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.
Tera Melber: Welcome back to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. I’m Tera Melber, along with Lynette Ezell. And today we would like to welcome back Dr. Randy and Danna Stinson. Randy is the Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Provost at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Randy and Danna have been married for 27 years, and Danna’s a stay at home mom to their eight children, five of whom are adopted.
Tera Melber: Well, because Randy and Danna have such varied experiences in parenting, we wanted to continue chatting with them today. So, Randy and Danna, we want to talk a little bit today about special needs adoption. We know that one of your children does have some special needs, so can you tell us a little bit about him?
Randy Stinson: Yeah, so Brewer was adopted by a family in the United States when he was five. When he was seven, they made a decision that his physical challenges were a little too much for them to deal with. We came into the picture. We basically had three days to make a decision about it, or they were gonna put him in foster care. We did not think he should be put into foster care. So, we had to do some quick research. He was born with spina bifida, he has braces to help him walk, he has scoliosis, he has a 98% pituitary blockage-
Danna Stinson: He’s blind, and-
Randy Stinson: He’s blind in his right eye.
Danna Stinson: He has a shunt-
Randy Stinson: … that drains water off of his brain. So, he has some challenges. And we knew … as much as we could know in three days … about what those challenges were and, even in some sense, what it could possibly lead to later on. But, you know, three days is three days. We made the decision as a family that we would do it, and we don’t have any regrets. I wanna make sure we say that. No regrets. But, I also don’t think it would be wrong for us to say it has been really, really difficult, for sure.
Tera Melber: Absolutely. Randy, what were some things … and Danna, chime in … that you did or you didn’t expect when you adopted a child with special needs?
Randy Stinson: Uh, yeah … almost everything.
Tera Melber: Just like with biological kids, right?
Danna Stinson: Yes.
Randy Stinson: Right.
Tera Melber: Didn’t expect any of that.
Randy Stinson: Again, we knew some facts, right? That he had a shunt; that one day his spinal cord might tether and he might have to have a spinal cord de-tethering surgery; that his feet are real sensitive because they don’t get good blood flow, and so, a minor scratch on his foot could turn into something horrific. And so, we knew a handful of those things, but walking through those thing is a different story, so-
Danna Stinson: Oh, yeah.
Randy Stinson: … I don’t want to talk the whole thing here. But, I just remember Brewer came to us in June, and in September we discovered he was gonna have to have a spinal cord de-tethering in October. He had the surgery. It was a 14-hour surgery that could have ended in anything from paralysis, to loss of certain functions, to death. We had never been through that before. And to think about that ahead of time is one thing, but to walk through it knowing that at any minute, you can get a call from a nurse that’s in the surgery room saying that something bad has gone wrong, it’s … And many parents have walked this road, but it was certainly new for us.
Tera Melber: So, through this difficulty … And good grief, I’m trying to even remember how many surgeries and hospitalizations he’s had, and that’s a lot. And he’s not your only child. He’s the youngest of eight children, and Danna home-schools the ones that are still living at home. So it’s not like you had … And you have a really busy role at the seminary. And so, when you’re walking through all this, and these stressors are coming in your life and all, how has it affected your marriage, and your other children, and how have you dealt with the stressors that all of this has brought? And listen, Brewer is the most amazing kid. He is the happiest. I remember being at the hospital one day with him, and I walked in and he’s in the emergency room, and he said, “Well hello, Miss Tera!” I’m like, “Brewer, I adore you.” So, thankfully he’s got the sweetest disposition, but the stressors on your whole family … I mean, how do you walk your kids through that? And how has it affected your marriage?
Randy Stinson: Well, Tera, I also remember he threw up all over you one time, too.
Tera Melber: True. True statement. But puke from a sweet kid is better.
Randy Stinson: Yeah, that’s good.
Danna Stinson: Well, I’ll say this from my perspective. You asked earlier about what we didn’t expect. What we didn’t expect was, in less than four years, to have 11 major surgeries. That was sure something that was unexpected. And not just minor surgery. We’re talking brain surgeries, spinal cord surgeries, major hip surgeries. So, we didn’t expect those things. The other thing we didn’t expect was the amount of time that a child with special needs requires, even when they’re not in surgery. Just from medication to just trying to maintain a child’s baseline, who has chronic medical illnesses, requires an enormous amount of time and attention.
Danna Stinson: But I think the way that our family and our marriage has actually strengthened through this time, is simply because of that; because we realized that when we learned how to serve someone who can’t serve themselves, we learned how to rally around and help somebody who can’t help themselves. And, all the sudden, the things that bother us about one another, to include our marriage, and our personal relationships, and the family … They just hold a different place. They just don’t matter as much anymore. And it makes your family … I suppose in certain families, it could tear families apart. But I think for us, the kindness of the Lord is that it’s actually sort of knit our family together.
Randy Stinson: Yeah, it’s an extreme “love your neighbor as yourself” situation. And, when the Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, it’s another learned activity- learned expression of love toward one another, to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. It produces a very others-oriented way of living the Christian life, which is supposed to be that way. And so, I would jokingly say how our other kids that responded is, learning how to be neglected.
Tera Melber: That’s a way to remove entitlement.
Randy Stinson: Look, and I don’t mean … I mean, they’re getting food, shelter, and clothing. But what I mean by that is … So, one of our older kids asked me in the last six months, how come we haven’t done some of the things with our younger kids that we did with the older kids? And the answer is, we just haven’t been able to do it.
Danna Stinson: Right.
Tera Melber: Right.
Randy Stinson: We just haven’t been able to do it. This last 12 months alone, we’ve had several brain surgeries, a hip surgery, a spinal cord de-tethering. I mean, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to go on a mission trip that we would have done otherwise. And so, we’ve had to learn … and everybody else has had to learn … how to be okay with just, this is going to affect everybody, and there are benefits that others are gonna get that others are not gonna get. And like I said, we don’t regret any of it. But, it has changed all sorts of things, and we’ve had to just change our expectations as to what we just are and are not able to do.
Danna Stinson: I think it helps us to rely, too, on the sovereignty of the Lord in saying, so you did these mission trips with the older ones … But the Lord knows what each one of your kids needs for their character development and their growth. And for such a time as this, this is what your family make-up is, and how you’re able to do things, and the things they’re learning by helping care for Brewer, or just maintaining the family while you guys are at the hospital, or whatever. Those are the things that the Lord already had set in place that some of your other kids were going to experience, that your older ones who’ve moved out of the house have experienced at a lesser level. And we say that too, ’cause you know we’ve got the gamut of ages of the olders to the youngers. And the experiences that each set of kids has is different. It’s not a cookie-cutter; it’s just the way life goes.
Tera Melber: You know, I have some that are married, and they have their own children. And looking back now as a grandmother, my older kids … things that happened when we adopted the children, or some major health concerns … We were in the hospital with a couple of them, or one was very, very sick … And things that I thought, “Oh, this is gonna scar our kids,” ’cause they were just in high school, right, at the time. But now, they look back and say, “Mom, that was some of the most precious times of our family. We really learned to help one another, and to serve one another,” Randy, as you said. I think the Lord uses all of that to build character in our families, and integrity, and submission. Surrender to Him.
Randy Stinson: Our oldest daughters have had to do things that no older sister should have to do for their 11-year old brother. But, they have done it joyfully, and that’s been part of the joy in observing how the family has come together in all sorts of ways.
Tera Melber: Do you ever get any response from people of, “Oh, that’s not fair to your other kids,” or do they ever … I’m sure they may hear that or, “How could you bring this difficulty into your family? It’s just not fair,” when you’re talking about jokingly saying that they’d been neglected. How do you respond? ‘Cause you know people, if they don’t say it, there are people who are going to think it. Like, “What were they thinking?” You know what I mean? So, how do you respond to those comments?
Randy Stinson: Well, those are folks that, frankly, probably do not have a fully, or at least a more fully or Christian world view where this would even make any sense, or that there might even be joy in this. And so, Paul told the Thessalonians to be patient with them all. And that’s probably what we’re gonna have to do as we walk through this. What we realize is, Brewer has brought so many unbelievable things into our lives that are hard to measure, and in some ways hard to explain except to say when people tell us that it’s such a good thing, what we’re doing for him and some of the others … It’s really the opposite for us. And, unless you’ve walked through that, it’s hard to understand that. But, we would say those kids have done way more for us than we’ve ever done for them.
Tera Melber: You know, my prayer for my family last year in 2017 was that our … what Paul told the church in Philippi, that “our manner of life would be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And so, every day that was my prayer for Kevin and I, and the kids. Lord, just let our manner of life, our choices, the way we live out our life … Not to be a showcase, but just in our time with you, and be led by you, by your spirit. Let it be worthy of the gospel of Christ. That’s simple, and I can get that, and wrap my- begin to understand it. We’re not there yet, but that was my prayer for my family last year in 2017. And so, when I look at you guys … I know you’re not asking for this, but the Lord truly is using you all to be an example of the manner of Christ, the gospel of Christ to the church and to the world.
Randy Stinson: Well, that’s kind of you to say. We feel the same way about you guys. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t perceive that. But, we’re thankful.
Danna Stinson: Yeah. And I do think that one of the greatest gifts to me personally … I hear a lot of younger couples talk about how hard things are in their life. We’ve even had couples at times say how hard it was just to get their two kids to church on Sunday morning.
Tera Melber: Oh, my goodness.
Danna Stinson: And, you know, I actually have learned to … I think out of all the trials that we’ve gone through with Brewer, I guess I would say this past year when we’ve had … I don’t know, six or seven surgeries that were pretty major … I just have learned to appreciate the word “hard” and what it means. And I think I just now … the Lord has just now allowed a little bit of the struggle and trials that we’ve gone through for me to say, “You know what? This past year, I think I could say maybe the Lord has brought some hard trials for us, and in those, in turning the corner towards something hard with Brewer, I’ve actually witnessed our children seek the Lord more in terms of prayer, myself personally draw nearer to the Lord, and have been comforted by in a way that I never knew or actually have experienced in the Christian walk.” So I think, just the beauty of special needs is that you get gifts from these kids that you just wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, in any other capacity.
Randy Stinson: Yeah. I think that, for me, I tend to overestimate my own agency and things that are working out or not working out. And when you walk through things that are so completely out of your control, you have to be forced to face the fact that God is the one holding all this together. I’m not holding it together. God is the one that is holding all this together. And I don’t mean the universe … I do mean the universe, but I also mean even the little things. He’s holding this marriage together, He’s holding this family together.
Tera Melber: Right. Well I tell ya, Galatians 6:9, I know you know well. “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And I know every day is … some days and some seasons you feel like you’re trudging through, and just doing your very best to get up and get going with all that you’re dealing with and facing every day. But, I have to say that it has been my privilege and honor to be your friends, and to learn so much from you guys. And I count it a privilege to know you. So, we’re just super grateful-
Danna Stinson: Thank you.
Tera Melber: … for you and for your family. You’ve got incredible kids, and I’m just glad your kids are friends with our kids. So, anyway. We just thank you so much again. I know you’re time is busy, but thanks so much for joining us and sharing all of that.
Randy Stinson: Our pleasure, we had a great time.
Danna Stinson: Thanks, guys.
Tera Melber: Okay, thanks.
Randy Stinson: Thanks.
Recording: You have been listening to The Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.