Our family’s story begins long before we do. A long, long time ago, in a country far, far away… The Czech Republic to be exact. That’s where the Mares name comes from (after a misspelling at Ellis Island). Fast forward several years and you’ll find a boy named Bill growing up in northern Illinois. He always hoped to work in racing, but never imagined he would have 7 children!
A few hours south of where Bill grew up, there was a girl named Kris. She grew up in two different Illinois towns. At one point, her mom actually worked at the hospital that Bill and Kris’s eldest daughter was born at. As a teenager, Kris knew she wanted to adopt kids one day, but never imagined she’d be living in North Carolina. In fact, she was never, not ever, moving there.
Fast forward to college. It was a Friday the 13th and Bill was going on a date with one of Kris’s friends. Kris and another friend tagged along. They met on a street corner. Bill spent more time talking to Kris that night than his date! A friendship started that lasted through college, through other dating relationships, and through Kris’s first marriage.
One day, during the time period Kris was in her first marriage, and after Bill had moved to North Carolina, he was driving back to Illinois for a visit. During that trip, Bill spent time talking to God about finding a life partner and clearly heard God say “You will marry Kris.” Bill’s response? “But she’s married!”
Meanwhile, Kris’s fist son was born. As much as Ajay was a blessed gift to Kris and her first husband, they found themselves at a place where their marriage was over. Before Ajay turned one, Kris was separated from her first husband and learning to live life on her own.
On Christmas Eve 2002, Bill was once again driving from NC to IL, calling friends along the way. Bill called Kris, first getting an answering machine, later getting Kris on the phone. That night was the first of many late night calls and the start of a new relationship.
Eventually, Kris made her first visit to NC. Long-distance dating was hard, but Bill was persistent. Kris was often unsure and hesitant, yet Bill was patient. Bill moved to Kentucky to work with a race team. As calls and visits continued (even after a broken off engagement), Kris was finally ready to say “Yes” and on a Friday the 13th in 2005, Bill and Kris said “I do,” agreeing to love God, love each other, love Ajay, and build their family together.
Little did they know what that would entail! In 2006, Kris began working in children and youth ministry. In 2007, Allison joined The Mares Family and Bill and Kris began a financial journey that would forever change them. It was also the year that, at the same time during worship, Bill and Kris both heard God speaking a calling into their family life – foster care and adoption.
In 2008, Allen joined The Mares Family. Their little 3 bedroom house was getting full! Bill and Kris also met their eldest daughter when she moved in with a foster family in their church. In 2009, God worked out the timing for Bill and Kris to take the foster care licensing class. That summer, Cat moved in and they all lovingly referred to their house as “The Shoe” (after the nursery rhyme about the old woman and the shoe).
2010 brought SO. MUCH. CHANGE. Cat officially joined The Mares Family. The race shops in Kentucky all closed up and Bill started looking at moving back to North Carolina. So that summer, half-way through a pregnancy, Kris packed up the house and the family and made the move to North Carolina. Their rental house ended up being in foreclosure, Kris didn’t have a job, the Kentucky house wasn’t sold, and Bill was working for a low-budget (and low salary) team.
But God worked it out. Alex was born. The Kentucky house sold. In early 2011, Kris got a part-time job where the youngest kids could join her. Bill and Kris were able to purchase their rental house that was in foreclosure. Bill got a better job. Through it all, the bills were always paid.
As Bill continued to follow his call to work in the NASCAR industry (even though it meant a LOT of team changes), Kris began to follow her call into ministry. In 2011, Kris began classes at Hood Theological Seminary. She began serving as a United Methodist pastor in 2012. The kids continued to grow and family life went on. NASCAR, seminary, church ministry, kids activities… The Mares Family was busy. God’s grace was abundant.
Bill and Kris again felt the call to foster and adopt. Cat was launching into the world on her own. The other kids were older and doing well, so Bill and Kris began to work toward their foster care license in NC. Through a series of events that only God could have orchestrated, Elaina and Ayden joined The Mares Family in 2016. Although the house is bigger, it’s still full!
Now, 15 years into marriage, Bill and Kris have learned a few things. God math is always best. Parenting is a journey that is always changing. Marriage is work. Kids are their own people. God’s grace is abundant.
The Mares Family story is so much deeper than the words typed here, yet the one constant has been God’s love. Through tight budgets, hard days, busy schedules, uncertain decisions, early mornings, late nights, too many job changes, and a myriad of feelings, God’s goodness has always been. The Mares Family story continues on.
“[L]ead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”Ephesians 4:1