A baker's dozen

To say that Misty Neeley and Kristin Kujda love children is an understatement.

For the past three years, Kristin and Misty have opened their home to 13 foster children. Some have gone back to their birth family, others have chosen to go elsewhere and others have aged out.  Of those 13 children, they have adopted one and are hoping to adopt two other children currently staying with them.

Upon entering Kristin and Misty’s home, it was obvious that structure is important to their lives. With three children under the age of five, it is a necessity. Abraham, their adopted son, went to bed promptly at 7 p.m. with no fuss, no fight. After Abraham went to bed, the other two children, whose names are being withheld from this article pending adoption, also began the process of going to bed. 

Anyone who has been around toddlers knows the difficulty often associated with trying to get them in bed for the night. However, in the Neeley-Kujda home, that difficulty is practically non-existent. Misty and Kristin are good parents. Their love for parenting is obvious.

Kristin and Misty met thirteen years ago in 1996 in Toledo, Ohio, where they both grew up around a Catholic environment. They have been a couple for eleven years, and were married seven years ago. Misty is the introvert; calm, level-headed, and articulate. Kristin is the extrovert who has an opinion on everything and isn’t afraid to voice it.

“In Toledo, my family went to church two times a year, once at Christmas, and once at Easter," Misty said. "However, they now live in the Nashville area, faithfully attending a non-denominational church, and often assist us with baby-sitting and doctor's appointments." 

Kristin's story is similar.

“My family, and there were ten of us, was Catholic too. But I don’t ever remember going to church with them regularly,” she said.

While living in Ohio, the couple wanted church to play a more important role in their lives. However, as a gay couple, the options available can be limited. Fortunately, Misty and Kristin found Central United Methodist, a Reconciling Ministries Congregation, an arm of the United Methodist Church that embraces the GLBT community.

When Kristin and Misty moved to Nashville in 2004, their search for a Reconciling Ministries Church landed them at Edgehill United Methodist, where Judi Huffman is pastor. 

“Edgehill is a 45 minute drive for us, but it is worth it," Misty said. "Once we started going, we fell in love with it. In the past two and half years, we’ve missed church only twice."

“And boy did we feel it those weeks,” Kristin added.

Before becoming adoptive parents, Kristin and Misty attended foster care classes so they could be foster parents first. The first child they fostered was a teenage girl. 

“The Department of Children’s Services felt it would be better for this girl to be with two women," Misty said. "They did not want her to be with a man due to various issues surrounding her case. The Department of Children’s Services looks at our family a lot. But they treat us like we are a normal family. In their mind, we are a couple who keeps the children safe, healthy, clean, well-dressed and loved.”

“They are supportive because we are good parents," Kristin said. "They know they can trust us.”

However, Misty realizes the fact that they are a gay couple might occasionally be an issue. 

“I’m not saying it isn’t ever discussed… I’m sure it is. But with over 8000 children in state custody, it isn’t a legislator who has to call and find an available home," Misty said. "It is the Department of Children’s Services. They know they can stop by anytime and check in on our family.”

Both Kristin and Misty want to make it very clear that the Department of Children’s Services is not an adoptive agency. That organization's priority, if it can be done safely, is for a child to be returned to its birth family or a relative first. If not, then adoption is the next step.

When Abraham arrived, the couple's adopted five-year old, he arrived with significant behavioral issues. 

“He was hell on wheels," Kristin said.

“His clothes were dirty, his head was shaved, and the birth mother had no desire to parent him," Misty said. "But fortunately, we still have a good relationship with her. That made the adoption process much easier."

As Abraham entered school, it would be understandable if Kristin and Misty had some anxious feelings regarding their acceptance as a gay couple raising children. However Kristin feels they have had no difficulty with Abraham’s school. 

“Mount Juliet Elementary, which is part of the Wilson County School System, has bent over backwards for us," Kristin said. "They treat our family so beautifully.”

It is that same love and acceptance of their family that has kept them so active at Edgehill United Methodist Church. 

“Kristin and Misty’s heart for children is evident to all who know and love them and their extraordinary family," said
Pastor Judi Hoffman. "They are constant in attendance in worship and Sunday School, and committed to raising their children in the church. They are a real treasure to our congregation.”

Kristin, who grew up in a family that was not active in church, realizes the importance of a church family. 

“There is no way we could be the parents we are without the church," Kristin said. "The church gives us understanding and acceptance. This family comes with a lot of issues… but Edgehill makes a lot of accommodations.”

Misty and Kristin are just one example of a gay couple successfully raising children in a Christian home. They feel called to do this.

“I truly believe all kids deserve a permanent family," Misty said. "They need somewhere to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas, somewhere to come home to during college break, and somewhere to know they are fully loved and accepted.”

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