BROOKSVILLE — Lindy House, 35, had always known she would adopt children. The second of six siblings, and with parents who took in foster children, she was used to the role of "mom," even before marrying and giving birth to three children of her own.
What she never envisioned was that she would one day be the mother of two Ukrainian boys with Down syndrome.
Before Lindy married Guy House 12 years ago, they talked about how many children they would have. Guy, 34, currently the associate pastor at Ridge Manor Community United Methodist Church, was also the second of six children and was fine with the idea of a large family. Adopting some of their future children was part of the discussion.
But after having Genesis, now 11, and just getting past the toddler stage with Jude, 6, and Zane, 4, the couple approached their mid-30s thinking adoption was something to consider several years down the road.
After starting their marriage as youth ministers in Brooksville and Wauchula, then moving to Virginia to help with a missions organization, the Houses took a break from ministry for seven years to focus on their growing family.
"I got a good job and we were concentrating on the family, but we were just going through the motions and we weren't happy," Guy House said. "We knew there was something else we should be doing with our lives that would make a meaningful impact."
Guy said he knew God had a calling for him. He felt God speaking to him when he lost his high-salary job and had to short-sell his house.
"It took six or seven months of being unemployed before the conversation came up with Lindy about working at a church again," he said.
A short stint for Guy as a youth pastor in Tennessee, before moving back to Florida in 2010 to take the position in Ridge Manor, gave the couple time to sit back and reflect.
"We hadn't talked a lot about adoption for a while," Lindy said. "Here we were in Tennessee and just really looking at life and evaluating what was important. I was looking at taking missions trips. I just wanted to make a difference."
Then Lindy began looking at an agency with adoptable children in Africa.
"That's when this picture popped up from a friend on Facebook," Lindy said. "He had blonde hair and had Down syndrome. So I clicked on the picture and it took me to a ministry called Reece's Rainbow (an international orphan ministry based in Maryland), which has pages of children with special needs waiting for homes."
Adopting a child with special needs had never been part of the plan. But Genesis began doing her own research on the website.
"She asked us if we could adopt one of these kids with Down syndrome or with special needs," Guy said. "My first reaction was no. That's going to involve a lot of money for medical expenses. Let's adopt a normal child, and if that goes well then maybe down the road we'll adopt another one."
But Lindy had begun looking at the Reece's Rainbow site as well, particularly at children from an orphanage in the Ukraine.
She learned that children were only kept at the orphanage for a while before being sent to a mental institution.
"One day, Lindy sat me down to look at the pictures," Guy said. "She pulled up a picture of one of the children with Down syndrome. The moment I saw this picture, I had instant peace. All that fear stuff just disappeared, because I saw this innocent child that was born that way beyond his control and had been abandoned."
One of the children, named Artem, was 6 years old, but had never walked. He was kept in a crib and fed with a bottle. The only other adoptable Down syndrome child at that time was a 5-year-old boy named Vitalik. Just with their photos and their history of being abandoned, the two boys won the hearts of the House family, and the adoption process began.
In late May, after the paperwork was completed and the $25,000 raised by the family was added to the $10,000 set aside for the boys by the Reece's Rainbow ministry, Guy, Lindy and Genesis traveled to the Ukraine, and in June they brought the boys home to be part of their family. Artem, now Gabe, and Vitalik, now Levi, use their former names as middle names.
The Houses don't minimize the responsibility they have taken on.
"With Gabe and Levi, it is like having an infant and toddler because of their delays — their being in diapers and needing to be hand-fed by us," Lindy said.
"Levi is like a 2-year-old," Guy said. "He cannot talk. He just makes noises. We believe he has some vision and hearing loss. Gabe is like a 10-month-old. He has vision and hearing loss as well and has sensory disorder, so new environments, bright lights and noises can upset him."
Gabe was also born with a hole in his heart.
"At this point, our doctor says he sounds normal, but we are waiting for him to get stronger to have tests run to ensure his heart is okay," Guy said.
Despite all of the difficulties, the Houses are loving their new, larger family.
"It has been great," Guy said. "We have no regrets. If these boys did not have us, they may never have had a mom and dad. That's hard to think about."
Two of Lindy's friends have also adopted children. One who lives close by adopted the little girl who was Gabe's crib mate. Another, who lives up north, adopted the little blonde-haired boy in the first photo she saw.
"It's wonderful having friends around that have been through the adoption process and now have children with special needs," Lindy said. "Not just locally. I also have a great group of friends online from the Reece's Rainbow community."
Just as they were encouraged to adopt by their friends who had done so, the House family hopes other people will consider adoption.
"Levi's name means 'to unite,' '' Lindy said. "We chose his name knowing that his life would be used to open people's eyes to the beauty of adoption and bring people together to help others in need."
Lindy, a photographer, plans to use her photography business to help others with adoptions.
"Lindy House Photography will resume taking appointments this fall," she said. "My dream is to use the business to be able to give the profits to help orphans and other families that are adopting. I know the talent came only from God, and I want to use it for him."
Genesis also wants to help.
"I read a lot of blogs from families who have adopted or who are adopting, and I try to help raise funds for other kids so they can get adopted quicker," she said.
She's glad she called her parents' attention to the special needs children.
"We were able to give Gabe and Levi a forever family, and I love them both very much," she said.
Life is different these days at the House home.
"Life is very busy now," Lindy said. "It is a lot of work. But three years ago, I dreamt of the flexibility not having babies around would bring me and how I couldn't wait to be able to do things for me. I now know that this life isn't about me."
Her counsel to those thinking about adoption?
"Do it!" Lindy said. "It can be a rough ride with all the paperwork and such, but it is so worth it.
"As I always say: Life is short. Do something lasting with yours."