After seven years of marriage, Gretchen and Jill Rode were ready to add a child to their lives. The two Lutheran pastors in St. Paul, Minnesota applied to the infant adoption program of Children’s Home and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (CH/LSS). While attending informational sessions, their social worker encouraged them to also look into foster care.
“Hearing how much need there is for older kids to have homes,” said Gretchen, “we kept getting more drawn to that.”
We realized we had the resources and capacity to take in older kids that younger parents might not have,” Jill added. “As people of faith, we were open to the unknown, to explore the possibilities.”
In October of 2020, they saw the photo of four siblings, at the time ages 4 to 8: Willie, William, Aysha, and Niya. The Rodes were immediately drawn to them. By mid-November, the children were welcomed home by their mothers, creating their family of six.
Having been in foster care for three years — cycling through multiple placements — the children’s transition to a permanent home was not easy.
“They had been through a lot of trauma,” said Gretchen. “They came to us full of grief with a deep lack of trust and no way to express it.”
The couple admits there were very hard days early on, and they are forever grateful for their network of friends and congregants who stepped up to help. Jill and Gretchen also credit much of their success as parents to Kelly Tronstad, a Children’s Home Family Support Coach. “On the hardest of hard days, we were able to say things to her you never want to say out loud,” said Jill.
The couple spent their first year as parents building confidence in their children that they would provide a permanent home. The second year, they strengthened their bonds through family traditions and vacations.
In this third year, they are laying the foundations for their children to connect with their identities as African Americans. Born in Korea, Jill was adopted and raised by a white couple. She thinks her experience may help her address the issues of racial diversity in the family.
“I know some of the questions they might have about not looking like their parents,” Jill said. “I have my own sense of loss and grief that will allow me to support our kids as they experience these same emotions.”
Gretchen and Jill are confident they have built strong bonds with their children.
“This has expanded our capacity to love and our sense of what it means to be family,” said Gretchen, “and growing into a beautiful manifestation of what the family of God is.”Learn about our Family Support Coach service Donate to Children’s Home