“This isn’t a ranch story, but the more personal story of Roger and I. Because it’s personal, in some ways, it’s difficult to tell. We are thankful for where God has brought us and pray our story will give someone hope.
I grew up on a large ranch in Southern Oklahoma. My parents’ ranch motto was ‘raisin kids, cattle, and quality horses,’ and they meant it. I’m the second of five kids raised ‘free range’ style, and I’m the only girl. The boys and I helped on the ranch, participated in every 4-H activity, played sports (my track coach called me ‘Sunshine’), and competed in rodeos. A rodeo scholarship brought my dad from Iowa to Oklahoma State University, where he met my mom. My parents had an afternoon wedding and made it to Amarillo that same night for my dad to compete. Rodeo is in my DNA. I competed in 85 rodeos my senior year of high school, but that’s another story.
I was a happy kid who rode good horses and had big dreams. One of my dreams was always to have a family of my own. I love children. I was nine when my brother Jet was born, and ten when my brother Cord was born. They were my baby dolls. I did everything I could to help care for them, play with them, and teach them.
When I was 16, I had a dream one night. I don’t really remember the details of the dream, but when I woke up, I asked my mom, ‘Do they check to see if babies have all their organs when they are born?’ She said, ‘No, doctors just do routine tests to check the health of a newborn.’
I distinctly remembered this conversation when, the summer before my freshman year of college, I spent ten days flat on my back in a hospital. I underwent countless tests and five surgeries: a rough summer. I learned my female organs had never fully developed when I was an infant. I knew in my heart God had prepared me mentally for the life-changing news. I could never bear the children I had always wanted…
My parents raised my brothers and I going to church. My family and community put value in faith, and it shaped me for the better. The spiritual seeds planted in me would take root and anchor me through the eye of the storm.
I went to college in Texas, earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History, and taught 4th and 5th grades near Dallas. I loved my job, the people I worked with, and especially, my students. Living in the city was very different from how I grew up, but it was new and exciting.
I got married in a large ceremony with six bridesmaids in formal, royal blue gowns and a huge reception complete with ice sculptures. However, the marriage wasn’t so pretty. It proved to be very, VERY difficult. The man I married had so much going for him, but suffered from major bouts of depression. He began easing his pain with alcohol. His life spun out of control and mine was caught up in the downward spiral. It is very painful to watch someone you love destroy themselves.
I was raised with a faith, but faith is only valuable when you learn how to use it through trials. With countless tears and hours spent praying, I learned to lean on God like never before… There came a point where my husband just couldn’t drink enough. His behavior became more unpredictable. I came home one evening and walked in on him in bed with another woman. (Cue George Strait’s ‘Unwound’)
To my parents’ credit, they had an idea of what I was going through but did not interfere. They knew it had to be my decision to end the marriage. When I called my dad and said, ‘I need your help,’ he was quiet just a moment and simply said, ‘We’ve been waiting for your call.’
Roger, like the famous Will Rogers, is a blue-eyed Okie with Cherokee heritage. He grew up in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma, with his parents and two younger sisters. He fell in love with cattle at an early age. (One of our neighbors says Roger never met a cow he didn’t like, and it’s true.) Roger spent every day after school, and weekends, helping his dad and grandpa with their herds. He has great memories of his family working cattle, and then, enjoying a big meal of homegrown beef and vegetables from his grandmother’s garden.
Roger’s love of cattle and ranching is rivaled only by his love of hunting. He is an expert hunter and tracker. In addition to the ranching, Roger was a 4-H member, involved in church, and played eight-man football at his small high school. Roger is outgoing, quick with humor, great at math, and a risk-taker. He is also the wisest and strongest person I know. I could be partial, but he has proved it to me over and over again.
Roger graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Agriculture Economics and Business. He began a career as a commodity trader, trading grain and feed ingredients across the Midwest. He married during his senior year of college and started a family.
Roger, always the entrepreneur, moved his family to southern Oklahoma and started his own commodity trading business out of a spare bedroom. His business grew to a larger office with other traders and support staff. He loved growing his business and spending time with his family. Roger was excited to be accepted into the prestigious Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program (a two-year program where leaders travel and learn across the US and internationally). He had no idea how his world was about to turn upside down…
That spring, Roger’s wife was excited about her college graduation. His daughter had just celebrated her 9th birthday with a Tweety Bird themed party. His son was almost five and loved baseball. It was a wet, rainy spring in Oklahoma. There were impending storms the weekend Roger had to be in Kansas City for business. His wife and kids went to visit her parents for the weekend.
Sunday evening, he called to check on his family, and there was no answer. Without cell phones, he waited and tried to call again. No answer. He called his in-laws to find out what time they had left to make the two-hour drive home. They should have been home. He waited and called. Still no answer. He had friends go check on them at the house. Rain was coming down hard, and no one was home. He was worried and, at midnight, headed home from Kansas City. He arrived there at daylight to find the house empty. No one had been home. He went to the police station. They couldn’t help because ‘they hadn’t been gone 24 hours.’
He decided to look for them himself. He and two friends started backtracking the road they would have taken home.
He drove and searched the roads for any sign of a clue. Nothing. Then, about 30 miles from home, he saw tracks. Tire tracks where a car had skidded off the road. He saw the tracks. He saw the busted wire fence. And, he jumped from the vehicle and took off running. He ran down the steep embankment, and down the bank of the creek. He ran, and his heart pounded, and… he found them.
On a dark, rainy night, the car carrying his family had hydroplaned off the road and into the rushing creek. The swift current and flood waters had trapped them inside and swallowed the car. Everything Roger loved was gone, and he clung to God for strength and comfort.
20 heifers. When Roger faced such tragedy in his life, he prayed (a lot) and bought 20 heifers. During the day, he could distract himself with work, but it was excruciatingly hard to come home to an empty house. Every night, Roger would leave work and go take care of his 20 black heifers until dark.
Roger and I had a mutual friend who was convinced we were perfect for each other. That summer, I had moved back to Oklahoma, and she tried to get us to meet several times. We were both uninterested. She called me one afternoon and said, ‘He’s here! Come meet him.’ I literally knew nothing about Roger except his first name and that he was a widower. I thought, ‘I’m getting this over with so she will leave me alone!’ I was at the barn riding. I tied up my horse and went to town looking very much like I had come straight from the barn. When I walked in she said, ‘Roger this is Nikki. Nikki this is Roger. So, when do y’all want to go out?’ So much for easing into conversation! We both found our way out of the situation. She didn’t give up. She set it up again for us to meet. This time, we had a chance to talk.
Roger called me the next morning to ask me out. When he picked me up the next night, it took us about 20 minutes to feel totally comfortable together. We had a lot in common, and each of us just wanted someone to go to the movies or eat out with. We loved each other’s company. Roger’s heart was healing, and I was learning to trust again. Every evening, we would stop at the convenience store, get a ‘juicy pig’ (a barbecue pork sandwich), and go check on those 20 heifers… together. The 20 heifers God used to heal our hearts. The 20 heifers that would start our herd here on Callison Ranch.
There came a point when Roger and I were dating when I had to tell him. I had to tell him I couldn’t have children. I knew he had loved being a father, and I knew he hoped to one day be a father again. It was so hard to tell him. I was afraid—afraid of what he might say, afraid it could be a deal breaker for him. I consulted my mom who couldn’t believe I hadn’t already told him! ‘You have to tell him and soon,’ was her wise advice. I knew she was right, but I was afraid.
One evening, I sat beside Roger and, with tears in my eyes, I told him all about it. The truth about me. He looked at me with those kind, blue eyes, and a bit of a smile. In his typical, very matter-of-fact rancher/cowboy way of looking at life, he said, ‘Nikki, I’m looking for a wife, not a mare!’ Well, there you go. In that moment, all my fears melted away. Fear is a liar, and it had convinced me my self-worth was tied up in what I could not do, not in what I could do. Roger saw the latter. A little over a year after we started dating, Roger held me in his arms and whispered in my ear, ‘Will you be my wife?’ My answer is obvious.
We looked for land to buy for our new life together. We found 100 acres with a house that had been empty for a while. The place had possibilities. The gates were locked, but we climbed the fence and looked around. I told Roger, ‘The house is too big for just two people.’ He said, ‘Then we will fill it up with little people!’ We bought it, and it has been our home for almost 20 years.
We were married in a small ceremony with friends and family, then had a reception on our land. A new ranch and new life called for a new brand to symbolize our love. We chose a Roman numeral two with a small ‘c’ attached. The Two C brand is placed on all our cattle. It represents us: Two Callisons’ second chance at life.
When you want children and can’t have them, your heart aches with every reminder of little ones. Moms with their children at church, families at the grocery store, a pregnant mother at the bank… the reminders are everywhere. Baby showers are the worst. You are happy for others, but you long to hold your own children.
Roger and I knew we wanted a family. We started the adoption process right away, because it can sometimes take years. We did our ‘home study’ through the Department of Human Services (DHS), but had decided to look into international adoption. We were all set to go to Russia when God had other plans.
This part of our story still amazes me in how God can work in ways we can’t even imagine. Roger’s mom has worked for the Natural Resources and Conservation Services (NRCS) for years. When Roger lost his family, a memo was sent throughout this government agency expressing condolences. A man who worked for NRCS, on the other side of the state, read about the tragedy. This same man would change jobs and work for DHS. It was in his hands the fate of three little siblings, born in three consecutive years, would fall. He lived hours away from us and had never met us. He was looking to place these three children in a forever home, and he read through the stack of home studies on his desk. When he came to our home study, he recognized my mother-in-law’s name and remembered the memo from his days at NRCS. We were the first to get the call. ‘We have three siblings who are healthy and legally free. We think y’all could handle three, and we want to keep them together.’
Only a year and a half after we were married, Roger and I waited in a small gray room to meet the children. It was the most nervous and anxious I have ever seen Roger. We waited a long time, since we were early, and the kids were late. Finally, they arrived. We were led to a very, very small room with some chairs and a few books and toys. We had just about an hour with them, then we would have to wait two whole weeks to see them again. We would have taken them home that day!
We barely slept those two weeks, trying to get the house ready for three little ones. Finally, on April 19th, the children were brought home. They showed up in a minivan, with nothing but a paper bag with their things: a change of clothes each, a football, and one doll. I am forever grateful to a sweet woman who has since become my dear friend. She barely knew me, but took it upon herself to gather donated clothes, two highchairs, and other necessities. She brought them to our home that night, along with dinner and encouragement.
We had thought it might make an easier transition for the kids if it was just the five of us that first weekend. We expressed this to Roger’s parents, who live over three hours away. They had lost their only grandchildren in the accident and, bless their hearts, they asked, ‘Can we just drive down, sit in the driveway, and look at them?’ Naturally, we invited them to spend that first weekend with us.
We suddenly had a four year old, a two and a half year old, and a 16 month old. Our lives changed in ways we never imagined. The kids had absolutely no sense of structure, discipline, authority, or personal space with strangers or family. We had our work cut out for us. To use a ranching analogy, they were like three wild colts that had never been halter broke. The first three months were an exhausting blur. There were more than a few tears, and they were mainly mine. We went from just Roger and I, to having three sweet children—who we instantly loved, but barely knew. It is a strange and wonderful feeling.
When the kids came to us, we spent a lot of time teaching them what family is all about. I would tell them, ‘Daddy and Mommy help each other, and we all stick together. We are a family.’ My son, who was four, would just stand with his arms to his sides, limp when I would hug him. I began getting on my knees to hug him, and I would tell him, ‘Put your arms around Mommy and squeeze me like a teddy bear.’ Now, he gives the best hugs.
One of the hardest things to help them with was their sense of strangers. They are outgoing anyway, and had been in foster care for a year. In foster care, they were expected to go with any caseworker who picked them up and, naturally, receive love and care from whoever was keeping them. The problem for us was they didn’t respect parental authority. They would ask me for something at a store, and if I said ‘no,’ they would keep asking random strangers looking for a ‘yes.’ Or, they would just run off and not come when I called them. Once, Kaitlyn hid in a circular clothing rack at a department store, and I couldn’t find her. I wasn’t sure if she was hiding or had left the store! Finally, a store employee found her. I would have to physically hold on to my son while I put the girls in a double stroller in the parking lot before grocery shopping.
We never knew how the kids would react to situations. We took them down the road to a neighbor’s house to see their puppies. The kids started crying and wouldn’t get out of the vehicle. The next week, we got our own puppy so the kids wouldn’t be afraid. Every day was an adventure. But, you know, we all survived it. The kids learned and so did Roger and I. One piece of advice given to me by another mother was helpful. She said, ‘Eat when they eat, cry when they cry, and sleep when they sleep.’ It’s also helpful to know, as a mother (or father), all you can do is your best, and then let God take the rest. My dad told me, ‘Nikki, I’ve learned with my five kids, each one comes pre-wired, and you just have to help guide them through life.’ There is a lot of truth to that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nikki Callison. It originally appeared on her Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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