Doug and Julie Bowling served as house parents for WinShape Homes for thirty-two years. Let that amount of time sink in for a minute. That’s 280,506 hours that Doug and Julie Bowling spent pouring their lives into raising children in their home.
When Doug and Julie were just 22 and 23 years old, Truett Cathy saw their heart for children. In their early years with WinShape Homes, Truett witnessed the love, stability, and routine they gave each child who came through their home at Woodbury Cottage. Seventy-five children went through that home, and each one experienced the love of a father and mother and what it meant to be a family. The impact of Doug and Julie’s time with WinShape Homes will be felt for years and years to come.
After their retirement we were able to take some time to ask them a few questions that gave us a glimpse into their experience serving as house parents. Here’s what Julie had to say on behalf of the couple.
How did you know you were called to be house parents?
Doug and I both started working with children while in college. Doug was attending Belmont University and worked with kids in church ministry, and I was at The University of Tennessee and worked with children at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. We began to see that helping children work through things in their lives was both challenging and rewarding. At the ages of 19 and 20, we began to see the Lord in these situations, and as the years rolled on, we dedicated our lives to children’s ministry. Looking back, I would say the desire was so strong within both of us it was hard to deny that God was pleased with our career choice.
What was it like to work directly with Truett Cathy? How did he impact your experience in that role?
When we were 21 years old we got married, and Doug joined me in working at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. After a couple of years, we came to love the idea of WinShape through my sister, who was a WinShape College Program student (1989). After learning all about the vision of WinShape Homes, we were able to interview with Truett Cathy.
We immediately fell head over heels in love with the Cathy family, and Truett became the most influential person in our lives. He was full of confidence in us, which in turn pole-vaulted us into a 32-year ministry. Truett called weekly and challenged us to overlook negative feelings we had.
He prayed with us and told us often that he knew the kids would do great things because of us and his program. He knew every child’s name. He knew their interests and hobbies. He had a special relationship with each one in our home. He took the kids on limousine rides, brought gifts to them, bought beach houses, took the older kids on trips, planned parties and shopping trips, had spend-the-night parties at his home or his house on Mountain Campus.
He stopped by our house monthly to hug the kids and to see us. We were well taken care of, and we felt his genuine, authentic passion for foster children. He would have chats with us on our driveway as he would leave our house, and tears would stream down his face as he thanked us. When we turned to go back inside to continue, we always felt rejuvenated. Mr. Cathy was one of a kind. He was the real deal.
What has sustained you through over 30 years of being house parents?
The one thing that has sustained us for 32 years would have to be the kids. God is our sustainer…but the kids kept us here generation after generation. They relied on us to be their parents and be there in the morning and be there at night. They depended on us for every aspect of their lives.
No matter how hard it was with their different behaviors or our need for normalcy, they kept us here. We loved them and could not bear the thoughts of leaving them. Today we are blessed with so many grown adult foster kids who call us mom and dad, and so many foster grandchildren. Our lives are full.
Looking back, what are the most significant things the Lord taught you over those years?
God taught us about His love — His love for us and his love for the whole world. What a friend we have in Jesus! Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. All people are the children of God. Introducing that concept to the hurting and broken children is such a privilege, and to think that God loves me and loves Doug enough to trust us with that responsibility…what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Everything means everything.
If you could encourage anyone out there who is fostering or works in a group home, what would you say?
I would give a big hug and a big kiss to anyone who is fostering children. I would say to them, “You are special. You are doing a very precious thing.” I would encourage them just to let the Lord guide them from within. During hard times and during great times, He is there. He will never leave them or forsake them.
Anything else you would like to share?
Our favorite scripture will always be Psalms 27:10: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.”
Parents on this earth are a shadow of the real thing. The real thing is Jesus. He is our ultimate parent. He will step in and make all things right. Trust in that, and you will have peace that passes all understanding.