So, a lot of people know about my family’s experiences with mission trips during my first 15 years. From a very young age, my father began going on mission trips through our church to a small village in the Dominican Republic. Not long after, my mother, sisters, and I began to venture out on these trips as well. They were life changing and revolutionized my heart for service. While week-long mission trips were LOADS of fun, apparently that didn’t cut it for our family (or at least for what God had planned for our family). The story is a classic; multiple people having visions from God of our family overseas, an overly gracious sponsor, and a family of 9 willing to GO wherever God told us to (granted I was the oldest and just barely into 7th grade so us kids did not have a huge say in the matter :)). So, on December 31, 2010, my crazy family left for the Dominican Republic with high expectations and perhaps high anxiety of what God would have in store for us down the road.
Those 18 months spent outside the US were FREAKING AMAZING! However, that all can be talked about in another throw-back blog, because for me, I think that the time since that trip has been so cool and far more relevant to where my family is today.
Coming back from a long-term mission trip brings just as much, or more, issues than leaving for one. Culture shock returning to the US is far more complicated than leaving, the food is not as fresh (pretty sure I got sick), and we struggled to figure out what our “new purpose”, or our new form of service, would be. First we have to look back on other forms of service my family participated in to understand the spot we are in today.
During our earlier years of short-term mission trips, my family was deeply involved in foster care and adoption. Ever since I was incredibly young, there had been a foster kid (at times 4) in our home. Then came along these two wonderful boys who ended up staying in our home far longer than expected. After nearly 3 years of fighting for these boys, we had the honorable privilege of adopting them into the Gray family (plus, without them it would’ve only been a family of 7 going on an 18-month mission trip and frankly that just doesn’t sound as cool).
Loving children from broken and hurting families was and still is a HUGE aspect of my family’s lifestyle. So naturally, that has become our newest adventure. Only this time, I think everyone of my siblings and parents can agree, it is far more painful than before. About 2 ish years after returning from the Dominican Republic, my mother got involved in an organization called safe families (probably one of the best ideas anyone has ever come up with). Safe Families is basically glorified babysitting for families who are at their lowest of lows. Homeless, jobless, or financially broken parents will reach out to the organization, and their children will be placed in one of the host homes (like ours) while the parents work on getting “back on track”. One of the most beautiful aspects of this, is that we as a family, and the organization in general, loves and serves these families without any help from the government (food stamps, money, etc. are not a factor). There is an insane list of sacrifices my parents have extended to love these families in crazy ways. Some of these involve; hosting birthday parties, buying clothes, helping buy cars, assisting in apartment moves, Christmas gifts, thanksgiving dinners, and the more I look at all these things the more I am blown away at the way my parents have let God’s love completely dictate their entire lives. I think it’s beginning to grow on me 😊.
It’s not always pretty having a connection with families like this, and with the impending goodbye almost always on the table, we began to experience many hard emotions while being a host home. By far the hardest hosting has been the one we are currently (families from the other homes we’ve helped still contact us, and we still have their kids over from time to time to hangout but this current one has been very traumatic). This home has brought up so many trials for our family, from an apparent abuse case that never got settled, from drug addicted family members being too close to the kids for comfort, neglect, and far too many times being asked to take custody of the kids only to have the plan change without warning. We are to the point where we hardly believe the mom when she says anything like “I want you to take the kids”. The struggle of loving these kids while knowing every time they go back they go back into a dark and painful world, has wreaked havoc on our family. These experiences has motivated many members of my family to seek counseling to address the anguish we all feel for these kids.
Despite this pain, we never will quit fighting and I can say with some confidence that this has not been in vain. I must point this up, because we didn’t just fight because we are so strong and amazing and loving people…we all have a lot of struggles and without the Holy Spirit giving us unyielding strength, we would not be where we are today with this family. There is now slight discussions of true custody (as in there will not be any backing out) being handed over to our family. I can’t even express what a joy it would be to invite C and D into our family…family of 11 sure sounds fun to me. However, the hard truth is we don’t have custody yet, we don’t get to call call them Gray’s yet, and we don’t get to fully bring them into the safety of our home YET, but we continue praying that that day will come soon!
Anyways, what has this all taught me you say? In general terms it has taught me how beautiful it is to love the unloved. I know without a doubt that each child who passed through our home experienced some amount (even if just an ounce) of God’s love for them. Even those kids who no longer are in our home, I pray with confidence that they will grow up remember my family and know that they are loved, cherished, and never forgotten. Then the privilege of adopting my two youngest brothers and getting to completely and fully draw them near into our family is one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I can say with without any doubt that Zach and Si-dog are my brothers through and through, and I hope someday I can say the same about C and D.