Growing up I didn’t really give much thought to the genders of the kids I wanted to have. I started out wanting to have 16 of them at about age 3 or 4 years old. Then the number dropped to 12 for a while going through elementary school and fell into the back burner of Jr. High and High School’s shadows. In college I knew I wanted to have a good number of kids. I have always adored them and find it quite natural to be in their world. I surrounded myself with kids growing up from helping Moms to play in the other room with their kiddos so they could accomplish tasks independent of kid needs when I was too young to babysit at 9 and 10 years old to babysitting, nannying, going on a few vacations with families and even running church nurseries.
When the idea of a career field came into my world, I naturally gravitated toward an early childhood education teacher. I had helped in teaching environments from the home to Vacation Bible School to even a few tutoring environments. I just love kids. They’re my normal.
In college my early childhood education window opened as God opened my worldview to His heart for “the least of these”. It began in the form of foster care, one branch of forgotten children. Suddenly He taught me how teaching goes so far beyond the classroom and even the very basics of worth, love, and trust need to be taught before a child can move on to enjoying and asserting themselves in Math or Reading or being vulnerable in a challenging subject. I suddenly had a heart change, resulting in a change of my major to Social Work. I began t see my fringe kids in the daycare in which I worked in a totally different light. No, not every case is a social work case, but my eyes were opened to those foster children coming through my afternoon Kindergarten classroom that were “a little more rough around the edges”. I enjoyed being a “secret weapon” substituting in more challenging classrooms. “Who’s name do I need to know?” I would ask the lead teacher of the classroom and then try not to single those kids out for poor behavior problems, but provide structure, consistency and special love to those children. It was cool to see their behaviors change a bit. Nope, I’m no miracle worker, but loving structure goes a very long way in a child’s chaos.
When I met my husband he was one of seven kids, now one of eight with two adopted siblings. He ate, slept and breathed kids, bring the second in the pecking order. Granted, he was one of those kids for the longest, but with parents who consistently ministered to children through foster care since almost as far back as he can remember, his heart and arms were just open. That’s one of the things that drew me to him. See, some can call that being a “family person” but I believe God made my “family man” into so much more through walking with others in their deep hurts and struggles. Barb and Rodger, my in-laws, did a wonderful job of sheltering their children’s innocence while also coming alongside of these really hurt little children in the foster care system. They protected their own blessing while also taking on some pretty tough cases. Their family motto? Christ is more than enough. And that was tested. And it was challenging. And they lost a lot of sleep. And walked in a lot of hard pairs of shoes. And they still have no idea of the impact they had in some of the children’s lives that came through their home for the 18+ years of foster care their family offered.
I joked with Matt that I wanted to have eight kids of our own when we were dating and engaged. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head a few times when he realized I kept repeating the same number… and it wasn’t a joke. He reminded me of how nice four sounded. Hehe. I told my friend and sis-in-law, Ellen, one time that I planned on starting at 8 so we could compromise at 6 kids. We both laughed since Ellen kept talking about a dozen children to her, at the time, new husband. Poor Ron and Matt. Our providers. They must have lost some serious sleep over the thought of feeding so many little mouths on a single salary – you know, since Ellen and I had plans of being stay at home moms. Don’t we sound awful? Hehe.
I worked as a foster care and independent living (transition program from foster care for older teens) case manager as my internship and for a year of my launching board off of college. I wanted to have a baby, but God wanted me to raise a few other kids first. When my car died from all the case management driving, I knew I couldn’t sustain at case management 40+ minutes from the office. The hours were long many days. Too long to start a family. Matt was doing his internship for school. I missed seeing him. It was our first year of marriage.
I switched to individual and group therapy at a program designed for children who had failed out of multiple preschool/daycare settings due to behaviors. We saw every kind of case there from the lack of parenting to the product of broken homes to foster care cases. I had chairs thrown at me, was called everything under the sun, and had so many scratch marks and even a few bite marks while being spit on. Some of these kids entered our program with utter wild in their eyes. They had all the authority. Many of their parents had given up or they had failed out of multiple, multiple foster homes… and they were only 4. I had the group kids who were older. 4 years old until 6 years old when they aged out of our program. Some of the things these kids had been through would bring even the hardest heart to tears. Such innocence stripped. And all was left was a hurt, hurt frail child who hid behind aggression.
And there in that daily environment, God blessed us with our first child.
(Continue on to: The Continuation of the Back-Story)