Fostering 23 Kids
About the Guest
In the midst of raising her own 5 children, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann also opened her home home to a total of 23 foster children. Bachmann encourages the members of the body of Christ to consider opening their homes to one foster child for one year, so that child can experience what a "normal," God-honoring home is supposed to be.
Michele Bachmann encourages the church to consider opening homes to one foster child for one year.
Fostering 23 Kids
Bob: Before she served in the U.S. House of Representatives, Michele Bachmann was at home, taking care of five biological children, and over a period of time, influencing the lives of 23 foster children. The experience was profound for everyone.
Michele: Our biological children learned so much. They learned that they are not the only people in the world—that the world is far bigger than they are or their home. Our foster children learned that they’re valuable and that they are worthy. We learned, as parents, a very important lesson that we didn’t realize. We felt, with our little tiny babies, that they could never need us more than when they were babies. Our foster children taught us that children need you more when they’re older. That’s counter-intuitive—that they need us more.
Bob: This is a special edition of FamilyLife Today taped in front of a live studio audience for Tuesday, August 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann today about her experience as a foster mom. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. This is a little bit of a treat for us. We don’t normally do a FamilyLife Today program with a studio audience. Actually, this happens to be the largest studio audience we have ever had for a FamilyLife Today program. [Audience cheers]
We are at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit IX. All of the folks you just heard cheering have a heart, like the heart you and I have, for the orphan crisis in the world—140 million orphans, worldwide.
Dennis: That’s right, and it sold out—had to get a ticket. If you walked up to the door, you didn’t get one. We’re thrilled to have over 2,500 here. I think what’s happening today, around the orphan issue, really needs to be traced back to our Savior’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. He said this—and I think you’re about to see an illustration of that, here, as we do our interview: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We’re about to interview someone who has set her light out for people to be able to see, reflecting the image of Christ and God’s heart for the orphan.
Bob: That’s interesting. Our focus is going to be, in this interview, on foster care. We should just mention that that is kind of close to your heart. One of your kids has been a foster mom; right?
Dennis: Yes, seated right down here, on the right—proud of her—Ashley and her husband, Michael. They have five sons, 13 and under. One of them is there—Samuel. Good to see you. And they have cared for a dozen foster care kids, in their home, in the past three or four years. [Applause]
Bob: And the foster care mom we’re going to meet here, this morning, has cared for 23 foster children over her lifetime.
Dennis: And she has a day job.
Bob: Well, somebody told me, backstage, that she’s been involved in some kind of public service job, as well; right? [Audience laughter]
Dennis: I think that’s right. Would you welcome, with me, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to the stage? [Applause]
Michele: Thank you.
Dennis: Michele and her husband Marcus have been married since 1978. They have five children. They’re celebrating the empty nest as of last fall.
Michele: And it is so great! [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s cool; isn’t it?
Michele: It is. It really is.
Bob: We thought parenthood is good, too; right?
Michele: Oh, of course, it was great; but this is better. [Laughter] You said, “Be honest.”
Bob: I’m with you. There you are—I’m with you.
Dennis: I want you to take us back to your own family—that you grew up in—because that’s where your heart for foster care really was first touched. You’d really not thought about it as a young person, growing up; but your family really had an interesting twist, back a number of years ago, when you were a little girl.
Michele: Yes. It did. My immediate family did. I just want to give, by way of background—my mother was, actually, kind of an informal foster child. She was the seventh child, born in 1931, at the height of the depression. Her parents couldn’t even afford food for the kids. The kids had to leave home when they were 12 and become hired hands. A local farm family took her in, but it was informal. It wasn’t through the formal process.
When I was a little girl, my parents got divorced. We were a middle-class family. When my parents got divorced, when I was about 12, literally, our family lost everything, overnight. We had a suburban home. We lost our income; we lost our home. I will never forget all of our things—out on the driveway—being sold, in a garage sale, on the driveway. We moved into—we downsized into a little apartment. We were eligible for public assistance. My mom said—this is not judgmental to anyone—but my mom said: “No one in our family has ever taken public assistance. We won’t.” So, she got a job. My brothers got jobs. I was babysitting. Everybody did what we could. We just didn’t buy anything.
My grandma would bring us food whenever she could, and we just made it. It was quite a few years where we just didn’t have much; but little by little, you grow out. We put ourselves through college—each one of us. We just did what you do in this great land of opportunity.
Dennis: And you met the Savior at age 16.
Michele: I did, yes.
Dennis: And that began to touch your heart about what really has grabbed the Father’s heart—the orphan and the plight of the orphan.
Dennis: But it took having two children, in your marriage with Marcus; and then, an event that occurred—the miscarriage that, ultimately, really opened your heart up to, not only being pro-life, but pro-orphan.
Michele: Yes, you’re right. We were believers. We didn’t think of ourselves as materialistic or career-minded; but when we lost our third baby—and it was a miscarriage—something that people think is, “Oh, an everyday-thing,” because it is fairly frequent—but it just completely changed us. In fact, so much so that, when I had the miscarriage, I didn’t speak for three days afterwards because something hit me inside about how profound life is.
Marcus and I just fell in each other’s arms. We were weeping; and we said to the Lord, “We will receive however many children you want us to have.” We went on to have three more biological children; and then, the Lord opened our heart in a different way—unlike we ever thought would happen. We ended up being blessed by taking 23 more children into our home—but that was through foster care—not through our physical bodies.
Bob: What was the springboard for that for you? What was it that made you and Marcus look at each other and say, “Let’s bring that little girl home.”
Michele: Well, we had another great couple that we would do things with, in our church. We went over to their house one night, and we were just having fun together. There was a teenage girl in the house. We said, “Who is she, and what is the relationship?” They said that she was a foster child that they had taken in, and she was an unwed mom. She was about to have a baby. They were going to help her—mentor her through this process of being a new mom. Marcus and I went home that night, and our hearts were absolutely broken. We had biological children—little ones. We looked at each other, and I was expecting baby number four.
I was going to be home, full-time, at that point. Marcus was doing his graduate work, and I was trying to work; but things were changing. He was able to open his practice; and I was able to be home, full-time. So, we thought, “You know what? If I’m staying home, full-time, and all four children, why not have more?” So, we decided to go ahead and become foster parents. Seemed like a good idea, at the time! So, we went through the process. All of a sudden, we got our first child. That was it.
Bob: Tell us about that first girl you brought home.
Dennis: Yes, she was—wasn’t she homeless at the time?
Michele: She was homeless. She was at a homeless shelter.
Dennis: You described her suitcase that she brought.
Michele: Yes. You know those little “Going to Grandma’s for the Weekend” suitcases? They’re real tiny. She had a suitcase like that. She was 16 years old—beautiful little girl, sitting on the edge of a couch, big smile on her face, but a real tiny little girl. I took her home, and I put her in her room.
I opened up the suitcase. There was one little shirt in it, and that was it. I looked at her shoes; and I said, “Michelle, let me see your shoes.” She showed me her shoes. She had size six feet, but the shoes were almost a size nine. So, that was the first step and how it started. We were scared to death. We’d never done this before because our biological children were babies. They were little ones. We didn’t have teenagers; and so now, we had a teenager coming in.
We didn’t know if we could do this, but we took one child. Probably, about a month or so later, we got a call. Would we take another? We thought: “This is going well. Let’s do it.” So, we took another one in. Usually, you have nine months to prepare for something like this, you know; but now, we had two teenage girls—one bathroom was completely spoken for, all the time; and so, we had to figure that out. Then, we got a call—would we take another one? So, then, we had three.
Dennis: You had to buy a bigger table, too.
Michele: Oh, that’s coming! We did have to do that. Actually, we had to blow a wall out and increase the size of the kitchen. Then we got a call—would we take another one? That was four foster children. Then, by that time, I was expecting our fifth biological child. At that point, then, when the newborn came home, we had no more seats left at the table. We were done!
One person had to stand up when we ate, and that was not going to happen! So, we called our favorite handyman. He blew the wall out of the kitchen, and we moved it back. We put in a fireplace, and a huge, huge table, and a sectional. It ended up being the place that we lived our entire life.
Dennis: My daughter, Ashley, has made a statement on more than one occasion. She mentions that she’s cared for a dozen foster care kids. The most common response she gets is, “Oh, I could never do that!” Would you just comment on that statement, “I could never do that,”—how God enables someone, who is available, to do that?
Michele: Well, you just answered the question. That’s the answer. Marcus and I felt the same way, “We could never do that,” when we first—actually, the thought hit us. But I’ll tell you what the Lord did—is He broke our heart because we recognize, in this sin-soaked world, ever since Adam and Eve fell, that all of us are, in some sense, a foster child. The Lord has grafted us into His trunk. Why wouldn’t we do that and be that Balm of Gilead for anyone that He brings our way? He enables us in everything that we do.
Dennis: With having 23 come into your family, there had to be a couple of moments, that were snapshot moments, that you wish you could just grab and keep forever, in terms of how your family reached out and loved a child in need. Could you share one or two of those with us—just a couple of your favorites?
Michele: Yes. They did it for us, too—they loved us, too. I think one of the great joys was watching them. We never asked them to babysit our little ones. We didn’t ask them to be servants in the home, if you will; but on their own, they loved those little kids. It was amazing how therapeutic the little ones were for the old ones, and the older ones for the younger ones—just to watch them grab the kids and go outside on the swing set, or go out and play baseball, or teach one of the kids how to ride a bike. That was a beautiful thing.
One moment, in particular, when we brought our biological number five home—one girl that we never, ever would have thought this would happen to—I was in the hospital, having this new baby. One of our foster children ran away. I got the call from Marcus that she was gone. We had to let the social worker, the police, and everyone know that she’d left.
This is kind of a chaotic thing to happen, at a point like that. What we found out is—that we felt she was the most well-adjusted of all the foster children—but what we found out is—she felt, when we brought this new baby home, that we wouldn’t love her anymore—that we’d love this new baby, and it wouldn’t be about her. We were able to have her come back home. She was able to see that we could add to the family and that doesn’t mean a diminished love for her.
We got her through that rocky patch. The good thing is she was able to feel accepted, and go on in her life, and get jobs, and go to college, and realize the life. A lot of foster children don’t graduate from high school. Our job was to make sure everyone did graduate from high school and successfully launch. It’s to their credit—all of them did. They are all success stories! [Applause]
Dennis: Good. That’s good. Michele, you work in the public policy arena. I want you to take that hat off and put on your hat, as being a mom and a wife, who has now experienced this dimension of foster care. Just speak to these, here, who are gathered together, at the grassroots, to make a difference on behalf of the orphan. Talk about how important they are to what’s going to happen for the orphan because government can only go so far.
Michele: That’s true.
Dennis: It really is, I think, the task of the Church—the local church—to address the needs of orphans. There are a-half-million children in foster care today—more than 100,000 could be adopted. The only institution, in America, that’s large enough to address that is the local church.
Michele: And that’s how we were introduced to foster care—through some of our friends, in church, who had actually stepped out and taken a child into their home. They risked it. Imagine, you said 500,000 children are in that situation. Now, imagine—rather than taking 23 children—that may just be way, way beyond anything anyone could imagine—but imagine taking one. Imagine taking one for one year or for two years. Imagine the life that you could touch during that time.
We are a very imperfect people and a very imperfect family, but what we felt we could do is offer the picture of what a family looks like: where a mom and a dad love each other. The dad gets up and goes to work in the morning. He comes home at night. He kisses the mom. The house has some semblance of order, most of the time, hopefully. We sit down at a meal that I make, and we pray before that meal. You do the chores. You go to bed.
That seems normal; doesn’t it? That seems like normal life. I’m here to tell you—there are children, across the United States—for whom that is not normal life! Can you imagine what you would do if you could give a picture of normal-functioning life to a child, even for a window in their life, so they could know what that’s like, and take that with them, and realize the joy that comes through that? Then, they may want to go out and replicate that lifestyle.
That’s something that we can do! It really is the Church because it emanates from a heart of love. Out of a heart of humility, we reach out—we bring children in and give whatever it is we can. Maybe, it isn’t long-term. Maybe, it isn’t more than one; but it’s something that each person can do. We have that many churches. We have that many families.
At some point, maybe, the Lord would touch your heart to be open because our biological children learned so much. They learned that they are not the only people in the world—that the world is far bigger than they are or their home. Our foster children learned that they’re valuable and that they are worthy. We learned, as parents, a very important lesson that we didn’t realize. We felt that, with our little tiny babies, that they could never need us more than when they are babies. Our foster children taught us that children need you more when they’re older. That’s counter-intuitive, but they need us more. They need to know that we know who they are—we’re invested in them, their friends, where their life is at.
Our foster children—I can’t thank enough—because they prepared Marcus and me to be even better parents for our biological children when our biological children came through. Our kids all know the Lord; they walk with the Lord. As far as we’re concerned, that’s the greatest legacy we will ever have. We are happy people, very happy. [Applause]
Bob: I just wish you had a little more passion about this subject, you know? [Laughter] Get a little fired-up.
Dennis: Yes. You’re doing this because, once, you were an orphan.
Michele: Amen; amen! That’s right.
Dennis: And the Heavenly Father adopted you.
Michele: That’s right.
Dennis: And I think it’s why it’s referred to in James 1 as “pure and undefiled religion” because God’s heart is for the orphan. It’s a good thing because all of us start out as spiritual orphans, in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.
Michele, I think you have let your light shine before others so they’ve seen your good works, and they are glorifying our Heavenly Father.
Michele: Well, you can’t do it without a great husband. I have to give credit to my husband, Marcus. I mean, how many men would be willing to be a foster father to an additional 23 kids? He’s a pretty incredible man! I thank God for him.
Dennis: Yes, really very important. Out of everything you’ve done in your lifetime, what’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Michele: That’s a good question. Honestly, it would be receiving the free gift of Jesus. That is not meant to be a cliché. I don’t mean it as a cliché, but the Lord very seriously knocked on my heart’s door when I was 16. That is the biggest step anybody ever takes because it’s going from darkness to light. You don’t know what this is all about, but the Holy Spirit very intentionally called me in. I thank God that He rescued me, at that point, in my life. Without a doubt, that was the most courageous decision because that’s eternal. [Applause]
Dennis: Well, I thank you for being obedient to Jesus Christ. As we go near the orphan, we get near the heart of God.
Dennis: We think we come—bringing love, thinking we’re going to be kind of the heroes to the orphan—but in essence, we find out that the orphan teaches us a whole lot about love.
Michele: Oh, you’re exactly right. I just want to add one thing. Our daughter also has a broken heart toward orphans. She’s a full-time missionary in an orphanage in Haiti. She has been changed, forever, by being involved in this ministry. That’s another thing the Church can do—is go on short-term and long-term mission trips. If your heart isn’t broken yet, it will be if you go and visit an orphanage.
Dennis: Go near the orphan. You’ll find the heart of God there.
Dennis: Barbara and I did. Our daughter, Deborah—who is here, too—30 years ago, we adopted her—
Michele: Oh, praise the Lord. Praise the Lord
Dennis: —and it’s a great privilege. Michele—thank you for being with us.
Michele: Thank you, Dennis. Thank you.
Bob: Thank Michele Bachmann; will you? [Applause]
Michele: Thank you.
Bob: You know, as we had our conversation with Michele Bachmann, back a few months ago, at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Nashville, back in May, the people who were in the room were inspired, I think, by Michele’s example and by what she had to share. If you find yourself, listening today, thinking to yourself, “Maybe, we ought to consider foster parenting or foster adoption,” our Hope for Orphans® team has put together a new resource called Safe Harbor: A Christian’s Guide to Foster Parenting and Adoption™—a brand-new resource that’s been created, specifically, to address the unique issues that are associated with foster parenting and with foster adoption.
If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, there is a link available there. It will take you right to a place where you can download, for free, this new resource from the Hope for Orphans team. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link and download the Safe Harbor: A Christian’s Guide to Foster Parenting and Adoption resource that the Hope for Orphans team has put together. Of course, they have a variety of resources on every aspect of adoption, foster parenting, and how every one of us can be involved in caring for the needs of orphans, in our country, and all around the world. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. If we can help you by phone, give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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And we hope you can be back with us, again tomorrow, when we’re going to go back to the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Nashville, Tennessee—and this time, hear from the Bishop of Possum Trot, Texas, and a story of how his little church adopted 76 kids. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. See you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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