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Light Notes: Counting your blessings? This family has an extra special one.
By: Lucy Luginbill, Tri-City Herald

Count your blessings. Live thankfully.

This is the season when hearts gather in gratefulness.

On Thanksgiving, one little child will sit with hands folded, his head bowed in prayer, not yet realizing the magnitude of thankfulness to surround him. But those who love him know this little boy's gentle moment was unimaginable just 3 1/2 years ago.

"He was a meth baby," Brittney Tejeda said, remembering history she learned while he was in their foster care.

"His bio mom abused meth daily - among other things - and she had him almost 2 months early."

From the moment this infant's life began in 2015, there was distress.

His mother's drug addiction while he was in the womb, and life-threatening complications just before Ethan's delivery, presented forbidding challenges. An emergency Cesarean, early loss of amniotic fluid, a brain bleed and collapsed lung left doctors with little hope for Ethan -- a name meaning "strong and long-lived."

But could he breathe life into that name?

One night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. One week in NICU. Hope glimmered for this premature baby.

As days passed, Ethan fought to survive under the watchful eye of Kadlec Medical Center's team in Richland, Washington. What likely should have been a mother's moment-by-moment anticipation for the hour he could go home, instead became an exit door. She abandoned her newborn son.

Foster care was Ethan's foreseeable future. Yet, on the horizon, a blessing couldn't be seen - a "forever home," one held in another's heart long before this precious baby was even born.

"I first became interested in foster care as a small child. I remember it being around kindergarten age," Brittney said thoughtfully, as she described the at-risk home where she grew up. "So, we constantly were divided up as siblings between different family members."

During one stay at her grandmother's an impressionable moment created a permanent heart's desire.

"There was another little girl about my age, and Grandma favored me over this foster girl," Brittney said. She recalls emotions she felt. "And it really bothered me to see how Grandma would buy me the extra candy, ice cream, or the pretty dress, and this other child wouldn't get anything as much."

"About that age I decided I would be a foster parent."

Too young to know her life's purpose? Not for this little girl. Later, as a young woman, I was determined to not let even romance stand in my way.

"When I met my husband, it was, at most, a week and a half getting to know each other and we weren't official yet. And I asked, 'How many children do you want?'"

"We weren't on that subject yet!" Brittney said, smiling at how the unexpected conversation led to discuss foster care.

"He had a confused look like, 'What's that?' And I explained it and he said, 'Yes, I would do that. It sounds great.'

"Had he said 'No,' or 'I'm not sure' and wasn't confident, it wouldn't become a relationship later."

Their love blossomed. Marriage, home, and education for both in the health field followed. Brittney and husband Nic were now ready to find a foster child to join his 11-year old daughter.

"God made me for this. This is why I'm here," 31-year-old Brittney said about signing up to be a foster parent, and then added lightly, "I trained for years by being the oldest of seven. He made sure I was ready."

Equipped for respite foster care (stepping in when foster parents need relief), Brittney received a typical call on a wintry February morning in 2016 to care for another child, something she and Nic had done frequently. This was atypical. This busy mom had some free time when the plea came for immediate extended help.

Looking back, it was a godsend.

"Usually if the placement coordinator called on a Monday, I'd normally be unavailable," Brittney said. She worked on-call weekdays as a surgical technician and kept weekends free for her family.

"But this particular Monday, I didn't have a single shift assigned to me for that entire week."

Within the hour, an overwhelmed foster mom briefly dropped by with the 7-month-old baby, car seat and bag of clothing. What's missing for the weeklong stay? Any instructions for the infant's care.

"Ethan was so fragile. He was very ill and he didn't sleep -- and he cried constantly," Brittney said, remembering the difficult situation. But the instant bond grew stronger in spite of it.

"I called the foster mom directly because I had become very attached to baby boy -- so attached I wanted him to be mine.

"This is my son."

There were telephone calls and meetings with the social worker, paperwork and a weekend of anguish when state protocol required Ethan return to the original foster mom before he could relocate permanently.

"My heart broke! 'I have to give him back!' " Brittney said, her voice breaking.

"That was so hard, but I told myself I'd get him back on Monday and I'd never have to give him back again. Before that day finally came, it seemed like forever."

In his new foster home, Ethan thrived; his health improved so much so his doctors were amazed.

"We got him so chunky at one point he had no neck! He was just a butterball," Brittney said, chuckling at the memory of her smiley baby. "We checked in with his pediatrician, and the doctor was just blown away by how much better he was doing. He told us, 'He was meant for you guys.' "

A prognosis any parent would welcome.

On National Adoption Day in November 2016, Ethan officially became their son. With it came the decision to make "Ethan" his middle name (a nickname he had acquired in early foster care) and change his original birth name.

"Jaxx means 'God has been gracious; has shown favor,'" Brittney said with feeling. "I believe the Lord favored him, he guarded him and gifted him to us."

A blessing beyond measure.

(Lucy Luginbill is a career television producer-host and the Spiritual Life editor for the Tri-City Herald. In her column, she reflects on the meaning of her name, "Light Bringer." If you have a story idea for Light Notes, contact her at:

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