When the Culpepper family gathers around the Thanksgiving table to bless the food this year, there’ll be a new addition to their list of blessings for which they are thankful.
They’ll be joined by a new family member – Elly Ruth Culpepper.
The process to bring five-year-old Elly Ruth from Jamnagar, India to her new home in the Clarkdale community began more than three years ago.
First, the Culpeppers had to await the results of various home studies and approvals to ensure they met the rigorous standards required for international adoptions. All was going smoothly, until the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt.
Dusty Culpepper, Elly Ruth’s adoptive father, recalls the frustration.
“At times, we thought that this adoption would never happen,” he said. “But today, we cannot imagine our lives without our precious little girl.”
In early October, Dusty and his wife Tori received the news they'd been praying for. They’d finally be allowed to travel to India and pick up Elly Ruth.
They quickly planned their travel arrangements and enlisted the help of friends and family to take care of the Culpepper children, Mary Ashley, Calvin, and Cade.
After traveling halfway around the world, Elly Ruth officially joined the Culpepper family on Oct. 8.
“It felt like Elly Ruth was already ours when we met her for the first time,” says Tori Culpepper.
“The orphanage had shown her countless videos that we made; Mary Ashley had created a series of videos showing her room, her clothes, and her toys that awaited her. She ran to us when we arrived at the orphanage; she had already been talking about her Ma-ma’ and Pa-pa’ that were coming to get her,” she adds.
Mary Ashley,19, loves her new baby sister.
“It’s been a while since we had a toddler in the house, and sometimes, it feels unreal for her to finally be here because we were in the process for so long,” she said. “I often felt like she was never going to get home but now, she is here, I must pinch myself. She has the most vibrant personality. She keeps us laughing, but she also keeps us on our toes. She is truly a testament of the Lord’s provision and faithfulness to our family.”
The Culpeppers credit Mary Ashley with her efforts to help prepare for Elly Ruth’s adoption.
“She almost singlehandedly coordinated all of the fundraising, the t-shirt sales, and the Concert for Elly, which helped defray some of the family’s expenses,” Dusty said.
The family says Elly Ruth is adjusting well to her new life: she loves to help around the house, and she gives the biggest hugs. She enjoys fried okra, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and jelly toast.
“It’s so fascinating to see how quickly she picks up on the language,” Dusty says.
“She has her own little dialect from her home country, but she is a fast learner in picking up ours too. Like any little girl, she loves the Mickey Mouse club. After some time has passed, I know we will wake up one morning and surprise her with a trip to Disney World. It is so much fun to see this world through her young eyes.”
“We credit the orphanage for preparing her so well,” she said. “She is so full of life. As we experience all of her ‘firsts,’ we have a new appreciation.”
“We took her through a car wash yesterday, and she was absolutely giddy with excitement,” she added.
Elly Ruth’s brother Cal says he has always wanted a baby sister. “I honestly never thought that it would happen. She is so loving and will give you the biggest hugs and kisses. Even though she doesn’t know what an ‘inside voice’ is, that cute smile of hers gets me every time. Having Elly with us has just been a huge blessing, and God couldn’t have given us a better one.”
Tori Culpepper agrees.
“We give praise to the Lord. We prayed that He would prepare Elly Ruth’s heart for joining our little family, and He did just that,” says Tori.
“With the holidays approaching, we are so grateful to be celebrating and giving thanks for having Elly Ruth in our lives.”