I shared in my current series about letting the Lord direct our family size that (so far) our attempts to grow our family through fostering and adoption have not been fruitful. My friend Sharla from The Chaos and The Clutter has the opposite experience. The Lord has grown her family abundantly through fostering and adoption. I’d like to be Sharla when I grow up. 😉 I pray that you are greatly inspired by her journey.
When most people hear about allowing God to determine family size, they automatically assume that means not using birth control and allowing God to bless them with children the old-fashioned way. For most families, that is just what it means. For our family, the story was a bit different from that!
Though I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I believe God began to speak into my life at a young age. For as long as I can remember, I wanted a large family. As a very young girl, I used to tell people who when I grew up, I would have 9 children and I even had their names chosen. I was the oldest of only 2 so it was an unusual dream. When I was in the fourth grade, I was friends with a girl for just that one year whose parents were foster parents and had also adopted two Special Needs children. I went with their family a few times to volunteer at the Special Olympics and I was in awe watching the siblings interact just like any other siblings. There was so much love in that family and I decided right then that someday I would foster and adopt.
Fast forward many years to my second pregnancy…complications began early on. I almost lost my life on a few occasions and there was permanent damage done to one of my kidneys. The most difficult part of the pregnancy for me was being in the hospital for months on end and away from my toddler son. Even before I gave birth to my second son, the doctors could all agree on one thing…another pregnancy would surely kill me.
Although my husband and I had both wanted a larger family, I didn’t spend much time grieving not being able to be pregnant again. I did sometimes think about not ever having a daughter who would look like me or not being able to experience nursing again (I didn’t know back then that adoptive breastfeeding is very possible). Instead of dwelling on the loss of future pregnancies, I knew that God was choosing for us to grow our family through adoption. I knew that this was why He had placed that desire in my heart even as a little girl.
As soon as my husband finished school, we applied to adopt through our province. While taking the course to qualify, we were taught by a woman who had both fostered and adopted and whose stories broke our hearts. My husband, who had previously felt he would never want to be a foster parent, became open to fostering. By the time the four sessions were over, we had applied with a local Christian foster agency and had asked to foster children who needed temporary homes as well as to take children who had a high likelihood of later becoming adoptable.
Over the course of eight years, we fostered 17 precious children. Some of them were only with us for a weekend while some stayed for years and hold our hearts to this day. Three of them stayed forever when we were able to finalize their adoptions!
Being a foster mom was probably the most difficult experience of my life especially when it came time to say good-bye to a child you loved as your own.
The knowledge that we had given them the best chance possible of future success by teaching them about Jesus, loving them well, giving them the ability to form healthy attachments, and helping their brain’s neural pathways to develop to their fullest potential allowed us to get through those painful times. For the kids we didn’t adopt, we consider ourselves their “prayer parents” for life.
While fostering, we were in the process of adopting our daughter and son (who are only two months apart!) and so had grown our little family from two kids to four kids. With how busy our “twins” were, we considered four kids being a really nice number. In today’s world, four kids is still a large family while being very manageable!
God had other plans! On a Tuesday morning, the phone rang and we were told that our daughter’s birth mom had given birth to a baby girl the day before. Just two hours later, at exactly 24 hours old, our second daughter was in our arms and our family had grown to five kids! What a blessing that sweet baby was! We were grateful that we had allowed God to determine our family size instead of logic.
A few years later, though we were very busy with the five kids, two of them with Special Needs, we decided to do one final adoption. We chose to this time adopt a baby girl from Ethiopia. There was a long list of reasons why we chose this and almost all were about me. I had always wanted six kids. I saw it as the perfect number. Six is a large family without putting you into “crazy” territory in people’s minds. We liked to say that six kids would fit into our plan and into our van! I wanted to have an equal number of boys and girls. I wanted one last baby. I wanted another daughter. I found babies easier to bond with than older children. I, I, I…are you noticing a pattern here?!
We applied to adopt and began to wait and God continually opened some doors and very obviously closed others. I began to feel strongly that He was calling us to allow Him to once again determine our family size and open up our child request.
As adding one last child to our family was something that had taken my husband awhile to get on board with, I was nervous to tell him that I thought that God may be asking us to be open to adopting more than one! I was fairly resistant to what I felt God was asking of me, feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle being the mother of more than six kids, but after several things confirmed to me that He was asking me to step out in obedience, I finally prayed and told God that I would be willing to open our home to more children but He would have to tell my husband! I prayed this in the shower every morning for weeks. One morning while praying, I saw the face of a little boy. He was much older than any child I would have thought I would consider adopting, but I knew that he was my son. God continued to send me signs and I would pray “God, you’ve already convinced me. Now just convince my husband!” My husband began to act strangely in asking me questions about whether I would be willing to adopt an older child and inquiring about how much I had my heart set on a girl! Soon it became clear that God was working in both our hearts to allow Him to decide our family size.
We changed our child request from “baby girl 0-6 months” to “siblings”. We stepped out in faith, nervous about the future but trusting God and His plan for our family. We knew that He had already chosen the child or children that were meant to be in our home. On the days when I was especially nervous about my abilities to parent more children, particularly older children who would speak no English, I spoke this quote “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
When we first saw the pictures of our new son and daughter, our son’s face was the one I had seen while praying over a year before! In 2009, we brought home a seven-year old boy and his four-year old sister from Ethiopia. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned our family growing from just our two sons to seven children in just a matter of eight years! God knew what our family was meant to be far better than I did.
Sometimes, God calls people to grow their families through birth; sometimes He calls them to grow their families through adoption and sometimes through a combination of both. Whatever way God chooses, I personally feel that He is better at planning that than we are. Had my husband and I stopped adding children to our family when we felt like it was logical to stop, we would have missed out on three of the most amazing children on the planet. We also would have missed out on a lot of opportunities to see God at work in our lives.
Sharla Kostelyk is the mom of seven children, two through birth and five through adoption. Sharla is the founder of Adoption Magazine and the author of Shield: A Framework of Self-Care for Foster and Adoptive Families and That These Two Will Live: An Adoption Memoir. You can follow her blog at The Chaos and The Clutter.
Now that you’ve been encouraged it’s time to encourage one another. Link-up your posts for Big Family Friday. Remember, a big family in number is not a requirement, just a love for faith, family, and homeschool!