Behind the Highlight Reel

It always looks so perfect, doesn't it? My troop of kids with us on our vacations, in our little ranch home with our goats, or eating ice cream at the parlor. We are smiling, or the kids are acting coy... our different skin tones, our random ages and genders. It is all so unexpected and yet awesome to see. And I have to admit, I look at those same photos with the same awe and with an immense amount of love. Yet, there is so much more than the photos reveal. 

After a struggle with infertility early on in our 21 year long marriage, we determined that adoption was not only what we were supposed to be doing but that we were willing to open our minds to the possibility of FOUR kids! Yup, brave us... willing to take in four kids over a course of 5 or 6 years we had figured! So funny to look back now that we have 11 kids of our own and dozens more that we love like our own in ministry. 

Yup, that was the plan! Get licensed and adopt a baby. And just as planned, we did exactly that. We adopted a seemingly healthy baby boy from his birth mom through a voluntary placement. Fortunately, this mom was sober and very loving despite her inability to parent so we had a completely open adoption with our son. Figuring we would have to wait some time for a second little one, we went back on the list fairly quickly. This time we found ourselves with a medically fragile baby girl that was half hispanic and have Native American. (Oh the stories of adopting a Native child. But we will save that for another blog.) 

Our hands were full and our nights were too short with all the feedings, so we were pretty content to pause our adoption journey there. But our daughter's birthmom was found pregnant not long after delivering my drug and alcohol exposed, medically fragile baby girl. There was never a doubt that we would want to keep the siblings together and we were thrilled to know that when Baby Girl was delivered 13 months later, that she was full term and holding her own. 

There we were, 13 years ago. We had an 18 month old boy, a 13 month baby girl, and a newborn. Our little guy was showing delays, likely from in-utero medication exposures his birth mom had. My 13 month girl was now on a feeding tube and had kidney complications along with 5 therapies a week in our home, in addition to all of her doctor appointments. And our newborn baby was going through withdrawals and was likely to show developmental delays as she grew. We were busy, but so happy. Our kids all thought the moon and stars hung on us and the 5 of us were a happy family. 

We got all of our kids to potty training age before we considered another child. I wasn't really interested in more sleepless nights so when we saw the older children in our foster/adoption system being overlooked, we were interested. We heard older kids were "harder" and that the "average family" wasn't equipped to parent tweens and teens. And yet, we certainly weren't average. What is average anyway? We were still young enough to relate to a tween, but old enough to command respect. We had the love of the Lord and experience with older street children through our ministry work in Ethiopia. 

Our fourth and FINAL child was an eleven year old. (I know, we really have 11 but that was never the intention!) I knew she belonged in our home the moment she entered. But I soon questioned it off and on for the remaining 7 years. She opened our eyes to dysfunction like we had never seen it and what I came to understand was that simply loving her wasn't going to be enough. She didn't know how to be loved because love never ended well for her in the past. We would need tools, resources, HELP!

And every help we could find, we accepted. We had behavior coaches, stabilization teams, psychologists, psychiatrists, mobile trauma units that we could call... nothing was the answer. The level of pain, fear, defeat, confusion, and hopelessness I faced at times was unimaginable. It was life consuming and I literally found myself scared to face my days. 

Eventually our daughter had the police called and was posing such a safety issue that she could no longer remain in our home. Despite this, we remained committed to her as parents should be. We cashed in our retirement, dug deep in every way, and placed our daughter into inpatient treatment programs. 

You get the idea. It was complicated and very difficult. And yet through it, God brought us a biological sister. Then we received a biological sister to the other two sisters we had adopted previously. We had kids we thought would be raised in Ethiopia face huge educational issues, so 2 of them came to live with us. Then we had 2 we committed to love within Ethiopia as their parents. Lastly, we took in a child that is Ethiopian that faced 2 disrupted placements in the US and have loved him as our own for 2.5 years. All this to say this.... 

I have been called names a child should never call their mom. I have cried tears that most mothers with only biological children cannot imagine. I have gone bankrupt (yes, literally financially bankrupt) over decisions my children have forced us to make to protect them. I have had to try every parenting strategy over the past 14 years, grow myself in education and skills trainings, and through it all... 

We take photos on the beach. We smile and laugh and journey through life not because life is easy or we don't face ugly days and nights. Our photos represent what is possible. None of these kids CHOSE to need second or third parents in their lives. None of these kids wanted to be abused, neglected or abandoned. The fact that they are wounded and scarred from things put ON THEM and done TO THEM makes them no less worthy of love, or vacations, or a family to show them what commitment looks like.

We never planned for 11 kids, but we would NEVER trade it. All the hard times make the good times so much sweeter. And I've been through enough to know that good times are ahead no matter how bleak it may look in the moment. Unwavering love, unwavering commitment, boundaries, and compassion based parenting are musts... and I have the photos to prove that it does all end well. I promise. 


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