By Tom Holmes
Todd Wilson laughed, thinking of when he comes home from work at 6 p.m. and walks into "organized chaos with seven kids — three biological and four adopted — buzzing around."
Todd and Katie Wilson first felt the call to adopt between 1998 and 2000 when they lived in Minneapolis. Newly graduated from Wheaton College, Katie was teaching junior high English and Todd was working with college students in a Twin Cities congregation.
"In Minneapolis we were at a church where they had a lot of adoptions," Katie explained. "That's when it really kind of stirred our hearts for adoption, but it didn't feel like the right time. We were moving a lot and we did not have the money to do it."
The Wilsons moved often during the next seven years, including a sojourn in Cambridge, England, where Todd was working on a Ph.D. in New Testament studies. After returning to the States in 2005 and giving birth to their third child, Katie didn't want to be pregnant any more, but she still felt the urge to do more mothering. At the same time, she felt pulled in the direction of a career in interior design. She had started working on a degree at the Harrington College of Design and was loving it.
"I would love to do art history or design on the side," she confessed, "and I still feel pulled by other desires and aspirations, but adoption weighed more heavily on my heart and that won out. We just felt the need to adopt. I can go back to design some day."
A series of experiences confirmed that the dream of adopting was, in fact, what they should pursue, so they began the process of adopting two children from an orphanage in Ethiopia.
One of those experiences was Todd receiving the call to be senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church on Lake Street. He remembered Googling Calvary and thinking, "There are African Americans at the church. We're going to be a biracial family soon and we live in lily-white Wheaton." The "suburban-urban" vibe of Oak Park reminded the couple of Cambridge.
"It took a long time to finally get our children," Todd said. "There are always setbacks, paperwork to fill out and immigration hassles. We had said on our application that we preferred babies, but that is what most adopting parents want, so not many are available right away."
In the spring of 2009 Katie received a phone call from Ethiopia saying that not only did the orphanage have two babies for them, but they were twin boys. The Wilsons flew to Addis Ababa and brought home to Oak Park the 6-month-old brothers whom they named Addis Andrew and Rager Ababa.
Holding the children she'd been praying for and working toward for the first time was an "overwhelming experience," Katie said.
"When they first brought the twins out to us," Todd recalled, "I had the same feeling I had in the delivery room when our three biological children were born, the same feeling of affection and attachment."
There was no turning back after that. This spring, Todd and Katie increased their family when they brought back from Ethiopia 8-year-old Titus and his 6-year-old half-sister Marta Kate.
When Katie's father heard that his daughter and son-in-law were going to adopt again and go from five children to seven, he declared, "That's not a large family. That's a calling."
Indeed, Katie acknowledged that adoption presents special challenges, especially when older children are adopted. "Like now during this time of transition it takes a long time for [Titus and Marta Kate] to settle in. There are lots of issues to work through, like missing home and asking, 'Are these people really going to love forever?' So there is acting out and testing of boundaries."
"That's why I think it was gracious of the Lord to do some of the things he did [which confirmed their course]," she said. "I wrote them all down, so when there are those times of 'oh dear,' I go back and read them and say, 'This is what he has for us.'"
Todd admitted that living with seven kids can get intense but added that the experience has broadened what he calls the "band width" of his emotions.
"The pains and the challenges are deeper," he said, "but the joys are higher. Our family has learned to live with the 'organized chaos.'"
Katie added that their friends, church and family have been a big help in many ways like raising the $35,000 necessary to bring each pair of children to the U.S.
"Besides," Todd said, "the need is so great. There are 4.7 million orphans in Ethiopia alone and 147 million globally."
When asked if they would consider adopting even more children, Todd and Katie looked at each other, smiled and said, "Yes."