Christian woman adopts 2 during national adoption month (video)
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For information about Lutheran Social Services, or National Adoption Month, visit: lsss.org or national-adoption-month.adoption.com
Ethan nibbles on a Pop-Tart, his gaze frozen at the television as he watches an evening episode of "Dora the Explorer."
His nose is rubbed raw from the cold he's been fighting off the past couple of days, and his cold medicine is beginning to kick in.
Bedtime is nearing for the 2-year-old and his sister, Emma, 4.
Emma is pacing the living room, smiling, attempting to distract her mother from running her bath.
"Look! Look! Look," she begs her mother, Tiffany Johnson, 29, of Victoria, holding up her pen drawing.
"Wow. That's good," Johnson replies. "It's almost time for bath though."
When the children get older, neither of them will remember a time without Johnson caring for them. She legally adopted the siblings two weeks ago, and for the rest of their lives, she will be their mother.
"Ethan would probably be, well, dead right now if I hadn't taken him in. Emma would have survived, but her life wouldn't be very happy," she said.
The siblings' biological parents relinquished their parental rights earlier this year. The mother was determined unfit, and the father is in prison.
Johnson, a Christian and a single parent, took them in as foster children with the understanding they would be reunified with their mother in two weeks.
That was two years ago.
"I knew eventually I would adopt, I just didn't know when I first took them in that I would be adopting them," said Johnson, a registered nurse at Twin Pines. "We've been a family for so long now. They're just my kids. Nothing has changed except that now they're legally mine."
It was coincidence that Johnson legally adopted Emma and Ethan during National Adoption Month, observed each November to raise awareness about the needs of U.S. children in the foster care system.
But Johnson's decision to become a foster parent and one day adopt children wasn't a coincidence.
As a practicing non-denominational Christian, she's known for many years that God was calling her to be a foster parent, whether or not she was married. As a nurse and someone who is financially independent, she knew she would be a good candidate to take in children who needed homes, especially children like Emma and Ethan, who were both born with narcotics in their bloodstream and initially needed regular medical attention.
"Ethan came to me a sick little boy. I had him on breathing treatments; he had severe pneumonia. ... One night I had to give him CPR," she said, mentioning that originally doctors thought Ethan may be deaf. "They determined him a failure-to-thrive child."
Ethan had also spent the first six months of his life in a car seat, and his muscles were stuck in a sitting position for several weeks after Johnson received him.
"He couldn't put his legs down for a while, and when I would change him, his legs would stay in that sitting position," she said.
Through Lutheran Social Services, a Christian-based agency that services Victoria and other counties in South Texas, children are placed in temporary foster homes. The agency also facilitates adoption, like it did for Johnson.
"They were great to me. And a lot of places won't let singles foster children, but Lutheran Social Services did. They took me when other places turned me away," said Johnson, who isn't married.
Johnson, who is unable to have children, was 24 years old when she made the decision to become a foster parent, which is about the age when many women in the U.S. are making decisions about becoming mothers.
About 4 million babies are born each year in the U.S., and the average age of a first-time mother is 25 years old, according Prochoice.org.
The highest percentage of women - 33 percent - who choose to abort pregnancies are between the ages of 20 to 24 years old.
The second highest percentage of abortions are had by women older than 30, who make up 25 percent of the 1.3 million abortions women have each year in the U.S.
Teenagers make up the lowest percentage, at 19 percent.
Even if Johnson were able to conceive, though, she said abortion never would have been an option for her.
She's always wanted to replicate her own happy childhood growing up in Mississippi with children of her own.
"I probably would have adopted even if I could have kids. The entire reason I did this is because of my faith," she said. "I wanted to be someone who can teach my children about family, morality and kindness, and I want to teach them about Jesus."
But many families and individuals in the United States who may otherwise be capable - financially and otherwise - to adopt children, simply don't because they don't realize they qualify.
They may also not realize that fostering and adopting children in the United States is less expensive than international adoption. The U.S. foster care system requires no financial investment.
The Rev. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and senior pastor at Saddleback Church in California, has been vocal in recent years about the need for Christian families to foster and adopt.
Saddleback describes itself on the website as an adoption friendly church that will provide tools and information for interested families interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents. The website claims that studies show one in four Christian families desire to adopt but are misinformed about the process.
The Muskogee Church of Christ in Oklahoma and Worthington Christian Church in Ohio have also launched ministries to aid Christian families foster and adopt children in the U.S.
Johnson said she has never attended a church that encouraged its congregation to adopt but said Christians who are capable should consider becoming foster parents.
The churches regularly preach about women not having abortions, but they are not as vocal about encouraging Christians to foster and adopt the children who need homes.
"I know God planned Ethan and Emma for me, even before I knew I would be their parents," she said. "God picked them for me."
Last week, Johnson accepted a nursing position in Mississippi and moved home with her children to be near family.
"I want them to have the experience I did growing up," she said.
Johnson said she's going to spend her lifetime making sure her children know how much they are loved and treasured, not only by her, but also by God and by their biological parents.
"I'll never tell my kids their parents don't love them because they do; they're just not able to take care of them," she said.
And if she gets the chance to adopt again, she said she just might expand her family.
"I just want these kids to know they can break the cycle," she said. "It will be hard as a single mom, but when I see my kids smile at the end of the day, I know it's all worth it."