In the swelter of the 2012 Phoenix summer, my wife Kristi and I became foster parents. This was something we had prayed about for a long time but we kept having biological kids, so the time just never seemed right. We had four boys of our own but we loved the idea of opening our lives and home to those who had no home. We were compelled by God’s love to embrace sacrifice for the benefit of others. When our youngest son was old enough that we could open our home to kids without disrupting our birth order, we did exactly that.
After becoming licensed for foster care, which was its own adventure, we had two placements, each for five days a piece. The first was a baby girl named after a character in the Twilight series. I was quickly made aware that people actually do read those books because several people recognized the name. I have not read or watched Twilight so I was unfamiliar with the name. Our second placement was a little Native American boy. No one was certain of his age and he mumbled everything except when he told our agency case-worker that he would kick her ass. He said that clear as day.
Then we got a call from CPS asking if we could come to the hospital and pick up a two-day old baby boy named Gage. Sure we could! We were foster parents and who doesn’t love babies! CPS told us that Gage had three full-blood siblings who were living together in another foster home way on the other side of town and that the plan was for him to eventually go be with them. That was fine with us. He was cute as could be, but we were foster parents who signed up to foster. We already had four boys for crying out loud!
But then we had Gage for months. And months. And months. And finally, parental rights were severed for all four siblings, so we began the process to adopt him while the other foster home began the process of adopting his two brothers and sister. Then we got another call from CPS.
This time, they asked if we would be willing to take the three siblings. One of the brothers was in a full-body cast with a broken femur and no one knew why. The ER doctors said that the foster Mom’s explanation did not match the injury so they had to declare it non-accidental. The kids were removed immediately. Elizabeth and Paul spent the night in a CPS office while Danny was in the hospital by himself. We drove to the other side of town to meet our CPS caseworker outside of the hospital where Danny was and we went from 5 kids to 8.
It wasn’t long before we thought “Oh crap, what have we done?! We know 8 kid people and God bless them, but we don’t think we’re those people.” We wrestled with a lot of things. We questioned whether or not we were just being selfish. We questioned whether or not we could give all of the kids the love and attention they needed, especially with three young kids who had already lived in multiple homes.
While we were trying to find clarity in a murky situation, some good family friends from our church told us that they wanted to adopt the two middle boys, Danny and Paul. We all prayed and talked and it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit. This would have put us at six kids (which was still more than we had ever thought we would have). So in October, 2013, our friends Chris and Amy became foster parents. “WOW,” we thought, “How cool?! The siblings would grow up knowing each other! They could still play together and have sleepovers.” It seemed like a perfect fit. They took Danny and Paul in November of 2013 to begin the adoption process.
But within a month, Amy received a diagnosis of stage 4/terminal breast cancer and everything changed.
Kristi and I once again struggled with whether or not we were 8 kid people and whether or not it even mattered what we felt. As a pastor, I’ve taught about dying to self in order to follow Jesus. Were we willing to put this into practice? Were we willing to die to ourselves 24/7 for the next ________ years? We prayed and asked whether or not it was selfish if we felt like we were not supposed to adopt all four kids? We concluded that it didn’t matter what we thought about whether or not we were 8 kid people or not. God had intertwined our life with these kids and they had already captured our hearts.
We told Chris and Amy that, in the midst of their cancer battle, if they still wanted to adopt Danny and Paul, we would support their decision. This was what we all felt was best. But no one anticipates cancer. There are some things you can’t prepare for, so if it ever got to be too much, we would take the boys back and adopt all four siblings.
They called on Christmas Day. I drove over there and picked up Danny and Paul, heavy with the burden of cancer and excited about a new phase of our own life. We were getting two sons for Christmas and facing the loss of a friend. If ever there was a bittersweet day, that was one.
Since we had already begun the process of adopting Gage, CPS expedited the process for the others as well. In January of 2014, we adopted all four of them, becoming the Thomas Ten.
Our friend Amy passed away in April and I preached her memorial service.
Though it has not always been easy, we don’t for one second-guess or question our decision. Though we get stares when we go out in public and drive a 12-passenger van, and we wish things had happened under different circumstances and we miss our dear friend Amy, we have no doubt that this is where God has led us.
So next time you see a large family out in public, instead of gawking, ask them how you can help. After all, you never know their story.