There is always a flurry of activity surrounding Matt & Lisa Hickman. With four boys ages eight, seven, four, and two, life rarely slows down for this family. However, the Good News got them to slow down long enough to share a little bit about the triumphs and challenges of their journey through fostering and adopting their now seven-year-old son, Shawn.
Good News (GN): What made you open to fostering in the first place?
Lisa Hickman (LH): We always talked about one day adopting but we never knew when or how God would direct us. One Sunday, one of the pastors at our church shared about the ministry of 4KIDS. He told us that, at that very moment, there were 12 kids under the age of 12 living in one of the 4KIDS shelters, without parents and without a home. Four of those 12 were just infants. Our hearts broke hearing this, and we knew that helping one of those kids in need is what God had for us next.
Matt Hickman (MH): Even before we were married, the plight of the modern-day orphan was shared regularly at our church, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. We said, “We’d love to do that!” but we had no idea if, when, or how that would happen. We got married in 2002, and had our firstborn child in 2003. Our lives were “coming along nicely,” I guess you could say, when we welcomed our daughter, Lauryn, into the world in 2005. However, Lauryn was born with some serious health issues, and the Lord took her home to heaven when she was just 16 months old. Through that time, the worst time in our lives, God birthed in us a desire to minister to a child who was in need or who didn’t have a chance. We took the classes required to become foster parents, and soon had an opportunity to welcome “Alex” into our home.
GN: What was going through your minds the day that “Alex”/Shawn first came to live with you?
MH: Well, we got the call from 4KIDS that they had a child ready to be placed with us. About three days before he came to us, we got to visit him for the first time at the shelter. That was on a Friday. That next Monday, we went and picked him up with his backpack with a few toys and a few clothes inside. That was everything that Shawn owned in this world. He came to our house and the first thing we did was play out front in the driveway. Our son became an instant big brother and willingly shared all of his things with Shawn.
LH: I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was blessed by how he just came right up to me and sat in my lap. He hugged us and just played with us. He loved us right from the beginning and we instantly fell in love with him.
GN: Share a little bit about the initial stages of fostering Shawn. Share some of the joys and some of the challenges.
LH: Like I said before, we really had no idea what to expect. We were told by 4KIDS that Shawn had been through a lot in his short life. To be honest, it was tough at first. Shawn had never really been loved, socialized, or disciplined before, and he was pretty freaked out. But, slowly but surely, we saw things begin to change. Today, he is a completely different child than he was five years ago.
MH: Yeah, It was pretty tough at first. Shawn’s mother had been a drug addict and a prostitute. She would lock him in hotel room closets for hours and sometimes days at a time while she turned tricks for crack. Because of all of this, Shawn was very developmentally delayed. He was two-and-a-half when he came to live with us, but we were told he was at the developmental level of an 18-month-old. Since he would sometimes go days without eating when he was with his mom, he would stuff himself with food at every meal, sometimes to the point of getting sick. He had problems interacting socially with adults and other children. He would hit and kick Lisa. When we dropped him off at childcare at church, he would lay on the floor and scream and flail around. It got to the point where we met with 4KIDS and almost stopped fostering him. Through the counsel of 4KIDS, we persevered and watched Shawn slowly begin to become established and settled. It has been a journey, but it’s been absolutely amazing to see the change in Shawn’s life.
GN: How did this turn from a foster situation into a permanent adoption? Was it an easy/natural decision to make?
LH: It was. Shawn became a part of our family from day one. We decided that, if it was God’s will for us and for Shawn, we gladly adopt him if and when that time came. He was a missing piece to our family. After almost two years of walking through the fostering process, the courts decided he could permanently stay with us, and we were blessed to adopt him.
MH: After having Shawn for years in our house, when adoption became an option it was like he was already our son. It was a natural transition. We adopted “Alex” and changed his name to Shawn Alexander. Both of our families came to the courthouse on that day, and we went around the room and all shared about how Shawn had impacted and changed each of us. It was a real time of joy and celebration for our entire family.
GN: Now, five years later and looking back, what has been the most rewarding part of this journey? What has the Lord done in your lives through this experience?
LH: It is always such a blessing to see Shawn do things with such a joyful heart. He has taught us so much through the way that he sees the good in everything. He had a lot to work through, but even with all that, he is one of the most loveable kids I know. He’s so quick to want a hug or kiss, and he always wants to help others and share with them; even if it means he has to give something up himself.
MH: Seeing God’s redemption in Shawn’s life has been incredible. Watching how he interacts so well with his three brothers and seeing him grow into a young, mature little boy has been nothing short of a miracle. Thinking where Shawn would be today without the Lord’s intervention in his life, it’s humbling and amazing for us to be a part of what God has done and continues to do.
GN: You two have become real advocates for the ministry of 4KIDS and for foster care/adoption through this whole process. Why is that?
LH: Pastor Doug Sauder, the President of 4KIDS, signs every letter with “Until Every Child Has a Home.” That is not just something they say—they really mean it. We have been blessed to meet so many other foster and adoptive families through this process who have stories just like ours. Just knowing how many kids’ lives have been impacted is so incredible to witness. We have seen how God has continued to grow this ministry, and we know it’s because they do it all as unto the Lord.
GN: What would you say to another family who is considering fostering, or perhaps may just now be thinking about it for the first time hearing your story?
LH: Do it! There are so many different ways you can help. Prayer, respite care, safe families, fostering – the list goes on! The opportunities are all there waiting. We are so thankful we listened to God and obeyed when we called us to do this. Our goal was to bless a child in need, and we were the ones who ended up being blessed the most.
MH: It’s not the easiest thing you will ever do, but it is definitely the most rewarding. Fostering and adoption literally gives you the opportunity to save a child’s life. There are 3,000 kids in Broward County that will go to bed tonight without parents in their life to love them. You can take a child who has been outcast and rejected and give them an opportunity to experience God’s love through you. You can be “Jesus with skin on” to that little boy or girl.
Inspired? Want to find out more about how to get involved? Visit the 4KIDS of South Florida website at www.4kids.org or call (954) 979-7911.