They walked into the restaurant alone, with no kids to corral or scrape off the floor.
Jeff and Angie have agreed to meet me for lunch. I was expecting their youngest son to join us, as today was a half day at his school.
But alas, his perfectly normal parents had arrived at preschool to be told that half day was next week. If I had a nickel for every time that has happened to me.
These parents juggle soccer and dentist appointments and have a hard time remembering which days are halvsies. Like all parents know, this raising of little people is chaotic.
Especially if you have nine kids.
Nine, the number nine. The one that comes after eight.
Yes, Jeff and Angie have a lot of kids.
While they may be completely normal, they are also completely amazing. Legitimately.
The way they talk about their kids is open-faced and unquestionably excited. These are two people who L O V E what they do. You can’t ask them about adoption and leave uninspired.
The reason I want to tell their story is because it is powerful; it stirs us all to stretch further and trust God deeper. It needs to be told.
Jeff is our accountant. As we tend to imagine accountants, he is smart and intentional and steady. Angie is the sweetest person you will ever meet. She has stayed at home with her littles until this year and discovered that preschool is a fabulous thing. She now works with Jeff at their accounting business.
These two had considered adoption for years, and after three biological kids, they got serious. They looked into international adoption and were drawn to Ethiopia. But a rotary club meeting changed the trajectory of their adoptions, and honestly, their lives. Someone spoke on the great need for fostering and adopting locally.
Angie said she was afraid of fostering.
“I, like most people, didn’t want the heartbreak of it.
I didn’t want to give a kid back.”
She says that Jeff had to convince her it was the thing for them.
Within a week of being approved for foster care, their phone rang and a four-month-old baby became theirs.
And so it began.
They did respite care for a fellow foster mom, age 90, and brought little Savannah into their home, which they soon made permanent.
An emergency placement brought Brooklyn to their doorstep and her baby brother soon followed.
Within one year, Jeff and Angie took their family size from four kids to seven.
They say they needed a little space to regroup and settle. Regroup? Most of us would have needed a vacation, a sabbatical, a hefty raise and a daily delivery of chocolate.
The Jennings bought a bigger house to hold their family of nine and took a few deep breaths.
For one year.
And then they looked at all the kids still in the system, looked at their business and decided the flexibility it offered was a green light. They opened their foster license again.
“We thought we wanted to just do babies.
I thought that would be easier.
Then we decided we liked to sleep at night.
We are done with the baby stage. We are too old for that.”
-Angie, with a laugh
With a few perfectly timed conversations, they brought twin kindergarteners into their home. Who are “just the funnest, sweetest boys.” Their adoption was finalized the day before our lunch interview.
It is no secret that there are hard things about fostering and adopting. I wanted to know what hard things had surprised them.
Jeff and Angie are quick to agree; of course there are hard things.
Besides the headache of state requirements, paperwork and home visits, they find themselves stretched by the unfamiliar struggles their new kids bring with them, leftovers from a rocky start in life and the (mostly) unknown shortcomings of the generations before them.
Angie deals with mom guilt. She wonders if she is treating them all equally and if her kids feel she is unfair.
I know the struggle. You might too.
When Jeff and Angie talked about the future and envisioned having six teenagers at once, they laughed.
“It’s almost like an adventure to us.
Who knows what it’s gonna be like?
It’s gonna be crazy.”
You might think these two are crazy.
You might think they are saints. Or Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
But they don’t think that and they don’t want you to think it either.
When I asked them what adoption has taught them about themselves and God, this was the gold that they dropped:
“You will never feel like you are perfect or have it all together.
I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing.”
“I feel vulnerable a lot.
I feel like I am at God’s grace constantly.
But it’s a good place. Because I feel it’s made me a lot closer to him.
I didn’t use to trust God at all.
Doing this has been a huge part of my growing.”
“I’m not a perfect parent or a perfect person. Never will be.
God’s grace is enough for every single day.”
“Before you have all these kids, your limit is at this place (arm raised) and then you realize you could go further. You think you are maxed out before, at three kids and this little mini van, and now we have nine and this monster van, and we are still doing it and we still want to pursue more.
At some point you go past that line and say ‘Hey, we could keep going.'”
Before our lunch was over, I wanted to know the needs they have seen in the foster system.
Because listening to Jeff and Angie’s story, we may just feel inspired to do something about this crisis in our communities.
So Jeff and Angie, what are the needs right now?
They tell of the need for good quality foster homes. Of people they see raising their arms in surrender on Sunday and wondering why so few are saying their surrendered Yes to these kids.
“There are a lot of people who say ‘Oh, we have thought about that.’
Take it a little farther because if you have thought about it,
there is something that is stirring in your heart.
But you have to DO something.
We can all think about it and that’s great,
but it’s not going to meet the need that is out here.”
Be a long-term foster home.
Be a respite home, taking foster kids for a short period of time to give their foster families a break.
Do short-term emergency placements for kids while they wait for a long-term family.
Be a support for families who are doing foster care: babysit, take them chili, pay for their groceries.
Does any of that sound big and scary?
Angie talks about facing the fear of bringing these kids into her home. She guesses that many other moms and dads feel fear at the thought of fostering and adopting.
When I asked her how she got through the worry, she admits that it was a long, hard battle and it brought on panic attacks. But they pushed through, both of them did. They decided they were still going to say yes. So they grabbed on to God and they filled out the paperwork and they gave their Yes. They did it afraid.
Something happened as they followed the call of Jesus: the fear broke. It doesn’t have a grip on them like it once did. Angie is now able to talk herself out of panic and declares it is much easier than before.
They are convinced that the battle with fear in the early stages of fostering has equipped them for this part:
having nine kids and ENJOYING them.
“These [foster] kids are my heroes. They are amazing.”
If their story has stirred you to stretch further and trust God deeper, if you are considering joining The Foster Club, my friends would love to talk to you.
Please email them: jefferyljennings at gmail.com.