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Briggs family opens home, hearts to orphans

December 21, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

At the bustling Briggs home one recent afternoon, 20-year-old Abraham's fingers elicited beautiful melodies from a piano. Jacob, 12, was working his way through the book "One Wintry Night" before he stood on the kitchen counter to get the ingredients needed to make himself a cup of coffee.

Anna, 8, wrapped her arms constantly around her mom, Jeane Briggs, while Mya, 23 months, ambled around on the home's floors, with a constant smile beaming toward visitors.

Briggs, 47, and her husband Paul, 48, have five children of their own and have adopted seven special-needs children, six of them from Russia.

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Three of the couple's natural children live at home, making it a house of constant activity. All are home-schooled.

Each child has a story.

Abraham, whom the Briggses adopted 18 years ago in Mexico, is blind. Only when he was a little older did Jeane Briggs and her husband realize he also has mental disabilities. Briggs believes Abraham was abandoned by his parents and was beaten at the orphanage.

A natural talent to play the piano surfaced when Abraham, at 4 or 5 years old, and his family ate at a Roy Rogers restaurant. While they ate, the song "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was played.

After returning home, Abraham sat down at a toy piano and played the whole song from memory. He now composes his own music.

Mya crawls on the floor, one leg limp because of nerve damage. Although 11 other families did not want to adopt Mya, one look at a picture of her was all it took for the Briggs family.

"She was just gorgeous," Jeane Briggs said.

"She'll walk eventually with help," Briggs said, though Mya may never have a normal gait.

Jacob, 12, has had surgeries for scoliosis and recently finished the last. He had come to the United States in November 2001 with a group of Russian orphans to stay with a host family, but he was not adopted. Upon learning of that, the Briggses adopted him and three other children.

Isaac, 6, did not talk for the first five years of his life. Four weeks after he was adopted, he knew English. Now, Jeane Briggs jokes, she almost wishes he did not talk so much.

Lily, 4, wears glasses after she had corrective surgery for crossed eyes. Josiah, 4, suffers from kidney problems.

Anna, 8, had a cleft palate and lip. Orphanage workers were so afraid she would be made fun of if placed with older children, Anna stayed in the orphanage designed for babies, where she ate rice and drank tea. She has had 10 surgeries in 10 months, with one more scheduled for the spring. She had to learn how to use a fork and knife.

Whether the Briggs bunch will get bigger remains to be seen. Briggs said she is praying about a little girl in Kazakhstan and a boy in Pennsylvania with Down syndrome.

"We'll just see what God gives us," she said.

One more leaf can be added to the family's already-large dining room table.

"Our faith is the reason we do this," Briggs said. "The Lord did this. He wanted these children in our family."

As for Christmas, Briggs said she appreciates that the children have not yet learned of the commercial nature of the holiday. They're overjoyed to have a Christmas tree in their home with lights on it and probably would be ecstatic to receive empty wrapped boxes, she said.

The family will be staying home for the holiday and expect to be visited by Briggs' daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Jeremiah Hambrick, of North Carolina, who are the children's legal guardians.

Faith is important to the family.

"For us, really sharing our faith with our kids, this is what we do," Briggs said. "I hope that never ends, that compelling love for others."

Jacob recently gave his life to the Lord, and Briggs said she hopes the others will do likewise.

"That's the high point for me. I don't care if you pick up garbage or are the president" as long as faith is present, she said.

Briggs said she has goals for all of her children and thinks all but Abraham eventually will be able to live on their own. No matter how independent the children become or how old Briggs is, she said she wants to always remain a part of their lives.

Memorable moments come, sometimes through medicine. Tears followed Jacob's last intense surgery, when his family finally had assurance he would be OK.

"The day that I see Mya take a few steps will be a high point for me," Briggs said.

Anyone hesitant to adopt an older child should visit her home, Briggs said.

"Children are special gifts, blessings. No child should learn or feel that nobody wants them," Briggs said. "It's such a joy. Honestly, I've never had a bad day."

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