Just six months after our wedding in 1994, I had a word spoken over me that I would be a ‘mother to many’. I have always wanted a big family and was so excited by this possibility, but I have polycystic ovaries and knew that it might be difficult for me to conceive, so I wondered whether it would be true.
But four months later I found out I was pregnant, and I began to believe in the idea – big family, here we come! Our daughter arrived in 1995 and our son followed just 21 months later, and I was confident I knew how God would fulfil His word for me. Unfortunately though, I was physically very poorly after his birth, and then I suffered post-natal depression.
When our son was three, we made the difficult decision to not try for any more babies. I was confused and hurting. I knew that, physically and emotionally, this was a sensible decision, but hadn’t God said...? I tried to justify it to myself by looking at the children I was teaching through our church nursery, saying this was how He was fulfilling His word, but in reality I was struggling that it wasn’t what He had promised.
A couple of years later we took on the student work at our church. One of the students really plugged herself into our family, treating our children as her younger siblings and calling us her ‘university parents’. She is now married, is still part of our family, and their children call us grandma and grandad. It seemed that our family was growing in a different, unexpected way.
Around that time, I happened to watch the Disney film ‘Lilo and Stitch’, and was suddenly struck by something one of the characters said: “Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” I realised that this is what God wanted for our family, this is how He would make me a mother to many – not how I planned it, but how He planned it.
We had seen how adoption had made my friend’s life story so different to my dad’s, and we began to wonder if we could make that kind of difference for someone too. So the next addition to our family came through adoption in 2004, when our youngest daughter joined us at 13 months.
Soon after, I met a teenage mum through a project I was volunteering with. Her life was pretty tricky, and she and the baby moved in with us for a year. I was surprised but touched when she started to call me mum, and she now has two children, who also know us as grandma and grandad. They will always be a part of our family too.
We were so thankful that our youngest daughter had a loving foster family before she joined us, and we began to feel prompted to offer this for other children and families.
We usually foster very young children and, so far, all our babies have moved on to adoption. It has been such a privilege to be a mum for each of them, for as short or long a time as they need me, before they move on to their forever family. Each of these families have become part of our ‘Ohana’ family, being involved to whatever degree works for them, and every so often they ‘come home’ together, to share a meal and support one another.
Having such young foster children means I never seem to outgrow toddler groups and baby swim, and God has used me as a mother in these places too. I often encounter new mums who are really nervous about whether they are doing everything ‘right’ and it’s great that I can be their ‘mum on the ground’ for a short while. They can watch me with my foster children, putting into practice what I am talking to them about, and we commiserate with each other when we struggle with sleepless nights, teething, weaning etc.
In 2015 we took a more unusual placement. A young woman, who spoke broken English, and her one year old. The young woman was also heavily pregnant and, after much heart searching, was planning to relinquish the new baby before returning to her own country, as she knew she would not be able to provide for baby back home. It was a hard couple of months but I felt so honoured to be able to stand in as mum for her, to give her the love, care, compassion and support she needed as she faced such a difficult time.
Our eldest daughter went off to university a few years ago and soon after a single lady in her mid-20s from our church came and spoke to us, asking if she could be part of our family – she had watched the craziness and wanted to be part of it! She is like another big sister to our youngest daughter.
Our most recent foster baby moved on a few months ago and we have taken a short break to have some work done on the house. In that time we have started to lead a new cell group at church, full of people who want to reach out across the generations, and who share our vision of ‘Ohana’. It is so exciting to be building a community with this at its heart.
And so to the future. We will shortly be off on a mission trip to Uganda for two weeks and I’m excited to see what God does in and through us while we are there, and how I can be a mum during that time.
I don't know what else God has in store this year or in the years to come, but I do know He is keeping His word to me, and that His picture of motherhood is so much bigger than mine.
“Ohana means family, and family means no-one gets left behind, or forgotten.”