Our Family of Five
It’s been exactly a year since Barbie came to live with us. Most of you know our story, but this is not about us. This is a story about God and his amazing love.
As Barbie’s Pre-AP English I teacher at Poteet High School, I got to know her as the bright, bubbly girl that everyone loved. We bonded over after-school tutoring sessions where Barbie begged me to get her schedule changed so that she could get out of my class—the first honors course that she had ever taken. I refused because I saw something in her. She shared with me that she had dreams of going to college even though her mom called it a “waste of time.” I knew Barbie was “college material,” and I remember thinking in that moment, “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure this girl fulfills her dream.” Ironically, God had a plan for us: I would be the one moving Barbie into and out of her dorm room at SFA five years later.
I left Poteet to become an elementary librarian at the beginning of Barbie’s senior year, but we still kept in touch even though it wasn’t as easy as her just dropping by my classroom. I encouraged her to apply for college because I remembered those words of a freshman sitting in my classroom four years before. I made sure she took the SAT; I watched her crowned Homecoming Queen; I wrote her college recommendation letters; I even took her to Texas A&M University for a tour because she had never set foot on a college campus before. Her senior year flew by, and she got to know our family by coming over for dinner and babysitting our girls. She got accepted to Stephen F. Austin State University, and I was so proud that her college dreams were coming true.
(I notice many “I” statements in that paragraph, and it bothers me because my purpose is not to put myself on a pedestal as some Super Teacher. The truth is that this is what countless teachers do for their students—especially the ones like Barbie.)
One night in April, Barbie came over because she was extremely upset about a fight that she had with her sister. She lived in a tension-filled home and basically had to fend for herself. Barbie has a heart-wrenching story, but it is hers to tell, and it makes her success even more amazing. Her journey has been hard-fought, but Barbie’s faith has been her shining star—literally, her Saving Grace.
God put something on my heart that evening—if things continued to be stressful at home, Barbie needed to come live with us. I know this was NOT MY IDEA because I had perfect peace about it. God’s hand was on me—urging me that this was the right thing to do—it was HIS PLAN—not mine. If it had been my idea, my over-analytical mind would have peppered it with a hundred questions and scenarios: How would the girls handle this? Would it be weird to have a former student live with me? How could we afford this? But no questions came. No hesitation. Just peace. I told Jason what God had put on my heart, and his answer was “Of course, she can live with us.” There was God’s hand again, but this time on Jason’s good heart. I called Barbie to tell her about God’s idea. “If things get bad at home, just know that you can come live with us.”
“Okay,” she said. She sounded relieved.
And then I got the call that I knew deep in my heart was coming. On May 9, 2011, my phone rang and one question changed everything. “Mrs. Bailey, is it okay if I come stay with you guys for a while?”
“Of course, Barbie.” Of course.
And that is how our family of four became a family of five.
I have glimpsed God’s amazing love and power countless times over this year. When Barbie moved in, there was never a moment of awkwardness or doubt. It felt like she had lived with us forever. Our entire family has embraced Barbie without question or hesitation; she has spent all of the holidays with us like she’s been there for years. My daughters consider Barbie as their sister, and they cry when she leaves to go back to college, and they countdown the days until she comes home again. When college finances got a bit scary this year, God provided answers that could not be considered a coincidence or chance. In the great times and in the challenging ones, God never lets go of us. And He never will.
Please don’t misinterpret my purpose. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. This is not me holding myself up as a shining example and saying, “Look at what Jason and I have done. Look at what great Christians we are.” We are not trying to be our own version of the Blind Side. We were never trying to save Barbie. Believe me, that girl does not need saving. She has come so far all on her own. As I reflect on this past year and how God has worked in our lives, I can’t help but stand in awe. And as a writer, I can’t help but want to tell our story—made possible by the power of God.
THIS IS MY TESTIMONY: God brought a teacher and a student together and made them a family. God put His plan on my heart and lay His gentle hand on it to alleviate all anxiety—all doubt. THIS IS ABOUT GOD.
Our pastor at church says, “There is no safer place to be than at the center of God’s will.” Honestly, I thought that only applied to the brave Christians—the missionaries who had been called to the most dangerous parts of the world to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I didn’t think it could apply to my seemingly mundane “safe” life in Forney, Texas. But now I get it. It applies to all of us as followers of Christ. I fully admit that in the past God has put His plan on my heart, and I have shoved it away with a “No, God. Not now. Not me. I’ll sit this one out. Please find someone else.” We are all guilty of this because we are human. During these times of doubt, I did not feel equipped for the mission of whatever God was calling me to do. But now I get it. This is NOT ABOUT ME. If God has a plan for my life, HE is going to carry me through. He is going to equip me. He is going to make it happen. I just have to let Him. And I am so glad that I listened to His plan this time. Because I finally followed God’s plan, I know what it’s like to love someone else’s daughter as my own. Because I finally followed God’s plan, Barbie is a member of our family.
Tonight—May 9, 2012, I got a phone call. It was Barbie.
“Amianne,” (it took some time, but she has dropped the “Mrs.Bailey.”) “I want to tell you about my grades. I think I’m going to do really well this semester.” (I knew she was “college material.”)
We made plans about her coming home on Thursday. She will only stay a week before she goes off to work as a counselor at a Christian camp. She will be gone all summer, only coming home for one week to go on a family vacation with us. It won’t be like last summer. We will all miss having her around, but we know that Barbie is doing the right thing; she is following God’s plan for her life. Barbie knows that this is not about her. THIS IS ABOUT GOD.
Over the year, people have said to me, “Barbie is so lucky to have you and Jason.” I always correct them and say, “No, she is a blessing to us.” We are the lucky ones. And none of this would be possible without God. Our story is about God’s power and love. It is ALL ABOUT HIM.
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11