Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette E.: Welcome back to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Tera and I have a really special couple with us today. Kelly and Caleb Billingsley. And you know Tera when I think of this couple whom I’ve known a very long time, I think of the parable in Luke 18 where Jesus teaches about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Now I know this sounds a little odd but hang with me. The Pharisee stands and prays to God from a posture of self-righteousness and arrogance. He felt that he brought much to God’s table. He tithed, he fasted two times a week. He worked hard in the temple of God. He was a poster boy for righteousness right?
But the tax collector bowed his head before God in shame. He cried out broken before the Lord seeking God’s mercy. The tax collector got it. He realized that his total dependency was on God. That he came before God empty handed and totally reliant upon the Lord for mercy, for forgiveness, for direction. Then in Luke 18:14 Jesus ends the parable with this, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”.
Tera M.: Right after that in fifteen through seventeen it says, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them but when the disciples saw this they rebuked them but Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”.
Lynette E.: This is fascinating because right after the lesson on humility and total dependence on God, Luke goes directly to this passage Tera to Jesus and the little children. It’s so fascinating because Jesus’ attitude toward children completely contrasted with that of the religious leaders of that time. In most ancient cultures children were a burden until they were able to contribute to the family and to society. But Jesus turns the tables on this teaching by saying, “Let the children come to me”. Just as you read and do not hinder them. The message paraphrases verse sixteen by saying, “These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy.”
Tera M.: I love that.
Lynette E.: I do too. So today on the podcast we want to welcome Kelly and Caleb Billingsley. Kelly and Caleb have three children. You two are so talented. Caleb just your experiences in the military, the police department, the education you two have. You could have easily taken the attitude like in Luke 18 that fostering is beneath us.
Tera M.: But we really just want to know why did you start the process? Why did you decide to become foster parents?
Caleb B.: Well I think going all the way back Kelly and I, I think both, before we even met each other, we had a desire for adoption. At least I know I did and I remember talking with Kelly at the very beginning of our relationship that that’s something that we would want to do at some point. We didn’t know anything about that really. What that would look like. But even before we were married I just knew that there were all kinds of kids in the world who needed parents. Who needed decent parents and so I just felt like as a Christian that was just kind of like it just made sense. That I would do that and I was wondering why more people didn’t do it that I knew. So that was just always been a desire of mine as far back as I think just even in high school. I remember thinking those thoughts. I don’t really know why. I can’t pinpoint as to like when that started or what brought that about. It was more of just kind of like assumption for me that just something I would be involved in.
Kelly B.: Yeah. I had the same kind of desires. So early in our marriage we talked about it a lot. We dreamed about it and what would adoption look like for us. Then just down the road a lot of things changed and just circumstantial things that it just wasn’t ever the right time to jump in and start that process. I can see now that was the Lord kind of working to change our hearts a little more towards foster care and serving those hurting families in our communities. For me, Caleb was working at a children’s home here with a lot of foster youth. And so just seeing him work with those kids made me have a little more compassion for the kids who are like orphans of the living I guess. They had parents but it wasn’t safe for them to be living with them.
These are children right in our community. Literally our neighbors.
Caleb B.: Absolutely. Every community has it. That’s right.
Lynette E.: There’s a huge need.
Tera M.: There is a huge need.
Caleb: I think with foster care it was one of those things were I personally whatever I thought about it in the past because I was like, “Nah, we’re not going to do foster care. We’re going to adopt”. You kind of at least in my mind I put adoption on this pedestal of I want my own kids right? But after working at this place called Cunningham Children’s Home here in Urbana for a number of years. I worked with a lot of foster kids and just seeing how normal they were in one sense but also how broken they were at the same time. It just made it much more tangible and feasible for me in my mind to say, “Okay, foster care is a real”. First of all there’s a huge need that I wasn’t aware of. But then also it’s very doable as well.
Lynette E.: So did you all have all three of your biological children when you started the foster care process?
Caleb B.: We did. Ezra was a baby. I think he had just turned one when we started the process and by the time we went through all of the training and actually received our license, he was about to turn two. Then, very shortly after we received our license we got our call for our first placement.
Lynette E.: That was a sibling group right?
Caleb B.: That was a sibling group. Yep. It was the weekend of Ezra’s second birthday. It was for a sibling group of two. A boy who was two and a baby girl who was about eight months old I think right?
Tera M.: That was a busy house. Five little people.
Caleb B.: It was. It was. So jumping from three to five kids when the youngest three are two, two and almost one was definitely …. It kind of rocked our world a little bit. Right off the bat.
Kelly B.: That first year was probably the hardest year of our marriage I would say.
Lynette E.: Oh definitely.
Tera M.: Did you have a lot of community, church and family support when you all decided to start fostering? Because that’s a lot of little kids. You all needed help I’m sure.
Caleb B.: Yes. Yeah. We did. I think that’s another reason we felt so …. It felt so natural for us just go ahead and jump in and do it is because we both have great support of family. They don’t live near us. Our families are located a few hours away. But our church family is so great and supportive. We couldn’t have even done the training without volunteers from our church coming to help our kids and making sure we got to those classes. Yeah. We have a great church community here.
Lynette E.: So Kelly how long did you all have the sibling group?
Kelly B.: We had them for a year and then they were reunified. Then they ended up coming back to our house just a couple of months later. I think less than three months. Around three months. They came back to our house and then we had them again for another nine to ten months about.
Lynette E.: Oh wow.
Kelly B.: So we had them about two years total.
Lynette E.: And then they were reunified with biological family?
Kelly B.: They were twice.
Lynette E.: Wow, man. I’m sure that had to be very difficult for you guys.
Kelly B.: It was yes. It was incredibly difficult the second time. It felt a little worse. There’s just a lot of weird things happened in that case and it just changed at the last minute and so it sort of felt like the rug was kind of pulled out from under our feet but ultimately I think it was …The last we heard it was a good update and they’re doing well. So it worked out.
Lynette E.: Oh that’s fantastic. How did Nella and Silas and Ezra how did they react to the kids coming in the second time or any part of that you want to share but they had to have been affected by this because I’m sure they bonded with the kids. They were their playmates.
Kelly B: Yeah. The second time they came back I think all of the kids all five of them adjusted really quickly. It felt way more natural the second time when they moved back in with us than the first time. The first time I would say it just it was kind of strange for them. But they adjusted so quickly. I think our kids are very quick to love unconditionally and that’s great to watch. There were certainly some negatives.
Caleb B.: Yeah I mean obviously you’re going to have conflict over toys, attention. We definitely saw that especially with our two biological boys. One was the same age as the boy foster kid and the other our older boy was just a couple of years older than that. They’re all sharing a room and you’re coming in and taking all their stuff and wearing their clothes. You have a lot of the natural conflict over stuff, material things. But also you do notice anxiety at times and just wondering what is this kid doing here. Do mom and dad still love me? They never say that but you can definitely. But also, our kids ask good questions. Like why are they here?
We got many opportunities to talk about why are we doing foster care and so that just became a natural thing for our kids to know. Well they’re here because they couldn’t stay with their mom and dad. It wasn’t safe for them and so we’re going to take care of them for a while until their mom and dad can get better and they can go back home. Our kids they see foster care as that.
Kelly B.: Practical service.
Lynette E: It’s family ministry. It truly is. I know your second placement was vastly different. I’m just dying for you to share about this one.
Kelly B.: Yeah our second placement was something we thought we’d maybe do like as our other kids were much, much older or even out of the house. But a few months after our first placement was reunified for the second time for good. We got a call for a pregnant teen. A sixteen year old girl who was about 36 weeks pregnant. Needing a home. They really wanted some place where there was a mom who was in the home all the time. They saw that that would be beneficial for her. She was keeping her baby and wanted to learn how to be a mom. That’s pretty much all the information we had on the phone and that she’s so great. They kind of tell you things to twist you into taking …. But anyhow. I got this call and I didn’t really know what to do with it but I hung up the phone saying and I don’t know why I was even saying this. But I was like, “Let me think about it”. When maybe I should have said no. I don’t know. We don’t regret this placement but it was very different.
So I ended up calling Caleb and talking to him and he said, “Yeah. Let’s just do it”. So we did. I called them back and they brought her over a couple of days later I think. Yeah. And she really was-
Tera M.: So how did that transition go?
Kelly B.: It went better than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be completely awkward. It really wasn’t. She genuinely seemed glad to be able to live in our house and move in and get to be a part of our family for a little while. I think she’s desperate for I think a mom and a dad figure. I think she’s never had. That I think went well. The kids loved her. She paid attention to them. She liked that they were nice to her. I think she had just never really lived anywhere that felt like a normal family setup in her whole life. Really different for her.
Caleb B.: The first day that she got here she told us about a couple of the placements that she had come from and-
Kelly B.: Horrific.
Caleb B.: They just sounded awful. She ran away from them and it was clear that that was because she did not feel safe. People there were really trying to hurt her in very disgusting ways. The homes were dirty and unclean. I think when she got to our house I think she was relieved honestly. You could just sense that. Kind of like okay this is a somewhat normal family. I have a room that’s clean-
Kelly B.: And her own.
Caleb B.: Her own space and so that was …. You could really sense that she was really genuinely thankful.
Lynette E.: These places that she was at were licensed foster families through your state?
Caleb B.: Yes.
Kelly B.: Yes.
Tera M.: That makes me sad.
Kelly B.: Yeah. Yeah. It makes us sad too. We did later find out there were investigations happening. I think maybe one of the homes lost their license or at least was suspended or something.
Lynette E.: So she had her baby while she was there with you guys? Is that right?
Kelly B.: She did.
Caleb B.: She had it when I was there.
Kelly B.: She had the baby when Caleb was home.
Lynette E.: Oh my word.
Kelly B.: I was in Indianapolis running a half marathon. She literally had the baby while I was running a race. I thought, “Oh she’s got a few weeks to go. It’s going to be fine”. My mom came up and told me to go.
Caleb B.: So, Kelly’s mom was in town because I work …. I’m a police officer and at the time I worked noon ‘til 10. I don’t even remember what day this was of the week. [crosstalk 00:16:00] I went to work. I got home a little after 10 and all the kids are in bed. Kelly’s mom is in bed and I get in bed and I’m just getting ready to fall asleep and all of a sudden I hear somebody going to the bathroom which is right outside our bedroom. I hear some strange noises.
Lynette E.: Oh my word.
Caleb B.: And then all of a sudden there’s this knock on the bedroom door and it’s the teenager and she says, “I think my water just broke”.
Lynette E.: Oh Caleb. Oh Kelly, I’m glad your mom was there. Yeah.
Kelly B.: Yes. Me too.
Caleb B.: Yeah. So I wake up Kelly’s mom. I think she had woke up by this time. So anyway long story short I end up taking her to the hospital. It was pretty awkward to say the least. I barely know this girl. She’d been here for like three weeks or something.
Kelly B.: It was right around three weeks.
Caleb B.: It was so awkward so take her to the hospital. I get her a room. Get her settled in. I try to make it as least awkward as possible for her. Nurses are asking questions. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Medical things or whatever. But she has some friends that ended up coming to the hospital so I didn’t have to stay there very long. She was in good hands with the nurses and everything. Came home and she had her baby the next day.
Kelly B.: Yeah that morning.
Caleb B.: That next morning some time. It was several hours later but yeah it was of course the weekend that Kelly’s out of town.
Lynette E.: So now you find yourself doing your third placement and you’re doing a special needs placement.
Kelly B.: Yes. So let’s see. It came up at the end of July this year. It was exactly a week after the teenager and her baby moved out. They were able to move into a what is it called? Transitional living program which we thought was a really good fit for her and we were really glad that she was able to do that. We were hoping to maybe take a little break but we got a week break and I guess that was enough so we picked up this little boy and he is two. He has special medical needs. He has epilepsy and was having very bad seizures. Pretty constantly for about two months. I feel like he just recently been stable. His neurologist was able to get his medicine correct and so we’re kind of just now getting to him know because for the first time since we’ve had him, he is coherent most of the day instead of having back to back seizures.
He requires a lot of care and a lot of attention but he’s a pretty sweet kid for the most part. We really like having him here.
Caleb B.: He’s very delayed in development of course so he just learned how to walk when he came to us. [inaudible 00:19:20] huge progress in that so he’s a great walker now. He’s climbing on stuff and doing things that we never thought he would do this quickly for sure. He knows almost no words. He says about four or five words but not really in the right context. We’re not really sure where he’s at with talking right now. So communication’s tough.
Kelly B.: He has learned some signs. We’ve been trying signing with him and he’s picked up on those pretty quick I think. We know he’s capable. He’s just going to need some work but he’s already made great progress. I think it helps having the big kids here to play with him. And also he’s just in an environment where he can kind of be a normal toddler and explore and he wasn’t before. I don’t think he had a lot of opportunity to just be a normal kid.
Lynette E.: Right. Well Caleb you mentioned earlier that the first year that you all were fostering was probably the hardest on your marriage. As you’re fostering and we often talk about wrap around care and self-care and just really taking care of your marriage and your family so that you can be healthy in all aspects to be able to continue on this journey and do it well. So as you guys think about that what kinds of things do you do to help protect your marriage and to really make sure that you’re biological kids are being able to express how they’re feeling about things? How do you take care of your family through this?
Caleb B.: Yeah. I feel like there’s a lot of things like just practical things to do. I think one of the biggest things though to just have in place as Christians is you just gotta be involved in Gospel preaching, Gospel centered church. That’s huge. For all the practical reasons for the extra help, for the baby-sitting. For the encouragement but also just for the regular Gospel preaching to be reminded of the most important things because that’s when I would get discouraged or I when I would get angry or I’d begin to question things is when I lose focus of why we’re doing … If the Gospel isn’t my motivation then any other motivation I have is going to dwindle very quickly.
Lynette E.: That’s true.
Tera M.: That’s right.
Caleb B.: Things get hard and stuff. To be a part of a church and to be surrounded by people who regularly remind one another of the Gospel and how to actually live it out. That’s just huge for people involved in foster care or adoption or anything because it’s not like on TV. It’s not like one breakthrough and everyone’s just fairytale. It’s constant daily struggle. If the Gospel isn’t central then you can easily get discouraged. Beyond that I would just say just communicating with your spouse. Gotta be able to talk about what you’re thinking. What you’re afraid of. What makes you angry. You gotta be able to laugh together and be silly and I don’ know. You gotta be vulnerable with your spouse because if you aren’t talking about these things they just get bottled up and you begin to just kind of put your head down and just power through life rather than actually [inaudible 00:23:03] the joy of the Lord and the joy of your spouse in the midst of it.
That’ll drive you away from each other rather than toward one another. That was huge for us.
Lynette E.: That’s fantastic. That’s great.
Kelly B.: Yeah, I have very similar thoughts as Caleb on that. Nothing will make you realize your own sin I think than doing something like foster care.
Lynette E.: That’s true.
Kelly B.: It certainly requires constant preaching to yourself. So yeah. It makes the Gospel come alive that’s for sure.
Lynette E.: What would you say to a family that’s beginning this process or they’re thinking about stepping into the waters of foster care or adoption or opening their home to a teenager like you did or a sibling group or special needs fostering. What would be your advice for those just beginning the process?
Caleb B.: I think maybe one of the first things would be for them to talk with people who are involved in it in order to really know to get a better understanding of what it’s really like. Because I don’t think foster care is for everybody. Now I want to be careful in saying that because I do think more people need to do it.
Lynette E.: Right. Absolutely.
Caleb B.: I don’t want to scare people away. I want to say if you’re thinking about doing it, then please do it because there’re so many kids that need good homes. But if you’re going to do it wisely and you should you should talk to other people who are involved in it to get a good idea of what it’s really like. Beyond that is just asking the Lord to prepare your heart. Asking the Lord to give you love for others so that you can love these kids that come into your home. That’s been the hardest thing for me honestly. That’s been the most revealing thing for me is that I thought I was like this person who would be I’m just so good. I’m such a good person that I would be able to love these kids unconditionally right off the bat and I wouldn’t have any issues with that but that is not true.
Lynette E.: Join the club.
Caleb B.: It’s very hard to love kids that aren’t quote unquote ‘your own’. And so, it’s much harder than I thought it would be for me and so that’s something that the Lord has really been teaching me. I’m not there but I’m hopefully in process and Kelly too I think would say that that’s something that we just have to always grow in. Yeah. That’s why I say just talk to people who are involved in it. Just get those rose colored glasses off.
Kelly B.: We did not do that.
Caleb B.: No
Kelly B.: We knew nobody else in our town that was a licensed foster family. So we just kind of blindly signed up for the training and jumped right in which is good because now we can be the people that hopefully people will talk to and [crosstalk 00:26:29].
Lynette E.: Absolutely. Yeah.
Kelly B.: But yeah. I do wish we had had a better more accurate picture of what it really looks like day in and day out. I personally don’t think the training classes really prepare you for everything. There’s no way that they could but yeah that would be helpful. Just getting true stories from foster families.
Lynette E.: Well I really don’t know how families do it if they’re not involved in church and have a strong community around them. I hear you all talking about that and what’s one of the greatest ways you’ve been helped as a foster family?
Kelly B.: I can think of a lot and they’re all just very simple practical things, but they help so much. So many people from our church have just watched our kids. Not just in the training process but beyond. When you have five kids, ages six and under, you’re not really invited to a lot of dinner parties. It’s a wild time. But we had people that would just invite our whole family over and not make a big deal about the utter chaos that entered their home when we arrived. And it absolutely was chaos so we were kind of just a hot mess that whole first year. But we had people babysit for us. People stop by with dinner. They would bring our groceries. I think we had a family from our church just forced us to send them our grocery list and then they bought all of our groceries.
Lynette E.: Oh that’s a great idea.
Kelly B.: Simple things. My friends would stop by with ice coffee in the morning.
Tera M.: Oh that’s your love language. I know you girl.
Kelly B.: It really is.
Lynette E.: It is.
Kelly B.: It just makes you feel cared for. It gives you a little boost of I can do this because I don’t I’m not [inaudible 00:28:27] alone really in a sense.
Caleb B.: But one thing I would add to that is just you have all those practical things which are huge, huge. But one other thing I think our church has been so good at with our foster kids is just the other people in our church especially the men in our church who have befriended the kids. Our biological children when you ask them who their friends are, they’re going to be the friends, they’re our friends. The adult friends. They think of everyone in our church as their friends. We have these foster kids coming in. They’re just welcomed into the church. You have grown men in our church befriending them and playing with them and taking them out. Just doing stuff with them that is just huge.
Just to see these …. I’m thinking primarily of the little boy that we had in our first placement. He loved going to church. He loved his friends at church. They were his friends. That was just huge. If people are listening to this and they’re not foster parents yet, but they want to be involved, then find a foster family in your church and befriend those kids.
Lynette E.: Oh, that’s great.
Caleb B.: That’s a huge blessing to the foster parents. Just makes transition so much easier, smoother. It helps the kids settle in and get to know people. It’s a huge blessing. It’s the Gospel made visible really in the church.
Lynette E.: That is great. Great advice.
Tera M.: A body of believers is so important that is for sure. Like you said Caleb that you know if what we’re doing is not Gospel centered and we’re not doing it out of obedience to the Lord then we will quickly fade away but the body can come around and wrap around foster families or you can be a foster family but everyone may not be called to be the actual foster parents but everyone can do something for sure. Some of the things I’m hearing you saying about families inviting your entire chaotic, hot mess family over, just to keep you from feeling so isolated or that you’re not on a island. Just to have someone bring you an ice coffee. Like I’m not forgotten even though I haven’t left my house and not changed out of my pajamas in three days.
So those kinds of things …. Cause I know Caleb that’s what you do.
Caleb B.: You know me so well.
Tera M.: Yeah. Yeah. Caleb what you’re saying is that it’s not just women who are jumping to help but that men godly men being a godly male role model in these boys’ lives aside from just you as their foster dad. Then who knows what’s going to happen with these kids. They’re at a church where they feel loved and cherished and they see healthy relationships and whether they stay with you for short term or long term; they’ve seen the Gospel in action and it will impact their life forever. We have to believe that to be true.
Caleb B.: Definitely.
Lynette E.: Thanks guys for joining us today. We are so grateful and you just can’t imagine what a blessing you’re going to be to others and we appreciate your transparency and your willingness to share your story.
Caleb B.: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Kelly B.: Thanks for having us.
Lynette E.: Yeah. Thanks guys.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. A ministry of the North American Mission Board and funded through the cooperative program. This month and through the end of the year we would like to ask you to consider giving to the Minister’s Adoption Fund. This fund provides grants to Southern Baptist ministers and missionaries who are adopting. By giving financially, you are able to be a part of seeing many children become beloved sons and daughters. For more information visit SendRelief.org.