PANAMA CITY — Bobby & Cheryl Pruiett have been married a dozen years. In their fifth or sixth year, they started to try to become parents. They wanted to love and nurture a baby boy or girl and have their Christ-centered home filled with the kind of joy that only a child can bring. But God had other plans for them.
“Most of those years were spent going to fertility doctors,” Cheryl said. “We couldn’t handle the emotional, physical, spiritual or financial drain any longer, so we decided to try to make a difference in the lives of some children who were already here.” So they set out to become foster parents to make a lifelong impact in some children’s lives, even though they knew each boy or girl would be in their home only temporarily. They figured they’d be fostering older children; they didn’t know that foster care could include babies and they sure didn’t know that some of those babies could come up for adoption.
So in January 2005, the couple began the process to become foster parents through an agency in their northwest Florida hometown of Panama City. They enrolled in the required parenting classes that precede the “home study” process, wherein their background and home environment are thoroughly examined to determine if placing a child in their house would be in the child’s best interest — if it would be appropriate, adequate and safe.
Cheryl doesn’t work outside the home; Bobby is the Worship Pastor at Panama City’s Northside Baptist Church. She’s from Tennessee; he’s from Arkansas but went to college in Tennessee. During the year after she graduated from high school, Cheryl was smitten with the older but young man who had just joined her church’s staff as Youth and Music Minister. “I was almost one of his youth,” Cheryl recalled. “I thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen, so I got involved with the youth and even joined the choir…. Finally he noticed me and we dated for a while.” It didn’t matter that Cheryl was almost 6 feet tall and Bobby was under 5’5” — “we both got over that and figured out how to kiss good-night by him standing on a step.” They come from families with solid marriages that bore three children each; both their parents are still alive and still married. When Bobby & Cheryl tied the knot, they included a note on their wedding program thanking their parents “for being the examples for us of love and commitment by staying together ‘til death do you part.” So many children don’t have that example these days, Cheryl said.
It was during the Panama City parenting class that Bobby & Cheryl learned they could get licensed through Florida Baptist Children’s Homes. That excited them because, Cheryl said, “we knew the reputation of the Children’s Home and knew we’d rather get licensed through them; we are so thankful that we did.” It didn’t matter that, to work with the Children’s Homes, they’d have to interact with staff who were based in Tallahassee, a more than two-hour drive away.
In the spring of 2006, Children’s Homes’ Social Worker Mileya Storey worked with a community-based care agency to place the first foster child in the Pruiett home. She was a 13-month-young girl we’ll call Heather (to protect her privacy) who had been neglected by her mother. Heather’s parents were in the process of divorcing; dad lived in another state. “She was very dirty, her hair was scaly and scabby, her diaper looked a couple of days old and her clothes were very dirty and too small,” Cheryl recalled. “But she grinned at me and reached for me…. I got her cleaned up and she was beautiful.” A few weeks later, a judge ordered that Heather be turned over to her father’s custody. The Pruietts cried about that because they didn’t know what Heather’s future might hold; however, they were comforted by the knowledge that all children are ultimately in God’s care.
Shortly after the Pruietts said goodbye to Heather, their Florida Baptist Children’s Homes’ social worker had them saying hello to their second placement, whom we’ll call Jennifer. She, too, was only 13 months. Cheryl said they also met Jennifer’s mother and “my judgment quickly turned to compassion as I met this very young lady who was sobbing profusely and clutching her little girl. She began having babies at age 16. She was about 21, had three kids and was pregnant with her fourth. She just didn’t know how to take care of her kids. Never had a mom or anybody to teach her how to be a mom, to cook or to clean.” Jennifer’s siblings were placed in another foster home; they couldn’t stay in the Pruiett home because it wasn’t big enough. A few weeks later, in late June 2006, a foster home that could accommodate and reunite Jennifer and her siblings became available. It was very tough saying goodbye, Cheryl said: “Not only did we fall in love with her, but so did our church.”
Hurting from Jennifer’s departure, the Pruietts told Social Worker Mileya Storey they needed a break. “She respected that and didn’t mention another placement when she would call after that. She would just call to check on us,” Cheryl said. “Through this whole first and second placement, Mileya was such a rock for us, making sure we were ready for another placement and making sure we didn’t feel pressured to take another child until we were ready. She was so helpful in offering advice on grieving the loss of when they leave your home.”
Several weeks later, Mr. & Mrs. Pruiett told Mileya they were ready for their third placement, which happened on July 26th. The Pruietts will never forget it; they say that’s their son’s “Gotcha Day!”
He was a biracial boy (real name: Justyn) who had tested positive for cocaine when he was born only 3 weeks earlier. Cheryl elaborated: “Mom left the hospital when he was born and hasn’t been heard from. Her desires were to put the baby up for adoption, but there was an issue of paternity; she was married but her husband wasn’t the father. They were going through a divorce. The husband, being married to her, makes him the legal father but he didn’t want the boy.”
The legal matters delayed the process but were worked out. “Wasn’t long when Mileya called and said, ‘It looks like Justyn is going to come up for adoption; are you guys interested?’ ‘Are you kidding!?’” Cheryl replied. “You better believe it!” The adoption finalized on Aug. 8, 2007. The Pruietts are grateful to Children’s Homes’ Social Worker Jackie Barksdale, who “was very thorough” in handling the adoption.
At the final adoption hearing, the Pruietts asked to have their son’s name legally changed to Caleb Jordan; the judge granted the request. “There are several instances in the Bible where something significant happened in a person’s life and God changed their name,” Cheryl said. Informally, the Pruietts call him Jordan or “Buddy.” “He calls us ‘Mommee’ and ‘Daddee.’ Music to our ears.”
When Buddy was about 6 months old, he started having seizures. Doctors said it was because of his mother’s drug use when she was pregnant with him. Cheryl Pruiett: “We spent a week in (a Pensacola hospital) with him. It was very difficult watching this precious little baby going through the seizures and the rounds of tests and blood drawings. I began to wonder how a mother could possibly subject her son to this. Anger began to set in. Then bitterness started to creep in. I was finally eaten up with wrong emotions toward a woman I had never even met. I stayed angry for what seemed like days. I began to ask God to take away these feelings towards his birth mom. As strong as I have ever felt Him impress anything on my heart, He impressed upon me this: ‘How can you be angry and bitter toward the very person who allowed your dreams of becoming a mom to come true?’ Wow! The more I prayed for myself in this matter, the more I began to pray for her. I even have grown to love her, even though I’ve never met her. I pray often for the opportunity one day to get to meet her — if, for no other reason, just to hug her neck and tell her ‘thank you.’”
Cheryl said her son, who will be 2 years old on June 28, 2008, is doing fine now. No developmental delays. At his most recent check up, the doctor said, “Your son is very smart and very healthy.” Bobby & Cheryl praise God for that.
Buddy is “a little firecracker” who has a lot of energy and seems to never sit still. He’s very inquisitive, too. The Pruietts are teaching him about Jesus. Cheryl is also teaching him sign language and — simultaneously — manners and communications skills; she’s showing him how to use his hands to say “please,” “thank you” and other niceties. Buddy doesn’t have any hearing problems and neither do his new parents; it’s just a skill Cheryl learned years ago when she taught deaf children.
Since their son’s adoption, Bobby & Cheryl have fostered two more infants through Florida Baptist Children’s Homes and they intend to welcome more into their home in the future. And they want to adopt “at least one more time.”
Mr. & Mrs. Pruiett couldn’t be happier with their little Buddy. “He is absolutely beautiful!” Cheryl said. “People stop me to say how beautiful he is…. We have so thoroughly enjoyed him, even the mischievous stages, I think, because we waited and trusted the Lord for so long. We don’t take him for