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Episode 42

Special Needs Advocate and AGCI Adoptive Mom Ashley Felts

Ashley Felts, AGCI Adoptive Mom

You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Melissa Rush.

Today, we’re chatting with Ashley Felts, an AGCI adoptive mom passionate about advocating for children, living with special needs. Ashley and her husband are currently in the process of adopting their third child. And their story is one of letting go and surrendering to God’s plan for their family. Well, it isn’t always easy. Their adoption story is full of hope, joy and tremendous faith. Let’s get into our conversation.

Thanks so much for joining us, Ashley. Hi. So can you kind of just start with, you know, why your family decided to adopt in the first place and specifically internationally? Yeah. So in 2014 is when we pursued adoption. Um, and at that point, Stan and I had been married. Um, well, I don’t really know how many years, 16 years or something like that. And we had four biological kids. Um, and, you know, we had said in the past that adoption would be, you know, we would be on board for, um, to adopt a child, but with a one income family and, you know, adding four kids, you know, to our plate of life. Um, I guess it just kinda got put on the back burner, I guess you would say. And we really didn’t speak about it a whole lot.

Um, until 2014, the spring of 2014, um, Stan’s sister had a dream and her and I were talking on the phone one day, which we never ever talk on the phone, but we were talking about something completely off subject. But before we started the conversation, she said, I just feel like I’m supposed to tell you this. She said, I had a dream the other night that Stan was holding a dark skinned little girl and she was calling him daddy. And I remember it clearly I was walking the streets of our neighborhood and I just started boo-hooing. I didn’t really even have time to process what she said. It was just, something came over me. And so I got off the phone and I went and told Stan, and he immediately was overwhelmed with emotion. And that honestly is where it started. Um, we very clearly knew that the Lord was calling us to adopt. And at that point we had not discussed domestic or international special needs or healthy track or anything of that nature. Um, we literally were just kind of like, okay, Lord, you’re going to have to show us what, what are we supposed to be doing here? And, um, how we ended up in the country that we ended up at was, um, it’s just very simple, but the Lord spoke very clearly to me. I was sitting on the couch when night and up on our TV.

I had YouTube going and I was just listening to worship sounds. And um, this little Filipino boy came on and started singing rooftops, um, back Christian artist. And very clearly a hurricane say, you have a little girl in the Philippines and I need you to bring her home. So again, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Dan was sitting on the other couch and he looked over at me. He was like, what is wrong? I have a little girl in the Philippines and that’s where we’re supposed to adopt from. I’m like she had piggy tails. Like I just saw it so clearly. And he said, okay. So we really had no preference. That was literally how we ended up, um, in the Philippines program. And again, because we have no clue what we’re doing in this adoption process, we really kind of had to put it back on God and say, look, we’re walking blindly here because you called us to do this. We’re doing this as an act of obedience to what you have called us today. Like I just said, so you’re really going to have to lead us and every step, um, because I know for me, I was very scared of like making the wrong decision, like choosing the wrong adoption agency, um, choosing the wrong social work or choosing the wrong country, um, choosing the wrong child.

Um, I was very fearful that I was going to somehow mess up God’s plan that he called the Phelps family too, which is kind of silly now, but I look back, but, um, so you know, the next step was, um, well let me back up, let me say this. Um, I’m sure a lot of people can relate to what I’m fixing to say. So we very clearly knew that God called our family to adoption of a little girl in the Philippines. Well, you know, as Christians, we like to air quote, pray about things. That’s a form to procrastinate, to like, feel better, like, like really leaning on Jesus. And we’re really want to hear what he’s saying, even though he’s already told me what he needed to tell me. So that was in the fall of 2014. So standing out, sitting on the couch saying was like, okay, well, why don’t we just get through the holidays? And in January of 2015, we’ll discuss and we’ll figure out where we’re going, what we’re doing, all of those things. I said, okay. So I went to bed the Lord very clearly. I have never heard God speak so many times to me in a very short amount of time. I just very clearly remember him saying, and Ashley, I need you to put your boat in the water right now and let me lead it where I may.

And I was like, okay, so I was ready, set, go. But I needed to tell Stan this. So I think it was the next day I told Stan, I said, I really feel like God is telling us we have to get up and go now. And he said, okay, let’s go. So sat down that night, looked at the computer, trying to figure out what adoption agency to use, because, um, that’s a huge factor in an adoption process. Uh, there are some wonderful agencies out there and then there are some not so wonderful agencies out there. Um, and so again, I didn’t want to like mess up God’s plan by choosing the wrong agency. And I say, God, you got to show us and pulled up the computer. We literally just typed in adoption agencies and AGCS came up and I mean, we read y’all’s mission statement and how you really try to, um, keep the birth mother and the child together. Um, find jobs for these women who want to keep their babies, but maybe they live in such poverty. They don’t have enough money to take care of their child. And y’all really provide a lot of other avenues other than just bringing kids into families. And it was just immediately, we were like, that’s the agency we’re supposed to use. And that’s really how we ended up, uh, with AGCI. Wow. That’s I just, I love your story.

I think it’s um, so it will be decent. And, uh, also I just, I have to ask, so, so many families that I talk to a lot of times there’s a spouse. I’m not gonna, you know, be negative on dads, but it tends to be, tends to be the dad who is, uh, maybe a little bit more hesitant or kind of take some convincing or kind of needs to see or hear the signs, you know, for themselves. Like it’s. I mean, from the story that you just told, it sounded like your husband was pretty onboard from the get go. Like, what is that just kind of how he is and just his trust or was there, is there more of a story there? Um, I do. I mean, apple, he is a planner and he likes to have all of the answers upfront and he likes to have a plan, a plan B plan C. Um, and so it honestly was just a God thing, the fact that he was just, okay, let’s go and do this. Um, now that doesn’t mean that he didn’t see it and like throw out all these questions and okay, what if this happens and what are we going to do here? How are we going to financially provide, so this adoption, I think that was his biggest hold up right there.

Um, so yeah, his nature is very much, he needs to research and have all the answers upfront, but in this, it was just kind of like, okay, we very clearly know this is God speaking to us because, you know, I think it’s, it’s so easy to like, I know I do anyways. I’m always questioning like, was that God speaking to me? Or is it just me? Is, am I just like looking into the Phoenix and seeing something that I want to do? And I’m convincing myself that the Lord has led me there. I don’t know. Yeah, no, I, I mean, that’s, that’s wonderful. And I think it’s totally normal to have those questions and hesitations and, you know, even if you feel like this is what your family is called to do that doesn’t mean, you know, you, aren’t going to have those practical conversations of like, okay, but how do we make this? How do we make this? Yes. I think that that’s one thing you really have to go into it, knowing that you won’t have all the answers. Um, but what’s on the other end of all of it is a child is somewhat as an orphan. Someone who does not have a family. And if it’s not your family stepping up to say yes to that child, then that child could remain fatherless for the rest of his or her life.

And so that’s that again, that was a huge, um, that actually is what kept us going whenever we didn’t have the answers was okay, there’s a little girl on the other end of this and we just gotta keep on going and we’re going to figure it out and God’s going to provide, and he’s not going to lead us astray, you know? Yeah. I mean, I think that that is, is something that well, that that’s totally true and important. I think it can be hard for people to, um, to let go of, of the fears that they have. Like you said, I mean, you were worried about which, I mean, how could you do that, but messing up the plan that God had for your family. And so was there like anything with like prayer verse or like a support group or something that kind of helped you get through those fears? Um, honestly, you know, what really kept us going? I mean, our family was very supportive from the get-go. Um, all of our friends, our family, we, we never had any backlash from anyone within our little circle of life, but I tell you, one thing that really kept us going was number one, our, why, you know, why are we doing this? We are doing this as an act of obedience to what God’s called our family to do.

It’s it’s, you know, are choosing to say yes to adoption was not because we felt like we wanted to add more kids to our family. We were perfectly fine with four kids. Um, it, it was truly just, um, an act of service, you know, an act of just obedience to what God’s called us to do another resource that really helped both of us was honestly, I’m just getting on there and looking at other, watching other families walk through the adoption process, um, really helped us gain confidence and, and knowing and saying like, if they can do it, we can do it. You know? And I think that that’s, you know, we’re now in our third adoption process. Um, and so we get a lie that we’re, you know, super amazing people. We have all the patients in the world and like, almost like we’re in a whole separate group by ourself, you know, we’re just like extra ordinary people. And the fact is, is we are not, we are average every day family. We have our ups, we have our downs. We were just like any other family. It’s just, we chose to say yes.

And so looking and just watching those videos of other families who were doing exactly what we were fixing to do really helped calm a lot of the fears and it, by no means answered the questions we were looking for, but it was just kind of like, we can do this. And again, I know asset this a lot during that adoption process was God doesn’t want to lead you astray. Like he didn’t, he didn’t lead us here. He didn’t kind of ask us to do this to all of a sudden, just take his hands off and kind of run the other way and leave us clueless, like wants to goddess. He wants to provide for us. And, um, I mean, he certainly did, you know, above and beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined. So yes, community family, friends support is, is essential. Um, obviously your faith in God obviously is essential, but YouTube videos were where it was at for us really, for all of our adoptions. Yeah, I think that’s so, and that’s what we’re trying to do, like through our, you know, blogs and social media and this podcast, or just kind of like make people feel you’re not alone. People have gone through this while it can feel, you know, like you sat. I mean there’s days that are, that are good, that are bad, that are, you know, you’re not going to have all the answers.

Um, but so many people have gone through this and there’s this whole community of people who are thinking about you and praying for you and, you know, they’re just to, sometimes you just need someone to listen to, right? Yeah, absolutely. Because it is one of those situations that unless you walked through it, it’s very hard to really understand what an adoptive family is going through. Um, so finding a support system of other families who have walked the journey you’ve walked is, is very essential and very beneficial. Um, but you know, we share a lot on social media about all of our adoptions and about all of our girls. Um, we feel like that is something that God’s just impressed upon us. That number one, Christians need to see other Christians stepping out in faith, getting out of their uncomfortable little bubble of life and doing something for the kingdom of God. And so we feel great, um, a great heavy burden that we, we need to share that we need to share. And we need other Christians to say that like the Phelps family is stepping up and saying yes, and they, they don’t have all the answers. They don’t have all the resources, they don’t have all of that, you know, but they’re doing it anyways. And we share a lot about our girls, like I just said, and I think it’s, I know it is it’s. So to nothing about adoption is normal, right?

It comes from grief. It comes from, um, abandonment. It just comes from yet, right. But there’s some level within me where I want to make adoption normal. Not that adoption is normal. I want to make families saying yes to adoption normal. That’s what I’m trying to say. Um, I want it to become more of a normalized thing that families are stepping out to choose adoption. Even more said, choosing adoption of special needs kids that might scare the bejesus out of you. Because our second little girl that we adopted has a lot of special needs is she’s, she’s been a hint. You know, she’s been quite challenging, um, just with her, her medical challenges and all of that, that have come with her, but sharing it. And I’ve had a lot of people say that to me, that they really admire this is not to toot my own horn, but they admire that. We share all the ups and downs of our adoption journeys after we bring these girls home, because it just, it paints a real picture because families going into it knowing like, yeah, for us, this is amazing. We’re giving this little child a better life and a family and all those things. And we see it as sunshine and rainbows when really like, it can be really hard through that hard God’s grace is sufficient. His provision is sufficient.

Like all of those things are just, I mean, you just, it’s just amazing to see the transformation that God has done within our family, by going through these adoptions. And I just would not trade it for the world. I I’m glad you brought up, um, special needs, just cause I think that a lot of people, you know, when you first start out in the adoption process, a lot of people are like, oh, I want to adopt a zero to two year old, healthy, you know, all these things, which, you know, obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s so many kid, like you said, I mean, adoption is born from, from grief and trauma and, um, at a minimum there’s going to be some emotional difficulties that you have to work through. Can you just talk about when your family, obviously you were following God’s call and were open to where he was leading you, but, um, the special nee you know, kind of being open to special needs can be something that’s really scary for families. How did you kind of work through that or, or, you know, determine how that would work for you guys? Yeah, that’s a good question. So, um, I’m sure that, I guess my answer is going to point back to, um, to the gospel and to what, um, to what Jesus did for us.

Um, so when we, when we sat down with AGCI y’all were in the Philippines pilot program, y’all had just been in there for a year or two, and y’all were only in the special needs programs. So we were like, okay, well, that’s where we’re supposed to be. So, okay. Um, and you know, as we’re filling out all of that paperwork, uh, there’s that, um, three or four page intense, the checklist checklist checklist that you have to go through and choose, you know, which medical conditions are you willing to accept and which ones will you not accept and a child. And that was very, very hard. Um, you know, because you don’t want to turn away any child because you feel like they’re too much for you because at the end of the day, I think if people went and experienced and saw what these kids lived through, they would come away a completely changed person. And so for us, it was a very heavy burden to carry, to look at these conditions and I’d be like, yeah, we’re not comfortable with that. So, no. Um, and the Lord really spoke with Stan on this very clearly. And that’s what I was just saying. It goes back to the gospel. Um, the Lord spoke to him and said, Stan, what if I denied you? What FSA your baggage, your CN was too much for me and I turned you away, but I didn’t turn you away.

I died on the cross for you and accepted you into my family. And that was, that changed it for Stan. And he shared that with me. And I was like, yes, like I feel the same way. And so, um, we centrally for our family, not every family has to do what’s best for them, uh, use wisdom in the decisions. Um, but look like, again, the Lord is going to provide for you. And the Lord is going to carry a lot of the, the load that you’re trying to carry yourself. And it is a very heavy load to carry choosing a special needs child. Um, but he wants to carry that for you. And I think that’s, that’s a really big thing that like, we’re trying to do it all ourselves. Um, when he just really wants you to take your hands off and honestly put it back on him and say, okay, God, I’ve pretty much said any child that you want to bring into our family, whatever needs that child has, where you’re willing to take in that child and that you need to guide us, you need to lead us. You need to like help us help us through this. And so, um, we pretty much were wide open in the special needs department and pretty much just left that in God’s court to say, you know what, whatever he gives us, he’s going to help us through it.

And so that’s really where we ended up and, you know, once we traveled to the Philippines to bring, make an Ella home, uh, we brought her home in 2016. We got to spend a couple of days at her orphanage and we’ll, this is where I get emotional. Um, she lives in a very amazing, an amazing little orphanage with like 14 or 15 kids. And we got to spend time with each of those kids and, um, sane. And I went very prepared to the Philippines, not physically prepared. I mean, we weren’t physically prepared. I’m talking about emotionally prepared and real this having no expectations of what bonding and attachment was going to look like, no expectations were put on myself or Stan other than just accepting, make it Ella. However, that looks, um, we did that really well. I feel like, and that, that is huge. Uh, but what we were not prepared for was on the second day, which was our last day of the orphanage we had, we were leaving. So make it, Ella was excited to go with us. That wasn’t a problem at all, but we were not prepared to look at that back windshield and see those big metal bar gates close to the orphanage. And literally all these little faces were sticking out, waving bye-bye. And I just remember thinking like, oh my gosh, so many of those kids will never have a family.

They will never experience what make an Ella is experiencing right now, unless families step up and say yes. And that changed us, seeing that and experiencing that and leaving those little faces behind changed our hearts dramatically. And really from that point on, we were like, okay, God, we are all in however many kids you want to bring into our family, whatever their needs look like. We, we are here to do it. And it’s so interesting how God just pecks away at your heart. Little by little, by little. It doesn’t happen all at once. Um, but after bringing Macon, Ella home, we knew we were going to adopt again and again, I went back to YouTube videos and I found myself, I found myself watching all the videos of these special needs, kids that were intense. They came with some major medical needs. They were scary. Like they were scary, um, that my heart was like being softened for them. And that was only a God thing. I was like, our next adoption. I want a child that everyone else would run from. And sure enough, the Lord did exactly that you brought LA Isabel into our life. And, um, she, she would have died in that orphanage because no one was coming for her. So it is just it’s, you know, like I said, it doesn’t happen all at once. The Lord doesn’t just like peel back all the layers of your heart at once.

It’s just little by little by little, and we are not the same people that we were in 2014 when we started this adoption, our kiddos are not the same. So, so yeah, that’s how we ended up with special needs. And that’s where our heart is. Oh, it’s such a beautiful story. And I think that’s so true. It’s not like you wake up one morning and this is, you know, what you’re doing and it’s, it, it is kind of like a slow, like softening, like you said. And I think that that’s a really beautiful way that, um, that God works with things like this. Like it, he doesn’t give you more than you can handle, obviously. Um, even though, but like you said, I mean, seven years ago, if you looked at what, you know, your, your life is like now and what your family’s like now that probably would give you a heart attack, but you know, it ended up being the right path for you and your family and your children and, um, and you’re prepared for it. And, you know, I mean, not, not to say it’s not hard, but he prepared you for it along the way. Um, can you talk a little bit about, um, so you had four biological kids, um, before you adopted, um, what was that like for them? Like how did they feel about adoption? What was the transition like, particularly with bringing your first daughter home?

Yeah, so our kid is at the time when we started discussing adoption in 2014, I believe they were, were around ages, maybe like four to 12, four to 13. I’m not good at math. from toddlers to early teens. That’s where our four kiddos were and, you know, um, it’s so it’s so cool. And I, sometimes I sound like I’m getting off track, but I’m really not getting off track. It’s cool to sit back and look at how God, again, like we were talking about peeling back, the layers, how God started, started preparing us when we were little, like when staying in our little, um, I grew up going to on mission trips with my church. We went to orphanages, we went to one particular orphanage and rhino, Mexico. And I think we went like 13 times. And I remember there were special needs kids there that scared me. Like I, you know, I’m talking I’m 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old. And I remember just being scared of this one particular special needs kids just because I had never been around anyone like that. But every year on weekend, like I just got more comfortable and more comfortable with being around him and being around all these other little kiddos that were so different than me. Um, so I grew up just kind of, I mean, mission trips is what I lived for. Like, we looked forward to them from summer to summer Stan in high school.

I mean, he was as big, you know, buff athletic guy. Like everyone loves stay in. He was the life of the party. Um, but he had such a tender heart for some of the special needs kids that went to his high school. Oh wow. And, um, and like he would always take in those kids that everyone else would kind of make fun of. And so it’s just neat to look back and say that God was just really preparing us for what was to come many, many years later. And so I’m saying that to say that our kids, our biological kids are the exact same way. Addison has a huge heart. Our oldest son, he charged for special needs. And he would always, when he would go to jujitsu, he would always take in the, I think there was one kid there with down syndrome. I think I could be mistaken, but like, they just were developing again, this heart for kids that were different than them. And so when we brought up adoption to them, they were sitting on a couch and waste. We said, look, guys, we know we’ve talked about adoption before, but we’re very serious right now. Like we really feel like this is what we’re supposed to be doing. And how would you feel about that? And we asked them, we were like, we’re possibly bringing home a child with special needs and that’s, they’re going to look different than you.

They’re going to act differently than you. Are you going to be able to love them and protect them? Like you do your sisters and your brothers. Um, are you going to be okay when they’re getting more attention than maybe you’re getting now, because they’re going to come home with a lot of needs and those kids didn’t even have to think twice about it. They were just like, yes, absolutely. Like we want to bring home a child in our family and yes, we can love them. So for us and our kids, it was an easy resounding yes, but I know that is not the case for a lot of families. And I know that that’s a staff and finances. I know a lot of parents have a really hard time feeling like they’re going to take experiences away from their biological kids and they’re going to disrupt their comfortable life. Then they’re not going to be able to be involved in so many activities. And well, those are valid reasons. Your kids need to know shoot kids and adults need to know that the world does not revolve around them, that there are people out there that need help. There are people out there who have it way worse than anything you can imagine. And if we are not stepping up to help those people, then what are we doing? What are we doing in life? Does it really even matter?

And so adoption is the best thing, the best parenting thing we have done for our biological kids, because it has transformed them like nothing else. And it is so beautiful to watch sure there are struggles. Sure. There are hard times and challenges that may arise, but letting your child live a day-to-day life of like sacrificing what they want sacrificing their time, their energy, for someone who possibly would not have a family, if it wasn’t for your family, I mean, that is going to help mold and shape them into some amazing human beings. And so, um, it’s been a great experience for our kids. Um, and I would not change it for the world. Oh, that’s so wonderful to hear. Yeah. Like you said, I mean, obviously it varies from family to family, um, how kids feel about it initially, but I will say, I think universally, it ends up being a positive experience and just opens their heart to, to people who are different than them and to different experiences and cultures and, and all things that we want for, for our kids. I think ultimately, so why not within your own home, do you have, um, advice for families who, you know, maybe have been thinking about adoption, but, um, have hesitated for whatever reason? Wow.

There’s so much I could say, but I think I’ll tell you what I will say this, um, I know a lot of people who are thinking about adopting, they feel like they need to pray about it. They need to see if this is what the Lord wants for them. And, and I get it. You need to be prayerful. You need to use wisdom, like all of those things, but the Lord has already commanded us to take care of her widows and orphans. If he’s already commanded you, then why are you needing to ask him if this is the right thing to do, you are setting the gospel and to, but choosing adoption, why would he not want your family to pursue something that is his heart to the core? So I think, I think a lot of families want big clear signs as to like, you know, with Mika, Ella and choose and with make it, Ella is an option in Isabelle’s adoption. It was very clear. Like you have a child in the Philippines, here’s go getter with Isabel in China, very clear like you were to bring her home. Um, so yes, there are some, some, some amazing stories where you’re like, dang, they had it like written all over the stars that they were supposed to bring that child home.

But with our third adoption, the Lord is like, just again, work, constantly worked and pecked at our hearts that like, we don’t have to pray for the, we don’t have to pray for the Lord to bless us and guide us in choosing adoption. He has already commanded us to do so. If we have the mains, if we have the ability to bring in another child, the Lord is going to bless you and guide you. And so with our third adoption, I was getting ready to advocate for her. Um, we knew we wanted to adopt again. We we’re just going to wait maybe another year and then start one. And it was like, it wasn’t this big aha moment. It wasn’t this big, it wasn’t this big light bulb moment. It was just, Hey Ashley, why not your family? Like, why can’t you bring this little girl home? And so I tell Stan, I said, babe, why not us? Like, why, why can’t we bring her home instead of trying to advocate for her? And he was like, okay. Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t like, we felt like we had to pray for the Lord’s guidance in this decision because these aren’t answered our prayers, but telling us to take care of the widows and the orphans. So I feel like sometimes you just got to get up and go, and the Lord is, God, you is gonna lead. You.

He’s gonna provide for you, um, agencies, like AGCI who are a huge support for families before, during and after like, you’re going to have resources at every single fingertip you’re going to have everything that you need. You just kind of have to let go and just say, yes, the best decision until you. I have never, even through the hardship, even through the struggles, like, and all the unknowns and all the days of like, how am I going to like, just get through the day and like, finish this out with these kids. I don’t even know the joy that comes from that. Like an, as some people are hearing that and they’re like, whatever, you can experience joy when you’re ticked off at the world and you’re frustrated and, and all these things are happening. Like yes, you can like, and that joy only comes from the Lord. And y’all Isabelle, our little girl that we adopted from China, like I’ve already said, she’s coming with a lot of struggles. I mean, she lived a terrible first five and a half years of her life and an orphanage, a lot of struggles. And that child brings more joy to our family than like anything else. And it is only God. And you are just missing out on so much, so much. Goodness, but not saying yes, that’s so beautiful. Well, Ashley, thank you so much for sharing your story and you have such a beautiful, incredible family.

Um, and I know that this is going to be such an encouragement to so many people. So thank you. Thank you for having me on and letting me share, um, I absolutely love talking about adoption and I just think, I hope there’s families on here who maybe heard something that they needed to hear to push them into action and just to get them get, wait. So thank y’all so much for asking me to be on here. Yeah, of course.

That was Ashley felts. AGCI adoptive mom.

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