In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, we're highlighting beautiful stories of people brought together through adoption. We all come into the world looking to belong, to be claimed. Adoption is a powerful reminder that the gift of family can be extended beyond those related to us by birth.
Meet Justina Branson - she's fun, full of energy, outgoing and strong. This month we’re highlighting stories for National Adoption Awareness Month. Justina was in and out of foster care since she was a baby, but at 5 years old she was officially adopted by her mother’s half-sister.
Almost everyone in Justina’s family struggled with an addiction problem. Her aunt, on the other hand, was in a really healthy place when she adopted her. “I was shielded from addiction and sexual immorality and broken family. My aunt gave me a really amazing childhood.”
Justina’s gratitude for her adoptive mother, Laura, stepping in was evident in how fondly she spoke of her. Justina acknowledged that it was hard for her adoptive mother when the court would send her home and then bring her back again. But, despite the challenges she would encourage others to step out to stand in for a waiting child. As Justina put it, “We do not think we can bear the loss but the child has already bared the loss if being ripped away from their family. If a 5, 6 or 12 year old can do it – you can do it.”
Adoption can be complex and often there are many people involved in the process. Even if you cannot adopt a child, you can still be a part of the story. A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) was assigned to Justina. Justina would meet up with her multiple times a month and every time they went to court, the CASA would speak on her behalf. “My mom swears up and down that if we didn’t have a representative, I would not have been able to be adopted.” The CASA remained in Justina’s life as an adopted grandma until she passed away when Justina was in college.
Today Justina is a youth pastor and nanny. She is married to the love of her life, and the proud mom of a German shepherd. Whether you foster, adopt, mentor, or help with your talents, we are in this together, and everyone can make a difference.
Meet the Duff family - Jaye and Brent have 4 kids from 2-16 years old, 3 biological and one adopted. With three kids already in the mix the Duff’s felt the call to adopt.
Brent shared that when Jaye first brought up adoption, he knew right away that he was open to it. “When I was in high school I had a few friends who came from rough families and they would come and stay with my family for a few days because of their home life. I always told myself if I had a chance to help another who didn’t have a good family life, I would, But I never told anyone. When she asked me about it, I had to say yes.”
Their newest edition came to them at 7 months old. Brent shared that he knew right away that this was his boy, “When the door opened, and I saw him for the first time I had the same feeling when I saw my other 3 for the first time at the hospital.” Jaye remembers it just as he did. “I was shocked at how head over heels he was right away.”
Jaye continues, “I’m glad my sister suggested that I follow a few accounts such as Foster the Family – she has these shirts ‘I get too attached.’ And I thought - Why don’t we embrace that? You are supposed to get too attached. Why don’t we?”
Since their adoption, they have stepped out again to foster a young teen girl. “We teach our kids to love everyone and that love is shown through action and not words. When you put yourself second to someone else you are showing them that you love them. When we got the call it came down to 2 things- are going to do what we teach our kids, if we don’t do it who else will? This is the same conversation that we had with our kids. We were honest and told them- it’s going to be hard. We told the kids that this is a great opportunity to come together as a family and show love- we don’t know if she will have that experience somewhere else.”
Brent shared an encouragement for anyone who feels like they do not have enough- “If you think you don’t have enough or you can’t give enough- I would strongly say you have enough. They don’t need anything fancy; they need you. They need someone to care about them and to listen and to be there. We don’t have a big house and we had to re-arrange stuff and our kids had to share a room. We had an old dresser in a small room, and when I apologized and she said, “This is the first time I have had my own room.”
It is clear that love is at the center of the Duff in home, both in word and deed. Rather than settling into the full house of five, they saw that as a family, they had something beautiful to share. And as Brent put it; “If not us, then who?”
Meet Chris Castaneda - Chris and her husband Jathan have 6 children, 2 biological, 2 adopted, and 2 foster. The kids range from 7 months – 18 years of age.
Chris shared that they always knew they wanted to adopt. Originally, she thought they would adopt internationally, but the expenses were more than they had anticipated. That is when they heard about the foster care system. “I didn’t know you could even adopt through foster care. When we heard that there were kids locally who needed a home, we decided to pursue local foster care and adoption.”
Chris and her husband entered the journey with mixed emotions, “We were terrified, but equally excited. We were afraid to love and lose and have our hearts broken. And we did, but in the end, it is so worth it. I can’t imagine missing any one of our kiddos.”
The most surprising thing to the Castaneda’s has been how much of an impact the children have had on them and their home. “It changes you. Every child we added has changed us so much for the better.” Chris shared that she feared it would be hard to attach to another’s child, but was surprised by the love she felt for them. “I felt like it would take more work to love someone that was not born to me, but it has been the opposite. You cherish each day because you don’t know if they will stay.”
If you have ever thought about adoptions, Chris would encourage you, "Don't miss it."
"I cannot imagine if we had not stepped over that threshold. The hardest step is the first step- just beginning the journey. Just do the next thing if you’re interested.”