After a few months in The House That Changed My Life, my family settled into a modest, ranch-style farm house just outside of a little town in Illinois. The house was burnt orange- and I mean the color of rust. You couldn’t miss it! I remember how happy my mother was when we found that house…
We moved at the end of my 6th grade year. We were still pretty tight financially, but my mom had finished her Bachelors Degree in Nursing and was working as many shifts as possible at two different hospitals to keep us afloat. Nevertheless, I knew my four sisters and I were getting older- and thus- more expensive to provide for, so I wanted to get a job.
Our little farm town had a great Community Center that was really like a YMCA. I asked at the front desk if there were any odd jobs I could do, and they hired my little 7th-grade self to assist tumbling classes and do random cleaning. Eventually, as a freshman in high school, I helped in the childcare area. It was there that I met Jane Reese. She was a beautiful blond married woman with 3 children that I adored. I taught the oldest girl in tumbling and had the younger two during my childcare shift.
One day Jane asked me if I ever babysat outside of work. I never had, but I told her I would. My first night working for the Reeses was New Years Eve of 1992. I felt like I’d won the lottery! They had a beautiful home, the most wonderful kids, and they even let me have a friend over while I babysat. That was the best New Years Eve I’d had in a long time!
Over the next 6 months our relationship blossomed, and soon I quit my job at the Community Center to be the Reese’s on-call sitter. I spent the rest of my years of high school and into college with this family. We could not have been from two more different stations in life, but they never made me feel it. From this family I learned how to be a fun parent, how to cook (I thought spaghetti sauce only came from a jar), how to have super fun & relaxed vacations, how to budget, how to back out of a garage, and even how to clean a boat. Tom took me car shopping when I was 16, and Jane was the first person to hold me when a close friend died in a car accident.
This family gave me so much more than a source of income in high school. When they invited me into their lives they gave me hope that what was in my life would not always have to be.
If you know me or you’ve read my blog before, you know I didn’t grow up in comfort. My family experienced its share of hardships. I know what it is like to be truly hungry. I know what its like to be afraid that one of your parents will leave and never come back. I have felt the desperation of being a child trying to understand why everything that’s ever made you feel safe is gone.
The Reese family gave me a place to be myself without fear. They brought a consistency to my life that I so desperately needed. So when Aaron and I were talking about becoming foster parents, I couldn’t help but think of what this family did for me. I have the opportunity to pass on the blessing given to me as a teenager: I can give a displaced child hope that their future can look different than their present. I can help a little girl who’s mother has neglected her to understand what a true mommy looks like. I can give a little boy the simple gift of regular meals and snacks- a basic need he has never had filled before.
And maybe I can’t change the fact that when they return home they may still live in poverty, but with God’s help I can give these kids something intangible to hold onto: hope.
I’m forever indebted to the Reese family, and if one of you happens to read this, please know how eternally grateful I am for your friendship and love. Your legacy is living on in me.