Testimonies for Epiphany: Whoever welcomes a child in My name welcomes Me – Pam Uhlenberg

Some of you may already know our story. Peter and I have been married 50 years and we have 14 children and 18 grandchildren. Of those 18 grandchildren, we have ended up rearing 8 of them. The first four came to us one at a time as a 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old. They are now 19, 17, 16 and 14. Only the 16 year old still lives with us. Five and a half years ago, we took a 10 week old grandchild who still lives with us full time. His three older siblings, 10, 9, and 8, live with us during each school week and return to their mom on the weekend. All four of them were recently baptized at All Saints. Why have we done this? What are we trying to prove, is a question we have been asked. Here is my answer:

Even before we were married, Peter and I dreamed of a large family and of adopted children. Back in those days, grandchildren were not on our minds! We both wanted to welcome into our family children who had no one to belong to. Matthew 18:5 was a special verse to us where Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name, welcomes Me.” Because Peter was working on a PhD at UC Berkeley, we were married for 5 years before we had our two birth sons 18 months apart. When they were 5 and 6, we were ready to “follow our dream” to adopt. We intentionally decided not to use our resources for a bigger house, a better car or a large saving account. We felt they were better used to welcome “hard to place” children into our home and believed that God would give us the children that He knew were right for our family.

We didn’t start knowing how far God would take us on this “adoption adventure”. We knew that we could add two more children and have plenty to provide for their needs. So we adopted two biracial daughters one at a time a year apart. Not long after we had our second daughter, and our fourth child, we went to Seoul, Korea for a Sabbatical year since Peter was a Professor at UNC. Little did we know what lay ahead for us! There were so many orphans there that we could not ignore the urge from God and the desire in our hearts to welcome more children into our family even though we were not sure how things would work out financially if we did. So we returned to Chapel Hill one year later with a Korean/American son and daughter. And so the story went as God led us down the adoption road, one child at a time until the total was 13 adopted children.

One of our sweet little boys went to heaven as a two year old but the other 12 are now adults. Our youngest is 25 and our first birth son is 45.

Each adoption has a story of its own, but I have been given 5 minutes to tell the whole story! The story is not all beautiful by the world’s standards, but God has always provided for us. We have not always had plenty of money to care for our children and God has used many fellow believers along the way to step in and provide what we did not have. After our 7th adoption (or 9 children) good friends set up a foundation so that others could make tax deductible contributions to our needs. At one point, in another church, a small group of 6 couples, who were medical and graduate students, stepped in and took us on as a “project”; coming to our house almost daily to help with folding diapers, fixing dinner and washing dishes, as well as babysitting and anything else we needed. At that point, we had three in diapers at the same time and one of them was a special needs daughter with cerebral palsy and brain damage. We ended up with three special needs children who will forever be dependent upon us or someone.

We started out cautiously, wanting “normal, healthy, bright” children who were “hard to place” because of their ethnic background. God grew us into being open to special needs children, a 16 year old and an open adoption. As our children grew to be adolescents, we realized that we were in the position of needing to parent children with emotional and behavioral disorders. One of our adopted sons started committing crimes at age 11. He will be released this June at age 35 from a 10 year prison term. One of our daughters struggled with bulimia, anorexia and suicidal threats during her very stormy adolescence. To this day, she struggles with emotions that can easily go out of control. One of our children struggles with alcoholism and another with depression and substance abuse.

There was a time years ago, when several children were struggling at the same time and Peter and I had to go on a retreat for a weekend to sort out how we were going to continue parenting so many children with so many problems. Up to that point, we used to say “at least the Lord only gives us one problem at time”. But at that time, one had recently been arrested, one was in a psychiatric ward at Duke and one kept running away from home! The Enemy was screaming at me especially, “whatever made you think you could do this”? I’ll never forget that weekend. I left feeling that I didn’t have the strength to return home! Ever! We spent that weekend talking through, with each other and the Lord, why we had ever thought we could “do this “and, by the end of the weekend, we were both filled with awe over how poor our memories were, especially mine, and how adequate God was! With each adoption, we had been confident that we were doing just what God wanted us to do and that He would provide for our needs. Somehow, in the midst of the stress of our children’s crisis filled lives, we had forgotten that. We returned to Chapel Hill with a renewed sense of God’s working in our lives and a much better perspective on our circumstances. With that better perspective, we came to understand that our job was to faithfully care for our children and the rest was God’s job. How crucial it was for us to remember that! In one weekend, God took us from despair and discouragement to confidence in Him and the gift of His peace.

All through the 45 years that Peter and I have been parents, we have sought to share our faith with our children. It’s easy to do that with young children who are excited to follow in our footsteps. Family times, Bible stories, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, sharing our testimony about when we became Christians, praying with them, have all been part of their lives growing up. As our children grew into teens trying to figure out who they were and how they fit in this world, following our faith has not always been so appealing. Some have stepped back in their search for identity and then returned when they have children of their own. We do not have a family full of children who have chosen to be preachers and missionaries, but we do have children who know they are loved and who are very aware that their parents are fully committed to living for God. We have children who believe God is real and who know the story of what Jesus has done for them. The rest we have to leave to our prayers for them and to the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.

Clearly, our path is not one that God leads every believer to walk, but God has some path for each of us that takes faith and trust and sacrifice and a desire to join with Him in bringing about His purposes in this world. Peter and I have learned that when we choose to follow His lead, no matter how bumpy or messy the path, He will provide for us every step of the way.

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