Carissa Wingate always had the desire for adoption. When she was in her late 20s, Carissa promised God that if she was still single at 35, she would adopt a child. God, however, didn’t want to wait that long. Three-year-old Heavenly Joy came into her life when Carissa was 30 years old.
Now Wingate’s life is full of pink and purple hair bows and ribbons, somersaults and cartwheels, colorful crayons and chalk creations and a whole bunch of joy and love.
“It was pretty crazy,” Wingate says about the first few weeks Heavenly was in her home. “She was all over the place, very curious and very loving. We have been blessed that she was loving in that she wanted to be held and all those fun things from the very beginning.”
Heavenly Joy lives up to her name. She loves life. She’s inquisitive, asking enough questions to tire out Wingate. She’s passionate, lively and loves to do gymnastics.
“We tried ballet at first,” Wingate says with a laugh, “but it was too slow for her. Gymnastics fits her personality much better because it keeps her busy the whole time.”
Not far behind wherever she goes is the chingling of dog tags as the family dog DJ is especially fond of Heavenly. Even when Heavenly is sleeping, DJ is close by.
“DJ is very much Heavenly’s dog,” Wingate says. “They bonded very quickly. Like last Friday night, my parents kept Heavenly for the night and DJ whined the entire time. I kept telling her, she’s going to be fine.”
This is Wingate’s new normal and no one is more surprised by it than she is.
Shortly before her 30th birthday, Wingate felt God might be prompting her to look at adoption earlier than she planned. Her personal devotion and prayer time seemed to be pointing her in that direction, and every book she read seemed to mention adoption.
That summer, she was a leader at a youth camp. While at camp, there were several sermons, presentations and videos regarding foster care and adoption. Wingate knew she couldn’t fight it any longer. From camp, she called Buckner International and asked when the next information meeting was. Two weeks later, she began the process of getting certified to be a foster parent.
“Looking back, it was a whirlwind of nervousness, excitement and, I don’t know, crazy,” Wingate says. “There were times when I thought this was complete insanity.”
Wingate was licensed in September and the week before Thanksgiving Heavenly was placed in her home. Wingate’s extended family was out of town celebrating her grandparent’s wedding anniversary so she found herself completely alone with her new daughter. She admits that there were moments of doubt, but they soon subsided.
“I cried after she went to bed that night,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing. It was definitely a process that grew in my heart, especially that first month. She was really cute, but I had this person living in my house that I didn’t know quite what to do with, and we didn’t quite know each other, and so it was definitely a process that grew. And still, even as parents there are moments in your heart – you don’t think you can love them more and then you do. It’s a strange feeling.”
It’s been two years since Wingate adopted Heavenly. They have settled into as much of a routine as life will allow. Mornings can be a whirlwind, Wingate admits, neither of them being morning people.
Heavenly goes to kindergarten and Wingate works at an alternative high school doing drug and alcohol intervention. Her job can be demanding so she relishes coming home with Heavenly. They cook dinner together, color or play outside.
Every Friday night, they have a girl’s night where they eat pizza for dinner, watch a movie and paint each other’s nails. And at night, they cuddle together and read before bedtime. Sometimes, Wingate will rock Heavenly to sleep.
“It’s not always just wonderful,” Wingate says, “but it’s crazy how much I’ve learned, grown and stretched. We’ve helped each other. And I would say my love for Heavenly is a crazy big love, that love where you’re willing to put your life on the line and your feathers get ruffled when they tell you that a kid is not being nice to them. You want to go to bat for whatever is best for your kid.”
For Heavenly Joy, the feeling is mutual.
“I love being adopted because my mom loves me, and I know she’ll always love me and takes care of me.”
Story by Aimee Freston
Photography by Scott Collins