FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–This 25-year-old mother-to-be has seven children ranging in age from 11 to 16 years of age.
When Mother’s Day is observed May 14, she and her husband will be 15 days away from welcoming a new addition to their already large family — a baby girl whose name will be Kennedy Lynn.
Like many couples who are expecting, their home already includes a nursery.
Unlike many expectant couples, their home is on the Franklin campus of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, a residential care ministry provided by Tennessee Baptists for children in crisis. And within the rooms of their home are four pre-teen to teenage girls and three teenage boys.
Heather and David Ward are houseparents. Though younger than most TBCH houseparents, the Wards are well-grounded for the responsibility.
Heather’s mother and father still live in her hometown of Cairo, Ga. She attended Cairo’s First Baptist Church and credits the church and her “godly grandmother for sifting me out of the world at 15.” Heather is a former staff youth minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Brownsville, Tenn., a youth intern in Pennsylvania and Georgia, a student summer missionary with the North American Mission Board and a cum laude graduate of Union University, a Tennessee Baptist institution.
Her husband David also is the product of a stable upbringing with committed Christian parents, spiritual guidance from his home church, Two Rivers Baptist in Nashville, and an education from Union University where he was a magna cum laude graduate.
But the most important gift the Wards bring to their Horrell Cottage table are great hearts touched by God for children in need.
“I remember my mother and how she seemed to want things for me even more than I ever wanted them.” Heather recalls. “Then, I thought it was my mom trying to live through me but I realized this past week, while waiting at a modeling audition with one of my teenagers, that it was an indescribable love that moms hold inside their hearts for their children.”
Like her mother, Heather longs for the children of her cottage to have positive, happy experiences. “I want my teenagers’ dreams to come true, I want them to have the best,” she says. “Is that not what our children deserve?”
For many of the children in the Wards’ cottage, the realization of their dreams has remained a distant hope. The Wards are well aware of the heartaches from which these children come and the challenges both they and their housechildren face as a result.
Heather knows that she can only “fill in” for a child in need of a mom’s care and love, but she hopes she and her husband can provide the kind of stable, Christian home where the children’s needs are provided for and where God’s love can bring emotional and spiritual healing.
“I will never be any of my [house]children’s mother, but there is a void in each of them that someone must fill,” she acknowledges. “Someone must care if the children are doing their homework, getting three meals a day, have clean clothes to wear and know that Jesus loves them.”
Like Baptist children’s homes in other states, Tennessee Baptists have a major role in assisting TBCH houseparents like the Wards with the spiritual needs of the children in their care. Each year, their gifts to the Mother’s Day Offering for Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes provide one-fourth of the funds needed annually to support not only the Wards, their housechildren and their cottage but 36 other TBCH homes and ministries caring for approximately 450 children statewide.
The Wards admit that helping their housechildren learn about God is sometimes difficult. Many of the children have been deceived by the adults in their lives and, as a result, struggle to trust anyone. They also often come to TBCH knowing nothing of God or being afraid of knowing him.
But they also have witnessed how a youth’s life can change for the better when he or she experiences God’s love. Recently, two of their children accepted Christ as their Savior and are growing personally and spiritually with God’s unconditional love.
God created parents to help model unconditional love, Heather says. “But somewhere along the way these parents made some poor choices and the children are the ones who pay.
“However, just as I have, each one [of the children at TBCH] will walk out into this world one day and know that someone loves them very much. It is a love that no words can describe and only the Lord God Almighty can give.”
Heather also believes she is better prepared for motherhood for being a houseparent. “The children of my cottage have taught me what a mother’s love should be,” she says. “They show me the needs of their hearts and I know where I must not fail with my own little one.”