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about us

Abiding Love Adoptions was created by two passionate women who wanted to make the Birth Mother the center of the Adoption Process. Our Open Adoption Agency does not follow the traditional “Adoption Agency” model. Unlike other Adoption Agencies, we only work with the Birth Mother and or Birth Parents. When creating an adoption plan, we do not work with or represent the interests of the Adoptive Family. This allows us to love and protect our clients as they navigate the adoption process.

Abiding Love Adoptions specializes in Infant Adoption. We are located and licensed in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina. Our mission is to love and support the Birth Mother throughout the Open Adoption Process.

meet our team

Carrie Murray Nellis

Executive Director & Caseworker Supervisor

Carrie's BIO

My Mother tells a story about me at the ripe age of 7. She found me pacing up and down the driveway with my suitcase full of necessities (i.e. dolls, toys, etc) in hand. A family friend happened to be out for a run and stopped me thinking I was planning to run away. He asked: “Carrie, what are you doing?” With the innocence of a 7 year old I simply answered “Mr. Stan don’t you know Jesus is coming? Are you ready?”

And with that I seem to have never stopped asking the same question to all who would listen. As I grew older I realized simply loving people was more effective than words – but when God opened the doors the question remained the same – Are you Ready?

I graduated from Wheaton College with degrees I would never use, but my time at Wheaton furthered my passion for others and a thirst to discover how my talents & passions fit into the body of christ.

My sweet husband, Gil, and I married fresh out of college. Only three months into our marriage when literally I woke him up in the middle of the night to say “God is calling me to go to Law School.” His response was as surprising as my impromptu announcement – He said “me too.” And with that we quit our jobs and went to Mercer University School of Law together. Throughout our time at Mercer I admit I was jealous of Gil. He was focused. He knew his calling was towards Tax law and Estate Planning. For three years I continually asked God “Are you sure I heard you right?” “Why am I here?” His steady voice continued to say “Just wait.”

After Graduation, I worked for a small general practice law firm in Savannah, Georgia. I was blessed with great partners who genuinely loved me, but I was lost – still not knowing why God had called me to practice law.

Within my first year of practice, I had my first Adoption case and a fire inside me started burning. Shortly afterwards The Murray Nellis Law Group was born. I quickly became involved in Juvenile Court cases and saw an opportunity to serve my clients by not only fighting for them inside the courtroom, but by loving them outside the courtroom walls as well. But as many do, I became disillusioned with the Juvenile System that so many times it fails our children and Birthparents. The Lord showed me that through Open Adoption children would have an opportunity for a stable safe upbringing and Birthparents would have the opportunity to reclaim their dignity and know what it means to be truly loved.

And so one thing lead to another – years have gone by and the Lord allowed my law practice to become exclusively centered around Adoption Law.

For years I have had the opportunity to work alongside Vicki, but in 2016, the Lord called us to start Abiding Love Adoption Agency. It is our passion to serve Birthparents and to serve them well by loving them FIRST! I consider it an honor that God chose me to love on such special women and men during one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Thea Barry

Director of Birthmother Advocacy

Thea's BIO

I’m an Augusta native, born and raised. My heart will forever be in the Garden City that dotes on golf, pimento cheese sandwiches, and Magnolia Lane. My husband and I met while attending Augusta University. Once we graduated, we never left. We truly love our city! We have four children, three biologically and one through the gift of adoption. 

Adoption has always been deeply rooted in who I am. From the moment I was able to speak it, I knew I would do two things in life: advocate for people and adopt. I cannot find the particular reason other than The Lord engraving it on to my heart, but adoption is something I have never been able to move away from. It is both a joy and honor to serve with the Abiding Love team as a birth mother advocate. I spent my time in college focused on a degree in social work always hoping and praying that I’d be able to somehow work in the adoption field. I spent over three years working with, serving, and loving both expectant moms and birth mothers. It was my dream job and I was continually amazed at the beauty, resilience, and strength of my clients. I only left to be able to stay home full time after the birth of our first child.

After our (surprise) twins were born, my husband and I both believed that our dream to adopt one day may have to be put on hold. We weren’t closing the door, but our hands were (quite literally) very full. I continued to stay home with our three girls but even so, adoption never left my mind. So much so, that one day in 2016 I blurted out to my husband that I felt like The Lord was still calling us to adopt. I expected to be met with hesitancy but instead found my husband admitting that he, too, had felt the Lord telling him that it was time. We began our adoption process in late 2016. 

In early March 2018, after a previously failed adoption, we received the call that we had been matched to an expectant mom. Our son was born a few days later and placed in our arms at two days old. Having served so many birth mothers in the past, I thought I was prepared for the moment we would meet “our” birth family but no amount of having done it before can prepare you for the moment you meet the two individuals who will ultimately give you one of the greatest gifts of your life. I will never forget sharing a hospital bed with our son’s first mom, crying with her, loving on her, and promising to love her son forever. That moment ultimately changed my life and the way I view adoption forever. I realized it was never about the baby but that mama who would leave the hospital empty-handed. 

I made a vow to myself after adopting our son that I would spend the rest of my time on earth loving the unseen women behind adoption. Sometimes that looks like laughing over lunch, having hard conversations while drinking coffee, or crying together in the hospital. No matter what it looks like, my heart is to love big and serve long. I am often asked why I love what I do. My answer is simple: my son’s birth mother. I serve because of her. When I serve a client, I ask myself, “How would I want my son’s birth mother to be treated?” That answer ultimately shapes my relationships with my expectant moms. I want them to know that the same amount of love, respect, and commitment that I give to my son’s birth mom will be given to them. They deserve it.

Nikki Gonzalez

Georgia Birthmother Advocate

Nikki's BIO

I am a Georgia native, born and raised.  Although I spent most of my time traveling in my single days, I always came home to Georgia. I love to be creative, and I enjoy cooking and decorating. My favorite hobby is to travel because I highly value learning by experience.  I also enjoy getting lost in a great book, especially if I am at the beach where I feel most relaxed and in awe of God, the creator of all things.

      At a young age, I asked God to allow me to see people not with my own eyes, but with His. This has been such a part of my story, and continues to be.  When I was visiting an orphanage in Jamaica at the age of seventeen, a seed was planted in my heart to adopt one day. That same year, a doctor told me I may never be able to birth children. It was too much for me to fully understand then, and years later, I still don’t understand it all, but I do see God’s hand at work.  I have now had the opportunity to adopt my son, and I see more clearly the plant that is growing from the seed God sowed in me all those years ago as we continue to grow our family through adoption. 

     While working on my undergraduate degree I was able to spend lots of time traveling. During this amazing and humbling season, I learned so much about the world and different cultures.  I really saw my prayer of seeing people through God’s eyes being answered in ways I never imagined which brought to mind my favorite bible verse, Ephesians 3:20.  It says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” That is really my story. This verse lived out loud. 

    I met my husband in 2006 and never imagined when I met him at a church in Cuba, that one day he would be my husband. I also didn’t know that one day we would adopt our son who is just pure joy for us!  BUT GOD DID.  He knew, and was bringing about His purposes throughout my journey to where I am today. The journey has been long, and I have had a variety of work and life experiences along the way.  

     One significant experience was going to grad school in Florida. During this time, my husband (he wasn’t my husband then) moved to America, and our seasoned friendship changed into something more.  While we dated, I completed my MS in Mental Health Counseling.  Then we moved back to Atlanta, and got married!  This was all past my timeline for how I envisioned my story, but again, I was able to see and surrender to God’s plans for me.  

      My husband and I were married in 2018, and in 2020, we started the adoption process.  Our son was born 6 months later. Meeting his birth mom changed me for the better, and loving him is always giving me new perspective.   Now that I am chasing my son around, my adventures don't go far outside of our neighborhood. However, I am still seeing Ephesians 3:20 come alive every day, and I am so thankful for all of it! 

    I know that 17 year old girl (me) who went to an orphanage in Jamaica never could have imagined all that God would do and allow her see and participate in over the next twenty plus years!  With that in mind, I ask God to keep directing my path and continue to do more than I can ask or imagine.  I believe that prayer is what led me to Abiding Love and having the honor of working with birth families.  What a privilege to have the opportunity to love a birth mom the way I would l want my son's birth mom to be loved!

And with that I seem to have never stopped asking the same question to all who would listen. As I grew older I realized simply loving people was more effective than words – but when God opened the doors the question remained the same – Are you Ready?

I graduated from Wheaton College with degrees I would never use, but my time at Wheaton furthered my passion for others and a thirst to discover how my talents & passions fit into the body of christ.

My sweet husband, Gil, and I married fresh out of college. Only three months into our marriage when literally I woke him up in the middle of the night to say “God is calling me to go to Law School.” His response was as surprising as my impromptu announcement – He said “me too.” And with that we quit our jobs and went to Mercer University School of Law together. Throughout our time at Mercer I admit I was jealous of Gil. He was focused. He knew his calling was towards Tax law and Estate Planning. For three years I continually asked God “Are you sure I heard you right?” “Why am I here?” His steady voice continued to say “Just wait.”

After Graduation, I worked for a small general practice law firm in Savannah, Georgia. I was blessed with great partners who genuinely loved me, but I was lost – still not knowing why God had called me to practice law.

Within my first year of practice, I had my first Adoption case and a fire inside me started burning. Shortly afterwards The Murray Nellis Law Group was born. I quickly became involved in Juvenile Court cases and saw an opportunity to serve my clients by not only fighting for them inside the courtroom, but by loving them outside the courtroom walls as well. But as many do, I became disillusioned with the Juvenile System that so many times it fails our children and Birthparents. The Lord showed me that through Open Adoption children would have an opportunity for a stable safe upbringing and Birthparents would have the opportunity to reclaim their dignity and know what it means to be truly loved.

And so one thing lead to another – years have gone by and the Lord allowed my law practice to become exclusively centered around Adoption Law.

For years I have had the opportunity to work alongside Vicki, but in 2016, the Lord called us to start Abiding Love Adoption Agency. It is our passion to serve Birthparents and to serve them well by loving them FIRST! I consider it an honor that God chose me to love on such special women and men during one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Leslie Decker

South Carolina and Georgia Birthmother Advocate, South Carolina State Director

Leslie's BIO

Being a professional and a grandmother on staff at Abiding Love Adoptions, I have been a Christian for over 50 years and a Social Worker in some capacity for over 40 years. His love is the greatest gift in my life, and I live out my passion, purpose, and mission daily - changing the lives of others as a servant in His kingdom, with and by the power of His love – the greatest power ever known! 

Several earlier life experiences led me into Social Work – helping a childhood adopted friend find her birth family, living internationally with my military family, and arriving at then Craig Air Force base in Selma, Alabama three months before the movement, after living in a totally different world overseas. These experiences left me with a vision and desire to change the world of adoptions, demonstrate His love to all cultures and ethnicities, and fight injustice everywhere.

Later, I graduated from Troy University with a double major in Social Rehabilitation Services and Journalism, as well as a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama. I have served in almost every type of public child welfare social service program, including Adoptions, at all levels, including county, multi-state and federal. In one of those positions, while Director of two County Child Welfare Agencies, I met Carrie Murray Nellis, then Guardian-ad-litem for our children in Juvenile Court proceedings, and now founder, owner and Executive Director of Abiding Love Adoptions. We have always shared a heart and focus for the children, their birth mothers, and adoptive parents. I just didn’t know then how shared it would become one day…

In my personal life, my precious husband Kip Decker has been a naturalistic impressionistic artist for over 50 years and is recognized and published as one of America’s Top 200 Acrylic/Water Media Artists. As a blended family, we share five adult children and their families, including our hearts – 11 grandchildren! We are known as Lolli and Pop, and those grandparent roles fill our hearts with joy! 

Finally, after retirement from the government sector, a position opened at Abiding Love Adoptions. The sacred calling to go love big and well was clear. I could not say no to the only agency existing anywhere that honors everyone in the process – birthmothers, babies, and adoptive families. So here I am, surprisingly now the SC State Director of Abiding Love Adoptions and Birthmother Advocate. What a blessing and privilege to serve our Birthparents with such a team of dedicated team of professionals!

Mary Grace Bennett

Georgia Birthmother Advocate

Mary's BIO

I was born and raised in Macon, Georgia. As a child I watched both my parents work at the Methodist Children home. They worked diligently to love, serve and care for hundreds who needed someone in their corner. I was able to see early on that we all walk a unique road. Hard season come and some stay way too long. I was also able to see how much God loves to restore what seems lost and to create beauty out of all things.

After High School, I moved to Kentucky for college and studied Psychology and Social Work. After Graduate School at The University of Georgia I returned to Kentucky to work for DFSC. A year later I knew God was asking me to move overseas so I spent the next 5 years on the mission field, first in Mozambique then in Cambodia. More than anything I wanted to follow God wherever he called. I wanted to love his people and share his hope. I saw God do so many amazing things and he defiantly changed me!

Eventually I met my now husband and moved back to Macon to get married. I watched as so many of my dreams that I had laid at the feet of Jesus were now being handed back. Marriage, kids and being near my parents all became reality quickly. Doyle and I have a blended family full teens and a toddler! I have seen God restore so much in our own lives and in those around us. In Jesus nothing is truly lost! He knows the deepest desires of our hearts and he cares about each of them. It is my desire to walk beside you and to help you carry the load. Above all I hope to remind you often that you are loved, valuable and stronger than you could possibly know.

Sherri Weeks

Florida Birthmother Advocate

Sherri's BIO

My name is Sherri. I grew up in Sunny Florida, and currently live in Lakeland with my husband. You will often find me wearing bright colors, traveling, decorating and spending time with my children and grandchildren. I enjoy roller-skating, kayaking, and snow skiing. I enjoy entertaining, there is always room at the table. My journey to abiding love comes after going back to school to obtain my Masters in marriage and family Counseling, after a 30 year career as a school bus driver.  In addition I also drove buses at Disney and retired from Disney in 2020.  When I am not traveling, counseling, or spending time with family you might still find me at Disney. 

I am the oldest of 5 siblings. My younger siblings were my life growing up; I loved them all so much and had a caring relationship with all of them. When I was a young adult, I knew I wanted children and ended up having two of my own, a daughter and a son. My children were my pride and joy and I wanted to make the best memories with and for them. We did so many things together: cheerleading, football, music competitions, and even summer-long trips around the country in an RV. 

My love of children continued into my career. When I was 21, I began driving a school bus. I had no idea that it would lead to a 30 year long career that would eventually lead to caring for special needs children. From my work on the school bus, I began a non-profit organization for special needs students and made lifelong friends with many of them and their parents. They became my extended children and I will always remember the impact each of them had on me. 

The love of relationships between parent and child led me to seek higher education and, in 2001, I started college to obtain my Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling. The combination of school and full time work was very difficult but I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others so I kept going and eventually graduated with my long awaited Master’s degree. Through my time in college and work combined, I would come to meet and marry the love of my life. We have 4 children between us and love every second we spend with them and our grandchildren.

Through My life God has taught me something in each season. I always try to have an open mind, and explore what that might be. It has eventually led me to Abiding Love. I have had years of experience for caring for others, and supporting them. I look forward to working alongside birth families to give them the support they need in this part of the journey. And as a mom it is an honor to love on other moms wherever they are from and at whatever stage they are in life. 

Britt Paladino

Birthmother Mentor and Public Relations Manager

Britt's BIO

I am a Bostonian now happily living on the Space Coast of Florida. I love the sway of a palm tree and any excuse to buy more sunglasses. I am married to my husband, a quadriplegic and a passionate disability advocate. I parent one teen daughter who lives life on the spectrum. Those two, along with my three dogs, keep me pretty busy! I am also a published writer in several publications and have authored two books (and counting). Running is a hobby I enjoy a lot. I am also a longtime weight lifter. I might be the best athlete, but I am determined. This is a skill I have learned to embrace about life in general: Do it fast or do it slowly, but don’t give up! 

 

I am deeply committed to adoption as a viable option for an unexpected pregnancy. I know this is true because I became a birthmother 11 years ago. Coming to terms with the fact that adoption was the best choice for everyone in my unexpected pregnancy situation was humbling and scary. Thankfully, I had loving people come around me to support me through the process, alleviate the fear of the unknown, and strengthen my faith as I walked through this. There were many questions along the way. I had doubts too. I want to be there for the next woman contemplating adoption for her unexpected pregnancy. To replace fear with confidence. To strengthen her feeble knees as she walks through the unknowns of adoption planning. I want to go before her to pave the best way possible for a healthy experience. That is what I hope to do. That is what gets me out of bed to do this work in the morning. I don’t know what every woman who does this is going to go through. I know the journey is a lot better for her when she knows someone understands and can show her the way to go through the lens of shared experiences. 

 

I have an open adoption and a great relationship with my biological daughter and her family. We have more of a relationship than any of us planned on, which makes it all the more special. My advice to couples seeking adoption; be honest about what you want in an ongoing relationship with a prospective birth mother to your child, but make sure to leave room in your heart for more. 

 

My work in the Pro-Life arena concerning adoption takes me to many stages to share my story and advocate for adoption. It is has been my joy to help raise awareness about women just like me in how we can change how society sees us and what we can do to make adoption more of a conversation in Pro-life circles. 

 

It is my joy to serve the next woman seeking to make an adoption plan. God has been gracious to me in allowing me many opportunities to do that outside of Abiding Love, and now as an advocate for an organization I love and respect so much. 

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