The first phone call we get about a kid is like conception,” Mandy Lewis says. That’s when a child becomes tangible. A child’s name immediately cuts through the overwhelming statistics about the need for foster care and presents an opportunity to care for a vulnerable child.
“Then there’s a very, very long birthing process,” she adds, the deep look in her eyes underscoring how well she knows the journey.
An agency initially asked Mandy and David Lewis if they would care for the then 3-year-old Chantelle about two and a half years ago. The couple eagerly agreed, and they prepared their home as quickly as possible. If the call is conception, the time immediately afterward is an incredibly short, incredibly intense period of nesting.
Shortly after, uncertainty set in. The couple’s agency shifted its direction to work with therapeutic children exclusively. That would not include Chantelle.
Mandy and David remembered their pastor mentioning Buckner when his family was looking into foster care, and they called the ministry. They discovered a group of people like them – driven by faith to shine hope into the lives of vulnerable children. The staff understood the couple’s situation and sought to support them.
Together, the Lewises and Buckner would advocate for children who had no voice.
When Chantelle came to the Lewis household, the couple was told she had a speech delay. Mandy quickly believed something else was happening. After multiple visits to doctors, they discovered she has apraxia of speech, which means she has difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly-refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary to produce clear, intelligible speech. Chantelle is as bright as any other child her age, but she struggles to express herself verbally.
The diagnosis helped in many ways. Because they now knew what was going on, the couple could begin to help Chantelle. They do exercises together. They encourage her. Chantelle also goes to private therapists, which really “unlocked” the door to Chantelle’s growth.
Her hard work is paying off. Listening to her today, one would be hard pressed to know Chantelle has difficulty communicating verbally.
The Lewises were also working through whether Chantelle could be adopted. Typically, children are in the foster care system between a year and 18 months before a resolution of some sort. Chantelle was with the Lewises for more than two years and was in another foster home before that.
After an extended time, Chantelle’s birth mother relinquished her parental rights, but her birth father kept his. That made Chantelle’s status uncertain. Sometimes it’d look like she was going to be available for adoption. Other times, it’d look like she would return to her birth father.
That’s when the Lewises relied on their faith the most.
“Our heart can be jerked in so many directions,” Mandy says. “I have to speak truth to my heart. I need to surround myself with friends who also will speak truth to me.”
Every time another challenge presented itself, Mandy, David and their Buckner case manager, Brittany Bonner, fought for what was best for Chantelle. They spoke up for her. They protected her. Her life had already been filled with so many issues and changes; each additional one was compounding the trauma.
“She’s being [emotionally] injured,” David says. “Anything we can do to love and protect that child, we want to do it.”
Bonner says the Lewises epitomize the best of what parents should be. She praised the way David and Mandy remained committed to Chantelle through the years. They continually fought for her.
“They absolutely have never given up on this child,” Bonner says. They’ve always fought for her and fought for what she needed. They were willing to take on anyone. Isn’t that what a parent is? They love her unconditionally.”
Ultimately, the couple accepted they were not in control of the situation.
“We are impatient,” David says. “We felt like we knew best. We had to turn it over to God.”
In October, David and Mandy received news they could adopt Chantelle. The birthing pains were ending.
“We were very happy to celebrate her adoption,” David says with a smile.
After 2,211 days in foster care, Chantelle became a lifetime member of the Lewis family. They became a forever family in April.
Bonner beams when she thinks about that day. Days like that make her job wonderful. Because Mandy and David care so much about Chantelle, her life has been drastically changed.
“What David and Mandy went through was a true test of their faith,” she said. “But they knew throughout this process that God was going to provide. They knew Chantelle was going to be theirs. It shows extreme perseverance and extreme faith.
“They’re the true faith of foster care. This is what foster care is – the roller coaster and the struggle. Everything you do is a true test, and they came out on top. They love that little girl.”
So now it’s up to Mandy and David to raise Chantelle. Like it was meant to be. Driving out of the courthouse parking lot after the adoption ceremony was like pulling away from the hospital.
“It’s just us now,” Mandy says with a giggle. “I feel like it’s parenting without training wheels.”
Bonner isn’t worried. She knows what the Lewis’ are made of. “He is the best dad. And she is the best mom.”