The vibrant blue of Ashley’s high school cap and gown contrasts brilliantly against the beige walls of the church sanctuary and the wood-stained pulpit she stands behind. It is “Graduation Sunday” at Fellowship Baptist Church in Winston-Salem where the 18 year old attends with her adoptive parents, Roger and Shanell Cook, and her siblings.
“In the last few years I’ve had time to think about where my life has been and where it is going,” the teen shares with the congregation. She was asked to speak as a part of the Sunday service. “As I’ve thought about it, I have begun to see life as a book and God as the author.”
It has taken many years for Ashley to see God within her story because of the difficult childhood she endured. Born to a mother and father who struggled with addiction, Ashley spent 13 years with her biological parents until she was placed into the custody of the NC foster care system.
“For a long time I couldn’t see any light at the end of my tunnel,” she divulges. “I only saw it getting worse.”
Growing up, Ashley was not a believer but occasionally attended a local church when its van ministry picked her up on Sunday mornings. As a child in the foster care system, the God she learned about as a young girl was the recipient of her anger.
“I had endured countless traumas that made me question ‘Does God even have any purpose for me here at all?’” Ashley says. “I was so enraged with God and those around me. I constantly wondered what I did to deserve the life I had been given.”
A turning point came when Ashley, while in foster care, attended a
Christian camp. It was through that experience that she accepted Christ.
“I was so consumed with all the ugly and bad in my life that I was too blind to see the bigger picture,” Ashley explains. “It wasn’t until many years later that this picture came to light as I was saved by Christ and then adopted by mom and dad.”
Roger and Shanell Cook, who had been trained and licensed as foster parents by Baptist Children’s Homes
(BCH), received a call from their BCH case manager about then 15-year-old Ashley. In addition to their biological son, the couple had fostered and later adopted two other children. Yet, they invited the teen to come.
“Like the other children, when she first came she was kind of in her shell,” says Roger. “We told her that when you are a part of a family it’s not a short-term thing -- it’s a lifetime.”
Ashley had been fostered by the Cooks for less than three months when she knew she wanted to be a part of the family for a “lifetime.” Ashely was adopted on October 1.
“Before, surviving and just getting through was my focus,” Ashley shares. “Between God and mom and dad, I’ve learned that my focus needs to be less on myself and more on loving others.
“My siblings have helped me open my heart to others.”
"Ashley originally wanted a home with no children and now she has the complete opposite,” Shanell reveals. “She was a missing piece of our family and has overcome so much.”
The high school graduate is now focused on her next steps which include studying to be a dental hygienist at Forsyth Technical Community College. Ashley has also completed course prerequisites by taking early college classes through Davidson Davie Community College. She received a $1,000 Leadership Scholarship through Chick-fil-A where she works.
“Being with mom and dad has opened up opportunities -- things that I never thought I’d be doing when I was younger,” Ashley says. “It’s a life of serving God, following through with His plans for me and making my younger self proud.”
Just as she shared at the end of her speech with her church, Ashley hopes her journey encourages others and assures them that God is indeed present within the pages of their stories. “Trust that whatever chapter of your life you may be in or challenges you face that God has a purpose in all of it.”
Written by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Director of Communications Graduation photos by by Yasmine Leonard Photography
Is God calling you to be foster and/or adoptive parents? Just as Roger and Shanell Cook were trained and licensed by Baptist Children's Homes, we can also equip you to impact the lives of NC foster children like Ashley. Learn more at our EVERY CHILD Initiative, a partnership with NC Baptists, at every-child.org