Editor's note: November is National Adoption Month, and what better time to talk about family than at Thanksgiving? Family, in all its many modern forms, is truly a thing to be thankful for.

If you're fortunate enough to find yourself sitting at a table full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the fixings with your family this holiday, take a moment to be grateful-not just for the food, but for the people who matter most in your life. In today's newspaper are stories from two local families that are thankful for new members seated at their tables this holiday, members who were adopted into the family, into their hearts, and into situations of unconditional love. Read on for a story on the Paurus family, and see page B4 to read about the Boyd family.

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John and Laura Paurus' adoption story had a lot of unplanned plot twists.

"What we thought it would be, was nothing like it turned out to be," says Laura. "What we said we'd never do ... is exactly what ended up happening."

They initially thought they'd adopt internationally, after taking some mission trips to Haiti, but found that process quite challenging.

"God kept closing those doors," Laura says.

So they started looking into adopting a child stateside. But they found that to be a slow and winding road, as well.

Eventually, the adoption agency they were working with suggested they get a foster care license to broaden their options, with the goal of adopting a child or children out of the state foster care system.

Becoming foster parents was never part of the ideal picture before, but they wanted to expand their family. With their other options not working out, they decided to give it a go.

This unexpected road, they soon found out, would be the one to finally bring them to the destination they'd been waiting for. The details of their story turned out to be different than what they had always imagined, but its conclusion could still be what they hoped for-a happy ending.


The decision to adopt

John and Laura have known each other for almost 20 years, and they've been married for 16. She grew up in the Twin Cities area, while he's a native of Rochester, Minn. They moved to Perham in 2005 for John's work with the Department of Natural Resources.

They've both always liked kids and were drawn to the idea of adoption early on in their relationship, even before having their two biological children, Eliana, age 14, and Isaac, 12.

"I've always had a heart for loving children who otherwise wouldn't be loved or cared for," Laura says. "That was my motivation."

When they weren't able to have any more children of their own, they started talking about adoption more seriously. About three years ago, they decided it was time to do it.

After filling out piles of paperwork and weathering a series of disappointments with the adoption process, the couple got their first glimmer of hope in the summer of 2016: Laura says she felt God telling her, through prayer, that there were going to be two boys coming. She was skeptical, but sure enough, at the end of July, they got a call about two half-brothers in foster care who were in need of a permanent family.

The boys' parents' rights had been terminated, and the state was looking for adoption placement. Time was of the essence-the Pauruses and one other family were immediately interviewed for the 'job.' Two days later, the Pauruses found out they were chosen, and three days later, they picked up the boys.

They had never met or seen the boys before, or even seen their pictures. They knew very little about them, other than their names, ages and a few vague details about their backgrounds, but they felt like this was what God wanted for their family.

Eliana and Isaac were at summer camp while all this was happening, so it was just John and Laura who went to collect the newest members of their family: Kevontae, who's now 5, and Kayden, who will be 3 in January. The boys had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Kayden wasn't even wearing shoes.


Forming a family

The first thing John and Laura did with the boys was take them shopping. They needed clothes, hygiene items, and toys to play with. They went to a park so the boys could let off some steam, and then they all got some lunch.

"We just tried to help them feel at ease a little bit," says Laura.

The older kids got home from camp a couple of days later, and the family hunkered down to focus on bonding.

"We tried to kind of cocoon ourselves for about the first month," Laura explains. "We just stayed home together and tried to help the kids adjust to life."

It wasn't always easy. For the first several weeks, Kayden wouldn't make eye contact or talk, he would just scream and cry. And he wouldn't let John and Laura out of his sight for a second. Kevontae was more talkative and outgoing, but it took him a while to feel like a real part of the Paurus family.

"There was an adjustment period to get everybody comfortable with each other," says Laura. "The 'attachment phase' lasted for months."

Now, more than a year later, all that has completely changed. Kayden "has really come out of his shell," says John. "He's loud, loving; a fun personality. He's really come a long way ... He's funny and is sort of the family's comic relief."

Kevontae has a good sense of humor, as well, and is "super energetic, very outgoing, likes to play sports, makes friends very easily," and is "sweet, loving; just a great kid," according to John and Laura.

It's common for adopted children to have major growth spurts once they feel attached and connected to their new families, and both Kayden and Kevontae have done that.

"They've both grown about three inches," says John. "It's really fun to see how much they've changed in the past year."

Eliana and Isaac have been getting along well with their new brothers, too.

"I love how hilarious they are," says Eliana. "They can come up with the funniest jokes, and things that they do are really funny. Like Kayden will say 'Da heck?!' or will say 'See ya, suckers!' when he leaves a room."

"Kevontae and I make up games to play," adds Isaac. "It's really fun."

Laura says it was "nerve-wracking to adopt kids without ever meeting them," but "honestly, bringing (adoptive) children into your home is the best thing you can do for your kids, to show them what unconditional love is, because it is hard and it's messy and it's difficult."

This was never more true than when the family found out the adoption was being contested.


An emotional legal battle

The adoption was supposed to be finalized in November. Instead, the Pauruses found out in October that the boys' biological family decided to fight for custody.

"We had to get a lawyer, and we began the emotional journey of ups and downs and court hearings and motions being filed every week," says Laura. "It was very difficult emotionally. We were trying to help our boys become part of our family, all the while thinking in the back of our minds that they could be taken away."

The legal battle went on for several months, with the family back-and-forth in and out of court. Those were hard days: "Along that journey, we had some times of questioning if this was really what we were supposed to be doing," says John. "But God told us to keep fighting and keep going, and that's what we did."

Eventually, the boys' biological family exhausted all their legal avenues, failing to win back custody of any sort. On June 5, 2017, the boys' adoption into the Paurus family was finalized.

"It almost felt surreal," says John. "There were a good three months or so before we finally felt like we could take a deep breath and truly believe that it was over."

But for the boys, who were never aware of the courtroom fight that went on, June 5 was a hugely important and happy day.

"They were really excited on the adoption day," says Laura. "Kevontae was very excited to be able to share our last name."

Looking back on it now, John and Laura say they're thankful for the work of their lawyer, as well as "huge support from family and friends, and church family." They attend Crosspoint Alliance Church in Perham.

That support, along with their faith, pushed them through the hard times.

"What helped and resonated with me was something that a friend said-that God knew we were fighters, and the boys needed someone to fight for them," Laura says.

Despite the challenges they faced, John and Laura say adopting the boys was one of the best things they've ever done. They encourage anyone who might be thinking about it, to do it.

"There's just such need," says John. "There are so many kids out there that need a home. It's all about giving them a better life. To have them know that all the things they went through before, they'll never have to go through that again."


See page B4 in today's Focus to read another adoption story from a local family, the Boyds.