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When WORLD in 2005 described the lifestyle of Terri and Jim Cooney (see “Leading by example,” Jan. 22, 2005), they had recently completed their ninth adoption, a teenager from Ghana severely burned by a witch. Their 2,000-square-foot house in Harford County, Md., was a hive of activity. Kids they had taken in—many with physical and emotional disabilities—were regularly hanging onto Terri, who stayed home with them while Jim taught school.
He is now 79 and she is 73. They still have four kids living with them, at least temporarily. Jim has just laid new flooring in the living room and painted the walls. A 5-year-old who lives with them buzzes around Terri: Will she play Chinese checkers with him? Then he spills the marbles onto the floor. One of the grown kids is “desperately attached,” calling many times each day—42 times was the record.
Local adoption agencies routinely called the Cooneys when they had hard-to-place children. Terri helped her kids develop more independence, but for some with emotional baggage from early childhood trauma, that’s a hard task. Joshua, now 33, is severely autistic. At about 5 p.m. Terri carries a small dinner tray up to his bedroom and opens the door. Josh barely looks up. Music pours from a speaker. Two televisions with the volume on play different shows. Joshua stands at a table, sorting his hundreds of books—enough to fill seven bookcases and two tables. They range from childhood favorites like the Berenstain Bears and DK Readers to graphic novels.
Joshua’s sorting is part of a “fixed-in-stone” routine. Breaking the routine might lead to a meltdown. Violent outbursts are now rare, but two years ago he threw a coffee table book that caught Terri in the face, breaking her nose. She’s always felt her job was to “protect the world from Josh and Josh from the world.” But at 5 feet tall and 100 pounds she’s no match for her 5-foot-10 son. When he’s upset, she now slips into his room and hides, praying silently. His sometimes response: “Don’t you Jesus me.”
Terri is concerned about what will happen to Joshua after she and Jim die, so they trust and plan: “I believe the God who allowed Joshua to have life has a plan and purpose for him. He will not forget about him when I’m not here.” One of Josh’s siblings has agreed, when necessary, to step into their role of managing his care. Eventually Joshua will live with caregivers in a nearby condo the Cooneys have purchased for him. Next year they plan to move several bookcases over there, along with some books, so Josh can “visit” and get used to that place.
After 52 years of marriage, more than 40 years of being a Christian, and nine adoptions of kids from hard places, Terri still wakes up grateful for another day. She’s written a letter to her children and filed it with her will: “Each one of you needs to know that God brought you to us divinely … so you can either thank God for that or you can ask Him what in the world He was thinking. The day you came into our world we KNEW THAT WE KNEW you were meant for our family. We have never quit knowing that, through great times and not so great times. All families have both.”
When people look at the Cooneys’ long and faithful service and gush, “You are so wonderful,” she shrugs it off: “We just took the next step. If we had known where those steps would lead, we wouldn’t have gone forward. We would have been too scared. And yet I don’t regret one bit of it. The awfulness in the long run taught me to trust God better.”