“How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”
Our family started like most families - with a wedding, and then one little baby. That first baby was born a year after we were married, followed by another 19 months later and another just 12 months after that.
After that, our path diverged from most families. In December 1990, Greg was watching a 20/20 show with Barbara Walters on Romanian orphans and orphanages. He called for me to come in and watch and as I did, I was ON FIRE with the knowledge that we had kids there, waiting for us to find them and add them to our family. On fire. To this day, it remains the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had - and I needed it to push me into action. I looked at Greg and said "I need to go" and he said "I know."
A few weeks later, I was in Romania and after 2 months of intense "opportunities for growth," I returned with two little girls, both age one and both with special needs. They joined our three children at home - an almost 4-year-old who was not yet potty-trained, a special-needs 2-year-old and another one year old. That began a journey that eventually led us to adopting 20 children from 8 different countries over 20 years. I was 26 years old......
Now, let's get some things out of the way. I am not crazy (although I suppose that's debatable) and I am not a saint. I do know what causes it (the computer - ha!), I have full hands and a full heart. I know love multiplies, not divides and yes, I know all their birthdays. At the end of the day, I am just trying to do the best I can and on the days where it doesn't go that well, I get on my knees, pray for strength and try again the next day.
Our family might be unique in size, but it's like many families in other ways. My kids tease and fight with each other. They also defend each other. We worry about the food bill and the phone bill every month. We want our kids to grow up to be productive citizens. They complain about their chores (they do them, but they complain about them). Back in the day, potty training was a struggle, so I just waited until they were older and voilá - potty-trained in a day. Of course that meant changing diapers until the girls were about 3 1/2 and the boys were 4 1/2.....I've had years - years! - where it felt like I was too busy to shave both legs in the shower, if I could even find the time to TAKE a shower. In fact, one Easter Sunday, I was in the shower and one of the 3-year-olds escaped out of the locked front door and went to the local park, only to be brought back by a very nice policeman. Eek!
I had to learn for myself the healing, strength-giving properties of self-care and service. I am doing my best to live a life of faith, even during some of the deepest, darkest days any parent can endure - and during good times too. I know that families come in all shapes and sizes and that for the most part, we are all doing our best. I know some days are really hard. I know some families don't stay together. I know sometimes the aching prayers for healing are not answered. I also know that strength can come from those dark times. I know it's OK to have questions, to cry and to yell at God. He can handle it. Family has brought me my highest highs and lowest lows. I love this wild, wonderful, crazy life we are creating.
Clearly, I don't believe that it is only genetics that make a family. It's love and loyalty and being willing to try again another day. It does my heart good to hear my teens and twenty-somethings quote "Lilo and Stitch" - "Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten." We are far from perfect. Our family is loud and messy. We've dealt with some pretty big things. We've learned a lot about the little things. But like the Velveteen Rabbit, love has made our family real.