Karen McMillan: Bringing Hope to the Next Generation

Seventh in the "Gift of LIfe" series

Posted by Nancy Lee on January 28, 2023

Only a child herself, Karen sat in the dim bedroom and rocked the baby, this precious child who had been unwanted and ended up in a foster home. She was helping her mother take care of a family with several foster children who were living with them while their house was being repaired after a fire.

As she snuggled with the baby, she talked to God, “This is what I want to do when I grow up,” she said, “I want to take care of babies who have no one to take care of them.”

Her dream faded as she grew, and she followed the path most logical for her—to become a missionary like her parents and grandparents. After graduating from high school, she received a degree from Moody Bible Institute and was accepted by a mission agency. After months of preparation, she was ready to go to Congo, Africa. But a war broke out, and the door closed.

“Instead,” Karen said, “I took a job as a teaching assistant, and I loved it, so I went back to school to become a teacher.” Karen later went back to school to become a school counselor.

After Karen was teaching for seven or eight years, a little girl came into school with fly swatter marks all over her face. Child Protective Services was called. Since they couldn’t send the child home, they needed someone to take her on an emergency basis. “I’ll take her home,” Karen offered. 

It didn’t work out for Karen to take the girl on a long-term basis, but through this experience, God reignited the dream He had placed in her heart many years before. Karen felt God was leading her to become a foster mom, but at first, she fought the calling. “I should be married,” she argued with God, “it is going to be too hard.” 

God’s answer was, “Am I not enough?”

In preparation, Karen signed up for classes to become a certified foster parent and moved into a bigger home.

One of the first children that came to live with Karen was a ten-year-old girl with a traumatic background. After she was with Karen for a few months, her mother overdosed on heroin. 

“It was enormously difficult,” Karen said. “She barely knew me, and I had to take her to her mother’s funeral.”

This is when Karen realized that God had bigger plans than for Karen to be just a foster mother. She adopted the girl and became her forever mother.

Karen also played the role of aunt to foster children who were living with her parents. One of these was a seven-year-old with a troubled background and many physical challenges. When she became eligible for adoption, Karen reached out and adopted her, too, giving her a forever home.

“My girls are now fifteen and nineteen, and I am caring for my nineteen-year-old’s baby. My girls are a handful with emotional, mental health, behavioral, and physical challenges, and I don’t plan to adopt any more children. However, I occasionally take in girls for emergency placement on a temporary basis,” Karen explained.

Karen cautions about adopting a child from foster care who has experienced trauma. “Make sure you are adopting for the right reasons, not for any benefit you think you will get out of it. Often these kids from hard places are incapable of giving anything to you and take so much more than you think you can give.”

So what, then, is Karen’s motivation? Her answer is simple. “I believe this is God’s will for my life.”

She quotes a Bible verse: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 NIV).

“I believe this is what the Lord means when he tells us to care for widows and orphans. He means, ‘Open up your house and spend your money, and live a life that maybe costs you some friends.’

“This is where God’s heart is—these abandoned kids, these hard kids that nobody else can handle, or that nobody else wants.

“I can feel God’s heartbeat in a way that I never have in my life.”

But there is more.

Karen revealed that, even though she had a wonderful childhood with Godly parents, for a brief period during her childhood, she was sexually abused. She was a young adult when it came to light that this evil predator, a wolf in sheep’s clothing who posed as a good Christian leader, had deceived and abused numerous children. 

Karen underwent counseling, and as a part of that, she asked God to use her to bring healing and hope to at least twice as many children as this evil man damaged.

God is answering her prayer not only through her life as an adoptive mom but also as a school counselor. Each year Karen goes into classrooms and shares a talk about sexual abuse prevention with around one hundred children. She hopes that she can help spare those children from what she went through.

Karen has another favorite Bible verse that gives her much hope: 

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations (Isaiah 61:4 NIV).

“I love this because it’s been generations in my girls’ lives of broken women giving birth to broken children who give birth to broken children. God is powerful enough to break that cycle and to provide hope for the next generation,” Karen said. 

“He is certainly not done with my girls. There is a whole big, beautiful story we don’t see yet, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”

More about Karen: Karen has been an educator for more than twenty years, first as a Head Start and Kindergarten teacher and now as a school counselor. She enjoys traveling, writing, baking, laughing, LEGO building, gardening, snuggling babies, and any opportunity to teach. Almost more than anything else, she loves a good story. Every year that passes, she falls more and more in love with Jesus. She lives outside of Chicago with her adopted girls and their collection of Labradoodles, cats, and fish.

*Photo credit: Mary Williams; background photo credit: Alice 12 from Pixabay

Other Stories in the Gift of Life Series:

Paul Marshall: Allowing God to Redeem Your Pain

Colleen Thomas: Embracing Down Syndrome

Tamara Wanner: Finding Hope Through Adoption

Amy Myers: Finding Hope in Infertility and Pregnancy Loss

Julee Wilson: Hope in Choosing Life Amid Uncertainty

Finding Identity and Purpose in Christ: a story of a secret adoption

Sarah DePass: Herkimer County Care Net: from teen mom to director