Love times a hundred

A couple show Christ’s love through fostering special-needs infants.

Amanda M. Klemp

Describing Shirley and Bob Polinske is easy. Faith is not merely a part of who they are; it is how they live. They had love to share and made it their life’s mission to show that love in their own way.

Love in their hearts

The short version of their life story is this. The Polinskes got married in 1956 and started a family. Shirley gave birth to seven children, two of whom died in infancy. After their babies went home to heaven, Shirley and Bob started fostering infants . . . more than one hundred over the years (they lost count along the way), many of whom came to them with severe medical or cognitive conditions. The Polinskes loved them, nursed them to health, and then said good-bye as the babies went to adoptive families. More than a hundred times they made a child their own and said good-bye, just to do it again.

The Polinskes started fostering babies in 1969. After having two infants die, one from sudden infant death syndrome and one from hydrocephaly, they realized they had a place in their hearts to care for babies who needed a loving home.

“Because we couldn’t have any more children of our own and we always said we were going to have 25—it’s kind of goofy—we just wanted to give our love to other children who needed it,” says Shirley.

The first few babies they took in were healthy babies who, because of adoption procedures, needed a temporary home before going to their permanent families. Then they started getting placements of infants with special needs.

“Once we started taking special-needs babies, that’s what we got from then on, because it’s harder to find people to take care of those babies,” says Shirley. “We had some babies who had tubes in their stomachs to get fed and tubes in their noses. It’s all stuff that the doctors were even shocked with. Every time we went to the doctor with a new baby, it was something worse.”

As Shirley poignantly says, “They were babies whom no one else wanted.”

She continues, “We fixed them up, and they got adopted. I say ‘fixed them up;’ they weren’t cured, but they were happy and they got parents.”

Shirley says caring for their son who had hydrocephaly trained them to care for all these other babies who needed that kind of special love, attention, and medical care. “We figured we might as well make use of that training,” she says.

It wasn’t easy. The Polinkse family experienced the heartbreak of saying good-bye to a new family member over and over again. Having children leave the home, even when you know they are going to loving parents, “feels like a death in the family.”

“We used to say, ‘Oh, we can’t do this anymore,’ but then the phone would ring and we’d say yes right away. We just had a love in our heart, and God trained us how to do it so we had to keep doing what God taught us to do,” says Shirley. “The easiest part was you always get a new child in to give your love to, and when you see them make progress and smile, that smile just eats your heart out. You love it.”

Love in their home

Among all the infants in and out of their home, two stayed long-term. John was one of the first special-needs infants they took in. He had cerebral palsy and severe cognitive limitations. He couldn’t do anything physically when he moved into the Polinskes’ home. As he got older, he became strong enough to be able to sit up and be in a wheelchair. Shirley jokes that he was a “temporary” placement.

It was just a few years ago, when John was in his late forties, that Shirley and Bob had to make the tough decision to move him to a group home. As they got older, their own health started to limit their ability to care for John. They still visit him every week. “He’s got so much love in him; his eyes just glow when we come to see him in the group home,” says Shirley. Even though John was never legally adopted, John is considered part of the Polinske family.

Michael, another young boy who came to live with the Polinskes, was legally blind and couldn’t walk. As he progressed, he was able to move around and eventually walk. It took years to get through the system, but eventually, the Polinskes adopted Michael when he was eight years old. “Our most precious moment was when we got to adopt our own foster child, Michael,” says Shirley.

The physical limitations haven’t held Michael back. Though legally blind, he still has some peripheral vision and now works as a computer programmer for a large financial company.

More love to share

With so many babies cared for and so many miracles witnessed, according to Shirley, the formula is quite simple: “Give them a lot of love, and they’ll respond. Love and attention and make sure you raise them in God’s name, that they know God.”

But how did they continue taking in children, knowing the challenges and good-byes ahead? “God’s always there. He gives you the strength to carry on no matter what happens. Whatever he sends, it’s a blessing because someday we’ll meet him up in heaven and that will be our glorious ending,” says Shirley. “We learned that we’re capable of loving each other and putting our faith in God to carry us through when we felt like we couldn’t do it anymore.”

After caring for more than one hundred infants, Shirley says she still wants to hold babies any chance she can, but now, she’s happy to hand them back to their parents when they start crying. The Polinskes had to retire from caring for infants, but Shirley’s penchant for hugs shows when she attends her church, Redemption, Milwaukee. Both Bob and Shirley still have love to share. Shirley says even grown-ups need hugs, and her arms are open.

Most people would consider what the Polinskes have done in their life together to be extraordinary and extraordinarily difficult. When they speak about it, they don’t sugar coat the hardships and blessings, but it is engrained in who they are. For them, the extraordinary was just an ordinary demonstration of Christ’s love.

Staying up all night with sick children, watching them in pain, being with them at the hospital through surgeries and treatments, giving them hugs and cuddles, and then saying good-bye . . . what kind of faith is needed to do that? The type of love-filled faith that Shirley and Bob have.


Amanda Klemp is a member at Gethsemane, Davenport, Iowa.


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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

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