No one knows what trials or struggles they will face as they continue down the path of life. However, members of the Clevenger family live day-by-day by the saying that God won’t put more on you than you can handle.
Many people throughout the Headland community are familiar with Johnnie and Donna Clevenger as caring, loving and compassionate parents. Not many people, however, know the whole story behind the Clevenger family.
The couple married 15 years ago. Recently, the couple has faced many challenges. The challenges have brought the Clevenger family closer.
The Clevengers began to foster children after they married. Donna had one birth child and she knew the couple had more than enough love to share with other children.
“We’ve fostered several — and I mean several — children over the years,” Donna said. “In 2010 we adopted our first child. We fostered that child for some time, and when we heard that child was going up for adoption, well, we had to see about adoption. When you foster a child, you fall in love with that child. We knew that child was a member of our family, so adopting the child was a must.”
Over the years, the Clevengers expanded their family to include nine adopted children.
The couple considers the children their children.
“Just because I didn’t birth these children doesn’t mean I love them any less,” Clevenger said. “We love all of our children the same. They are truly gifts to me and Johnnie.”
Clevenger said the children have been a source of strength for the couple during difficult times.
In 2017, Johnnie was diagnosed with cancer. After taking radiation and chemo, he was later diagnosed as cancer-free. The cancer returned in 2018. Surgery and treatment were successful. However, his cancer returned for a third time in January and now he is fighting terminal cancer.
“After Johnnie was told the cancer was back he began taking maintenance treatments, and now he is currently on a feeding tube and has to have oxygen. Some days are better than others, but days like today, he doesn’t have the energy to stay awake," Donna Clevenger said.
The cancer news was a setback for the family. In April, the Clevengers experienced an even deeper pain. Donna vividly remembers receiving a call that their daughter, Chloee, was involved in a bad car wreck.
“When I got the call, I was just told she had been involved in a wreck,” Clevenger said. “I had no idea what I was going to see when I got to the scene. It was awful. When I was told my child was gone, it felt as if that man had reached through my chest and just twisted and grabbed my heart out. Our world changed that day, and it will never be the same. A part of our family is missing. Our entire family is hurting and that hurt does not go away.”
Since Chloee’s passing, the family is leaning on each other.
“Johnnie hasn’t talked much since the accident,” Clevenger said. “I know in his mind he is thinking he is next, and I know he is worried about us. That’s what kind of man Johnnie is. He is a loving, caring and giving man. Johnnie is a dedicated family man who has always stood strong in his religion. However, now he is a father fighting a battle of losing one of his children, but he is also fighting cancer. He is our gentle giant.”
Clevenger credits the family’s strength to God and those close to them.
“I don’t know what we would do were it not for our children, church family and members of the community,” she said. “The local churches are keeping our family in their prayers and a few churches have even brought us food to help out. As for the members of the community, some have donated funds to assist with Johnnie’s medical expenses and Chloee’s funeral. I thank God every day for those who have helped us. Without the help we have received, I don’t know what we would have done. When it comes to our children, the smile they give us, or just to hear them say 'I love you', that gives us strength to go on.”
Medical expenses continue to pile up for the Clevenger family along with the need for school supplies and school clothes for the school-age children. An account has been established at HNB First for those who would like to contribute.
“Our children know things are tight and tough right now,” Clevenger said. “They understand we don’t have the money to buy new clothes and other items for school, but these are children, and every child wants a new outfit, shoes, and school supplies for school. To know we can’t do that right now is heartbreaking.”
Although the Clevengers are worried about school expenses, they know other things are more important.
“The only thing our children ever wanted was love and a home,” Donna said. “Our children have a home and they have love, lots of love. Not only do they have love, they love us. Their love is what keeps the family going and that love is priceless to me and Johnnie.”