COVID-19 seemed to throw normal, everyday life into a blender. No school for kids. Parents working from home. Restaurants and businesses closed. Life as we knew it gone in a day. A few weeks of isolation stretched into months. Here’s how one family is coping.
When life locked down, Gloria and Jay Kustes were parenting six kids—a mix of biological and foster children.
That blended family is Gloria’s dream.
Not that “dream” days are easy. There’s homeschool on three different grade levels, along with caring for two 1-year-olds. Add the ache of knowing that 2-year-old Charlie will soon be leaving the family to be reunited with his mother, whom they have loved and prayed for.
When the family was diagnosed with COVID-19, Gloria and Jay suffered most through a month of isolation.
So what is the secret to sanity in raising a big family with challenges?
There’s no easy answer. But the Kusteses stay focused on God. They laugh at the idea of “perfect.”
Days are packed. Gloria gets up at 5:30 to spend time in the Bible by herself. She prays the kids don’t get up until 6:30. She takes a slim slice of time to get dressed and brush her teeth. Then it’s on to changing diapers, washing hands, feeding the dog, the babies and the bigger kids.
“All the while I’m stopping to clean up a dropped box of cereal, a potty accident down the hall, eggs dropped on the floor—whatever happens with six children under 9,” she said.
Then it’s homeschool, telehealth for the babies, conferences with social workers and counselors for the kids who have endured early trauma in their lives. Then there are naps, more school and dinner as a family when Jay gets home from his job at MSD. And so it goes until 9:30 at night when Jay and Gloria often fall asleep in the middle of a conversation. No joke.
The Kustes family is not “normal.”
When a neighbor battling an addiction was caught stealing from them, the family made brownies for that family and later delivered a Christmas basket packed with goodies. They love on moms of foster children in their care. They love people on the fringes. Often, it’s those who have never thought of Jesus.
“Gloria just brings genuine joy to every space she enters,” said Blankenbaker Campus Women’s Ministry Leader Christy Weaver. “I eagerly await her arrival to church each Sunday. Jay pulls the big blue van under the portico, Gloria climbs out with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips, every Sunday. She proceeds to unbuckle seatbelts, tie shoes, wipe noses, position masks... all the while looking over her shoulder to greet or encourage someone passing by. Her children are happy to be at church and are thankful to be close to her. Gloria is a beautiful picture of the joy that comes from obedience and an authentic love for Jesus. She even recovered from an injury in an orthopedic boot for months, but her joy never left her.”
Here are a few Kustes family mantras that keep the family on track.
>Love until it hurts. “The Lord has had us on this journey ever since the church started talking about loving where you are. It helps as we move closer to letting go of Charlie, a little boy we’ve had in our family for two years. We hurt more so Charlie will hurt less,” Gloria said.
>People are worth sacrifice. There are times loving people is hard. When a bully made life miserable for the kids, the family tried to figure out how to love him. In time, that bully became a friend who goes to church activities with them.
>Love Jesus most. “If we get this one right, everything else falls in place,” Gloria said. “There is nothing more important than loving Jesus. I have told our kids I love them and I love Jay, but I love Jesus most.”
>One person at a time. At the beginning of the year, Southeast Support & Recovery Ministry Leader Dave Spruell said the worldwide mission field is poverty. The mission field in the United States is desperation, addiction and grief. “We try to keep our eyes open to people who need help,” Gloria said. “It might be a neighbor, a friend, mom of one of our kids, someone in our support group.”
When you serve one person at a time, there’s a ripple effect. That person will share with another who will share with another.
>One day at a time. Life can seem overwhelming when you look at a full calendar. “I ask God every day, ‘What do you want us to do today?’” Gloria said. “If I lay down at night, even though there are dishes in the sink and toys all over the living room, I can still step back and say, ‘I did what the Lord asked me to do today.’”
>Keep an eternal perspective. “When we’re irritated or frustrated, we often ask, ‘Will this matter in 100 years?’” Gloria said.
At the end of the day, Gloria loves her life.
“I’m living an adventure,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to love people well and pour into them and live a life that is meaningful for generations. We never know when someone we have loved will love someone else like Jesus.”