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May 28, 2024 45 mins

When Ronda Paulson found out that kids entering foster care slept in government offices while they waited to be placed, she got mad at God and heard ‘These are my children, what are you going to do?’ What Ronda did is build a beautiful home to welcome them into and there's now 22 of these Isaiah 117 Houses around the country. And they've loved on over 5,000 kids on what is often the worst day of their lives. 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:03):
The most pivotal moment of that whole foster care journey.
Those foster care classes actually.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
Came at week seven.

Speaker 1 (00:10):
They took us to the Department of Children's Services in
Washington County, Tennessee, Johnson City. I'd never been to an
office like that. I always tell people to think about
the DMV. And we're sitting in this room. It's kind
of grab no windows, kind of dingy, and the gentleman
says that when a child is removed from.

Speaker 2 (00:29):
Their home, they come here.

Speaker 1 (00:32):
And I thought, he's not meaning here, Like he doesn't
mean like this physical building, Like there's no reason you
would ever bring a child in here. And so that's
what I asked. I was like, when you say here,
you don't mean here. And he said, a little girl
slept on this floor last night. And that's when I
got mad at God, how could you? And I was

so mad and I heard, these are my children.

Speaker 2 (01:01):
What are you going to do?

Speaker 3 (01:09):
Welcome to an army of normal folks. I'm Bill Courtney.
I'm a normal guy. I'm a husband, a father, I'm
an entrepreneur, and I've been a football coach in Inner
City Memphis. And the last part unintentionally led to an
oscar for the film about our team. It's called Undefeated. Y'all.
I believe our country's problems will never be solved by

a bunch of fancy people and nice suits talking big
words that nobody understands on CNN and Fox, but rather
by an army of normal folks, us, just you and
me deciding, hey, I can help. That's what Ronda Paulson,
the voice we just heard, has done. Ronda took God's
challenge of what are you going to do? And she

built a beautiful home for foster children. So that's when
they're put into the one of the hardest days of
their life. They're not sleeping in a DMV type conference room,
and this one Isaiah one to seventeen house has turned
into twenty three of them and loving on over five
thousand foster kids. I cannot wait for you to meet

Ronda right after these brief messages from our generous sponsors.

Welcome to an army of normal folks. I am really
excited to have Ronda pausing with us. Her work boils
down to a thing called Isaiah one to seventeen House,
which we will get to later. But first, kind of
un hacking who she is and where she comes from
is pretty interesting. And Rhonda, thanks for coming to Memphis.

Speaker 2 (03:05):
I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 4 (03:07):
Yeah, and don't you dare spoil it while you're in Memphis.
We'll talk about that at the end too. You're not
allowed to spoil it, all right.

Speaker 3 (03:15):
But Ron is actually in Memphis for a reason today,
which kind of connects all the Dots store story.

Speaker 4 (03:21):
But first, where are you from?

Speaker 2 (03:23):
I'm from Bristol, Tennessee.

Speaker 1 (03:25):
And city if we want to get specific, Bluff City, Tennessee.

Speaker 4 (03:28):
Bluff City, Bluff City. Is that a suburb of Bristol?
Is that there's such a thing.

Speaker 2 (03:33):
Oh, there is a we say Bristol.

Speaker 1 (03:36):
I was five minutes from the Bristol Motor Speedway, but
it's technically Bluff City, Tennessee.

Speaker 4 (03:40):
All right. Mom daed at home. Siblings.

Speaker 1 (03:43):
Mom dad still married and started dating when my mom
was in eighth grade. Got married in nineteen sixty nine.
Still married. Dad was a banker. Mom says that she
was an investigator, but she worked in the office at
the police station. But brother, younger brother Ryan, Yeah, it's
a good it was a.

Speaker 3 (04:01):
Good upbring, so normal American middle class upper middle class
kind of kind of type story.

Speaker 4 (04:08):
And then went off to college.

Speaker 1 (04:09):
Went to college one town over Johnson City, Tennessee, Milligan
College at the time, they're now Milligan University, but Milligan College,
small private college and the Hills at East Tennessee. And
I met my husband there. He was from Indiana. He
came down to go to Milligan.

Speaker 3 (04:25):
There's somebody from Indiana doing a Milligan finding me. Oh well,
good point, Well that makes complete sense. But he didn't
know that when he enrolled.

Speaker 1 (04:34):
So Milligan has a strong Christian background, Christian Church background,
and so there was a strong Christian Church background in
Indiana and they would all come down to go to Milligan.

Speaker 4 (04:43):
No kidding. So small Leberal Arts School. What you what'd
you major in?

Speaker 2 (04:48):
Actually a biology with a minor in chemistry.

Speaker 4 (04:51):
Were you going to be a doc?

Speaker 2 (04:52):
I was? I was?

Speaker 1 (04:53):
And my mom said I would always be a teacher.
And she begged and begged and begged, and so second
semester of my junior year year, she said, take one education class,
just take one. I know you're a teacher. And the
way I felt when I walked into school versus the
way I was feeling every time I worked in an
hospital like it was night and day, like I just
came alive.

Speaker 3 (05:12):
Like to one about money for you is about what
you want to do? Oh yeah, yeah, because obviously a doctor.

Speaker 4 (05:16):
Is going to make ten times with a teacher.

Speaker 2 (05:18):

Speaker 4 (05:19):

Speaker 1 (05:19):
I wasn't raised in a house where you really talked
about money or that wasn't your driving force.

Speaker 2 (05:26):
We always had enough.

Speaker 1 (05:27):
I mean, you know, but no, that was not my
motivation when I was picking an occupation.

Speaker 4 (05:31):
And Corey is your husband.

Speaker 1 (05:33):
Corey was also a biology teacher, a biology major, excuse me,
and he wanted to be a teacher and a coach.
And he student taught one day and came home and said,
there's something wrong with those kids.

Speaker 2 (05:43):
I cannot do that. I'm not going a lot.

Speaker 4 (05:46):
That's so what he ended up doing.

Speaker 1 (05:48):
He's done a little bit of everything. But he was
a pharmacutical sales rep for a while. He worked for
Chick fil A for a while, and now we work together.

Speaker 3 (05:56):
Okay, so seems pretty no, Folks, at this point, you
got Ronda and Corey met at college, get married and
start a life. I assume in well somewhere up.

Speaker 1 (06:10):
At East sust Elizabethton, Tennessee, one town over in between
Bristol and Johnson City.

Speaker 2 (06:15):
See I moved all around.

Speaker 4 (06:16):
Oh yeah, it's with it at fifty radius of the
metropolis Bristol.

Speaker 1 (06:22):
I got hired at elizabeth In High School right out
of college, and so we bought a house in this
small little town Carter County, Tennessee, Elizabethan, and yeah, started
building a life, had two children. Sophie is now twenty one,
Mac is seventeen, will be eighteen in June.

Speaker 2 (06:37):
And so two.

Speaker 1 (06:37):
Kiddos, a pretty little brick house in a small little town.
I was a teacher where he was working for the
local Chick fil A.

Speaker 3 (06:44):
And yeah, sounds like a great simple, not very h
not very dangerous, easy understandable.

Speaker 1 (06:59):
Oh little ganic wonderful cars are unlocked. Our mailman walked
our mail up to the front porch. We're a Santa hat,
you know, in the at crisp time, and Frank, my
kid's knew Frank was coming. I mean, picturesque, honestly, not perfect,
but just save small town USA. Everybody walked to the
football game on Friday night. Everybody went to elizabeth In

High School go Cyclones football game on Friday night.

Speaker 3 (07:22):
Yeah, which, by the way, for those of you not
from the southeast or even a small town in the Southeast.
Friday nights during the fall is I mean candidly, probably
a more attended day than even Sunday mornings at church. Yes,
and literally towns shut down on Friday at noon absolutely

to get ready for the ball games. And literally everyone
in the town is at the ballgame and into these
little lady be challenged. You'll have fifteen hundred to twenty
five hundred people at the Friday night football game, and
that is the event and it goes on off all.

Speaker 1 (07:58):
So we had to get on a waiting list five
years before my daughter was going to be in high
school to get season tickets to be able to attend
the Friday night football game and sit on the home
side in high school. In high school, that is a
true story. Now we have them, and we don't even
have like my son's graduating. We've got younger children, but

we can't let go of them, and like the people
next to us, like they will them to next family members.

Speaker 2 (08:23):
I'm not kidding.

Speaker 4 (08:24):
I get it.

Speaker 3 (08:25):
I've seen it, I've coached in it, I've coached at it,
and I mean, how good is the team this year?

Speaker 2 (08:31):

Speaker 1 (08:31):
Good, but listen. Fun note for us, because you're football Jason.

Speaker 4 (08:36):
Whitten, Yeah, Jason Wenten went to University NFL tight end
with the Cowboys, and I think, now, hall of Fame guy.

Speaker 1 (08:44):
Now that's Hall of Fame tight end Dallas Cowboys. I
taught him Elizabeth High School and his brother Sean. Sean
is our hometown football coach, so at Dave Rider Field,
which was their grandfather.

Speaker 2 (08:56):
And so yeah, I mean it's.

Speaker 4 (08:58):
And y'all if you listeners, if you think this is unique,
it may be unique from many parts of the world,
but in the Southeast this is by no means unique.
This happens all over Georgia and Mississippi and Tennessee. And
the reason I'm telling.

Speaker 3 (09:13):
You is it develops this odd sense of community because
on Friday nights, it doesn't matter what you look like,
how you vote, who you love, or what you do.
Everybody's there for the kids in that school, in that community.
And it is a really source of communal pride that happens.

Speaker 2 (09:30):
It's beautiful, it really is.

Speaker 4 (09:32):
It's great, it is, it really is.

Speaker 3 (09:33):
It's Norman Rockwell else And ironically enough, I want to
tell you that Bristol is only about an hour and
fifteen minutes of the booming metropolis of Rural Retreat, Virginia,
which I will be at.

Speaker 1 (09:48):
Tomorrow and where my cousin lives, which is weird.

Speaker 4 (09:52):
Davy didn't even I mean, I don't know. Their populations
cannot be more than fifteen yeah, like twelve, right, your
cousins one of them, so, which is weird.

Speaker 3 (10:03):
And I'm going to be there tomorrow for business. But
I've been all over that eastern Tennessee Western Virginia area
and it.

Speaker 2 (10:16):
Is absolutely beautiful.

Speaker 3 (10:17):
It is the rolling hills, the mountains, the Blue Ridge
Mountains and the background and when the low clouds come
in and the winter times are gorgeous there and it's
really just a cool place.

Speaker 1 (10:31):
So before I got into my current role, like I said,
I traveled from Bluff City to Bristol, to John City
to Elizabethan. But in my current role, I travel a
lot and I can't get over how.

Speaker 2 (10:42):
Beautiful my hometown is.

Speaker 4 (10:43):
Thank You're fortunate.

Speaker 3 (10:44):
It's a great place. And it's not just the physical beauty.
It's the culture, the sense of community, all of it.
And it is not a place that you would expect
children to be abandoned, which we'll get to So you
got married, got this house, you're living in this beautiful place,
you got the Chick fil A. You're at the school.

I think I read you taught dance or cheer or
you were like I was at.

Speaker 1 (11:10):
High school level, taught anatomy, a cheer coach there, took
a brief hiatus to be a stay at home mom
when Mac started school. I then started working at Milligan
as an anatomy professor. So I worked in the cadaver lab,
but I was also the cheer and dance coach at
Milligan University.

Speaker 3 (11:25):
Wow, So I mean you got this thing going I do,
and you and Coreyer are going through life.

Speaker 4 (11:31):
It's safe, it's simple. And then I read.

Speaker 3 (11:36):
You discussed with him something that you knew you were
always going to do that he knew, well, not necessarily
you were always.

Speaker 4 (11:44):
Going to do.

Speaker 3 (11:44):
So take me to what started the process of what
your life is now?

Speaker 1 (11:49):
Yeah, I mean I vividly remember being in high school
and talking about that I wanted to adopt a baby someday.
Like I remember saying that a lot.

Speaker 2 (11:57):
I remember being in college and like laying in dorm
room and saying, I'm good adopt a baby.

Speaker 3 (12:01):
Is that a thing that people in high school want
to adopt a child.

Speaker 2 (12:06):
I don't know it was for me. I just knew.

Speaker 4 (12:08):
I got to say, Ron, I think it's kind of weird.
I mean, the high school girl laying around high school girls.
I want to live in the castle. I want to
marry the press charming. No, yeah, I want to adopt
a kid.

Speaker 1 (12:19):
I wanted three boys, and I wanted to adopt a kid.
That's what I wanted.

Speaker 4 (12:22):

Speaker 3 (12:23):
Yeah, I don't even understand where that comes from. I
think it's sweet, but I don't even get it.

Speaker 2 (12:27):
I look back now, and I think it is something
God laid on my heart. I do believe that.

Speaker 4 (12:31):
I do believe that it's just something you felt called
to do.

Speaker 1 (12:34):
So then I meet Corey and so I've had this.
Why didn't it come up in two years of dating?
Why didn't it come up in premirial counsel?

Speaker 4 (12:41):

Speaker 2 (12:41):
How did that get dropped?

Speaker 4 (12:43):
You know? Like, I don't know, So you think it
was a secret.

Speaker 2 (12:46):
I think I think that you know, love is blind,
you know.

Speaker 1 (12:52):
So then we get married, and so then what I
thought was just having a conversation, he felt I was
dropping a bomb, Like I can't wait till we adopt.

Speaker 2 (13:00):
He was like, what are you talking about. I was like,
the Lord has always told me I would adopt.

Speaker 1 (13:04):
And he was like, well, the Lord has told me
I wouldn't.

Speaker 3 (13:06):
And so it was that a Did it become a
point of contention? Was it a little bit of a
thing with y'all?

Speaker 2 (13:16):
No, Corey, lets me have my way about everything. Everything.
Why why is everything? It's what you tell you?

Speaker 1 (13:22):
He was like, secret to happy marriage, Mama's happy, everybody's happy.
And so when he said no, that was so out
of character for him that I was like, oh, he
means it, you know, serious, serious, And so, yeah, things
would come up. I would be crying over a video
or a TV show and he'd be like, Rondo, it
ain't happen, you know, like he just know.

Speaker 4 (13:40):
And so you'd be crying.

Speaker 3 (13:42):
Oh, you'd be watching something about adoption or children who
are abandoned and you would just start balling and he'd
be like, try it up.

Speaker 2 (13:50):
That an't work, it ain't.

Speaker 1 (13:51):
Happening, and so and that's just not who he is.
And so I just kind of had let it go.
I think in my mind this was something most people
needed to be on board about.

Speaker 2 (14:01):
This wasn't something you talked to somebody into Yeah, you
can't do that, Yeah.

Speaker 1 (14:04):
Yeah, And so I kind of let it go. Yeah,
for how long till twenty fourteen?

Speaker 4 (14:11):
Well when did you have the first conversation?

Speaker 2 (14:13):
Nineteen ninety seven?

Speaker 4 (14:14):
Oh my gosh, you did let it go.

Speaker 3 (14:17):
We're talking, we're talking seventeen years talking a generation of lifetime.

Speaker 2 (14:21):
Yes, yes.

Speaker 4 (14:23):
And then what happened in twenty fourteen?

Speaker 1 (14:25):
So twenty thirteen, my word for the year was surrender,
and I just was digging into what would that mean,
to truly surrender.

Speaker 2 (14:34):
To God my life? What would that mean?

Speaker 1 (14:36):
And then twenty fourteen my word was obedience. So if
I'm going to surrender, then what would it look like
to walk in obedience? And so that was the mindset
that I was in that whole year.

Speaker 2 (14:45):
And so it was November of that year.

Speaker 4 (14:47):
Does Corey have words annually? No? So this is your thing,
this is my thing?

Speaker 3 (14:51):
Yeah, Because it feels like Corey succumbed to obedience and
surrender about seventeen years prior.

Speaker 2 (14:58):
He would have totally attest to that.

Speaker 4 (15:02):
He's like, I think he was a decade and a
half aad.

Speaker 2 (15:05):
He's glad I was catching up.

Speaker 4 (15:07):
That's right, he surrenders.

Speaker 1 (15:09):
And so that'd been my word for the whole year, obedience,
what would look like to be obedient. We'd done some
kind of big things in that moment, like we sold
a car because we just felt like it was a
good car, like we need to sell it and pay
off some debt.

Speaker 2 (15:23):
And we're just trying to walk in obedience. And so
I'm homesick from work.

Speaker 4 (15:26):
You're listening to Dave, aren't you.

Speaker 1 (15:28):
There was part of there was I could tell he
saved our lives at one point. I wish I wasn't dramatic.
That's a whole different podcast. But anyway, so I'm homesick
from work, which never happened, because you can't miss. If
you're a lab instructor, you don't miss, you know. And
so I was home. I was laying in bed. It
was November, and I was watching the Today Show and
they were doing this special about adoptions. So already I'm hooked,

you know. And so they have eight families there and
they're creating these forever families, and they'd ring this bell
they would watch so they solidified this adoption. So it's
an official right there. There's a judge and he's making
the adoptions.

Speaker 4 (16:02):
Official and they're doing this on TV.

Speaker 2 (16:04):
Yes, Yes, in honor of National Adoption.

Speaker 1 (16:06):
I get it, and so I am a mess because
it's adoption. And then they announced that seventy five percent
of the children being adopted that day were being adopted
through foster care. I didn't know a thing about foster
care nothing. I didn't know what the department was called,
where it was, I knew nothing. But I grabbed my
laptop laying in bed, and I just googled foster Care

Northeast Tennessee and it popped up that you need to
take an eight week class in order to become a
foster parent.

Speaker 2 (16:32):
And I thought, well, if he want a not maybe
he'll foster. And so I thought, how can we do this?
How can we do this?

Speaker 1 (16:41):
Well, they said the classes were starting that Thursday at
a church we were familiar with. So I registered us
and then I called him at work and I said,
I want to go on a date with me Thursday night.

Speaker 2 (16:54):
He said, I'd love to. I'll get mom to watch
the kids.

Speaker 4 (16:58):
He's thinking all you can eat old and Corral.

Speaker 1 (17:01):
He is not thinking, oh Golden Corral.

Speaker 4 (17:06):
They're all over East Tennessee. I know.

Speaker 2 (17:09):
I used to have a dancer though.

Speaker 1 (17:10):
It'd say, can we go to Golden Corrall hope, We're
not going to Golden Crown. She's like, it's where the
strawberries tastes like macaroni and cheese. I'm like, see that's
what I'm talking about anyway, So sorry, gold Crowd. Yes,
it's a great place. My mother in law loves you.

Speaker 4 (17:21):
They don't sponsor the shop.

Speaker 2 (17:24):
So we get in the car. We go to Bonefish.
That's the restaurant we went to.

Speaker 4 (17:29):
Bonefish is great. They got the Dynamite Shrimp or the
Bang Bang Bang Bang Shrimp trip.

Speaker 1 (17:36):
And so we leave there and I was like, hey,
why don't we drive out to cross Ridge Christian Church?

Speaker 4 (17:40):
And he was like, are you kidding me?

Speaker 1 (17:42):
I'm telling you the truth and he said on our
date and I was like yeah, and he just shook
his head and he got on the interstate and we
drove out to Caral Sords Christian Church and we pulled
in the parking that was packed and he was like.

Speaker 4 (17:53):
What are you doing?

Speaker 2 (17:54):
You know he goes lots of people dating at the
girl Sords Christian Church. It's crazy.

Speaker 4 (17:59):
It's didn't you know that we walk in.

Speaker 1 (18:03):
I actually see a guy from college. We're blag majors
together and his wife and we sit down. I don't know,
it had to be the lord. I don't know why
Corey was asking questions. I don't know what he thought
was happening. But we sit down and the lady stands
up and says, welcome to your eight week study of
foster care.

Speaker 4 (18:20):
You're really not bellishing any of his story.

Speaker 2 (18:22):
I am telling you the truth.

Speaker 4 (18:23):
You did this, I did that, and he didn't get angry.
Oh yeah, okay, yeah, yeah, okay, so good, go ahead.

Speaker 2 (18:29):
He acted a fool.

Speaker 1 (18:32):
There was a paper there and you were supposed to
write out things like children that you could see in
your home, children that you would have difficulty in your
home because of you know, we're just be really thinking
about the children.

Speaker 3 (18:44):
And he wrote on it. It doesn't matter because when
I get home, I'm gonna kill my ever.

Speaker 2 (18:48):
No and just shoving over notes at me, and I'm like,
we're gonna get picked out. He's like, that's what I'm
hoping for.

Speaker 4 (18:54):
He was just shoving.

Speaker 1 (18:56):
They were I mean, he was raising his hand and
saying obnoxious. Thinking he was so mad at me.

Speaker 2 (19:03):
He was hot.

Speaker 1 (19:04):
We drove home in silence, went to bed, did not
speak a word of what had just happened, got up
the next morning, acted like that had happened.

Speaker 4 (19:12):
Was it one of those nights that you leave the
lest overs in the car because you're so mad you
don't even think them out.

Speaker 2 (19:16):
Of bout it, and make sure you don't touch, make
sure nothing touches nothing, right, Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was mad.

Speaker 4 (19:21):

Speaker 3 (19:22):
I've created that atmosphere with Lisa a number of times since.
Actually it's all my fault.

Speaker 1 (19:27):
Well yeah, And so we get up the next morning,
but he's acting like everything's fine. So I just roll
with it, and so then we meet the driveway that
next Thursday and he just kind of goes and we
go to week two, so he didn't say you wouldn't
go like we're going, We come home without speaking, then
we do it again. So we go to week three,
but he's not saying anything, and so I'm.

Speaker 2 (19:43):
Like, okay.

Speaker 1 (19:45):
So we were coming home week three and he said I.

Speaker 2 (19:48):
Do not want to do this, and I was like,
I get it.

Speaker 4 (19:51):
You know, I tricked you into and to his benefit,
he gave you three weeks me he didn't want to
do anywhere at all.

Speaker 1 (19:58):
And that's what I said. I said, we made it
three weeks. I tricked you into it. It wasn't fair,
you know. And he was like, I actually said, I
actually had something like it's okay.

Speaker 2 (20:08):
You know, no worries or something. He was like, oh,
don't it's okay, no worries me. And I was like,
what is happening?

Speaker 1 (20:15):
And he broke down and he started crying, and he
was like, nothing about me wants to do this. Like
I like simple, I like safe, I like predictable. You've
known me for twenty years. I like to know what's happening.

Speaker 2 (20:27):
I like a plan. I don't like chaos. I don't
like confusion.

Speaker 1 (20:31):
Nothing we have heard about foster care sounds safe, predictable
or sensible or you know, not chaotic.

Speaker 2 (20:38):
It's like, but now I.

Speaker 1 (20:38):
Know, Like now I know there are kids in our
county that literally have nowhere to go. And we have
a home, we have space, we have car, we have love,
like we have to do this. So that was our
moment where he was fully on board, and so we

went back.

Speaker 3 (21:08):
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Speaker 1 (21:50):
The most pivotal moment of that whole foster care journey,
those foster care classes actually came at week seven. It
was actually week three that was beautiful and we were
finally on the same page. But at week seven they
took us to the Department of Children Services in Washington County, Tennessee,
Johnson City. I'd never been to an office like that,

you know, since that time, I've been in thousands. Feels
like they're all the same, you know. Just I always
tell people to think about the DMV. It's a state office.
You know, there's tile floor, there's fluorescent lighting, there's state
issued furniture.

Speaker 4 (22:24):
Class succeeds by works, Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 1 (22:26):
I remember there was like a broken down VCR on
a cart over to the left, you know, like a
state office.

Speaker 2 (22:32):
And we're sitting in this room.

Speaker 1 (22:34):
It's kind of drab, no windows, kind of dingy, and
the gentleman says that when a child is removed from
their home, they come here. And I thought, he's not
meaning here, like there's there's a like he doesn't mean
like this physical building, Like there's no reason you would
ever bring a child in here. And so that's what

I asked. I was like, when you say here, you
don't mean here. And he said, a little girl whip
on this floor last night.

Speaker 4 (23:05):
I know that that is. That has to be a
time where you and Corey look at each other and say,
this is horrible, but let's go back to where you
grew up. The idyllic, beautiful East Tennessee, rolling hills, the

entire communities, going to the ball games.

Speaker 3 (23:28):
Everybody supports everybody. You know, your postman by the first name,
who wears a Santa Claus out on Christmas. That is
not a place where you envision children get left behind.
You envisioned children get left behind in Nashville or Memphis,
or Louisville or La pick a metropolter area where you
feel like that dysfunction more often would exist in an

urban area, not in Mayberry, not in How many kids
are we talking about.

Speaker 1 (24:03):
Hundreds in a tiny, tiny space in Caurter County eight
thousand in the state of Tennessee.

Speaker 3 (24:14):
Why what are the before we move forward? I think
it's important to understand, and you have to understand it
now as a results of the time you've spent doing this.
What are the circumstances that in idyllic places like that,
even places like that that have unbelievable community and care

and culture, what are the circumstances that a kid gets
taken from a parent there? I mean, I've heard of
the stories of rural area of problems with meth and
other things. But give us a sense of what that
looks like before I do.

Speaker 1 (24:52):
I want to think about one thing you just said,
because I just remember this, Like, so we go to
these classes and we're hearing about these children, and you
keep in mind, it's been ideal for me, and all
my friends look like me, and all their kids look
like mine, and we have monogram things, and we go
to these lavish birthday parties, and that is the community.

Speaker 4 (25:08):
I know.

Speaker 1 (25:09):
Black and orange on Friday night, like that's a community
I know. And there was this.

Speaker 2 (25:12):
Route that I would run.

Speaker 1 (25:13):
And walk every day, and I would see these houses,
I'd see my friends. After I took those classes, I
did that same loop and I saw children I had
never seen.

Speaker 4 (25:24):
Before, just walked by them.

Speaker 2 (25:27):
They weren't new. My eyes were different.

Speaker 4 (25:29):
They were just invisible to you.

Speaker 1 (25:30):
Then, my community has two very different sides to it,
and you can choose to stay over here, you know,
with the comfort and the safe, and we felt like
we got.

Speaker 2 (25:41):
Thrust to the other side of the tracks.

Speaker 1 (25:43):
But they're the same children going to the same schools
and the same soccer teams and the same the same children.

Speaker 2 (25:49):
Anyway, that just hit me when you said that, I thought,
I remember that.

Speaker 3 (25:52):
No, that's that's as I was reading your story, That's
what I was envisioning. What are those circumstances that those
children are living in.

Speaker 1 (26:02):
Generational poverty is huge, huge I learned through this process.
You know, there are people that are too poor to
go to Walmart. I don't think I ever knew that.
Maybe that's embarrassing to admit, but it's true, Like in
my community, you know, like there is generational poverty in
Northeast Tennessee, and there there's myth opioids, drugs galore, you know,

Mountain City, everywhere, there's just drugs. And I think it's
I think it's like I think there's tons of lack
of education. So lack of education, poverty, drugs, and what
I've learned.

Speaker 4 (26:43):
Crime crime In that interesting you just said, let's repeat
those four things. Lack of education, poverty, drugs, crime. You
could say that about South Memphis. The point is doesn't
matter where you're from. This exists around us, everywhere in our.

Speaker 2 (27:04):
Country, everywhere.

Speaker 1 (27:05):
And that feels like Pandora's box that has been opened
to my eyes that sometimes I wish I could shut
because it is everywhere.

Speaker 4 (27:15):
And the devastating part of it is there are children
who did not choose the zip code or dress at
the time of their birth that get as infants plopped
down into this chaos and what happens to them.

Speaker 1 (27:30):
They live that life and so that's all they know.
And so then they have children who live that life
because it's all they know, you know what I mean,
Like it's you can see it so clearly. I mean,
I meet bio moms and dads that have lost their children,
and as I learned their story. They were in foster care,
or they were raised where drugs were everywhere, or they
were raised with you know, food insecurity, and they were

raised not knowing who was coming in that door that night,
you know, like and now they have created that again
for their family.

Speaker 2 (27:59):
They didn't mean to all they knew, you know.

Speaker 1 (28:01):
And so it is this generational cycle that you see
and every time you find a child at the at
the bottom of that.

Speaker 4 (28:09):
And so how does how does a little girl end
up sleeping on the floor of what looks like a DMV?
I'm asking? I mean, is it Mom Karen gets arrested
and the kid doesn't where to go.

Speaker 1 (28:20):
Mom has only been loved by abusive men who offer
drugs her whole life, and so when she's asked to
choose between her child and the one man she thinks
loves her for the first time in her life, she
chooses him.

Speaker 3 (28:33):
Really, So, not only does child grow up and all
that chaos, they also grow up abandoned.

Speaker 1 (28:38):
And I mean, that's one scenario. I don't want to
I get it, And I mean, but abandonment, neglect, Yeah,
and so I don't know what happened for that little girl,
but I do know that neglect, abuse, those are.

Speaker 2 (28:50):
The main reasons that we see children come into states custody.

Speaker 4 (28:54):
Some would say, I'm gonna teat this one up for you, Okay, okay,
I'm ready. Some would die. Some would question is it
really a God that would allow children to grow up
like this? Oh?

Speaker 2 (29:08):
I've been there. I remember when we brought home our
first foster child, and I would rock him at night
and I would sing to him, and then I would
just cry because I thought how many more? Like I
can't bring them all home?

Speaker 1 (29:25):
And I would get mad and I would yell at
God and I would scream at God.

Speaker 4 (29:30):
But I was wrong.

Speaker 2 (29:32):
He is with them.

Speaker 1 (29:33):
No, he doesn't want this for them, but he is there.
He shows up all the time. I can't even tell
you the stories of the ways that I've seen God
show up.

Speaker 4 (29:43):
Yeah, but you get people that.

Speaker 1 (29:46):
I get the question. I absolutely get the question. And
I think he's big enough for us to ask it,
scream it, cuss it at him. He feels our pain too.
This is not the life he ever wanted either.

Speaker 3 (29:58):
Okay, So we'll get to that first kid, but us there,
So you finish your eight weeks.

Speaker 1 (30:02):
Well, there was a big moment a week seven Yeah, yeap,
So I see, I find out that this is actually
a thing, because when you're outside this world, you think
a child is removed, and you think, well, that's good.

Speaker 2 (30:14):
Now they're safe.

Speaker 1 (30:15):
Now they are just happy and clean and going to
school gay, you know, like that's what the rest of.

Speaker 2 (30:20):
The world thinks.

Speaker 1 (30:21):
But now I'm learning that a child is removed and
there's a gap, like there's this time, and sometimes it
could be lengthy, like it can be three days, two weeks,
eight hours, four I don't know. There's a gap between
when that child is removed and when they find a
place for that.

Speaker 4 (30:38):
Child to go, meaning a foster home, yes, or a.

Speaker 2 (30:40):
Kinship placement which means a family member.

Speaker 3 (30:42):
And as the gap satisfied supposedly by these DMV type
places and the floors, you mean a kid could live
in there alone, scared, cold, dirty for two weeks.

Speaker 2 (30:56):
It's happened post twenty twenty.

Speaker 4 (30:57):
But even okay, three days is still too much.

Speaker 2 (31:00):
Twenty four hours time they've lost everything.

Speaker 4 (31:03):
And they're literally sleeping on the floor and nobody yeah wow, And.

Speaker 1 (31:08):
So I'm all my mind is swirling. I'm sitting here.
I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe that's
the way this happens for a child. And then I
just kept seeing this six seven year old little girl,
and all of a sudden, it was just flooding. I
was like, she just lost her mama. She loves her mama,
no matter what her mama has done, she wants her mama,
and she was just told, you can't go to your mama.

Speaker 2 (31:27):
She just lost her home. Doesn't matter if we wouldn't
live there. She did, she lived there four hours ago.

Speaker 1 (31:32):
Like she lost all of her stuff except what can
be put in a black trash back.

Speaker 2 (31:35):
I don't know if she did she have a cat?
Did she just lose her cat? Did she lose her dog?

Speaker 4 (31:39):

Speaker 1 (31:39):
Did she have siblings that went somewhere else already that
she's been separated from? And is she going to school tomorrow?
The only place that she feels safe and she has
friends and a teacher that she.

Speaker 4 (31:48):
Loves, probably the only place she gets a good meal lunch.

Speaker 1 (31:51):
Everything about this child's life came crashing down, and that
child is now sitting in an office, confused, scared, tired, hungry.

Speaker 2 (32:01):
Just waiting.

Speaker 1 (32:02):
And don't get me wrong, caseworkers are doing their absolute best.
Caseworkers are doing a job in a place of business,
and now there's three children in their cubicle or in
their conference room. And that's when I got mad at God.
And that's when I started yelling in my mind, how
could you Like? That little girl is yours and you've

let her stay on a floor, Like what are you doing?

Speaker 2 (32:28):
Like how could you?

Speaker 4 (32:29):

Speaker 1 (32:30):
Someone's got to help her, Someone has to tell her
that she's loved and that she can do this, and
that she didn't have to be scared, and that there's
like who's doing that for this child? And I was
so mad and I heard these are my children?

Speaker 2 (32:47):
What are you going to do?

Speaker 1 (32:49):
And that made me matter because I thought, what am
I going to do? I'm being obedient. I came to
these during classes. I'm sitting here, I'm doing my part.

Speaker 2 (32:57):
What are you doing?

Speaker 4 (32:58):
I tricked my husband into it where you weren't.

Speaker 1 (33:00):
For me, Like here we are falling broken, We're ready,
Like we're doing all we can. I don't know what
you want from us, but we are doing all we can.
I'm a cheer and dance coach. We're going to foster.

Speaker 2 (33:13):
You need to fix.

Speaker 1 (33:14):
This was my answer in that conference turn to God.
So I get being mad at God. We Kate, we Kate,
We finished, wee Kate, and then we went back to
our life. And Corey had said, we accept one child,
like we are starting with one child, Ronda, We'll be

right back. Months would go by and they would call
for a siblings head of three, a siblings set of five.

Speaker 2 (33:57):
And we didn't have a vehicle that could you.

Speaker 4 (33:59):
Know, can you take a set meaning like higher family
like siblings and they want to keep them together and
you're like, no, we were.

Speaker 2 (34:08):
He said one.

Speaker 1 (34:09):
But it would break my heart every time because I'm like,
they're in an office, you know, and so.

Speaker 4 (34:15):
Oh, you're envisioning what you visited week seven and you
know where these kids are. So you're desperate, but you
also know I can't do it.

Speaker 2 (34:24):
And so they kept calling for these big sibling sets.
Corey had told me one.

Speaker 1 (34:27):
And so I tell people the hardest part of this
journey is I sold my car that I loved and
bought a.

Speaker 4 (34:32):
Minivan, a grocery getter.

Speaker 1 (34:37):
Yes, it's the hardest thing, God rescued, Thank God asked me,
I bought a minivan because I thought there could be
more You know, like we're you know if they if
you build it, they will come.

Speaker 4 (34:45):
But land dark.

Speaker 1 (34:49):
So it actually was November of the next year, so
November of twenty fifteen.

Speaker 4 (34:53):
So you're almost a year.

Speaker 1 (34:55):
Yeah, And November fifth, three point thirty in the afternoon,
was doing work with Sophie and Mac at the Kitchen
Island and they called and they said a nine month
old little boy needed a home.

Speaker 4 (35:07):
Nine months it's one, and you're like one.

Speaker 1 (35:11):
And so I said, well, ma'am, I'm going to have
to do something very uncharacteristic.

Speaker 2 (35:15):
And she was like, what's the heck? I need to
ask my husband if this is okay. That's a good idea.

Speaker 1 (35:22):
And when I tell people this story, I tell people
that I called Corey and said, tell me you'll love
me no matter what, and I did. But the heart
of that conversation and the things that came after, so
I was like, I can't say yes if we're not
saying yes, Like there can't be a day when this
is really hard and you look at me and say

you got us into this, and if that is where
you are, that is fine. But we're if we say yesterday,
we are saying.

Speaker 3 (35:49):
Yes, yeah, because if the wheels come off and this
kid ends up being the second version of an exorcism.
You don't want to blame, Yeah, Like we're going to
be blamed together. This is god to be a weathing.
We're a team that makes complete sense.

Speaker 2 (36:02):
And he said, I'm on my way.

Speaker 4 (36:05):
And so, wow, you have a really good husband.

Speaker 2 (36:07):
Was such a good hunty?

Speaker 4 (36:09):
You really did? You really do so? He said on
my own wife.

Speaker 1 (36:13):
Yeah, And so he came home and Sophie was twelve
at the time. She was over the moon because it
was a baby. She was so excited about a baby.
And Mac was nine, and we were walking out the
door and Mac said, is it a boy or a girl?
And I said it's a little boy and he stopped. Now,
Mac is my calm in the storm. He's my peaceful
He's the most obedient child you ever meet.

Speaker 2 (36:35):
And he stopped. He was like, I don't want him.

Speaker 4 (36:38):
I don't want the competition.

Speaker 1 (36:41):
There were no grandsons, there were no other boys, there
were no nephews, like, it was all girls and Mac
and I was like, dude.

Speaker 2 (36:49):
We said we're going to do this. We already said yes.

Speaker 1 (36:52):
He's like I don't want him. So now like there's
this flood of mom guilt, you know, you know. So
Matt gets the guard, he's so mad. Sophie's excited where
he is like nervouses. I'll get out and we get
in the car and I see a flyer under our
windshiew wiper, like you're at one water or something.

Speaker 2 (37:07):
We're in not a dropway like. So I get out
of grab.

Speaker 1 (37:09):
It and I sit down, and the energy in the
van was like and all of a sudden, I said.

Speaker 2 (37:14):
Guys, we can do this, and they're like, what are
you talking about? And I turn around.

Speaker 1 (37:17):
This piece of paper on a good street. There's a penguin.
It says, motivational penguin.

Speaker 2 (37:21):
You can do it. That was what was under our There.

Speaker 4 (37:24):
Was some dirty good duder or just do gooder. Lord,
my friend, there was a do gooder walking around the
neighborhood putting penguins on everybody's Is that really.

Speaker 2 (37:35):
The motivational penguin?

Speaker 4 (37:36):
You can do it, a motivational penguin.

Speaker 2 (37:41):
So we get our penguin.

Speaker 3 (37:42):
I don't even understand a motivational penguin up with that,
I don't know. Somebody came over from the moth side
of the track and was very confused. I think put
that on your windshield. But anyway, motivational.

Speaker 2 (37:53):
Taking a beautiful moment in I mean, I don't know.

Speaker 4 (37:56):
I just I don't understand it. But anyway, or ed
we could do this feeling.

Speaker 2 (38:01):
We got this our motivation being when it sold us.

Speaker 1 (38:03):
And so we pull up and so this is the
first time I've ever seen it seen removal a.

Speaker 2 (38:08):
From the poster parents side.

Speaker 1 (38:10):
And so we were instructed to go to the back
door because they were still family out front and they
were not happy, and so.

Speaker 4 (38:17):
Because they'd taken the child.

Speaker 2 (38:18):
Yeah, yeah, so we come around.

Speaker 3 (38:20):
Wow, So hang on, I'm sorry, the family losing or
giving up the child is literally in the front of
the building with the family who is.

Speaker 4 (38:29):
Taking the child. Can that not get a little dangerous
and contentious?

Speaker 2 (38:33):
I'm sure it can.

Speaker 4 (38:35):
Yikes. Yeah, that doesn't even seem like a really good
process either to me, and.

Speaker 2 (38:41):
I don't I mean, that was just our moment. Wow.

Speaker 3 (38:44):
Okay, So he pulled up to the back door. So
clearly this isn't a woman who gave her son up.
This is protective child Service someone going in and saying,
you guys are doing everything wrong and this child cannot
live in this environment, took the child.

Speaker 2 (38:57):
This is not a matter of a moment not loving
her child. That's true.

Speaker 4 (39:00):

Speaker 1 (39:01):
Okay, So we pull up and we're getting this child
out of the back door.

Speaker 2 (39:06):
You know, it kind of seems seedy, you know.

Speaker 1 (39:09):
And then it hits me, we don't have a car seat, Like,
we don't had a baby in our home in nine years.
And I'm like, we don't have a car seat. They're like, oh, well,
we've got one you can borrow, just bring it back tomorrow.
And so it's this dirty car seat, you know, and
so we grab that and then I'm like, why is
his outfit so small? Because it was like skin tight
on him. And they were like, well, his outfit he
was wearing was so filthy. We had to throw it away.

And we try to bathe him and our drug testing sink.
But when you get him home, he desperately needs a bath.
And then they handed me his one possession. It was
a dipper bag, and as I'm walking away, she says, oh,
by the way, don't put that in your house for
the next twelve to twenty four hours so the roaches
will crawl out.

Speaker 4 (39:46):
That is disgusting.

Speaker 2 (39:47):
That is how it happens, And how old is this child?
Nine months?

Speaker 3 (39:52):
How old DoD children when they get lice? I mean,
I would expect lice and all kinds of things in
a situation, but I'm just saying children and gin lots.

Speaker 2 (40:00):
Of children come in with life, Tess.

Speaker 1 (40:02):
But I mean this was like, I was so broken
hearted in that moment for him, Like you're nine months old,
You've been bathed in a drug testing sink, you have
nothing in the world but a borrowed outfit, You're being
passed out of a back door, and you've done nothing wrong.
Like and then we go home and I'd made a
quick call to a friend before I left. I was like,

we've said yes to our first placement.

Speaker 2 (40:23):
Say a prayer.

Speaker 1 (40:25):
Well, she said a prayer, but she got on the
phone and by the time we got home, there was
a family in our guest room putting up a crib.
People were stopping by with high chairs, diapers, wipes, a baby, bath,
baby just showing up at our house. And that's when
it hit me, like, how does a foster parent say
yes if you don't have this kind of support Because

we had nothing, We not had a nine month old baby,
We had nothing, but also if Isaiah's mom, that was
the little boy's saying. If Isaiah's mom had had this
kind of support, we wouldn't have Isaiah, you know, like
how important community is in that moment. But then also
how do other people say yes? And so my mind
was all over the place, like broken hearted for removal
day for that child and what it looked like for him,

broken hearted for foster parents that want to say yes.
But how do you go out and buy everything a
nine month old needs at.

Speaker 2 (41:13):
A moment's notice?

Speaker 1 (41:14):
And there's a clothing stopping coming six weeks from now
one hundred and twenty five dollars but the kid has nothing,
So like, how do you do that as a foster parent?
Luckily we had community? And then also broken hearted for
his mama, like she's living in that cycle that I
described earlier.

Speaker 2 (41:30):
She doesn't have people.

Speaker 1 (41:31):
She can call it a moment's notice and they show
up with five hundred dollars to go to Target and
get anything the boy needs.

Speaker 2 (41:36):
And here's a bed and here's a monitor and here like.

Speaker 1 (41:39):
Yeah, just just it's all so sad.

Speaker 4 (41:45):
And Isaiah, I guess, gets a bath? He does?

Speaker 2 (41:50):
He does?

Speaker 4 (41:51):
How's mac at this point?

Speaker 2 (41:53):
He does not want to touch Isaiah.

Speaker 1 (41:56):
Yes, he says Isaiah, it's snotty and he does not
want to touch him or be near him.

Speaker 2 (42:00):
Yeah, he's still mad.

Speaker 1 (42:02):
Yeah, he was mad too. It was the two week mark.
He was supposed to be going to school, and I
was yelling Mac, we go, let's go, let's go, get
you back back. I couldn't find him, and I went
and was looking for him, and I found him in
the crib with Isaiah holding Isaiah reading him a book.
So at the two week mark, Matt cracked and he's
been Bubba ever since.

Speaker 4 (42:22):
So Ago sounds a lot like his dad.

Speaker 2 (42:25):
They're both really good man. They're both really good man. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (42:30):
So where does this initial four way and foster care
take you eventually with Isaiah?

Speaker 1 (42:38):
So, Isaiah was in our home through foster care from
November of twenty fifteen until summer of twenty eighteen. Summer
of twenty eighteen, his parental rights were terminated and we
were actually allowed to adopt him in November National Adoption Month.
November of twenty eighteen, Or.

Speaker 4 (42:57):
Said you weren't adopting, That's what he said.

Speaker 1 (43:00):
We not only adopted Isaiah, but in March of twenty seventeen.
He had a full sibling brother that was born that
came into custody at three weeks old, and so Eli
joined our family in twenty seventeen because Corey called the
caseworker and said, we want that baby, and so Eli
came to us and we were able to adopt them

both in November of twenty eighteen.

Speaker 4 (43:24):
Wow, and they are now your children.

Speaker 1 (43:29):
Isaiah is nine. I tell people he's everything a redhead
should be.

Speaker 4 (43:33):
He's red headed, he's redheaded.

Speaker 1 (43:35):
I'm sure, passionate what we think. He feels everything deeply.
And then Eli is seven and cut just a little
dimple ever, and yeah, do.

Speaker 4 (43:47):
They know the circumstances under which they became your children.

Speaker 1 (43:51):
They do what they can understand, you know, I'm trying
to keep it very age appropriate. They know that there
were two parents that loved them very much, because they
didn't but that they were sick, that's what we say
right now, and they couldn't get better. And so then
we were asked if we would be there forever mommy
and daddy, and we were so excited, and so we

said we would love to be there forever mommy and daddy.
And so you had two parents that you know you
were born to and they loved you very much, and
they have two parents that get to be your parents forever,
and we love you very much, and so you're.

Speaker 2 (44:23):
Very lucky little boys.

Speaker 4 (44:25):
Does that create confusion? You know?

Speaker 2 (44:28):
Kids amaze me, Kids amazing. We had this moment.

Speaker 1 (44:31):
We go to Hilton Head every summer and we were
standing in the ocean and Isaiah turned to me.

Speaker 2 (44:35):
He goes, what did I look like when I was
in your belly?

Speaker 4 (44:39):

Speaker 1 (44:40):
And I said, no, remember, buddy, you weren't in my belly.
And I named his mother and I said, you were
in so and So's belly. Huh No, Remember you were
in her belly.

Speaker 2 (44:51):
And I was like, and I can't. I can't explain this,
and we'll have to ask God when we meet him.
But this is what I know to be true. She
was supposed to have you and I I was supposed.

Speaker 4 (45:00):
To be your mama.

Speaker 2 (45:01):
This was not a mistake. This is your story. And
I was supposed to be your mama. And he said
there a minute, he goes, I love God. I was like,
I do too.

Speaker 4 (45:11):

Speaker 3 (45:16):
And that concludes part one of my conversation with Rhnda
Pauson and Guys, don't miss Part two. It's now available
to listen to as we're about to dive into the
incredible story of Isaiah one point seventeen house. Together, guys,
we can change this country, but it's going to start
with you.

Speaker 4 (45:37):
I'll see you in Part two.

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