in our home for six months and we loved him so much. We developed a great relationship with his grandmother, who eventually adopted him. When it was time for him to leave, we said our goodbyes, and the tears and heartbreak started. It hurt horribly, however, we knew God was in control. We had called our licensing agency, One More Child, and told them we were ready to receive another child. They called us later and asked us if we could take a pair of siblings. One child was a 2.5-year-old and the other was 2.5-month-old. We said, ‘Yes,’ and 45 minutes later we met our boys.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

Let’s just say babies are easy, toddlers with trauma and neglect not so much. ‘Dakota,’ the 2.5-year-old, could barely utter just five words and use a form of bad sign language to communicate. ‘Nate,’ the 2.5-month-old, was extremely sad and had rashes all over. He didn’t cry when he was hungry, wet, or had a poopy diaper. His biological mom had not met his needs. Dakota was sweet-looking—the agency stated his mom told them he was autistic. This was not the case. Our family started to love them with all of our hearts! Some days were extremely difficult and some days were easy. Back when we first started, I always said I do not want to have diapers or babies; I have since recanted. Because Dakota couldn’t really communicate his needs like most toddlers, it wasn’t in words we first connected; however, you could tell when the bonding started.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

He started calling Carla, ‘Mom’ and me ‘Dad,’ and this got sticky when we were in the meeting process with bio mom and case workers. We just treated them as our own—children know when you love them at an arm’s-length distance. When we went out as a family to Walmart, it was a huge first. I started running with Dakota every day (him in stroller), and eventually with Nate. I still do to this day. We all load up and I push them both, and we go on ‘adventures’ to see the bay and fish and just go exploring. They fit seamlessly with our older children, like they belong—our big children just love and treat them as if they’ve been with us from day one. With lots of love and speech therapy, Dakota found his voice. With many hours of occupational and physical therapy, Nate started to grow and prosper. We did have our issues with disciplining Dakota, however, we have learned how to deal with most of those issues. We learned the hard way, with so many mistakes on our part, but God never left our side.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

Our caseworkers and guardian adlitieum asked us if their mom didn’t work her case, and she lost her rights to her boys, would we like to adopt them? Without hesitation, the answer was, ‘YES!’ We thought our family was complete, however, God had bigger plans for us. In the end, bio mom had to relinquish her rights. It was extremely difficult seeing her cry when she signed her rights away. She was addicted and would not seek help. We felt as if we had stolen her children; we will never forget this heavy day. After lots of paperwork, and time, we finally got the opportunity to go forward with the boy’s adoption. It was such a humbling process, to stand before the judge with everyone you know watching. Once this process ended, we walked out of the courtroom with our forever sons.

Sarah Coleman Photography
Elizabeth Lehman Photography

Even though we were family, things were not perfect. We never set out to adopt, however, God had other plans for us. Thousands of children need homes in Florida, and hundreds of thousands in the U.S. alone. We have had over fifteen children come through our home, and we have had the opportunity to be the ‘middle parents.’ It is sometimes hard for our sons, but they understand it now that they are older. It does cause stress and issues, which we work with. Our little man, baby K, came in 2019 and left just a few months ago. His brother stayed with us later, and they all had fun and we were one big family. They did have siblings, and they are now with a family about to be adopted, all four.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography

We still talk to those who we have fostered. Dakota and Nate do really well with the other children, but sometimes there are issues, as with most children. Play time is adventure time. We are currently fostering their baby sister, who was born at 23-weeks gestation. She is a true miracle, and they do not understand their bio mom had another baby, but they love on her and care for her, as older brothers do. When their bio mom delivered, she left her and told them to find the case worker who will find the Cross family, who have her boys. Just mind-blowing. She trusts us enough to point the child welfare folks to us; humbling. We are looking forward to adopting a baby girl this year. This is another part of our calling. Our family loves our little boys so much and we are thankful we said ‘YES’ to foster care. Our house is filled with joy, laughter, and chaos—a good kind of chaos. This quote sums up and represents so much of our life: ‘If you have more than you need, build a bigger table—not a higher fence.’”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tony and Carla Cross of Bagdad, Florida. You can follow their journey on their blog. Follow Tony on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and TikTok. Follow Carla on Instagram and Facebook.

Elizabeth Lehman Photography
Madison Finley Photography

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