OVERWHELMED WITH BLESSINGS
“Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children are a reward from Him.”
Five years ago, before we heard the “Children are a Blessing” message from the Campbell’s, my husband Michael, and I were content (we thought!) with our three children and our busy life in documentary production.
Traveling, parenting and schooling Jacob (8), Anna (5) and Janey (2) stretched me to my limits. “I am totally overwhelmed,” was my common confession. But the Lord began to whisper that He had more “blessing” in mind for us if we would trust His word and not our own strength, resources or understanding. So we yielded this area of limiting our family size and a year later Esther Hope was added to our family.
It was during the season of late night feedings, feeling so grateful for the privilege of nurturing another child, I asked the Lord to show me how I could pray for what was on His heart. It was then my heart began to ache for all the precious children with no mother to hold them in the middle of the night. As I shared this burden with my little ones, we prayed together, “Lord, please send mothers and fathers to love the orphans.” We didn’t know it then, but the soil of our hearts was being prepared for something we would never have dreamed of.
A year later, we were invited to share a documentary on an Indian reservation in a neighboring state. We’d been praying the Jabez prayer, asking God to increase our circle of influence for Him. As a family, we’ve had the privilege of friendship with many Native American people and have learned of the historic wounds that often stand as a barrier to the gospel. We were excited to go, but with no hotels in the area, the only place that could accommodate our family was a guest room in a nearby Christian foster care community.
While there, we encountered five children, siblings, ages one, three, four, six and seven, soon to be available for adoption. Without parents to care for them, these precious brothers and sisters were waiting for a "forever family," but most likely would be separated from one another in order to find permanent homes.
Could we possibly take them in as our own? Was the Lord inviting us to be his arms and embrace these orphans? The idea of adding five more to our existing family of six was mind-boggling. However, the Lord had been changing our hearts and in the last few years our whole attitude toward family and parenting had shifted. We began to believe His Word that says children are a blessing, not a burden, and that we have been given an extraordinary privilege to train up "nation changers" for Him.
In the months that followed, excitement, fear and doubts swirled around us. What about the needs of the four children we already had? Could we really parent nine children effectively? Could we afford them? How would we all fit in our three-bedroom house? Could we still travel? Would we be able to continue to home school and otherwise “train” our children as the Lord instructs?
As we prayed and searched the Word, we found over 40 scriptures revealing God's heart for "the fatherless". We sensed the Lord saying, "Welcome these children. Make room in your hearts for them and I will make room in your house, your family, your work, your life." In one family prayer time, our oldest son, Jacob prayed, "Lord, please let it be your will for us to help these children. How could it not be your will?"
We made another family trip to visit the children. When we took them on a short outing, it was chaos! Michael and I were completely discouraged in our efforts at crowd control of all nine of them. But as we drove them back to their foster home, we began to sing worship songs together and our hearts connected. Their beautiful brown eyes sparkled with delight and we sensed the presence and the pleasure of our Father. We had the encouragement we needed to proceed with the adoption.
Back home, a lot needed to happen to make this dream really work. There was the training and licensing for the foster/adopt program. Our house needed to be modified. Our church rallied with encouragement, prayers and help. Lumber and labor were donated. A construction/missions team and friends transformed our garage into two more bedrooms and a bathroom. We were able to purchase a 15-passenger van. We were finally ready.
On Thanksgiving night, exactly nine months after first meeting the five children, they were presented a video we had made showing them around our home and telling them we wanted to be their new family. Although they knew us from the visits, they were never told we were considering adopting them. Their response to their caseworker was, "When can we go?"
With tears of joy and surrender to a new season in our family’s life and destiny, we made the journey to pick up our newest children. When we arrived the next afternoon we were greeted with "Mommy! Daddy!" and big hugs. Prayer had paved the way. Their response was so positive, their caseworker said we could take them home without spending the three standard transition days together. The adventure began!
Today, at 20 months into our adventure, we’re probably still in the honeymoon stage with our new children. While exhausted most days with challenges of sibling relations, laundry, meals, and schooling, we sense an amazing grace over our family. We are having so much FUN experiencing daily miracles of love in our home as we learn to walk in repentance and serve one another. “Hoka Hey” in the language of the Lakota Sioux Indian means, “It’s a good day to die!” This was the cry of the warriors as they dressed for battle and it has become a family motto as we seek to lay down our lives for each other.
The challenges are real and keep us on our knees. All five of our adopted children were exposed to alcohol in the womb, known as FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) or FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effect). In essence, this is organic brain damage and can have varying manifestations, from learning delays to an inability to connect behavior to consequences. This was a huge concern before adopting and some days are frustrating and discouraging. But we’ve sensed the Lord asking us to trust Him in this area; that we’re to pray for them, fill them with God’s word and not give in to fear.
Our birth children have struggled at times with sharing their Mom and Dad, but as time goes on it has become “the new normal.” I have learned to trust the Lord to show me which child needs their “love tank” filled and He is faithful to give me creative ways to spend time with each of them when they need mommy time.
The process to adopt “waiting children” in our state is through the Foster-Adopt Program where the children you consider adopting are placed in your home as foster children for a number of months before adoption is finalized. In preparation we were required to attend 22 hours of foster care training. Our experience with social workers has been positive. Our children’s caseworker was a Christian. She has sent us cards, photos and thank-you letters telling us what an encouragement our family and this adoption have been to their whole staff. Foster care and adoption workers serve in a negative environment filled with sad stories of unwanted children. Our adoption counselor, assigned to do our home study and post-placement visits, was not a believer. She spent hours in our home and, on two occasions, told us tearfully that she couldn’t believe “how well our family worked” and questioned, “how did we do it?” Guess whom we got to give credit to?
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
In a recent conversation with missionaries in Afghanistan, we learned that nine of the 14 terrorist bombers were orphans, adopted by Muslim families, and placed into the terrorist’s training schools.
The foster care system in our nation is in crisis. My husband and I recently attended an “Adoption Summit” in Washington DC with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson. Our government is calling on “people of faith” to come to the aid of the 130,000 children in the United States who are available for adoption today. The foster/child care system is recognizing that it needs the church. They acknowledge that the most successful placements for these children are Christian homes.
As the definition of marriage and family is being threatened in our nation, many same-sex couples are rushing to adopt our country’s orphans. Can we as the church stand by and let these little ones be lost? Will we not be judged as a nation for how we cared for the fatherless in our midst?
This could be a historic opportunity for the true church to display the heart of the Father by taking in these fatherless ones. And who is in a better position to care for these little ones than believers who already understand God’s wonderful design for family?
For us, this is a journey of deepening dependence on the Lord. It is a wonderful place to be stretched beyond my own strength and to know that only the Holy Spirit has the wisdom I need for the challenges of child training, discipling and the multiple decisions and needs I face every day. We are not a perfect family but we have made ourselves available.
Now I regularly confess: “Children are a blessing. I am overwhelmed with blessings!” Is nine enough? We don’t know. Who would want to say “no” to more of the Lord’s blessing?
Camano Island, Washington, USA (2004)
Michael and Shari’s children are Jacob, Anna, Bibianna, Joseph, Janey, Tatianna, Corina, Esther and Joshua.