More Than Enough Love
“First of all, it’s not a job,” says Debbie Wray of her 18 years as a Palmer Home caregiver. Across those 18 years, she’s cared for literally hundreds of children. Currently, she resides in the aptly named Love Cottage on the Columbus campus of Palmer Home for Children.
“I tell people that my life didn’t make any sense to me before I came to Palmer Home,” Wray reflects. In her own words, she’s done “a little bit of everything,” from working as a teacher’s assistant to owning a restaurant. When she first learned of the open position at Palmer Home, she already had two jobs and wasn’t looking for change. But something about the organization just wouldn’t let her go.
Fast forward 18 years, and she’s never looked back. Love Cottage, affectionately dubbed “the Love Shack” by its residents, has become home for as many as 11 girls at once, ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old. Wray says there’s no such thing as a typical day for the household, with activities such as school, camps, horseback riding, swimming, and visits from the children’s sponsors abounding. But the older girls step up to help, taking responsibility for things like ensuring the little ones’ teeth are brushed, hair is fixed, and that everyone makes it across campus to school on time.
Still, it’s not easy. “I’ve got the best Caregiver in the world partnered with me,” Wray says with a smile, explaining how she spends time with God each morning. Her 4:45 AM daily devotionals are a non-negotiable. Her faith helps her navigate the everyday challenges like grocery shopping and feeding nearly a dozen people, caring for the inevitable scrapes and bruises, and providing the emotional support the girls need in tough times. She also credits the involvement of her local church, who offers help in a variety of ways. “Fairview Baptist has made us feel love from the day we stepped through the doors,” she says.
But the rewards far outweigh the challenges for Wray. “I love it here. I never wake up dreading the day,” she says. For her, loving the children has been a blessing to her own life. “I was like these girls at one time, and through ministering to them, I’ve found healing.” She hopes that each child she cares for will find healing and restoration through their time at Palmer Home as well. One of her greatest joys is watching the girls in her cottage develop a relationship with Christ, and watching His love begin to change every aspect of their lives. Through that process, the young women begin to learn what it means to serve others, both at home and through mission trips that take them to other states or countries.
Wray hasn’t experienced residential care outside of Palmer Home, but she says she can’t imagine being anywhere else. She believes strongly in their commitment to keeping siblings together, and to introducing children to the love of Christ. To anyone considering becoming a houseparent, she says the rewards far outweigh the trials. Just like any family, there are dishes, laundry, arguments, and all the typical aspects of family life. But answering the call to serve vulnerable children is an obvious one for Wray.
“It’s amazing. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”