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Let the Children Come to Them
The following was taken from
Faces of Generosity: Inspiring Stories of People Impacting Lives Around the World
, a new book published in the fall of 2016.
The Scripture verse Matthew 13:12 could sum up the past 30+ years for Tom and Molly Armstrong: For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance . . .
Most people would say, “Are they crazy?” But the Armstrongs say, quite simply and very convincingly, “The Lord brought them to us. He’s always helped us work it out.” In addition to the horses, cow, llamas, and a camel on their farm outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the Armstrongs have 15 children, eight boys and seven girls, half of them mixed-race — all adopted. Now ages 14 to 38, their abundance of children at home is winding down. “We’re getting to the end, so we’re sad,” says Molly.
It all started back in 1978 after Tom finished dental school at Washington University in St. Louis and the couple moved to North Carolina so Tom could open his first practice. They had decided when they were first married that they wouldn’t have children unless they could adopt. “It was just a personal decision we made,” says Tom. “We weren’t Christians at the time we married, so I can’t say it was because of anything the Lord said to us.”
They eventually did become Christians, just about the time they were finishing dental school, and that’s when the Lord went to work on them.
One evening while Tom was still working on patients and Molly was at the receptionist desk, Molly had a call from a patient who asked if they wanted to come get a four-month old baby boy — right then. Tom told Molly to tell the woman they’d come as soon as he finished with his patient. When they picked up the baby, the Armstrongs put him in a bassinet in the back seat of their Volkswagen Bug and headed to a pharmacy to pick up some formula and diapers. “We had no idea what we were doing,” says Tom. The next day they learned he had a double ear infection and several other infections throughout his body. “That was our beginning of parenthood,” Molly remembers.
They got a second baby boy — and then the abundance really began. The Armstrongs then took in siblings ages three, four, and nine, removed from a foster home where they had been for three years. Another child joined them soon after, making Tom and Molly the parents of six children — a “challenging group of kids,” recalls Tom, because of the hard situations they came out of. We cried a lot, but we just said, ‘Lord, you work it out.’ We were also still open to receiving other children. One time there was a group of six that we tried to get, but we couldn’t.”
The Armstrongs kept adding to their family, another time getting two boys in the same way that they got their first child: with an urgent phone call and a pick-up the same day. At one point they had 14 children at home, adding on to their house year after year and finally buying a 22-passenger bus as their family car. Tom had a contractor custom build a round dining table — “the biggest table we could get in the house through double doors.” Shopping for groceries when there were 14 at home meant a trip to a Sam’s Wholesale Club about every three to four months to fill up a trailer. Parenting that many children depended on one key word: logistics. “Oh and rules, of course,” says Tom. “We kept track of everybody and what was going on. The children took care of our animals on the farm and had to do chores, for which they got an allowance as they got older. Bedtime was a specific time so that Molly and I had a chance to say hello to each other at the end of the day.”
The Armstrongs spent the weekends playing with the children and always made time to create special memories. They traveled to the beach every year and visited Disney World every four or five years. Several years ago they did a western tour — 10,000 miles on the bus. Molly recalls, “We saw all the parks and the Pacific Ocean and just had a good old time.”
When the Armstrongs had only their first two boys, they felt the Lord encourage them to homeschool the children. It made sense as both boys were having a difficult time in school — one strongly rebelling against homework and the other so gregarious and fun-loving that he just wasn’t interested in focusing on school. The beauty of homeschooling, say the Armstrongs, is that parents alone decide how to customize the work to fit their children’s needs. Tom Says, “I wanted to see them doing something they really liked when they grew up, perhaps in their own businesses. So they would spend two or three hours doing schoolwork and then something like helping to build a house or working with our farm animals. I always told our kids that if they went to college it should be for an interest that prepared them for something they really wanted to do.”
The Armstrongs’ heart for their children included making each child feel special on Christmas mornings. When they had 14 children at home, Tom and Molly knew they needed a creative way to keep their kids’ presents organized. Thus was born “the box.” It was the GI Joe era and thus everything was very small so instead of wrapping each of those 50 small things for each child Tom and Molly would combine them all in one box for each child and wrap it. They used tape to make a 3-foot by 5-foot square for each child to sit in and open their presents. “It was total chaos,” says Molly, “but sitting in their own ‘square’ gave each child the feeling that what they received was really theirs.”
Tom and Molly have made an impact on others by talking about and encouraging adoption. “There are many different ways you can adopt children if you’re willing to have an open mind,” says Tom. “We counsel people on keeping their hearts open, like we did. We just always said, ‘Thank you, Lord. We’ve had a great life, we enjoy our kids, send us more if you want to.’”
As of 2016, the Armstrongs are now grandparents but still have six of their children at home. “It’s really quiet here now,” says Tom. “Nothing to it anymore.”
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Faces of Generosity,
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