Many parents approach their children’s teenage years with some trepidation, but Kelly and Shellie Carson began parenting at age 28 by adopting 17-year-old Kiir just before he aged out of the Texas foster care system.
Photo by Arianne Ball
The Carson Family: (top left-to-right) Shellie, Nate, Kelly and Kiir; (bottom left-to-right) Lex, Jaylen, and Darius
Kiir says that if the Carsons had not adopted him, he might have ended up homeless and hopeless, Shellie Carson told the TEXAN.
While Texas law permits foster children to stay in foster care beyond the age of 18, Carson said this was not an option for Kiir. Had he not been adopted, he would have had to, at the very least, “figure life out on his own,” a daunting task for any 18-year-old, much less one who spoke little English.
“Kiir needs to write a book about his life,” Carson exclaimed.
Born in an Ethiopian refugee camp, Kiir grew up shuttled between war-torn Ethiopia and Sudan, the biological son of a Muslim military father and a Christian mother who brought him to the United States when he was almost 14.
Eventually, Texas Child Protective Services removed him from his birth mother’s home and placed him in foster care.
The transition to foster care was difficult for Kiir. Language barriers landed him in special education classes at school, although he had no learning disability. When Kiir became part of the Carson family before entering his senior year of high school, his reading level was at an early elementary level.
“People didn’t know what to do with him,” Carson said. She did. A reading specialist, Carson and her husband tutored Kiir nightly, and by the time he graduated from high school in 2011, he was reading at a sixth-grade level.
Kiir has since completed two years of community college, works for a major airline and lives independently in an apartment near his adoptive family, which has grown to number four other children. Lex was adopted as an infant, and biological brothers Darius and Jaylen were adopted from foster care.
Baby Nate “capped us off,” said Shellie of the unexpected biological son born to the couple in September.
The Carsons’ road to family was not what they expected.
When they failed to conceive after more than a year and a half of trying, they committed to a month or more of focused prayer about what God wanted them to do. They concluded, separately, that God wanted them to adopt a teenage son.
It was as if God said, “I have already picked him for you,” Shellie recalled. “The Lord was telling us exactly the same thing.”
The Carsons worked through the organization Covenant Kids to find Kiir.
In preparation for adopting an older child, they read books and attended workshops sponsored by Tapestry, a foster care and adoption ministry.
Nearly a year before adopting Kiir, they participated in Tapestry workshops geared toward older adoptions.
Kiir calls the day the court ruled the adoption final – Dec. 21, 2010 – as “Happy Kiir Day,” which the Carsons celebrate every year.
The December ruling culminated a year of activity, which began in January when the Carsons started the process of becoming certified as foster parents. Eighty-plus pages of paperwork were followed by a home visit in March. About this time, the Carsons opted to adopt rather than foster.
“While what we were aiming to do through foster care was a ‘good’ thing and more practical in the eyes of the world, it was not what God had called us to do,” Shellie wrote in her blog. “God called us to adopt a teenage boy, not to foster one.”
Within two weeks of switching their license to matched adoption, the Carsons received Kiir’s biography and photograph.
After Kiir entered the family, the Carsons began attending First Baptist Church (FBC) in Irving, where their new son developed close friendships.
“He hit it off immediately with a youth worker who was also adopted,” Shellie said. This friend led Kiir to the Lord.
Unbeknownst to the Carsons, when Kiir, facing life outside the foster system, was asked if he wanted to be adopted, he had agreed skeptically, assuming that adoption would never happen.
“Kiir told us he prayed to God, telling the Lord that if He really existed, He would provide a family,” Shellie said.
“How can I not believe after this?” Kiir cried after accepting Christ as his savior.
The Carsons credit their family and church family with providing support and prayer.
Adoptions and fostering are becoming a way of life at FBC Irving. At least four families have adopted children through traditional agencies, foster care and even internationally.
With FBC Irving staff member Janelle Hartsfield, also an adoptive parent, the Carsons started a ministry at church called Grafted, which serves as a resource to support adoptive and foster families.
Shellie quotes Psalm 113 in her blog: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, and with the princes of their people” – a reminder that her children “whom I have not yet met have a story that has not come to fruition.”
“They will be our princes. They will be our people. They will be ours,” she said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)