Build a bigger table

Photos and text by Julie Williams Dixon

By Julie Williams Dixon  |  You learn to share when there are nine family members living together. You share bedrooms. You split chores. You divide minutes on the phone plan. You stake out time to watch television or play the gaming system. You divide portions around the dinner table and you wait your turn for someone to pass the salsa.

But these are just the ordinary things that happen in every family. This is the story of an ordinary family; the remarkable bit is how they came to be.

Michael and Sylvia met and married almost 33 years ago. Soon, they were the proud parents of a daughter, Sarah. When Sarah was barely 2, Michael and Sylvia adopted their 3-year-old niece, Candace. Six years later, they had another girl, Rachael, and two years after that, a son, Josh.

Then it got interesting.

Candace and Sarah grew up and left home; grandparents moved in. Sarah gave birth to a son, Caleb. The grandparents moved out. Michael and Sylvia became foster parents to Jessica and Allie. Sarah and Caleb moved back home. Hugo moved in, reuniting with Jessica and Allie, his sisters; then Michael and Sylvia adopted all three of them. There are pets, too, chickens and dogs. It’s a full house with high energy and plenty of love.

We joined the family recently for a meal and an intimate look at how they embraced the chaos and change to become just another ordinary family.

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Michael-SylviaSylvia — age 55: Our life was pretty easy; we were almost done. Two of our children had moved out and the other two were in their teens. We were practically empty-nesters. But that isn’t what we were called to do. It was almost like God said with the house, ‘Fill it up or sell it. It’s too big for just the few of you.’ And at this point in our marriage we had so much experience and wisdom, we didn’t want that to go to waste. So we started thinking about adopting.

Meeting the three kids for the first time was exciting, but it was tempered by knowing that none of us would have been there if not for some tragic circumstances. After about a year, almost all the interactions evolved into what you would consider to be normal sibling interactions or parent-child interactions.

Michael — age 54: This was Sylvia’s idea and I struggled at first with the thought of adding to the family. But we started talking about it as a way to share the joy and relationships we have with others. When I read the adoption profiles [for Jessica, Hugo, and Allie], I knew without a doubt these were my kids. From that day forward, I’ve made decisions based on their well-being — things like taking a new job so I didn’t have to travel as much.

Meeting them was kind of fun but they were nervous as can be. Sylvia and I had the advantage that we’d read the reports and knew a little about them. But all they really had was a letter and some pictures from us.

chickenAllie — age 12: It’s hard when you first move in but after one or two weeks, you start getting comfortable. The emotions of your foster kid depend on how you are treating them. I felt happy most of the time. Sometimes I could get annoyed because of my siblings. I would get frustrated in school or if I didn’t understand something. When it came closer to the day of our adoption, I got more and more excited. Every day I would feel loved even if I was mad, annoyed, frustrated, or sad. But that’s because I know that God loves me and I’m loved by my family and friends.

Hugo — age 15: At times, I felt sad and happy. Also mad.

jessicaJessica — age 15: My mom loves to see all of her kids having fun with sports and family time. She shows her love to us every day no matter the situation. She always knows how to make us happy.
JoshJosh — age 15: I had often asked [Mom and Dad] to adopt a brother for me but this has turned my world upside down. I was the youngest and the only boy. Now I’m a middle child with a brother. Over the last two years I’ve noticed my mother has developed a shorter fuse. Nothing too crazy but enough to be noticed. She’s stricter now and has a lower tolerance for tomfoolery.
Place_3Rachael — age 19: I didn’t expect to feel jealous, but at first it almost felt like betrayal. I didn’t like it when my parents would show them a lot of affection or say things to them like they’d said to me. Those feelings only lasted a few months, though. Now I’d describe my feelings as loving and joyful; the adjustment, I’d describe as difficult, fun, and rewarding.
sarah-candace

courtesy of Basham family

Sarah, left — age 27: For a long time, I had been asking Mom and Dad to adopt again. I was really excited because it’s something I ultimately want to do myself. It’s been interesting to watch how everyone in our family is intertwining. It’s a slow process and each of us handles it a different way. We all have very different ways of expressing ourselves.

Candace, right — age 29: When you bring in a child who’s been hurt, they live in that hurt. They don’t know how to accept the kind of love you’re giving them. At first, there was a lot of crying or yelling with Mom and Dad, or between siblings. I could see the love the kids had right in front of them, but they were still acting that way. This brought up some strong emotions for me. It reminded me of the way I treated [our parents] when I was a teenager. Now, whenever I see my mom biting her tongue and I see the sadness in her eyes I know it’s the same reaction she had when I used to get mad and yell at her. I can see the same frustration in my dad that he had when I was rude to him. But there’s progress and I can see my parents becoming happier. Being a third party in this situation, it seems like a super-slow progression and I can feel my parents getting tired and worn out. I tried ‘watching’ the kids to give them a couple of date nights and even that was hard. My mom and dad have been amazing and now, two years later, there is such a difference. I’m relieved and happy for them and I’m proud of the kids for keeping up with it. I’m honored to call Sylvia and Michael my parents.

 

Sylvia homeschools the kids and leads them each day in a devotional, turning to Psalms for lessons in loving God and to Proverbs for lessons in loving one another. A family favorite is Proverbs 27, verse 17:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

“Iron sharpening iron sounds like a harsh process,” Sylvia says. “But the application for our family is one borne out of love.”

When applied with love, the verse inspires trust. It requires honesty and openness. It reminds them all to keep one another’s best interests at heart. It allows a family, forged together from different life experiences — with all of the conflicting expectations, hopes, and fears — to be ordinary.