October 29, 2010

‘God has brought them to us’: Longtime foster parents say children give them energy, purpose and a deeper sense of faith

Jay and Lois Peterson focus their attention on the latest of the 37 foster children they have welcomed into their home during the past 28 years. The Petersons, members of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis, are also the parents of seven children, including one child they adopted. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Jay and Lois Peterson focus their attention on the latest of the 37 foster children they have welcomed into their home during the past 28 years. The Petersons, members of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis, are also the parents of seven children, including one child they adopted. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The girl was just 2 months old, and the story of her life was already filled with heartbreak.

Her father was nowhere to be found, and her mother was addicted to alcohol and drugs—addictions that affected the girl mentally and physically even before she was born. In the first months of her life, she cried and thrashed constantly—so much so that she became sick and had to be cared for at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis.

Lakasha was a child in need of angels.

Fortunately, two showed up in the form of Jay and Lois Peterson, members of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis. The couple became the girl’s foster parents, and Lois—at the time, a mother of six—visited Lakasha in the hospital often, holding her and rocking her.

The bond and the foster care continued for about three years until the news arrived that Lakasha’s birth mother had died.

At that moment, Lois looked at Jay and said, “What are we going to do? I can’t give her up.” Jay told his wife, “I can’t give her up either.”

Right then, the Petersons decided to adopt Lakasha and make her their seventh child.

It’s just one of the great moments that Lois, 78, and Jay, 83, recall from their 28 years as foster parents.

They share that story as their 37th foster child—a 7-month-old boy—scoots merrily through their living room in his walker.

‘God has brought them to us’

Considering their ages, the Petersons—who have been married for 56 years—are sometimes asked why they still offer to be foster parents. A few people have even told the great-grandparents that they should stop being foster parents because of their ages.

Yet the Petersons continue to serve as foster parents for several reasons.

First, there’s still a need for caring people to open their hearts and their homes to children who require a temporary place to live because their parents are abusive, in jail or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The second reason has more to do with how their foster children have touched their lives.

“We love kids,” Lois says. “When we first heard about the need for foster parents, our youngest [biological] child was in school. I called foster care, and four months later we had a brand new little girl. She’d be 27 now. We had her for two months. Then she went to her grandmother. I loved it. I love babies. It’s to the point that we wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have a baby in the house. They make it a very happy home for us.”

Jay nods and adds, “Some people say you can’t love a foster child as much as you do your own. I love these little ones just like I did our children when they were small.”

As Jay talks, the 7-month-old boy in the walker moves toward Lois, his smile growing bigger the closer that he gets to her.

“I look at these little kids and they’re little miracles,” she says. “They didn’t ask to be brought into this world, and God has brought them to us. It’s been such a blessing.”

The story of Michael

They’ve kept that attitude through the tough times, too.

There have been several times when they’ve cared for the babies of drug-addicted mothers, babies so strung out that they cried continuously and struggled to sleep. Lois would take the babies in her arms, carry them downstairs to the living room, sit in a chair and hold them all night, trying to soothe them to sleep.

Another difficult time surfaced when they brought home a baby boy who was just 3 weeks old. For the next two and a half years, the Petersons cared for him, growing as attached to him as they did to Lakasha. They decided to adopt Michael, too, but the foster care agency told them they were too old to adopt this time.

Heartbroken, Lois phoned one of her married children, Jeannie. Lois cried as she shared her story. Jeannie listened and tried to comfort her mom. Then Jeannie said she needed to check on something with her husband, Dan, and that she would call her mother right back.

“She called me back and said, ‘I talked to Dan and we want Michael,’ ” Lois recalls, beaming. “Michael is 19 now.”

‘I pray for all the children’

Another unexpected blessing came with a baby named Thomas.

Usually, the Petersons provide foster care to a child for a few months before the child is returned to his or her parents or another relative. Once that happens, the Petersons rarely see the child again. But when Thomas was 11 months old, a young couple who couldn’t have children fell in love with him and wanted to adopt him.

“They insisted that we become part of the extended family with him,” Lois says. “He was baptized at the cathedral [SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis], and we were a part of it. We are his second godparents, and we see him once a week. Little Thomas is our 22nd grandbaby.”

The Petersons place the stories of Michael and Thomas in the category of “prayers answered.”

“I pray for all the children all the time,” Jay says. “I pray that they’ll have a happy, safe home where there’s no drug influence, and where there’s a mommy and a dad for them.”

The Petersons gave that kind of home long ago to the 2-month-old baby named Lakasha. She is now a 27-year-old woman who lives with the Petersons and helps them care for the foster children who still come to live at their home. Lakasha smiles as she talks about her parents, describing them as “good and loving and caring.”

The Petersons exemplify the Christian call to respect life, according to Father David Lawler, a friend of the family and the associate pastor of St. Christopher Parish.

“Caring for these children is basic Gospel Christianity,” Father Lawler says. “There’s something about a child or baby who has been neglected or abused—and these children have been—that touches you. The caring and the compassion of the Petersons are amazing. They never run out of energy for these children.”

The Petersons insist that the children give them energy, a purpose and a deeper sense of faith.

“What better thing could we be doing than this?” Jay asks. “You just have to do things to help others, and this is how we do it.”

“They don’t know if we’re young or old,” Lois says. “They just know that they’re loved.” †

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