"How many miles away is Sonic?"
I stared, dumbfounded, as they told me the nearest Sonic was ten miles out of town. Kevin patted my leg reassuringly. "Well, you'll learn to enjoy the drive."
We were newlyweds and newly graduated, interviewing for a Residence Life Director position for Kevin in Middle-of-Nowhere-Close-to-Sonic, Kentucky.
They chose another candidate, and our lives forever shifted, allowing us to keep the roots we had been cultivating in Jackson during our stay here as college students. Jackson is the town where we met, dated, fell in love, and got married. It's the town where we lived in a less than ideal apartment together while we saved money for our house. And that house is where we've welcomed neighbors, friends, and foster children.
It's the town where there are not one but six Sonics within eight miles of my house. What more could a person want from a town?
Kevin and I have chosen Jackson to be the launching location of some of our craziest dreams and passions. It's here that I kept a steady job as he launched his business, and for the past three years, it's been a blast to watch the community fully embrace our company and trust us.
It's the town where we've volunteered with our church's youth group for a decade. We've had a front row seat to all that has entailed. We've had a mom from East Jackson ask us to take guardianship of her teenage son who had joined the church. She couldn't keep up with the demands of holding a minimum wage job and a child who was struggling to find his place in the world.
Our house is where a middle school boy from Lincoln Courts asked me how I got my microwave to stick on the wall. (It's mounted above the stove.) It’s where he asked for a spoon, and I pointed to the drawer; he stared, mesmerized by the matching silverware. It’s where his friend pointed to the front bedroom and asked me if he could live with us; he had already picked out which room he wanted.
It’s here that God opened my eyes to an incredible pain in our city—the pain of children making beds out of dirty clothes and taking advantage of every meal because they didn't know when the next would come from. My heart changed.
As a result, I slightly altered my job trajectory so that we could more fully invest in our next "crazy" passion: surrendering the material blessings and emotional capacity God has given us to become foster parents. The process starts with long and boring classes; culminates with a ridiculous number of people traipsing through your house, nit-picking your safety features; and ends with a stranger showing up with a kid, having you sign a piece of paper, and then leaving. And there you are. With a child.
I still remember that November day in 2016. We sat across the kitchen table from a beautiful, blue-eyed, six-year-old girl, her small laundry basket of mismatched clothes on the floor.
She smiled all evening as we painted pictures at the table together. She cried for her siblings as we put her to bed.
And I wept. A lot. I cried for the pain that this six-year-old would now feel for her entire life because of her parents' poor decisions. I wept for the other children all over our community and state that were told by a stranger that they had to live somewhere else for an unknown amount of town.
In Tennessee, twenty-two children are taken into custody every day. That's twenty-two children who wake up every day, safe in a foster home but not knowing when or if they will see their mommies and daddies again. They don’t know where their siblings are. Oftentimes they didn't even get to say goodbye or grab their favorite stuffed animal.
The first week of being "parents," I did everything I could to keep everyone happy. Even though we had only seventy-two hours to complete a long list of DCS required actions, including a full health checkup, enrolling in school, and purchasing clothes and school supplies, I still showed up to work every day. Kevin and I made dinners, explained how to wash hair, found a bedtime routine, and, at the end of every day, I cried myself to sleep to text messages from church members praying for us.
When Kevin and I first got married and were looking for a community to call our own, a quick and easy access to Sonic was one way I judged a town. Oh how badly I undervalued the strength of a true community. One, like Jackson, that rallies behind its residents as they become entrepreneurs. One that shows up with toys when they find out that a six-year old has been brought into the family.
Here in our town of six Sonics, I found my support system for what turned out to be the most difficult twelve months that I've ever lived. Community members who heard about our new addition showed up with Barbies, pillow pets, and coloring books. Neighbors I had hardly spoken to brought school workbooks. A coworker gave us a bike.
I don't think we could have embarked on the journey of starting a business or accepting a foster placement without this town that we have grown to love so deeply. This town has supported us through heartbreak and triumph, through our most difficult decisions and the zaniest of days. It's a town full of heart, compassion, and a deep desire to unify and work toward a better future, and we're beyond grateful to be a part of it.
After graduating from Union University, Renae Adelsberger and her husband Kevin decided to make Jackson their home due to their love for their church, nonprofits, local businesses, and abundance of Sonic drive-ins. Read more of her work on her personal blog.