A Different Kind of Familyposted on April 18th, 2012 / by Shelly Vandiver / 8 Comments
I had to wonder what my husband had eaten when he came home to me—and our six-month-old baby—and said he thought we should be house parents at Mercy House.
Say what? I was sleep deprived and still totally clueless about what being a mom meant at all. How in the world was I going to mother four teenagers? But we prayed, I prayed, and the peace that passes ALL understanding came. We packed up our little apartment, moved to a gigantic house in the burbs known as Mercy House and waited for our girls.
They came, one by one, until the house was full of young women with expectant bellies, and the rafters rang of laughing and cooking and music. Nine years later, I still marvel that I was never so “up” with what was cool until the year we lived with our girls.
It took time to adjust to all our personalities and needs. Dividing up the care of the house, rules, responsibilities, shuttling back and forth to high school, shopping together for meals on a budget, going to the dollar store for the rare candy treats, driving through McDonalds to meet the intense and real cravings of four very pregnant young women … And oh my stars, the meals those girls could throw down in the kitchen!! Several of them were really good cooks, so our dinners together each night were amazing and creative, reflecting our varied backgrounds and cultures. Chad had the advantage of not only being the only man but also a Missionary Kid who has lived in three different countries, so adaptation and change is his normal; he thrived!!
I used to love to sit in our room at night after bedtime and listen to them laughing and talking, music going … found out later that one of our girls had a whole workout routine she was doing in secret to prepare for her birth, on top of the miles we walked in our area park every day. It worked because she had a great birth! Another was so determined to walk her baby out that she requested her “last outing” to be to the zoo! And so we went, mama waddling, me with my baby strapped on, and Chad caring for the whole lot of us!!
Back in the privacy of their hall and shared bathroom, they shared secrets and squabbles and laughter and love. Every baby that was born was welcomed into our little family, where we all contributed to loving the mama and her sweet tiny one.
I’ll never forget the first time we had to say goodbye to one of our girls. She loaded up and drove away and I just stood in the driveway and cried. Our next girl to go, a much more stoic personality, told me she did NOT want me blubbering in the driveway. I was to say goodbye and go inside. So I did. And then I went to my room and cried. And cried. I wasn’t done. WE weren’t done being a family, and I knew it.
I knew from my own experience that I still needed my mother after I was 30 and married and had a son. (I need her even more now that I am 40 and I have four little ones at home!!) We couldn’t all stay together forever; they needed education and jobs, but I just wasn’t ready to give them up. It’s the one thing I dream about when I think about our time at Mercy House. We were headed to Spain as missionaries. Taking them all with us was not an option, but now, oh I would adopt them all now!!!
Over the years, our friendships have continued to blossom. They aren’t teenagers anymore; two of them are married, with three children at home. Another has gone on to get her undergrad and Master’s degrees. One is in Germany with her husband in the Armed Forces. Another is in Georgia with a house full of girlies. We stay connected by email and Facebook, and share funny stories, advice, recipes, frustrations; even baby clothes have been shipped to another state!!
I don’t think any of us were done being a family, and for most of our girls, ours was the first “Mom Dad Baby Kids” family they had ever seen up close. They hung out with my mom every other Friday night when she would come baby-sit our son so we could have a date night out, one of them went home with us for the holidays, we celebrated birthdays in high style together … it was a great life. They told us that they had never seen a couple who didn’t argue and yell, and the way Chad served me and cared for our son was totally unknown in their upbringing.
People assume that being house parents at Mercy House was our gift to them; but really, they are a HUGE gift to us! I see adoption from the perspective of the birth mom in a way I never would have before, I love and parent our own children knowing they will need us long after they are 18, and I pray with a knowing heart for the families that are created when a young woman is shepherded by a family.
My sweet husband, his gift for hearing God and wanting to serve with his life has strengthened and sharpened me. I am so thankful because I never would have been Mama Shelly to our girls without him. I know that the experience of living at Mercy House totally changed the course and worldview and expectations of the girls with whom we had the honor of being family for a year. But it also changed me. I’m forever thankful for that gift.