Adoptive mother counts self blessed
9/1/2010 7:54:00 AM
Adoptive mother counts self blessed
BY ANN ALLEN
Correspondent, The Sentinel
Heather Elyse considers herself blessed.
Passionate about ministry, she is children's pastor at Olive Branch Church of God, writer-director for a commercial production company and a Go and Produce Ministries director. She has been a foster parent for more than 30 children. She lives in a 10-bedroom Victorian home in Rochester with her seven adopted children and has room for more.
"I wear a lot of hats," she said, "but the most important job I have is parenting some amazing kids. I am a professional boo-boo kisser, nose wiper and cuddler."
But her blessings began haunting her even before she moved to the area. There are some in her church and in the Akron-Rochester communities who feel a 28-year-old single woman should not have seven children, adopted or not.
Equating "single mother" with "unwed mother" and seven children with welfare, she said a few have suggested she stole the five girls and two boys.
Others doubt she owns her home. As a result she gets hate mail, has had windows broken and ugly words painted on the house and her car scratched. People have accused her of neglecting and abusing her children. Area churches have offered her parenting classes.
"What these people don't understand is that while we may not be what they consider a normal family, we are family," Elyse said. "I can afford the children. I can afford our house. My children were birthed from my heart, not my womb. They mean everything to me. I would lay down my life for them."
Elyse detailed the horrific traumas her children endured. One was found locked in a dog cage eating feces. Several were raped, beaten and starved. One had her body used as a cutting board, another suffered from shaken baby syndrome. One girl recalls having her father abuse her while her mother watched. "Then she did the same thing," the little girl said. One made national headlines when she was discovered; four are listed as having endured some of the worst cases of sexual abuse reported nationwide. All have had their names changed.
"I refuse to exploit my kids," Elyse said, "but I want people to understand where they're coming from. They've learned to forgive the past, but it's not easy to forget being raped or having to eat dog feces. The continued attacks we've been under trigger additional anxiety.
"The people who condemn us have not visited our home; they find it easier to compound rumors.
"We work hard and everyone has a job. Each has his or her own bed and is expected to make it and to keep their rooms tidy. We're polite. We say, 'yes, ma'am' and 'yes, sir.' We do a lot as a family. We don't have television. We play games together and read. They travel with me. All of us went to Haiti a few weeks ago and the kids were great.
"I never spank them. I believe in spanking, but I don't do it because I'm also licensed as a foster parent," Elyse continued. "Foster parents can't spank, and I refuse to have two sets of standards for my kids. They know that obedience brings blessings and disobedience results in consequences.
"Miracles happen in my home. I've seen these kids come bruised, broken and battered. They're totally different now."
The children, ranging in age from 5 to 14, attend Living Faith Christian Academy in Rochester.
Elyse - originally Heather Elyse Savage while growing up as an adopted child in a minister's family - believes missioning is in her blood. "My father planted more than 40 churches overseas," she said. "I traveled with him as much as possible."
After graduating from high school at the age of 15, the California native entered a Bible college in Oklahoma. At 21, she married a pastor only to learn he was abusive. The marriage was annulled. "I thought we would be married forever," she said, "but it didn't turn out that way."
Crushed, Elyse decided that if David could slay a giant, she'd adopt kids. By the time she was 26, she had adopted six children no one wanted - and had her heart broken again when the first child, a girl named Victoria, was brutally murdered by her biological mother's boyfriend on an approved weekend visit. She since named another daughter Victoria, but continues to display framed photos of the first Victoria.
"I spent most of the first year on my knees praying," she said.
And she's prayed a lot since moving from Oklahoma to accept her job at the church. She has come to love Indiana despite the persecution she feels.
"I could live anywhere as a writer-director," she said, "but I felt called here because of the church and GAP. It's good for the kids to grow up in a small town. I want to remain here as long as possible. I'll continue adopting children and I'll still foster. I'm very grateful for the court system and state for believing in me.
"Most of all, I want to act like a Christian. There are three kinds of Christians - convenient Christians who ask what can God do, conditional Christians who say, 'I'll serve, but don't send me to Haiti.' And finally, there are Christians willing to be crucified by being willing to stand up and fight. I want to be one of the latter. I will stand up and fight for my children. I will be God's hands and feet on their behalf."