Don’t wait for a perfect time. Because teens need families now.
It was one of the most chaotic weeks of James and Melody Owen’s life.
James, a recreational pilot, had a midair collision with a drone while flying; Melody was in the midst of a serious health scare; and their teenage son hit a wrong-way driver, totaling his car.
There was one bright spot: It was also the week that James and Melody got their license to be foster parents.
“It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong that week. It gave us pause, and we briefly debated moving forward with our plan to foster and adopt. But we did. Because I strongly believed that there would never be a perfect time,” James said.
James and Melody had started investigating adopting from foster care nearly two years earlier. The four children they had by birth were getting older, and James says that he felt called by God to adopt teens from foster care.
“I was abused as a child. I should have been in foster care. When I was a teen, a man from our church must have recognized that I needed help. He gave me a job painting houses, and he mentored me. Looking back, he was the first person to show me love. He changed my life. I wanted to do that for another child,” James said.
James and Melody completed their PRIDE training and waited for a home study.
A fortuitous flight
A few months later, while volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program, James was giving a mini-flight lesson to a brother and sister, Christian and Cheyenne. During the course of the lesson, he realized that the teens were in foster care.
“I thought, this is crazy! I know these kids, and we’re looking to adopt teens. I called our cadet commander, and it turned out that Christian and Cheyenne’s social worker was the woman who did our PRIDE training!” James said.
James and Melody were still waiting for their adoption home study, so they got licensed to foster with the hope of becoming parents to Christian and Cheyenne.
In December 2017, they started visits with the teens. Everything went well, and Cheyenne and Christian moved in the following year.
Drawing on training—and faith
As the children settled in, James saw them behave in ways that he could relate to.
“I know from being hurt as a child that you tend to put up a wall to protect your heart. I could tell that they had walls nobody had broken through, and that they were used to living in survival mode, like I once was,” James said.
That ability to empathize helped, but there were still struggles along the way, and times that James and Melody needed support or got frustrated. They were guided by their faith, lessons they learned in PRIDE training, and their social worker, who they frequently called on for advice.
“We’ve definitely had some surprises and some teaching moments. The PRIDE training prepared us and prevented us from being shocked by the kids’ behavior as they worked to find balance in their lives,” James said.
A difficult conversation
In November 2018, as the family was taking the final steps toward finalizing the siblings’ adoption, Cheyenne dropped a bombshell: she told Melody that she didn’t want to be adopted.
While they had learned that adoption creates its own kind of grieving for children—who can feel like it is a betrayal or loss of their birth family—Cheyenne’s pronouncement came as a shock. They talked it through and asked her to take some time to think about it.
“Cheyenne went to her room and pondered for a while. When she came out, she told us:
‘You are the family that I always wanted. You have shown me love when I probably didn’t act like I deserved it. Your love has mostly healed my heart. I do want you guys to adopt me!’
Those words melted out hearts and made every struggle, tear, and heartache worthwhile.”
On February 20, 2019, James and Melody adopted Christian and Cheyenne. It was 10 days before Christian’s 18th birthday. The teens had spent 1,667 days of their lives in foster care.
James is now working to inspire other families to foster and adopt. He’s gotten comfortable sharing his own childhood story and talks with groups about adopting from foster care.
“I tell everyone I can: There’s no perfect time, and there’s no perfect parent. If we wait for a perfect time in our life, it will never happen. And the problem is that these kids—especially teenagers—need permanent families now.”