January 2008 Issue
by Ritchie Hale
cowered in the darkness of the closet just as she had done on
numerous occasions in the past. Her dark brown eyes reflected
distrust and uncertainty. As I reached to stroke the curly, auburn
hair that clung to her tear-streaked face, she recoiled as if
expecting a blow. Softly, I began singing, "Jesus loves you,
this I know...."
God had prepared my heart for that moment since childhood.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all [my] days were written
in Your book and planned before a single one of them began (Psalm
139:16). When I was twelve years old, an article in Home Life
magazine awakened a desire to minister to hurting children. Observations
of my parents as they offered refuge to wayward teens and struggling
families continued to shape my dreams. Each of these experiences
became the fertile soil upon which a kernel of hope would take
root, find nourishment, and grow from dreams to reality.
God had also begun a good work in the heart and life of my
future husband. Born with severe hearing loss resulting from German
measles during his mother's pregnancy he was determined to learn
to speak correctly. His mother spent hours each week reading with
him from the Bible. As he learned to pronounce difficult words,
powerful biblical truths became foundational in preparing his
heart for future pastoral ministry. He would learn God's purpose
in designing him just exactly as he was, and that with God there
were no mistakes.
When we married and committed our home to be a haven of happiness,
we could never have imagined the journey with twenty-five special-needs
children that would unfold over the next twenty-five years. It
seems only yesterday ...
The phone rings and we immediately know the social worker
is describing a boy who will be a new member of our family. Terry*
is four years old. His arrival fills the house with mischief and
joyous commotion. He eats from a garbage can in the neighbor's
yard, triumphantly announcing, "There's plenty more if you
want some." He takes up residence with us as if nothing out
of the ordinary has happened. Perhaps he doesn't know how it feels
to belong in one particular place.
Baby Dave has never had a place other than the hospital.
He brings total delight to our family as he learns to roll over,
sit up, and discovers the flickering lights on his first Christmas
tree. When he leaves, we grieve in ways never considered when
his little life came into our hearts. The grief is deep and prolonged,
and we want to quit being foster parents. But then, the phone
"Yes, of course he can come!" How can we refuse
a little boy who has spent the first three years of his life locked
up in a playpen with oven racks tied on top? He's deaf, profoundly
affected by cerebral palsy, and has no communication. Four months
later he walks, signs simple words, and smiles as he plays
smiles that light the world.
The children came in steady succession some staying
a day, others a month, some a couple of years. Regardless of the
lengths of stay, God provided encouragement for our hearts through
the lives of our extended families and church members where my
husband served as pastor. Lasting, life-changing friendships were
established as friends and family adopted "our kids"
as "their kids."
When our adopted daughter entered turbulent times during her
teen years, we heard hints from well-meaning friends and church
members that we were spending too much time with "those foster
children." In the midst of her struggles, our daughter emphatically
declared, "No, you can't quit! What if you had listened to
those people when it was me that needed a family?" We learn
to ignore the occasional whispers and continue to love lavishly
and unconditionally. Sometimes we hesitated to accept another
child because we knew the pain in letting go. But we were reminded:
"We are weak ... but He is strong," and so we continued
We meet six-year-old Sam in the children's psychiatric unit.
He has attempted suicide. After six months living in the security
of a loving home, he races down the hall to tell us Jesus loves
him and now lives in his heart.
Eleven-year-old TJ is sad and withdrawn. He stays only one
summer. Three years after leaving our home he writes, "Sometimes
I'm afraid, but when I remember how much you love me, then I'm
okay again." Weeping and rejoicing intermingled throughout
the ministry of our big "little family."
Tammy is emotionally disturbed.
Angel just happens to be "an unwanted extra."
Four-year-old Jen has nightmares because of sexual abuse.
Mark's recurring visions of "knives, blood, and screaming"
bring our seven-year-old son to kneel beside him, praying that
the nightmares would go away.
Mikey was born addicted to heroin from his mother's abuse.
Four-year-old Les is deaf. Learning sign language to communicate
with Les captivated the heart of our youngest daughter as she
went about her play, singing joyfully, "I'm a missionary
in my very own home."
Though foster children no longer live in our home, the ministry
continues. Occasionally we hear snippets from one of our kids
about how God used our lives to alter the paths of their lives.
We rejoice. Other discoveries lead to sadness as we hear of the
struggles some still face.
Once again the phone rings. It's my oldest daughter. Her voice
is exuberant as she shares news of their home Bible study, her
church work as Director of Human Resources, and the latest antics
of my grandchildren. Memories dance across time as I listen to
this confident, compassionate young woman. I remember the look
in those dark brown eyes when I stroked her auburn hair. I rejoice
in the unfolding miracle a life transformed by the acceptance
of the simplest of words, "Jesus loves me, this I know."
* All names of the children have been changed.
Ritchie Hale is the wife of Dr. J. Sheldon
Hale, pastor of First Baptist Church in Walton, Kentucky, where
she teaches the Three-Year-Old Sunday School class.
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