By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist
Woodland Hills Church
I sat down recently with Amy Ames. She and her husband, Alan, have been coming to Woodland Hills for over twenty years. They also happen to be the parents of 15 children: 4 biological, 11 adopted. As we talked, I got to know more about her family’s story and how God has been working in and through them over the years. They’ve had quite the journey, and I’m excited to share part of that journey with you.
Amy and Alan realized early on in their marriage that they had a shared desire to make a difference in the lives of children. Alan, already a teacher, knew he could do this through his work, but they felt called to do more and began doing foster care. However, it did not take long for them to see that foster care provides more of a temporary fix to the problem rather than solving it long term. They wanted to do what they could to solve it.
Around that same time, Amy met a young girl who was living at a shelter. The girl stuck with her, so much so that she and Alan put a picture of her on their fridge and began praying for her. She tugged at their hearts for some reason. Then, a year and a half later, Amy was at the library looking through a book that had the pictures of kids in Minnesota who were waiting for adoption and currently living in foster care. And there was this same girl, staring at her from the pages. That’s when everything changed. They got a hold of the girl’s social worker and began the process of adoption. That was 18 years ago.
Bringing this young girl into their home was both amazing and incredibly difficult. Alan and Amy are both Caucasian, and their new daughter was African-American. They quickly learned a lot about race and racism. Their daughter struggled with reactive attachment disorder, something all too common among foster children. With the constant shuffling between homes and the abuse that can happen in the system, children who have spent large amounts of time in foster care can often find it difficult to truly attach to others and may even act out because of that. Alan and Amy got a crash course on it all as they worked with her, encouraged her, challenged her, and watched her grow. It was a rollercoaster of a journey with plenty of ups and downs, but in recent years, Amy has been blessed to hear her daughter ask her, “Why did you adopt me? You saw my paperwork and how I’d act out. Why did you do it?” And Amy was overjoyed to be able to share the reason: the love of God. God’s love had drawn them to her, gotten them through the tough times, and brought them to this point.
In many ways, their oldest daughter helped prepare them for the other children that would join their family in the years to come, both adopted and biological. Several of their adopted children struggle with the physical repercussions of substance abuse by their parents or live with the scars of physical and emotional abuse. Yet, every day features its own testaments to God’s workmanship in their lives. Amy sees Him in the loving interactions the siblings share with one another. She sees Him in the way they look out for each other, look after each other, and support one another. They’re invested in each other’s lives. Birthdays are a big family event with everyone gathered to celebrate. She sees God in the difference their kids, many of whom are African-American, have made in the lives of their extended family and how their love and presence have changed hearts and attitudes. She sees how strengths and giftings of one child can be a blessing for another in moments of struggle and frustration. She loves seeing how her children have grown and matured, learning from each other and from their own mistakes. They have become advocates for one another and themselves. And she sees how God has met each of her children individually at different times, how even through painful struggles and situations, He has been working to draw each of them into a greater understanding of His love and grace.
15 is a lot of children, but Amy and Alan wouldn’t dream of having it any other way. They love having a large family. It means their kids all know they’ve got more than just one or two people in their corner. There’s always someone with whom they can talk and laugh and play. They know they are not alone in this life. And for kids who have had to live in the foster care system, that’s huge.
It’s not easy managing a household this big. Amy’s day planner is always at her side and has a lot in it. She shared that one of her biggest prayers is that if one of the kids needs something, they will let her and Alan know, that things won’t go unsaid or unheard. She and Alan try to be mindful and aware at all times as to what is going on with their kids and, if something seems to be going on or a child is acting out, they make sure to spend quality time with him or her, even if that means just taking them along to grab some groceries. Life-changing moments can happen even in the aisle at Target.
When I asked Amy if there’s anything she’d want to change about their early parenting years or advice she’d give her younger self prior to having kids, she laughed. She said there’s not much she’d change except perhaps to be less uptight about things. You simply do what you need to do and don’t allow fear to keep you from moving forward. Let things go and don’t hold onto them, especially when it comes to expectations for both yourself and your kids.
The greatest blessing she feels she’s had over the years is her marriage. She and Alan are very close and have continued to be best friends even through the roughest times their family has endured. It takes an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and sacrifice to care for and raise children, let alone children who come from foster care. Many marriages don’t make it through it all, something Amy has seen firsthand with other adoptive families. She says her greatest piece of advice to couples wanting to have children, especially those interested in adoption, is to make sure both people are equally invested. She emphasized that people need to be on the same page or it won’t work. One parent can’t want it while the other is just okay with it. The needs of the children and what will be required are too extreme for anything less than equal commitment.
Amy is convinced adoption was the absolute greatest gift God has given her and Alan. They love all of their children, but they see a unique blessing in watching their adopted children grow up to be successful and caring individuals. Their biological children, she believes, would have succeeded regardless – they had caring, loving parents and a stable home environment – but she shudders to think what life might have been like for her adopted children had they not brought them into their family. Their situations made them so much more vulnerable and their chances of success would have been substantially lower. But to be able to stand in the gap for each of their kids, biological and adopted, is unbelievably fulfilling. They’ve said for years that, if she or Alan died today, they’d know they did enough in their time on earth. With God’s help and love, they have changed the lives of their children forever.