Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

God Had a Plan

Anita Norris

God has a plan for each of His children and I knew He had a plan for me. As a 17-year-old senior in my home economics class, I worked on the assignment “My Dream Home.” My dream family started out with four children but by the time the report was turned in, there were five children in the family. Even on paper there had to be more children. Although I never married or had children of my own, God's plan included children and the number of them grew just like that dream family did. It grew to 133 children from 1973 to 1990 as a housemother at the Baptist Children's Home in Oklahoma City.

God's plan began when I, Anita Norris and my sister, Donna Norris, graduated from East Central State College in May 1972. We both had teaching degrees but no teaching positions were making themselves available to us. We continued to live in Ada with our parents, waiting on God's plan. A little over a year later that plan came in the form of a letter to our WMU president from James Browning, superintendent of the Baptist Children's Home, stating that there were positions available for caring for children. Not so unusual you might say. Well, it was the only time before or after that Mr. Browning ever remembers writing to WMU societies about positions. I was 22 years of age and Donna was 24, and the minimum age to work there was 25 at that time. All other jobs we had applied for confirmed interviews one week after we had agreed to work at the children's home. We knew it was all in God's time and plan.

Mr. Browning interviewed us and then hired us on a three month trial. We have worked 25 years this July 1 and Mr. Browning has yet to tell us if the trial is over. No, it isn't! Every day, every child is a trial, a testing of some kind.

I went to work at Spooner Cottage as a cook for a housemother, Mildred Moore, and eight girls ages 5-12, and before long there were 12 girls. Mrs. Moore was a great housemother to both the girls and to me. She continued my education, how to cook for 14, how to cut up a chicken, how to make those “no bake” chocolate cookies, how to laugh over frying a tough hen we couldn't eat, and how to love and encourage a cottage full of squealing, giggling, lively little girls. It was a wonderful, fun, and fulfilling year and a half and I wished for nothing more than to live my life out as a cook for those precious girls and others to come.

But...God's plan continued...Mrs. Moore retired and Mr. Browning asked me, a 24-year-old, to become the youngest housemother there had ever been. After much prayer, I agreed and an even more fulfilling life began and lasted 15½ years. God gave me children and many of them. At first there were only girls, then in 1983 there were boys also.

I think of Patsy, the second youngest child in a family of eight. She was the scapegoat, blamed for all the family problems. So she was almost isolated from the family group. She ate alone and was usually served cheese sandwiches. When she came to the children's home she was starved for affection, but didn't know how to accept it. I enjoyed having her work with me in the kitchen. We gave her the care, food and attention she needed and she slowly came to accept that affection. No, we didn't make her eat any cheese sandwiches.

I remember Ruby and still hear from her from time to time. Her alcoholic parents had them living under a bridge. Ruby, a young pre-teen, was basically the mom to the brothers and sisters. When she came to us she had a bed to sleep in and learned how to make it, food to eat regularly, clothes to wear and launder, and she got to be a little girl cared for and loved. I remember when she returned from a home visit she was usually pretty dirty and longed for her daily bath.

Then there was Tracey who came to us with PraderWilli syndrome, a birth defect which causes constant hunger. She was quite overweight for her years and had trouble speaking clearly. Her mother was having trouble controlling her, as she would sneak food and would not follow an exercise program. Tracey would eat loaves of bread at a time and even her toothpaste. I put her on a planned diet where she learned what she could eat and what she could not eat. She learned which foods she was allowed to have for seconds and which sweets were better for her. When she would go on home visits she told her family what foods were good and which ones were not. I locked the food pantry each night and kept the toothpaste and other items that might tempt her appetite locked in the storage cabinet while she learned control. I also had her start walking the campus oval for exercise. Her doctor asked her to do a few sit-ups each day. At the end of not quite a year she went home 30-plus pounds lighter and with a much trimmer figure. One of the funniest and sweetest things I heard her say was something she yelled back to me as a friend and I were walking the oval behind her one evening, “Miss Norris, I can't keep my shorts up, they're too big,” she said, as she jerked up the waist of them and giggled. God shows us successes in the neatest ways!

God had a plan for Donna, also. She came to work at the children's home with her degree in teaching history and geography. Donna, who could cook and clean but had no love of it, settled into supply work, relieving houseparents on their days off. She depended on every tidbit of information I or any other housemother gave her about running a cottage. Donna said she would do whatever God wanted, except to be a nurse. Well, within a year God (with His sense of humor) had Donna assisting the medical supervisor, training to take over the position on her retirement. She learned all there was to know about nursing and children's ailments without actually becoming that nurse.

Donna drove (which she loves to do) hundreds of miles each year, taking at first 90 and later 48 residents to their doctor, dental and therapy appointments and in between handing out the right medicines and advice to houseparents for getting their sick children well again.

I remember Donna taking a girl to the hospital and feeling awful when they discovered it was appendicitis. The doctor's comment was, “People still die of appendicitis.”

I think of Donna staying hours and hours at the hospital with Annie, a young girl with a hairy birthmark over much of her back and lower torso. The birthmark had to be removed and replaced with skin grafts from her legs. The pain of the girl was intense (like what a burn patient goes through). Donna was so kind, patient and caring with her.

For the last few years, Donna and I have been working together as associate houseparents. We have had children ask us, “Why didn't you get married?” I tell them because God never showed me anyone He wanted me to marry. But I tell you God did show me children He wanted me to love, care for, provide with structure, discipline and encourage.

As a part of a poem I wrote in 1978 I praise God for His plan and:

My world of children.
My full life of love.
Each a part of me.
I'll never again be free.

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