“These children have not known the love and security you’ve had all your life,” I explained. “We need to embrace them for who they are. They are children of God and He loves them just as He loves us.” It was not a matter of “letting” them be disrespectful because we were doing everything we could to try and get behaviors under control. “Things will get better,” I promised my son.
Later that evening, I lay on my bed and a flood of
tears poured out. I had been so sure that God wanted us to adopt this group of siblings. But now, after two months, it seemed that Russell and I and our original five children were trapped in a nightmare. Have I ruined our family? I wondered. Screaming, tantrums, fire setting, urinating on furniture, breaking things, violence…how much more could we endure?
I did not know how much more I had to give. During the entire year I had worked hard to get those kids out of the foster care system in California, there had been no doubt in my mind that they were ours. As I reflected on the long and determined fight, I realized that God had wanted us to be 110% sure that we wanted those childlren. They needed to be with each other and I believed they needed us. “God show me and teach me what I need for our kids.” I prayed. “Help me to love and care for these children.”
When Russell and I had married on November 25, 19 88, we k
new we wanted a big family. Ten years later, with four young sons, I learned I could not have more children. Yet, our family did not feel complete. The next year, we adopted a beautiful six-month baby girl, Caitlyn, from a Chinese orphanage. Caitlyn filled our lives with love and joy, but there was room in our hearts for more.
I began looking for sibling groups in this country to adopt since I knew they were hard to place. When a social worker called to tell me about a sibling group of six, she had my attention. The six kids ages three to nine, had been removed from an abusive home and bounced around foster homes for three years. They were in two separate homes at the time. It was likely they would be split up further in hopes of finding them adoptive homes. Hearing about these poor innocent children, my heart opened wide. They needed a loving home and I believed they belonged with us.
“Six kids?” Russell gasped when I told him. “Are you crazy?” I told him about their hardships. “I feel bad too, but we’d need a bigger house, a bigger van, even a bigger kitchen table.” But he did not say no. “I need some time to think about it,” he explained.
I knew that Russell and I would need to be a team. I prayed and trusted that God would lead us in the right direction—together—whichever way that would be. A few days later, Russell, who was a builder by trade, handed me a blueprint to our new house. “My buddies offered to help with the construction,” he said and then added: “I guess we can always add a leaf to the table.”
“We can do this!” I cried, hugging him. Then, I got on the phone with the social worker to set up a visitation to meet our children. Russell and I flew from Idaho to California in October of 2000 for a three-day visit with them. Our first visit was spent in the social work office for four hours. I had come prepared with a backpack full of games and treats to help with interaction. I was not prepared, however, for the hostility from the three oldest girls–Daisy, nine, Sandra, eight, and Rosa, seven. They had no idea a family wanted to adopt them. The girls expected to return to their original home eventually. Instead, on the drive to the office, a social worker told them they were going to meet their new parents.
Being watched by multiple social workers while we interacted with the children was exhausting but still exhilarating. Russell and I had never even seen their pictures. They were beautiful, and we fell in love with them. Our excitement overflowed. When we stopped at a grocery store on our way back to the hotel, a woman looked at us and commented: “I don’t know who you two are, but you both just glow.”
The next two visits were easier since we took them to a park for a picnic and games. At the end of the three days of visits, we began an uphill battle of getting through mounds of red tape. Finally, by the time the children arrived in Idaho on June 1, 2002, the media had reported on our fight for them. There were forty to fifty people at the airport with us to welcome them home.
Seven-year-old Rosa got off the plane looking confused and scared. “Rosa,” I called. “Momma’s here.” Her eyes lit up and she ran into my open arms. I cried tears of joy and saw onlookers crying with me.
But before long, the tears that flowed were out of frustration. The three oldest girls had been told they could return to their foster home if they wanted. They tried every trick in the book to get us to kick them out. When that failed, they would pack their bags and threaten to leave, but never at the same time. One would pack and the others would talk her out of leaving. We told the girls we loved them and wanted to be their parents, but we would not force them to stay. The girls loved each other. They knew that getting adopted by us was the only way for them to stay together and to stay with their younger siblings, Francisco, six, Maricela, four, and Carmen, three. Still they were confused and scared.
Not Our Blood!
“Your not our blood!” the girls often screamed at me. Russell and I were a tag team, always backing each other up, but it was exhausting. It had been two months when I experienced my moment of doubt. But fortified by prayer, Russell and I dug our heels in and loved those children. I met them after school with homemade snacks and tucked each one into bed at night with an “I love you.” Every morning and evening, we knelt as a family and prayed. Before meals and before settling a problem we prayed too. Still, the behavior worsended. After a lifetime of insecurity and rejection, these kids were daring us to throw them out. But after three months of security and love, they finally started to respond. The bad behavior gradually slowed down. The kids started feeling like they were home.
In December, six months after they arrived, I knew we were finally a family. My sister had just made each of the children their own special blanket. When Russell and I walked downstairs to join them to watch a Christmas video, all eleven kids were mixed in together, cuddling under their new blankets, giggling and sharing popcorn. “Honey, look,” I whispered. “We’re a family.”
Russell and I smiled at each other. “We made it,” he said.
But there was still a missing piece. I learned from Daisy that there was an older brother. Since he had been separated from the rest of the family and put into institutionalized care four years earlier, the social workers had lost track of him. They originally thought I was mistaken because there was also an older half-sibling living in Mexico. After some digging, we found thirteen-year-old Victor living in a group home. He was considered unadoptable for extreme behaviors and parental rights had never been terminated. Now that the children had all settled in, Russell and I were determined to bring Victor home too.
We got permission to have Victor visit us for four days over Thanksgiving. He seemed to be in awe at family life, watching our every move, but unable to join in on the fun and laughter himself. He came again at Christmas. It was then that he had an emotional release that resulted in a full-blown tantrum. Victor was learning disabled so he was having trouble processing everything. His fear and heartbreak at having been abandoned by his family when he was nine years old poured out. But now, surrounded by his family again and all our love, Victor begged us not to send him back at the end of the visit. Unfortunately, we had no choice. There were still lots of hurdles and red tape to get through. Finally, after five months of pleading his case and getting help from our governor and senators, we were able to bring him home for good.
When Victor stepped off the plane, our youngest son shouted out to him. The expression on his face went from scared to joyful. “You came!” he cried.
The social worker confided in me, “He was afraid you wouldn’t really come for him.” We all hugged Victor and welcomed him into our family for good.
As the years rolled by, the love deepened between us, and I often looked over my family in awe. They were growing up to be such beautiful, loving and respectful children. I felt blessed. But at bedtime prayer, I kept feeling as if everyone was not there.
Then, out of the blue, a friend who was looking into an adoption, sent me an email about four young siblings who were up for adoption. They had already been adopted out once and brought back because the family really only wanted the baby. “I think these kids are meant for you,” my friend wrote. I agreed. It had been five years since we had added to our family, and in all that time, I had felt that our family was not complete yet.
I shared the email with Russell. “It’s such an emotional roller coaster,” he said. “I think we are done.” I just prayed. I believed that this was not something Ishould pressure Russell about. Only God knew if we were done or not, so I put it completely in His hands. A couple weeks later, Russell asked me why I had not mentioned that sibling group again.
“You work hard all week and I respect your feelings,” I said. “If you think this is not right for us, I accept that.”
“I’ve had a change of heart,” he confessed. “I know the kids would love them and if you think you can handle it, I can too.”
There were ten other families looking at this group, but everything fell into place and the social worker thought they belonged with us. On November 6, 2006, Samantha seven, Selena, five, Stephanie, three, and Jaden, twenty-one months, slipped into our family as if they had always been here. There was not so much as a ruffle. They immediately moved into our hearts and found laps galore waiting to hold and love them.
It’s been three years since we have been a family with sixteen kids. We moved to the outskirts of town on seven acres so Russell could begin a natural produce business and provide safe after-school employment for our kids. The kids share rooms, chores, love of family, and a faith in God.
As I look back at the storms we navigated and how far we’ve come, I’m in awe. With hindsight, I can see clearly that for every wall we backed into, God opened a door. Even during the rough times, He never abandoned us. And now, thanks to Him, no one in our family will ever need to feel abandoned again.
by Jan Walgamott (taken from Amazing Grace for Families book.)
Jan is fun loving person from Gooding, Idaho. She was a computer programmer by trade but left that job for what she describes as the best job in the world–being a mother to her 16 beautiful children and a wife to a wonderful husband.