Carly Souza knew from a very early age that she wanted to adopt. Then she met John. Discover what happens next and listen in on the couple’s unconventional story in this special episode. Co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber sit down with John and Carly Souza to unpack the Souza’s decision to foster to adopt and the unique timeliness of it all.
For more information on adoption, visit SendRelief.org/adoption.
By TJ & Jenn Menn
By Jason Johnson
By John DeGarmo
- Ways to Encourage Social Workers
Announcer: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Thanks for joining us today on The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast, Tera we have a special guest today that I cannot wait to hear her story, but when I think of this family, I think of Jeremiah 29:11 where the Lord said to Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you. So there gonna be unconventional, right? And plans to prosper you to give you a hope and give you a future.” I just think that’s a beautiful picture of what’s gone on with John and Carly Susan, how God has built their family.
Tera Melber: Yeah, so welcome Carly
Carly Susan: Thank you, I’m excited to be here today.
Tera Melber: We’re really excited to have you and when Lynette was telling me about you and your family I just couldn’t wait to get started. So, you and John have a very unconventional story and it all began as it does with each of us, is that you were newlyweds, but as newlyweds, you did something a little bit different. So why don’t you share your story with us?
Carly Susan: Yeah, so I have known since I was in the 2nd grade that I wanted to adopt one day. There was a girl in my 2nd grade class that was adopted and I just thought it was awesome that her parents chose her. So from a very early age, that was something that was important to me. So when John and I started seriously dating I said to him, “Hey, it’s on my heart to adopt on day so if you’re on board with that then we like can move forward in this relationship, and if you’re not on board then, well you’re not the guy for me.” So he said he was not by any means opposed to the idea. He hadn’t thought about it very much, but he was okay to talk about pursuing it.
Carly Susan: So we got married in March of 2008, we just celebrated our 10 year anniversary last week, which is a super huge accomplishment and it was a awesome celebration and a great experience and so when we got married we had talked about one day in the future adopting. We thought we would spend time just the two of us getting to know each other and getting settled for a little while before either trying to pursue adoption or have biological children.
Carly Susan: And really just a few weeks after we got married we were sitting in church and the pastor was doing announcements and they had just partnered up with a local organization called Foster Connect who had partnered with the local Department of Family Services to try and spread the word to the faith based community in Las Vegas that we were really desperate for faster parents. So, they put out this call to try and recruit families and as we left church that day John and I were kind of like, “Well, foster care, like we’ve talked about adoption for a long time, but never talked about foster care, and you know, like is this something that God is calling us to do?”
Carly Susan: And so we kinda like put the idea aside and over the next like 2 weeks, God separately confirmed for both of us that it was what were supposed to do, so we came back together and we talked about it and we felt like, well we just got married, but generally speaking, the licensing process to become a foster parent is an incredibly long process, so we though we’ve got at least 6, probably closer to 12 months before we would actually get a child placed in our home. So we thought, well you know, let’s start the process and by the time we get a kid we will have had a little bit of marriage under our belt, and the county was so desperate, that the only time ever in the history of Department of Family Services in Clark county, they condensed 10 weeks of training, down to 2 weekends.
Tera Melber: Oh my goodness
Carly Susan: So, yeah, we went into this like saying, “Yes God we’re ready to do whatever it is you ask of us”, and less than 5 months from the day we were married, we brought home a sibling group of four.
Lynette Ezell: Whoa
Carly Susan: Yeah, and that was not by any means what we had anticipated or what we expected to happen in this process, but that’s what God had for us
Tera Melber: How old were the kids, Carly?
Carly Susan: At the time that we brought them home, they were 7 months, 2, 3, and 5, and they were biological siblings. Yeah, it was a bit of a whirlwind, but I would say that we had a ton of support. Foster Connect, which was that organization that had partnered with the department to recruit us, supported us incredibly well and walked through each step of the way with us.
Carly Susan: So we said yes to these four kids, and as far as the department was concerned, we were ready to take them because we had 2 empty bedrooms, but we didn’t have any stuff at that point to put in those bedrooms, so we reached out to Foster Connect and our community and just said, “We’re bringing home this sibling group of four tomorrow, and we don’t have anything,” and it was incredible to just watch God provide over the course of 24 hours, we went from having literally nothing to having 2 twin beds, 2 cribs, 3 car seats, 2 strollers, 2 highchairs. I mean, a mountain of clothes and toys like piles in my living room and I just sat there like, “Okay God, you’re serious about this, so here we go”
Carly Susan: And we actually had to go in 2 cars to pick up the kids, because we didn’t have a car big enough to fit all of them. We brought them home on a Wednesday and bought a minivan on Saturday.
Tera Melber: Wow, that is quite the beginning, that’s quite the beginning. What did your family say about all of this?
Carly Susan: My parents are believers and they were super supportive and before we decided to take the sibling group of 4 we did all the difficult things like sought godly counsel and prayed a lot and every person we sought counsel from was like, “4 kids is a lot of kids. Maybe you might want to start with one or two.” And so even my parents who were super supportive of us fostering thought, “Okay, well four kids is like a bunch to take at one time.” And I thought, “Well, you’re right, but we just really felt like God was calling us to take those specific kids.” So.
Tera Melber: So how long did the kids stay with you or are they still with you?
Carly Susan: They actually were with us 2 years to the day before their adoption was final, so we did end up adopting our very first placement. So we thought, when we went into foster care that we would like foster for a little while and then kids would reunify and then we would have a little time to assess, and then we would foster some more and kids would reunify and that was not the plan that God had. So they’ve been with us almost 10 years.
Tera Melber: And during that time you also added a biological child, is that correct?
Carly Susan: Correct, yep. So we had fostered the about 15 months before our first biological son was born, and then once was their adoption was final we felt like we were going to transition a little bit and I had this grand plan that because I was a stay at home mom of 5, that I was going to mentor teen moms. So our next foster placement was a 15 year old girl, and she had a 8 month old baby, and when she was placed with us we were told that she was a runner and to not expect for her to be with us more than 2 weeks, and so to me that was a challenge, “Like, okay, I’m gonna adopt this girl, they think she’s not gonna be with me for more than 2 weeks.” And that was actually an incredibly challenging placement. She ended up being with us for about 9 weeks before she ran away, but we did realize through that process that our oldest son really identified his self as the oldest child and so moving forward we chose to keep our family in birth order. So our-
Tera Melber: That’s a great idea
Carly Susan: So our next foster placement after that was a newborn baby, so we brought home a 13 day old drug exposed baby from the hospital, and again the goal was reunification. The first 3 months with her were incredibly challenging. She detoxed on Methadone the first 3 months that she was with us, and they would step down her dose every 5 days and although we had not planned on having anymore biological children, I found out I was pregnant about a week after we brought her home. So, by the time we hit our 3rd wedding anniversary, we had 7 children and Sophie ended up being with us. God, that’s funny.
Tera Melber: Yes, I love it.
Carly Susan: Sophie ended up being with us 2 1/2 years and we ended up adopting her, so then at that point, we had 7 kids under 9, and we decided to close our foster license. I felt like I was pretty mentally and emotionally capped out, but we felt like the call to be involved in foster care and adoption on our lives had not gone away. So, even though we stopped personally fostering at the point, that was when God really transitioned our focus to trying to recruit and then support as many Godly foster families as possible.
Tera Melber: And so you have a really unique relationship with your department of family and children services there and you’ve kinda been able to do, kinda trail the path there for other churches to step out and you know, share your facilities, and that sort of thing. So tell me how that relationship got started and what you’ve seen the Lord do between your church and your local DFCS office?
Carly Susan: So when we fostered, we had incredibly close relationships with our case workers and our license workers, and our cost workers, and our cap attorneys, and all these different entities that were on our case. We tried to maintain a very healthy relationship with them, and so moving forward, we thought once our adoptions were final, we maintained that relationship. So once Hope Church started really wanting to focus on foster care in our city, I was able to easily go to the department of family service and say, “Hey, our church is really wanting to step up to the plate and to come along side you and to support you as an organization-
Tera Melber: That’s fantastic
Carly Susan: Just try to have a healthy partnership, so they were completely excited and on board because the desperate need for foster parents in Las Vegas has not gone away, it’s probably just as dire as it was 10 years ago. So we had a couple of meetings with all of the head licensing workers and managers of the department, and just sat down and said, “Okay, how can we serve you best as the church?”
Carly Susan: And so what we have done is the same ten week classes that they teach on their campus at the county building, we’ve brought those facilitators to our church campus. So, its probably about 20 miles closer to anyone who lives in the south end of Las Vegas, as well as we as a church provide free childcare. So we tried to look at what was holding Godly families back from being able to foster and because Las Vegas is such a transient town, many families don’t have grandparents or aunts and uncles that they could drop their biological children off for 5 hours once a week for 10 weeks in a row and know that their biological children were in a safe place that they didn’t have to pay for, for the duration of those classes. So we thought if we could eliminate that one hurdle that that would be leverage for more families to be able to foster. So, were about to finish our second round of classes, we have our third round scheduled for April, so we’ve graduated close to 45 families-
Tera Melber: That’s incredible
Carly Susan: Through our church, and I would say that half of those attend Hope Church. I would say about 30% of those attend other community churches in our area, and then another percentage of them are just people in our community that have said, “Can we take advantage of this?” So it’s actually been a really great partnership, not only with our church and other churches, but with the lost, because they are coming to a church campus once a week, and then maintaining that relationship to get further support even once they’ve graduated the classes. So our support group offers, our support group is called Fostering Hope and we have a twice a month support group that meets on our church campus that provides childcare and it’s just a safe place to be able to just let it all out and to say what you are struggling through as a foster or an adoptive parent and I really, I mean you know this as an adoptive parent, that there our struggles that you go through-
Tera Melber: Right
Carly Susan: That someone that only has biological children just can’t understand. As much as they want to empathize with you, unless you’ve been there, it’s just not something that you can even start to give advice on. So it has been a really great place for people to come and just to almost emotionally unload and say like all these things that they’re struggling with and then for us as a group to be able to sit there and say, “I have went through this exact same thing.” And so 2 hours later, after we have prayed and everyone has cried a lot, you know you walk away feeling like, “Okay, I’m not the only one, and it’s going to be okay and I’m going to be able to make it till, you know, tomorrow.” And that has been huge. We have an online community as well that is a secret closed group, that it’s only the people that have graduated through the classes at our church
Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s a great idea. Yeah
Carly Susan: And it’s been awesome to see the people that graduated the first class now coming alongside the people that are graduating the second class and saying, “Look, I know I’m only 3 months ahead of you but, we tried this” and “I know the first visit is scary but we did this, and now we’re building a great relationship with the birth mom and she’s come to church with us.” And it’s like just like this ripple effect.
Carly Susan: There was a couple named Ray and Claire Bickerstaff that first came to Las Vegas thirteen years ago and saw like God was really calling them to get involved in foster care and orphan ministry in Las Vegas, and so they started that original non-profit Foster Connect, which is how John and I got recruited and so to see like their faithfulness of just saying yes to coming to see a city where they knew no one and how all these years later, like God is just opening so many doors and it’s been incredible to have Hope as a platform to have the resources and the ability to be able to say you know, “Look, you can come here and our church is going to cover the cost of childcare and provide a space and so it has eliminated a lot of obstacles that I think we struggled with quite a few years. Trying to figure out how to best serve these families without many resources and so they’ve been able to come alongside us and provide those, it’s been awesome.
Tera Melber: So your leadership at the top at Hope is so, sounds incredibly supportive.
Carly Susan: Yes, they really are and I would say that even, they’ve been supportive of my husband and I personally from the beginning. I could just tell you one story where we brought home these 4 kids, my mom and is from England, and my mom and dad and sisters were actually back home visiting family when we brought home the sibling group of 4 and John had just started his dream career job which took him out of town for 2 weeks and so I was sitting at home with these 4 kids like, “I don’t even know how to be a mom. This is crazy.” And I had really just got to like my wits end where I was like, “Jesus, I need something because I’m not, I don’t know how I’m gonna make it even till tomorrow.” And I had gone to check the mail, and there was an anonymous card from the prayer team at our church, and it’s gonna make me cry, it was actually the exact verse you said when we started this, Jeremiah 29:11. And knowing that okay God this might be really, really hard but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s what you called me to do, and because it’s what you called me to do and I’m being obedient, like you’re going to put those things in place to help me survive essentially.
Carly Susan: So there have been so many just small moments like that where Jesus has just met me, or I felt like Lord this is really, really hard. Like there’s nothing about foster care or adoption that is easy but, every time I feel like okay, I can’t possibly take another step someone is there to come alongside me and you know be like, “It’s okay, we got this. We’re in this together.” And you know there’s times where I feel like for some of my kids that really struggle, that there relief might not come until Heaven. And that as a mom is really hard thing to accept but knowing that God has rescued them from a life where a compassionate mom would not have been an option-
Tera Melber: Right
Carly Susan: And to say that I get it right, is really a disservice. I get it wrong more than I get it right, but just being able to display forgiveness to my kids and to have them show me that same forgiveness when I blow it, is huge.
Lynette Ezell: I remember when my kids were little and we had the three younger [inaudible 00:16:26] we were bring home you know, adding to the nest, the days of being overwhelmed, and we started something in our home that helped me so much, is that you know I’m always forgiving the kids of things you know, “Mom I’m sorry.” No big deal. But I started saying to my kids, “Will you forgive me? I kinda was like mom on a broom for a minute, would you forgive me?” And then it just brought so much love and peace and settling to our home, you know? And it just really helped, it didn’t matter, adopted, biological kids, fostering. But when you say to a child, “Will you forgive me? Mom’s struggling today.” And so I just think that’s a.. I was so glad that Kevin brought that into our home and brought that in. It just helped me so much, you know? Because I needed grace as well. That is one thing I’ve really learned through this journey of adoption and foster care is that ,as Tera always says, she’s taught me this over and over, it’s a sanctification process for mom and dad.
Carly Susan: Amen.
Tera Melber: That is exactly true, but I think it also gives our children that comes from hard places the freedom to say, “I don’t have to live up to perfection.”
Lynette Ezell: Yes
Tera Melber: That it’s okay, I mess up, and I’m still gonna be loved and I’m still gonna be pursued and we have to say that to our kids who’ve been a much longer time now, to say on the days that re really hard, “No matter what, I’m always going to pursue you.”
Lynette Ezell: Well, I’d like to back up just a little Carly to and talk about you just have such a unique relationship with the state and I think a lot of people struggle, a lot of ministries or church may struggle with doing that correctly. Tera and I happen to be blessed with a good relationship as well, but we worked at it, and they reciprocated so that was a blessing. How do you nurture, what suggestions would you give to nurture that relationship with your local Department of Family and Children Services?
Carly Susan: I would say one thing is to not grow weary. There is, like you just said, it takes a lot of work and I think a part of that is there have been many people that have really great intentions that try to partner with the department, and it fizzles out because the department moves so slow. So by the is on board with whatever your idea was, the organization has almost moved on to the next thing. So we have had to, really keep on them, not in a negative way, not in a nagging way, but in an encouraging way like, “We’re still here, this is still something we want to pursue.”
Carly Susan: Really trying our best to make them feel appreciated. I don’t know how it is with you guys, but our county workers are way over worked. Their case loads are massive, the things they are trying to do are almost like climbing mountain tops on their own, so as much as they’re grateful for the assistance of the church, there is not any one person at the department that can say, “Oh yeah, let’s do this,” and then just runs and does it. There’s like all these layers of government that you’ve got to get through first to get approval and to get this and to get that, and so we’ve done just small things like sending them thank you cards, giving them gift cards to a local coffee shop to say, “Hey, we appreciate the work you’re doing and were thankful for this partnership and we’ve kinda buttered them up a little bit-
Lynette Ezell: It works
Tera Melber: And they deserve it. I mean, they have such a hard job and they deserve it and they’re often forgotten.
Carly Susan: I would agree with that, and they feel like, “Okay these people are really gonna do what they said they’re gonna do.” I think building up to us hosting them for the first time, I think there was a lot of nerves on their end that I think we were able to put to rest by showing up and doing what we said we were gonna do. So, if you were to go to the county building you’re in a stale cold room, and you take your classes and you leave. So we were like, how can we make this the best experience for everyone involved? So myself or a couple other members from my leadership team we get there an hour before the class starts, we prep coffee and there is cold drinks, and ice tea and juices and we get the room set up and we write them encouraging notes on the board. Just really small thing, but things that have made it to where now for our 3rd round of classes, the county workers are fighting over who gets to come facilitate that class.
Tera Melber: I love that
Carly Susan: So it’s just been something where we’ve really had to cultivate and to hold them very carefully because we don’t want to do anything to damage that relationship.
Lynette Ezell: Oh absolutely not and then bringing in the churched and the unchurched onto your campus
Tera Melber: It makes the church itself seem less daunting to those who are not attenders
Lynette Ezell: It really breaks down barriers. Yeah absolutely and so how have you seen those families, say you have twenty go through a class together and maybe 8 are from Hope and 12 are just from the community, how have you seen them care for one another?
Carly Susan: I think, well not that this is something to brag about, it shows the desperation of our city, but they have started placing children, foster placements, with foster parent after class 5. So when they’re only 5 classes in to this 10 week course, they feel like okay, we’ve vetted you enough. We’ve done enough of a home inspection, you’re definitely not licensed yet, but we need to start placing kids in your home.
Carly Susan: So we’ve gathered like a group of people from our church who have said like, “I want to be involved in foster care, but I’m not in a place right now where I can foster.” So we’ve said, “Awesome, there’s 10,000 other things you can do. So when these people, even these unchurch people, have brought home a foster placement 5 weeks in, we’ve set up meal deliveries for them for the first 2 weeks as they transition or we have said, “Okay, we have one of the ladies on our leadership team has given us her garage basically to use as a storage facility,” and so we have tubs and tubs of clothing and toys and baby items, and so we’re able to say, “Look, you know, you have access to all these things.” And so I think, even for the unchurched people that it softens their heart that they’re getting the same love and support from the church, that our church members are getting. And then also to see within the group, someone who brought home a placement at maybe week 5, encourage someone who is about to bring home a placement at week 6. And really just like walk alongside them and build friendships where I think those people would not have ever stepped foot on a church campus, let alone become close friends with a believer.
Lynette Ezell: What a beautiful picture of the gospel. Well Carly thank you for sharing your story today and what.. just the man.. just the incredible plan John and you to. I know sometimes a beautiful life is not always.. it gets pretty messy sometimes.
Carly Susan: For sure
Lynette Ezell: I know, but he does want.. he does give us a hope and future and his plan is to prosper us and we’re just so grateful that you were able to share with us today and you know just be transparent and to share the pretty and the hard and the times when you, you know you just have bow on your face before the Lord and seek his strength.
Carly Susan: Yeah, there are a lot of times like that.
Tera Melber: It’s been a pleasure to have you today Carly. Thanks so much
Carly Susan: Thank you, I really appreciate it.
Tera Melber: May is National Foster Care Month. As the body of Christ, we each have a part to play in supporting the lives of children and you in foster care. For more information about foster care and supporting foster families go to sendrelief.org.