Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Adoptive" Family

I don't know if this is just a CofC thing, or if many different church congregations do this. But when I was in college, the church I attended had a college "adoptive family" program. They matched college students with families in the congregation to help the students have someone to connect with (especially if they were far from home), a place to do laundry, people to cook dinner for them, families to connect with. I know many benefited from such an experience.

But I don't know anyone who had such an awesome experience as I did.

When I was in my junior year I was "matched" with the Parker family. I remember that first Sunday we met, they took me to Golden Corral for lunch after church. I met Tony and Robin, and tried to keep track of the names of their four kids: Nick, Kate, Josie, and Carlie.

I figured it would be just an every-now-and-then kind of thing, lunch on designated days and a few notes of encouragement. Boy, was I wrong.

I wish everyone had the chance to know the entire family, and if she met you, Robin would make sure you did. She called and invited me to their house not long after that first lunch. I drove the short drive to Noble, Oklahoma and pulled onto the Parker "compound". Little did I know I would soon consider this my own home-away-from-home.

When I met the Parker's, I was dating someone else at the time. He did not click with the family, but they liked me anyway and kept inviting me out. I went to the kids' birthday parties and fourth of July parties and just lazy Sunday afternoons. Before long, Mr. Wrong was out and John was back in my life (this time for good).

John was EXACTLY their kind of people. You all know him...he's charismatic and funny and uninhibited. He's easily amazed and entertained by simple things. The fact that Tony had hundreds of acres and hundreds of guns to use fascinated John like a little kid in a candy shop. Tony and Nick would take John out on the land and taught him how to shoot lots of things. They also had four-wheelers and a boat and chainsaws. While I was still in college they acquired a firetruck and fixed up old trucks. We had bonfires, John turned their front yard into a driving range and showed Nick how to hit golf balls. You can imagine...John lived a dream every time he was out there. Visiting was not a two-hour trip. It was an all-day, well-into-the-night kind of ordeal.

I was equally as blessed to spend time with Robin and the girls. Although Josie was often off with the boys, I came to know and love these ladies with all my heart. I'm telling you, they were as close to family as my own. Kate and I spent time shopping and talking, Carlie was my "bestest friend in the whole world", I shared with Josie the best ways to tease John. Robin cooked for us (and tried to teach me how), she laughed with us, told us stories of their early marriage, and treated us like part of their family. I admire Robin as a friend and mentor and will always be thankful for her influence in my life, and our marriage.

Each of the kids were involved in our wedding, and that really became one of the last times we spent together. Not long after we married, we decided to go to church closer to our new home in Edmond. As you can imagine, our life got busy, the Parker's began experiencing the teenage years and the hectic lives of four growing kids. Tony joined the city council, bought a second business, and Robin began changing the face of Noble. We lost touch except for Christmas cards. Not intentionally...just "got busy".

Last week I went looking for a compact purse to take to the Michael Buble concert. I found one in the closet and went to switch out the contents. Inside the purse I found a notecard from each member of the Parker family. They'd given me the purse for my birthday one year, and each wrote their favorite memory on the notecards inside.

My favorite was one from Nick, where he told me his favorite memory with me was when we watched "Undercover Brother". I wanted to curl up and die right there thinking I'd subjected CHILDREN to that movie at one time! But it also made me pick up the phone the next day and call Robin.

We finally touched base yesterday morning, and before we knew it John and I were once again on the road to Noble. I swear to you, even after three years away it was like we'd never left. No awkward conversation, no "getting to know you". It was like we'd been there the day before.

10 minutes into arriving, John was holding a baby alligator and listening to Nick talk about how he was learning to hunt with a Redtailed Hawk. While Robin, Carlie and I prepared to go to Kate's soccer game (I know, eating the very words I posted yesterday morning), Nick and John headed out on the four-wheelers to go hunting. John shot things and felt very cool. We missed Josie who was out with friends, but by the end of the night Carlie was holding my hand and telling me I was her bestest friend in the world. Tony came home and caught up with John. We all ate dinner together at the house, looked at vacation pics, then John and I finally headed home after 11.

I am so, so thankful for this amazing family and our relationship with them. They were a blessing to us for so long, and we've vowed not to let it go that long before we head that way again. They're going to come visit us one day, as well, and play a little Rock Band and Wii. It's not shooting off the 50-caliber rifles or riding four-wheelers or roasting hot dogs...but I guess we'll get by!

I hope you guys had a great experience with a college adopted family. I know it's another relationship from Norman that will last us a lifetime!

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