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June 30, 2012
March 15, 2023

The Gift of a New Family

"So what kind of family do you see for your future?" the caseworker asked the blue-eyed, blond-haired boy sitting in her office.

Bradley didn't hesitate. He knew exactly what he and his 2-year-old brother, Daniel, needed.

"We want a dad who'll teach us to play football, and parents who will take us to the mountains on vacation," Bradley said with a 6-year-old's confidence and a thick Texas twang.

Marlena, his caseworker in the Dallas area foster care system, nodded and suppressed a smile. She handed Bradley a "memory book" crafted by Joe and Amber Willis, prospective foster parents from Central Texas. The Willis family made the book to introduce themselves to children in need of stable homes.

Bradley flipped through the photos and saw Joe with the football players he coaches and Amber pictured with the middle school students she teaches. He also saw photos of the couple surrounded by family members vacationing in the Rocky Mountains.

Bradley closed the book, as though choosing a new family were as easy as picking one from a catalog. "All right. When do I meet them?"

Within a few days, Bradley and his brother Daniel joined Amber and Joe Willis who were already caring for an 11-month old baby named Malia. Just three weeks before, the state placed Malia with the Willis family in their Cedar Park home. Marlena, their caseworker, later said she had never seen such a smooth transition for both children and parents.

The adoption journey wasn't always so smooth for the Willis family. The bumps and detours included Amber's devastating diagnosis of Stage Four endometriosis, painful surgery to remove it, a cancer scare and a failed attempt at in-vitro fertilization.

Amber said her "control freak" nature itched to have a family the "normal," predictable way, but it became painfully clear that wasn't God's plan.

"That's when we literally got down on our knees to pray about it," Amber said, pointing to the ivory rug in the family room.

Joe reminded her that in their frustration, they needed to give the situation to God. The couple was open to any kind of adoption, whether it was a sibling group or a child from another country.

"We prayed and prayed for our kids before we had them, and we didn't care who, what, when or how. We wanted to be open to what He had for us," Amber said. "We were very submissive in how we prayed."

These days, the couple that once resigned themselves to never having children--now preside over a bustling household.

"We went from zero kids to three in a month!" Amber said. "It has to be from God because otherwise it couldn't have been that perfect."

Bradley and Daniel, now 8 and 4 and athletic to the core, don't pass up an opportunity to scamper into the backyard, throw the football around with Dad and jump on the trampoline.

Malia, the youngest at 3, keeps up with her older brothers remarkably well. She and Daniel will soon start taking gymnastics classes to channel their athletic gifts.

Amber marvels at how the Lord has taught her and Joe something about His own parenting style through their children. Amber compares it to her son wanting something for his birthday that she is planning on giving him.

"I tell him that he can't have it just yet and to be patient, and that's how it is with God. We say to Him, 'I want to have kids, I want them now and I want them my way!' And He's up there going, 'Nope, I've got a much better deal for you.'"

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