Drive up a steep hill on the west side of Coleman, look to the right at the very top and you’ll come to the Shira place.
It’s hard to say exactly how many people live on the two acres, not to mention eight chickens, two goats, one miniature donkey, turtles, a dog, kittens–you get the picture. The family always consists of mom and dad, Chas and Katie Shira, and their children, Jett, 6, Tripp, 4, Truly, 2, and Cal, 10 months.
But that number can change at any minute and frequently does. In June, the Shiras took in their eighth foster child, a 7-week-old girl. Jett was their first and later was adopted. The other three children are biological.
To add to the mix of people who live in the house, there is a steady stream of people stopping by, usually with enough food for at least one meal, if not more. Or, someone like Audrey Wade might drop in just to give mom and dad a break. Audrey helps with the youth programs at First Baptist Church in Coleman, where Chas has been the pastor since April 2018. When she took time off to get married, Katie filled in for her.
“We all do a really good job of taking care of each other,” Audrey said.
Just to prove the point, Ben and Carmen Runyan, also church members, stopped by with food. They were taking food to another couple at church who had recently had a baby, so they made extra for the Shira clan. If it weren’t for the support from church members, family, and other friends, Chas and Katie admit they couldn’t be foster parents at a moment’s notice, something they both feel called to do.
“If we didn’t have that,” Katie said, “I don’t think we would be doing this.”
Thankfully, the support is there and Chas and Katie are able to fulfill their calling. The journey to heed that call has been a long one. Chas grew up in Hamlin and Katie in Longview. Chas earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Hardin-Simmons University in December 2001 and worked for First Financial Bank. He was active in church but did not see a calling to ministry or to fostering on the horizon.
“I always thought I would be a businessman and a deacon,” he said.
But life changed, and he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master’s degree in May 2008. At the same time he was in seminary, Chas got a job at a church in Springtown. When the youth minister at the church left, someone was needed to preach to the youth group on a Wednesday night. Chas was suggested.
“I did it that one time,” he said, “and absolutely loved it.”
Eventually Chas moved to a church in Longview and that’s where he met Katie. They were married Oct. 19, 2013. Chas and Katie both had an interest in possibly adopting a child after they had children of their own. So, they went through training at Buckner International, which has a home in Longview. They immediately saw the need for foster and adoptive parents, which affected them both.
“I wanted to always be a part of that,” Katie said.
While serving in Longview and working on a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Chas was asked to fill in for the minister of First Baptist Church in tiny O’Brien, which is about 70 miles north of Abilene in Haskell County. He did and then accepted the call to be the full-time minister. It turned out to be a fortuitous move. After training at Buckner, the Shiras were connected with Christian Homes & Family Services of Abilene. Before long, they received a call about a 4-week-old baby from Albany who had been taken to an Abilene hospital with a broken femur and then transferred to Cook Children’s Health Care System. Chas and Katie drove to Fort Worth that night, Dec. 11, 2015. Besides the broken leg, the baby, known by his initials, J.B., had methamphetamines in his system.
Neither Chas nor Katie had much experience with babies, other than the training at Buckner. They struggled with the harness that protected J.B.’s leg while changing his diaper. He was so small that he could only tolerate a small dose of Tylenol and was in a lot of pain for the first few months.
“We were pretty overwhelmed at first,” Katie said.
Little did they know that things would get much worse before they got better. The couple wrote about their ordeal for a website called LoveWhatMatters.com. Since the Shiras were foster parents, they were required to take J.B. for family visits–the same family where he had sustained a broken femur. Both parents went through drug rehabilitation and after about a year, Child Protective Services requested a jury trial to determine where J.B. would be placed.
The trial stretched into five days before the jury began deliberations. After two hours, the jury came back with a verdict which terminated the parents’ rights and gave full custody to the Shiras.
But the ordeal wasn’t over yet. The paternal grandparents also were seeking custody, with two or three hearings set over the next six months. Finally, all appeals were exhausted and Chas and Katie were free to adopt J.B. They changed his name to Jett Brien Shira–his middle name in honor of where the family lived at the time.
“It has been the longest and most excruciating journey you can imagine,” the Shiras wrote, “but also the most rewarding ending we could have ever imagined.”
Today, Jett has two brothers and one sister, plus surprise babies coming and going as the Shiras continue to serve as foster parents. Life can be quite hectic at the Shira home, with its two acres filled with all sorts of critters. The Shiras were called to First Baptist Church in Coleman in 2018 and lived in the church parsonage for a while before buying a 100-year-old house that had been empty for 50 years. It took two years to remodel and modernize the house, but the wait was worth it, with plenty of open space for children, an assortment of animals, and a garden.
Jett will be in kindergarten this fall, but the others will still be under Katie’s watchful eye at home all day. They have a routine, with lots of play time outside. Sunday mornings are challenging, with Chas and Katie getting up at 6:30. They each manage to get themselves ready while taking turns feeding the children and getting them dressed. Making their life work–never knowing when a new child will temporarily join the family–requires sacrifice, Katie said. And that includes sacrifice from the children. But for Chas and Katie, that is part of the blessing. The children are participating in healing the world in their own small way.
“You can tell them about the brokenness in the world,” Katie said, “but bringing it into your home is more real life.”
By Loretta Fulton
Photography By Shayli Anne Photography