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By Kristy Donaldson

It started on a hot August evening in 1969. My husband, Dave, then only nine years old, and his brothers stood huddled with a local pastor on a sidewalk outside the hotel where his family lived temporarily. The pastor glanced from brother to brother as if trying to find the right words to say. He cleared his throat and then relayed the life-altering news.

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The Donaldson family: (left to right) Brooke, Kristy, Barbara, Breahn (Bree), David Jr., and Dave.

The Donaldson family: (left to right) Brooke, Kristy, Barbara, Breahn (Bree), David Jr., and Dave.

“Your parents have been in an automobile accident that has killed your father.” Searching for the right words, he studied their faces and saw only shock and disbelief. “Your mother is in serious condition, but the doctors believe she will live.”

Many nights following that tragic day Dave lay awake in the dark, wondering what would happen next. “Where will we live and who will watch over us?” He worried he would be separated from his two older brothers and younger sister.

With their mother enduring a long hospital recovery, the days were anguishing for the Donaldson kids as they moved from family to family. With each stop they wondered if this would finally be the place they could call home.

“God is a Father to the fatherless, and He is watching over you,” assured Dave’s grandmother.

“How can God be our Father when He’s all the way up in heaven?” Dave asked.

“Just watch,” she said, “He will fulfill His promise through His people.”

Kristy and Brooke welcome Barbara with a  “Welcome Home” sign.

Kristy and Brooke welcome Barbara with a
“Welcome Home” sign.

A few days later Dave and his siblings followed a stone path to a trailer owned by the Davis family. Bill and Louvada Davis were faithful members of the church Dave’s dad had pastored before the accident. The couple didn’t have a lot of money; they lived with their two children in a single-wide trailer.

As Dave walked up the path to the trailer, he clutched his suitcase in one hand and his pillow in the other, trying to chase away his fears that the Davises would send them away. But when he reached up to knock on the door, it swung open. Mr. Davis stood in the threshold with a warm, inviting smile. As Dave and his siblings shuffled inside, Mr. Davis embraced each of them and spoke life-changing words: “Welcome! You are with family, and this is now your home.” That little word “with” meant that the Davis family was sharing more than their home with four traumatized children; they were willing to share in their loss and pain.

Nearly 40 years later Dave and I had moved our family to Washington, D.C., where Dave was asked by the United States Children’s Bureau to lead the first ever National Summit on Foster Care and Adoption. His heart broke as he heard testimonies from former foster children who were abused, neglected, or used as pawns in a game to get public funds. One young woman’s foster dad had told her, “The only reason you are here is to cover my truck payment.”

After the Summit, Dave came home and asked me to pray about us becoming foster parents. Reluctantly I agreed to begin the trainings conducted by a local Christian agency contracted by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Both of us were apprehensive about bringing an unknown child into our home. We wondered what hidden dangers they would pose to our biological children – two daughters and a son.

The agency assured us that we could begin with respite care, housing a foster child for two to three days at a time, to see if it would be the right fit. Since we already had two girls, we requested a foster boy who would be younger than our fifteen-year-old son. We completed the certification and prepared our son’s room. One unforgettable Monday, I got a call from the agency social worker.

“Would you be willing to meet with a foster child in your school district who desperately needs a good home?” she asked.

“Sure, we’ll be happy to meet him,” I replied.

“Actually the foster child is a 16-year-old girl named Barbara,” she said.

I struggled to find a response. She continued, “You’re the only certified family in Barbara’s school district. Otherwise she may have to move out of the area to a new school.”

My thoughts rambled: “This is April! Change schools this late in the year? It’s not a boy; it’s a girl. I will have to arrange the rooms again. My plate is already full. Could I truly make room in my home and heart?”
When I got off the phone, Dave said, “I think the Lord is in this. Let’s just meet her.”

The next evening Barbara sat on our couch nervously crossing her arms over her face to hide from our curiosity. She was small and very thin, with black hair and dark eyes. She looked more like 12 than 16. Guarding my emotions I tried not to imagine what she had endured in her young life.

That night Dave and I prayed for the Lord’s wisdom, and we knew He wanted us to rescue this girl from what would most likely be a nightmarish future. The agency arranged for Barbara’s current foster parent to bring her to our home the following Saturday.

Kristy and Barby share a special moment.

Kristy and Barby share a special moment.

That eventful day our family peered out the windows of our home anticipating Barbara’s arrival. Moments later her foster parent pulled into our driveway, dropped Barbara off with a pillow, a suitcase, a small box, and a distant glance followed by “good luck.” No hugs. No emotion. It was as though he had delivered a FedEx package.

As Barbara walked toward our front door, she clutched her suitcase in one hand and her pillow in the other. Dave teared up as he recalled the day he similarly walked up to the Davises’ trailer nearly 40 years earlier. Barbara appeared weary, frightened, and uncertain. Yet a beautiful smile emerged as she looked up and saw our youngest daughter, Brooke, and me at the front door with a sign that read, “Welcome Home, Barbara.” As she shuffled inside, Dave gave her a hug and said, “Barbara, you are with family and this is your home.”

While it has not always been easy, here are some of the guiding principles we followed in raising Barbara:

  • Instill significance and security by sharing with your foster child that “God blesses us with children through childbirth and through foster care and adoption.” All of our children are special gifts to our family from heaven.
  • Set clear boundaries. Although we abided by the rules and guidelines mandated by the U.S. Children’s Bureau, we also had rules and expectations as part of the Donaldson household. The best way to teach this was by a natural immersion into our family’s routine: church on Sundays and Wednesdays, our son’s baseball games, meeting our friends and neighbors, and helping with cooking and cleanup. Yes, there were confrontations with Barbara, but the most persuasive teacher was the “peer pressure” from our biological children.
  • Education must be a top priority. Although I tried to help Barbara finish high school with passing grades, she did not seem to care. She faced the real possibility of being held back for a second senior year. I stayed up late with her to help her study, and she finally passed! Many foster children are so accustomed to failure, it becomes expected. Helping a foster child develop the disciplines to succeed is one of the most challenging but rewarding aspects to this journey. As of this writing, Barbara is in her senior year at Evangel University in Missouri and has made the dean’s list.
  • Meet your foster child at their level of maturity. Even though Barbara’s biological age was 16, her social skills and cognitive abilities were closer to that of a much younger child. Most of these kids lack a normal childhood; therefore, raise them from their current maturation point with a consistency of unconditional love, patience, and affirmation.
  • Give your biological children time and understanding to adjust to “a stranger” now sharing their parent’s attention, occupying their space, and using their things.
  • Pray and claim God’s Promises. One of the greatest promises from God’s Word I claim as we parent our kids is “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?…. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:27, 39).
Barbara is thriving at Evangel University.

Barbara is thriving at Evangel University.

After nearly five years of living in our home with the government serving as her legal guardian, Barbara turned 21 and officially “aged out” of the system. On her birthday we received a special letter from Barbara asking us to adopt her. We all had been waiting for this day! A few months later we stood in court together as the judge joyfully slammed the gavel down and declared, “Barbara, congratulations. You are now legally part of the Donaldson family.” Dave and I cannot adequately express the emotions of that moment, but Barbara did when she shared her testimony at our church before being baptized in water: “I used to be a sad and lonely person with no family. Now three families have adopted me: God’s family, by my accepting Jesus Christ into my heart; this church family; and the Donaldson family.”

Barbara has blossomed into a beautiful young lady who loves the Lord. When asked what she wants to do after college , she gratefully and excitedly replies, “I’m going to become a foster parent and help many other kids like me find forever families.”

Beautiful sisters: (left to right) Barbara, Brooke, and Bree.

Beautiful sisters: (left to right) Barbara, Brooke, and Bree.

The Donaldson kids were featured in a heartwarming video produced by Focus on the Family:

MSG-Donaldson-author-1116Kristy Donaldson, a licensed Open Bible minister, enjoys ministry to women. She also travels extensively with her husband, Dave, co-founder of Convoy of Hope, an international relief organization and partner with Open Bible. The Donaldsons reside in Springfield, Missouri. Side note: She and Message editor Andrea Johnson were roommates at Open Bible College in Des Moines.

About The Author

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