Becky (Saunders ’89) Browning
The groom’s face said it all. His eyes filled with tears as he saw his bride being escorted by her father down the aisle. This was no ordinary wedding. The bride, less than perfect in most people’s eyes, was perfect in the eyes of her groom. Her father was not the one who had brought her into the world but, rather, had rescued her from the bitter world into which she was born. It was a poignant picture of our own Bridegroom, Jesus, awaiting His Bride.
As a freshman in 1985, I first saw Kathy—a frail, blonde-haired elf of a girl with haunting, sunken blue eyes—as she cowered among a table of enthusiastic, idealistic college students. Volunteers from Houghton’s Allegany County Outreach (ACO) program would bring their “little brothers and sisters” to the cafeteria for the best meal that the children would receive all week.
In my junior year, my roommate’s friend, Kim (Johnson ’88) Worling, was Kathy’s “big sister.” I never desired to be part of ACO, but as Kim’s graduation approached, I clearly felt the Lord’s persistent nudge and reluctantly offered to take Kathy as my “little sister.” I didn’t realize that Kim had also heard the Lord speak to her about someone asking specifically to take her place. The following year, Kathy became a “little sister” to my fiancé, Steve Browning ’89, and me.
Kathy’s living situation was precarious at best. Her mother was mentally disabled, herself a victim of circumstances, trying to raise two children on her own. Both children were severely developmentally delayed due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
It was a never-ending battle to discover where Kathy’s family was living. Her recently widowed mother began moving in with different men, never leaving a forwarding address. Each time, the children were introduced to a new “daddy.” The constant search for Kathy became our routine. They lived in filth, with garbage, dirty dishes, empty beer cans and cigarette butts strewn throughout the house. One of Kathy’s school teachers advised us to forget her, saying that she was too far behind socially, physically and academically and that it was a waste of time to “bring a pig into the house.” We knew there was more to Kathy than her teacher saw; God’s heart was toward this girl. We left the discussion with more resolve than ever.
Steve and I were married in May 1989. That summer, Kathy stayed with us for many weeks while I tutored her and took her to several vacation Bible schools. She was growing, and her starved body began to fill out. She lived in the fantasy that she belonged to us. We told her we loved her but that she belonged to her mom and someday would have to leave.
[epq-quote align=”align-right”]We knew there was more to Kathy than her teacher saw; God’s heart was toward this girl.[/epq-quote]
That winter, Steve was accepted into graduate school in Northern Illinois. We had a few months to prepare Kathy for our eventual separation. We had never seen her act out until one day when we were packing to leave, and I heard something in the kitchen fall onto the floor. There sat Kathy in a heap, sobbing. She wasn’t the only one who was dreading the day we had to leave her behind permanently.
While we were in Illinois, Kim continued the arduous task of keeping track of Kathy. She called us at one point, asking us to pray because the children’s lives were in danger. Once again, God miraculously intervened, and Kathy’s mother suddenly gave up the children to a former boyfriend. We returned to New York for Christmas break, hoping to see Kathy. Kathy’s guardian, Junior, was convinced that she belonged with us. Her mother had signed a transfer of custody to Junior, who then transferred custody to us. Our lawyer informed us that it was the most legally flimsy document and that, if her mother called telling us to bring her back, we would have 24 hours to return Kathy to New York.
An amazing peace from God came over us. We knew that a call could come at any moment, but we did not fear it. In the few months that she had been living with us, Kathy had made huge strides in her education. While she was still far behind her peers, she had discovered the joy of reading simple words and adding simple numbers. Months passed, and we were informed by our lawyer in New York that a custody hearing was called for Kathy. Through yet another series of miraculous events, her mother signed papers granting us irrevocable, permanent custody. Our “little sister” became our daughter.
Kathy is now 36 and a lover of Jesus. She and her husband, Don, recently purchased their first home and a new car. Last November, she was named “Employee of the Month.” Kathy’s life, once described as worthless, has been transformed by her loving Heavenly Father who delights in His precious children. n
Steve and Becky (Saunders ’89) Browning ’88 live in Chester, Illinois. Steve teaches middle school history and computers. Becky has been homeschooling for the past 19 years and operates a music studio from their home. Besides becoming Kathy’s parents in 1991, Steve and Becky have three other children, Arik, Kira (who is a graduate student at The Greatbatch School of Music at Houghton), and Kendall. Becky’s story about Kathy, “Polka Dots on the Inside,” is included in the anthology Learning to Lean: True Stories of God’s Grace at Work Today (Defender Publishing, 2017).