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April 15, 2016
March 21, 2024

A New Normal

Aaron and Shauna Mullins couldn’t quite name the feeling they had. And when they could, they knew it was something they’d never felt before: inadequacy.

Everything they ever wanted seemed to come to them––even the hard things––so long as they put in a little bit of hard work. But when they wanted kids, they learned their work ethic only went so far.

When they didn’t conceive the children they had once dreamed of, Aaron and Shauna considered fostering refugee children from the earthquake fallout in Haiti. When those children didn’t come, they decided to get trained and certified to foster children in the Texas system.

Then it became a waiting game. With each day came a call. With each call came the possible placement of a child or sibling group, ranging from newborn to two years old.

One day in August of 2010, a call bypassed every checkpoint Aaron and Shauna had set up. They were told about two severely neglected siblings, a 5-month-old girl and a 16-month-old boy.

Shauna felt it was the right time to say “yes” and called Aaron during his lunch hour to discuss the possible placement. Aaron, still unsure, said he needed time to pray. He sat at his desk with his head in his hands, God give us wisdom, and, uh, we’ll take whatever you have for us.

They agreed to open their home to the unknown, trusting the Lord to be strong where they felt weak. Within a few hours, their caseworker arrived with both of the children. Phillip and his baby sister, Tera, came across the threshold and––in an instant––made Aaron and Shauna the foster parents they felt half ready to be.

That first night, the new foster parents lied awake listening, ready for the sound of crying. Try as they could to close their eyes and relax, Aaron and Shauna’s anxiety only persisted with the silence coming from the next room. Phillip and Tera, meanwhile, slept straight through the night.

The next few days included doctor visits for the children and it didn't take much examination to understand the first night's silence: The children were healing from long term neglect. The kids weren't crying at night because they had learned not to, and Aaron and Shauna couldn't bear the thought of them ever being returned to that environment.

“You get to a point where––without even trying––you think, These are our kids,” Shauna says, “and they might leave and go somewhere that isn’t safe. That’s not what we want for them.

The next few months were a sheer survival test for Aaron and Shauna. Even with the outpouring of love and support from their church community, Aaron had to get back to work and Shauna had to learn how to entertain two kids for 16 hours a day.

“You wake up in the morning and you don’t know what to expect,” Shauna says as she remembers the early days. “It’s like they could lose their minds today, or we could get a phone call and they could leave––all these firsts.”

Eventually, life started to feel normal. But then they got another life-changing call.

It turned out that Phillip and Tera’s biological parents had had another baby. The judge wanted to place the newborn, Lexi, with her siblings if Aaron and Shauna were open to adding another foster child.

They welcomed her into their home with open arms.

The children’s biological parents continued to show little will to regain custody of their kids, and the paternal grandparents got an attorney in an attempt to gain custody of Phillip, Tera, and Lexi. Because Tera’s documented signs of abuse came from a time when she lived with her grandparents, Aaron and Shauna felt like they needed to fight for custody.

If God is sovereign, Aaron remembers thinking, is the court system going to work out the way it should? Do we just trust in that? Or has God sovereignly given us the ability to hire an attorney?

“We came to the point where we realized that if we didn’t intervene, we were going to regret it,” Shauna says.

The Lord provided for them along every step of the rocky journey. A family in their community, with whom they had been talking through their decisions, gave them $1,000 to help with legal fees. Next, the prize attorney whose reputation they trusted granted them mercy, offering to attend mediation on their behalf for a fraction of her usual fee. When they heard that Aaron and Shauna had filed, the grandparents withdrew their request for custody. During mediation, the kids’ biological mom agreed to go into a separate room to discuss with Aaron and Shauna what was best for the kids.

“That she agreed to go talk with us separately was almost like an answered prayer we didn’t pray,” Aaron says. He said a quick, silent prayer of his own as they walked toward the room. Lord give me the words, let me speak well.

They used that time together to express their love and care for the kids’ biological mother, and reassure her that she could trust them to raise her kids. Surprisingly, she decided to relinquish her rights before they left the room, answering their prayers and avoiding trial. The court later awarded custody to Aaron and Shauna, and their three guests became their legally adopted children.

“That was awesome, and that was the worst day ever, realizing all we gained and all their biological parents lost," Shauna recalls.

Life with three children eventually became the new, hectic normal.

Until one day the caller ID on Shauna’s phone made her heart flutter.

Part Two

“Are your ears burnin?”

Aaron and Shauna Mullins’s former caseworker called with news that had their hearts skipping beats yet again. The birth mother of their three adopted children was pregnant again, and Child Protective Services knew about it. Due to the birth mom’s history, the state planned to remove the baby when it was born and the ideal placement was with their family.

Shauna called Aaron at work to tell him the news. “Hey! There’s gonna be another baby.”

Aaron was silent for a moment. “This is probably not a good time,” he said.

Her excitement and his reluctance were no real surprise to either of them. When they had brought Lexi home from the hospital at three days old, Shauna learned how much she loved having a baby. Aaron, on the other hand, had learned that a crying baby was next to unbearable to his ears. Inviting another year of infancy into their home was almost unimaginable for him.

Night after night as the new baby’s birth neared, Shauna came to Aaron asking, “When are we gonna talk about this? Can we talk about it?”

And Aaron resisted. “I don’t wanna talk. Don’t wanna think about this. Not tonight.”

Shauna remembers finally forcing Aaron’s hand. “I needed to know,” she says. “Either yes so I could prep for our fourth baby, or no so I could start getting to a place where I could submit, a place where I could let go.”

They came back to the same prayers as before. God, what have you equipped and prepared us for? I don’t know that this is it. I literally don’t know if we can handle this.

As they sought wisdom from friends and family, something Aaron’s sister told him really sunk in. “Three years down the road, are you going to be able to look at Phillip, Tera, and Lexi and tell them, ‘You have a brother, but I couldn’t handle it.’?”

Aaron and Shauna weighed all the factors. The birth mom could keep having kids and, at some point, the Mullins wouldn’t be able to handle all of them. They also considered the fact that there had been noticeable improvement in the birth mom’s life. She had her own apartment and a steady paycheck. For the first time, she showed that she could possibly win back custody of the newest baby.

“The thought of telling the kids, ‘Here’s your baby brother,’ was weird enough,” Aaron says. “But to bring him into the home and then watch him go back to his mom, where they couldn’t go, was sort of unthinkable.”

After wrestling with the decision, Aaron and Shauna had to lean on God when they felt weak in their own strength once again. Two years and eight months after they first said “yes” to a foster placement, their family grew again when baby Eli was born. When the state placed him in their custody, they went from zero to four children within four years. Parenting without the Lord’s help felt impossible to them.

However, their emotional and legal struggle was far from over. It took another 18 months of hearings, waiting, and praying until the children's birth mom relinquished her rights––meaning Eli would officially join his three siblings. When they left the courthouse on adoption day, they told their caseworker with a smile, “Don’t call us again.”

Now Aaron and Shauna are looking ahead, and the feeling they have is one that they’ve come to expect––inadequacy.

They know without God working through the hard turns of a difficult road, they might still see inadequacy as the inescapable snare they once feared. Instead, they see their ineptitude without God and their awareness of it as a gift. It’s a gift that will be there in moments of even tougher choices and even greater victories in the future.

“As much as we’d like to think we can just coast from here, like we went through our hard trials of trusting God, and it’ll be easier from here on out,” Aaron says. “It’s almost like we know that can’t be right. Like––as scary as it sounds––we know God isn’t done with us.”

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