December 12 2017
Meet Rhonda-Marie and Steven Parke, two ultrarunners who discovered their love for each other through running.
It all started three years ago when my husband Ryan (a recently retired professional runner) and I decided we wanted to start a family. We had gotten married young and, from the beginning, we talked about growing our family through providing children in need with a home.
To be honest, Ryan started feeling the itch first. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready for my world to get instantly smaller. But since international adoption is a long process that usually takes years, we started jumping through the many hoops required. I hoped my heart would catch up.
We chose to adopt from Ethiopia for a number of reasons. We had spent time training there and connected with the region in a special way—and there are more than 4 million orphans in this country alone. Adoption is only a fractional solution but, for those few, it is life-changing.
We went into the process assuming we would adopt an infant. I don’t think anyone starts with the thought: I’m going to adopt some teenagers! However, all of that changed when we visited an orphanage in Addis Ababa. Although the babies were adorable, it was the kids who captured our hearts. We learned there were plenty of people willing to adopt infants, but the largest need is with older children (over the age of 3).
It’s neat how something that sounds so crazy to you at one point feels totally normal when God gives you the grace. When we heard about a group of four sisters—Hana (now 16), Mia (13), Jasmine (9) and Lily (6)—who had been in an orphanage waiting years for a family, we actually considered it. We decided to meet them on another training stint to Ethiopia that year. Despite experiencing more in their short lives than I could even imagine, the girls’ hearts seemed incredibly open and loving. After much prayer, we decided that we were going to say yes to becoming their parents!
I will never forget the day we told them. I was excited for their reaction but nervous as well. I couldn’t help but have “This Is the End of the World as We Know It” playing in the back of my mind.
We all sat in the office of the head nanny who shared the news. The two older girls looked completely shocked, covering their mouths in surprise. Then tears of pure joy flowed from their eyes as they rushed to embrace us, and the two younger ones followed. The heavy burden that Hana and Mia had carried, worry about what their future would hold for themselves and their sisters, melted off with relief.
We explained what adoption means. We told them we would live in the United States and that transitioning to a new culture and language is hard, but that we would have to work together as a team. Then we asked if they wanted to join our family, as adopted kids rarely have a choice. They emphatically agreed with big smiles! We then gave them some presents we had brought: necklaces engraved with the letter “H” for “Hall,” their new last name, a new beginning.
It’s now been a year and a half since our family grew from two to six(!). The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been more than worth it. I’ve come to understand that building a family is a process. At times, it feels like we’re living with exchange students! With older children, it takes time to have shared experiences—to get to know one another. There is no manual. That’s why it’s so important for us to celebrate moments that show forward progress. Here are some of my favorites…