Utah, Mormon parents of 18 children share story of love, family and adoption

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

LeAnn Williams, a good friend who has been in the Walkers' Mormon ward in South Jordan for the past eight years, said one thing that impresses her about the family is how well-behaved the children are.

"A large family like that, it's just amazing," she said. "When you go in their home it's fairly peaceful. They are a really organized family."

She described Deanne as fun, spiritual and sincere, and Doug as "just a really good guy." She said the relationship between the husband and wife is very loving and supportive.

"(They are) just a really steadfast, faithful family that just amazes you," she said. "Their desire to have these children and what they went through to get them is just astounding."

By the time they reached kids nine and 10, the Walkers constantly had people telling them they needed to write a book about their family. Deanne Walker's first reaction was a big "no."

"I don't have time," she remembered thinking. "I'm barely keeping my head above water here. I don't have time to be writing a book."

But Doug Walker thought that at least starting a blog would help spread awareness about adoption and maybe give them a chance to share the gospel.

In 2007 he started a blog for his wife, titled "It's a Wonderful Life" and online at itsawonderfullife-walkers.blogspot.com, but it took four years for her to begin writing.

She said for her, the hardest part of blogging is opening herself up to judgment and trying to get over her "perfectionist syndrome." But faith, prayer and the hope that she might touch someone for good have kept her going.

She said two strangers who they had never heard from before recently commented on one of her posts, saying it was exactly what they needed to hear.

"There's always that little bit of anxiety," Deanne Walker said. "But always the constant reminder of I could make a difference today."

The Walkers said their decision to have such a large family has completely changed them from who they once thought they would be.

"It's not the big, beautiful home anymore," Deanne Walker said. "It's not dressing nice, having the praises of the world. It's refined us. It's altered how we think. It's altered what we value."

However, they said there have been times when they look at people and wonder what "could have been" had they decided to do their lives differently.

"We did go through a phase for sure where we really struggled," Deanne Walker said. "And we would look at those families with three and four kids, OK, even five or six, and think, 'OK, we could be almost empty-nesters. We could go away for a week at a time. We'd be going out to dinner. Oh, think of the car we'd have, I could drive something other than a 15-passenger van!’ ”

But she said they had to stop this thinking.

“Those thoughts brought negative feelings," she said. "There was no gratitude in any of those thoughts. And when we realized how bad that was for us to think that way, we committed to each other we would not let ourselves go there anymore. That we were going to be grateful for where we were and the blessings Heavenly Father has given us. But with the greatest blessings come the greatest challenges. And so we’re going to look at those challenges as great blessings, and we are going to fill our lives with gratitude. Our thoughts will be focused on gratitude, not, 'If we only had …' because those are weeds. And they take over fast.”

The Walkers recently started a nonprofit organization, My Gift of Love, to help birth mothers connect with LDS families. They said they hope their agency will be able to make adoption more affordable and to help mothers find suitable, wholesome homes for their children.

"There's kids in a far-off country that we can turn our back on," Deanne Walker said. "We can live our entire life and not even think about them. But they're children just like you and I once were. They're children just like my children in this home. They are every bit as deserving as any biological child I ever had. And that's exactly why it's hard to say no."

The Walkers said they don't know exactly why God has chosen them to raise such a large family, but they are happy to do his work.

"I think because he takes everybody's talents and he uses them to the fullest," Deanne Walker said. "And somehow we must have, in the pre-existence, developed talents for parenting. And so he's using us to the fullest."

Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Email: epalmer@deseretnews.com

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