God, If You’re There . . .

None of us knows and that makes it a mystery
If life is a comedy, then why all the tragedy
Three-and-a-half pounds of brain try to figure out
What this world is all about . . . 

God if You’re there I wish You’d show me
And God if You care then I need You to know me
I hope You don’t mind me askin’ the questions
But I figure You’re big enough
I figure You’re big enough
 . . . Cause I’m not big enough 

~ Chris Rice, “Big Enough”

This tornado of emotions is swirling, swirling, swirling. My head, heart, my very soul want the spinning to stop just long enough for me to at least identify what I feel.

I catch a glimpse of sadness. What a weak, pitiful word that is. It doesn’t even come close.

Ahh, yes . . . there’s anger. So much anger. At whom or what? I’m not sure.

Helplessness. An abundance of helpless frustration over not being able to do anything. Nothing at all.

Hopelessness. Where can we possibly go from here?

And questions. What will happen to her now?

The email came just a couple of hours ago. There will be no sleep for me tonight.

We would’ve named her Jasmin.

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Our Jasmin as a baby

In 2003, her beautiful eyes penetrated deep places in my heart, and those marks will always be there.

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Kissing a stuffed giraffe that we were able to send to her

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Those eyes – hauntingly beautiful

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A visit with our girl. She was, understandably a little unsure about me

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She felt safer with Scott for some reason

After a long, painful, agonizing three-year struggle to bring her home from her Eastern European birth country — to give her our name, the new labels of “daughter”,  “sister”; and a family, really and truly, of her own — we were finally forced to accept the fact that she would never leave her country.

She would be forever labeled “orphan” in a country where that’s a dirty word. She would be shunned and mistreated all her life.

Request for adoption denied. Her dossier was returned to us. I remember that day so well. The end of all hope. All adoptions in her country stopped. So many children were left behind when those doors slammed closed.

That was in 2006.

Through the years, we were able to glean little bits of news here and there. We prayed for her. We tried to find ways to get help to her. We held onto hope that someday . . .  maybe . . .

And we thanked God that she was at least in a foster home where she was deeply loved. She felt wanted. These heroic foster parents were not in a position to adopt her and give her their name, but they made great sacrifices to do what they could to provide care for her spina bifida and clubbed feet. The treatment options there were nothing like what we have here, but they did what they could.

They tried to protect her from the cruel, hateful attitudes toward orphans and persons with special needs that, to this day, pervade her still-Communist-minded birth country.

This was a comfort to us. It made such a difference for her.

Then tonight . . . .

The email said, “ . . . she had to be placed in a different home . . . they moved her! . . . It was so hard for her . . . She was with them for almost 13 years!!!!”

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The foster brother that Jasmin grew up with

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These two were so close. And now they’ve been separated – probably for life

This child — this daughter in our hearts — is now over thirteen years old. She has no memory of living with anyone but this foster family. And now, for no reason that can be justified in any way, she’s been snatched away and placed in a home full of strangers as part of a foster system often comprised of families who really don’t care at all — who are in it for the regular checks the government provides.

They even moved her to a different city where everything is completely unfamiliar to her.

WHY???? WHY???? How can this possibly be good, God??? Are You there? Do You hear the cries of Your people?

How does a young teen girl cope with this?

And why can’t I cry? The tears are there. I feel them. They are dammed and trying so desperately to get out that I feel actual physical choking in my throat and chest. Why won’t they flow?  Where is the release I so long for?

I know tears used to come more easily.

And now this dreadful, heartbreaking news draws my mind, irresistibly, to the mental list of other lost Rosenows.

Cristian. Soft, gentle Cristian with his precious almond-eyed Down’s face. Also trapped in the same country, but hidden away for years now in a mental institution — if he’s still alive. I know a bit about mental institutions in developing countries. I’ve prayed that God would take him. He would be safe then. There would be no terrifying sounds of screams in the night; no risk of being tied in chairs; no days of wasting away covered in feces and urine; no dangers of molestation and abuse. Maybe God has answered that prayer. I don’t know.

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Baby Cristian – a life full of hope because he was wanted

Cristian

Such a happy boy at this point in his life. He had no idea what horrors were ahead for him.

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Such beauty . . .

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A precious opportunity to visit with our son – to begin getting to know him.

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Playing toys with the man who longed to be his daddy

Evan. Lost forever in his Central American country. Did he succumb to the inevitable consequences of his untreated spina bifida? I don’t think we’ll ever know. I want him. The last time I saw him he was eighteen-months-old, and he was beginning to really connect with us. He never even knew how loved and wanted he was.

Evan - foot

Evan’s adoption had little hope from the beginning but we had to try. And we fell so in love with this boy.

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One of our visits with Evan. I loved this boy with all my heart from the beginning

Our

Our last visit with our son. We never saw him again.

So happy. Where is our boy tonight?

So happy. Where is our boy tonight?

Aidan. We tried so hard, not once, but twice, to bring that incredibly beautiful little boy home from his Asian country. For his own privacy, I won’t share pictures of him because, thankfully, he did come home to another family. After we were given no reason for the denial of our request to make him our son, we were, thankfully, granted permission to try and find someone else to adopt him. And we did. We disassembled the crib that was waiting for him, packed away his clothes that were hanging in his closet, placed his teddy bear lovingly in a box. Our kids wrote letters to a brother they would never know, their grief flowing freely as they professed their love and expressed their feelings about losing this baby brother whose picture had hung on our wall for over a year.

Lauren. Oh, we fought so hard for Lauren. It was such a race with the clock. And we lost. Her very sick little heart finally gave out. We were with her when she died in the same country where we lost Evan. We watched as her tiny casket was placed into a crypt in what is known as the “Wall of Babies.” We cried until there were no tears left when they placed a stone on her crypt that said,

Laura Rosenow
Con amor de tus padres
Katherin y Scott Rosenow

It didn’t matter that they misspelled her first name. They gave her our name! This stone proclaimed to the world that this broken little baby was wanted. Loved. No longer an orphan. Our daughter.

Lauren's burial stone

Lauren’s burial stone

Lauren - sleeping

Lauren when we started her adoption

Kathy with Lauren 1

A visit with our girl

Looking right into my eyes

Looking right into my eyes

Scott holding Lauren and Evan together on one of our visits

Scott holding Lauren and Evan together on one of our visits

At the hospital - just before her last surgery. She was looking at me and cooing. This was the last time I saw her alive.

At the hospital – just before her last surgery. She was looking at me and cooing. This was the last time we saw her alive.

Lauren's tiny coffin arriving at the cemetery

Lauren’s tiny coffin arriving at the cemetery

Her coffin was placed in this crypt, and then the crypt was sealed closed

Her coffin was placed in this crypt, and then the crypt was sealed closed

The Wall of Babies where our little Lauren's body is buried

The Wall of Babies where our little Lauren’s body is buried

Even Raiza. It all started with Raiza in 1997. Our journey into the world of adoption began because of her presence in our home. She was never available for adoption. We knew that when we agreed to foster her multiple times through the years. I never told her just how my heart bled with the desire to adopt her. I didn’t want to cause more pain and conflict for her as she drifted back and forth between our home and her birth family. But I did long for this. I prayed for a miracle that would make it possible. It would’ve been a good thing for her. But it never happened. Even today . . . . even though she is now twenty-five years old  . . . she is one of my daughters in my heart. But I can’t get to her. I can’t be with her. I can’t really even help her.

Raiza when she first came to us

Raiza when she first came to us

Scott, teaching her to ride a bike

Scott, teaching her to ride a bike

Part of our family forever - even if only in our hearts

Part of our family forever – even if only in our hearts

Back with us again as an older girl

Back with us again as an older girl

Even as our family continued to grow through adoption, Raiza came and went.

Even as our family continued to grow through adoption, Raiza came and went.

A family outing not long before she left us for the last time

A family outing not long before she left us for the last time

Raiza -- All Grown Up

All grown up now, and distance keeps us apart

I’m so tired. Oh, God, I’m so very tired. I want to accept this calling with grace and beauty and child-like faith. I want to believe Your words when You say things like:

“  . . . in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

I want to hold onto the promise for my lost children when You say:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”  ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I long to feel the truth of:

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:29-31

I know these things in my head. You have proven them to me over and over through the years, even as we crawled through the trenches to bring home the seventeen jewels that You did give to us.

But my heart is in pieces tonight. It can’t feel the reality of Your promises. My prayer tonight is this:

God, will You bring the tears? Please. That sweet release would allow me to begin to grasp these truths — to genuinely see and feel Your true character and love instead of this twisted view of You that my hurting soul is holding onto. And then, Father Who loves my children and me more than any human mind can comprehend, would You give me the ability to trust You — to believe You when You say that You will work all things for good, including the situations that seem to be all things opposite of good? 

Would You hold my lost babies tonight? I believe with all my heart that You brought them to us. You crossed our paths and called us to love them as only parents can love. The cost of accepting that call has been great — far greater than I ever expected when I obeyed You. But You promised that it would never be more than we could bear with You at our sides. Please make that truth real to me. Drive it deep, deep into my heart where it will drown out all of the screaming pain and the lies about who You are. 

Hold our lost ones, God. Breathe on them. Bring people into their lives to love them, help them, show them the way. And please, please, if this isn’t Your plan for them, then take them Home to be with You. 

I don’t understand. But I can say these things to You. I can ask for Your help. I figure You’re big enough . . . 

And now I hear one of my little ones crying in her sleep. I will go to her. But who will go to my lost little ones if they cry tonight?

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Show-and-Tell Family

“Prove yourselves to be blameless, . . .  children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15

Multiple wheelchairs, forearm crutches, a leg prosthesis designed to draw attention, a white cane, a special walker, a precious little girl with a very misshapen body, multiple skin colors, various eye shapes . . .

We are never an invisible group when we go out in public, at least twenty of us stretching half a city block as we parade across wide intersections and along winding sidewalks.

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Headed to a Cincinanti Symphony Orchestra concert

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Waiting to cross a major intersection

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Crossing the pedestrian bridge to the zoo. Scott leads us — the tall guy WAY up at the front of the line.

A closer look will also reveal scars from repaired cleft lips and the fact that one of those wheelchair occupants has severe CP and cognitive disabilities. The beginning of a conversation will gradually alert one to the fact that one of the seemingly “normal” adults, actually has severe developmental disabilities. Awkward for the adult “child” and for the person suddenly trapped in a conversation he can’t find a graceful way out of.

I’ve read so many posts lately from parents of children who have special needs or have been adopted (or have special needs and have been adopted.) These protective, hurting parents share stories of ignorant people in grocery store check-out lines, distracted baristas at coffee shops, or bullies on the playground — all of them staring at their children, asking personal and insensitive questions, or using the wrong terminology when trying to converse about the child’s disability or adoption.

I understand the protectiveness. I understand the hurt. I understand the tedium that comes from never being free of the bug-under-glass feeling. I understand the need to teach our children how to stand up for themselves and answer these people on their own someday. But are we really doing that when we respond militantly, smugly, sarcastically?

There seems to be an awful lot of chest thumping among some parents who take pride in the fact that they “put people in their place” when they feel that their child has been violated in some way. These are parents who claim to follow the Christ who commissioned them to be lights in a broken world.

Are we really being lights?

We get all the questions, too. We get plenty of stares. We get comments that could be interpreted as cruel. We have even been on the receiving end of comments that were hurled with a genuine desire to be cruel, to hurt, as they pierced a Rosenow heart.

The typical questions go something like this . . .

Are they real sisters? 

What happened to his leg (which isn’t even there)? (Our favorite sarcastic response is, “Backorder.” or “Oh my GOSH! Where’s your leg, son?”  But this post is about not answering militantly or sarcastically, so . . .)

How many of those children are your own? 

You must be rich and live in a huge house to have so many kids! (Why do people, instead of thinking, “Wow, it must be tough to provide all those shoes and diapers and groceries for that many people!” almost always think, “They must be rich!”? I never understand this.)

What made you decide to do this?

“Their real mothers didn’t want them??” 

“How did you pay for all those adoptions?!”

“You homeschool?! How do you ever plan to go to college? How do you learn to talk to other people? (You mean, like the way I’m talking to you right now?)

There are also the people who just stare and avoid saying anything. They’re just too uncomfortable to even engage in conversation at all.

Is it ever wearying to be the show-and-tell family?  Do we ever wish we could just drift out into the world like a “normal” family and not have to answer any questions?

I would be lying if I didn’t say yes.

Sometimes I let myself slip into places of self-pity and dream of just being an anonymous, invisible, normal American family.

Sometimes we all would like to just take a family outing to the park or to the mall or shoe store and not be noticed (a little hard when we walk out of the store with twenty-plus pairs of shoes and the kids have to stand in a long line as they wait for their turn to get into one of our vans).

Our growing pile of new shoes at Shoe Carnival

Our growing pile of new shoes at Shoe Carnival

And sometimes, it is healthy to go as a family to a very private place where we can have a break – for just awhile. Sometimes we do just that.

But we can’t stay there. This is the life God has given us. This is where we live. 

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
~ C. S. Lewis

One of the toughest things for me is when people stare at our little Lilyan’s very deformed body. Her personality is so incredibly winsome, and she has zero embarrassment at this point about how she looks. She just believes that the whole world loves her to death, and she typically greets everyone who crosses her path with a wave of her little hand, eyes full of light and love, a hearty “Hello!,” and a smile that’s beautiful beyond description. Most of the time, this overshadows their initial shock about her body, and they are won over, heart and soul, seeing nothing past that smiling face.

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Lilyan, opening a birthday present

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Lilyan with one of her best friends, our dog Saxon

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One of many, many tests always being done

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The Lilyan that most people see.

But sometimes we meet people who are so terribly shaken when they first see her. They get stuck at, “Oh my! What’s wrong with that little girl’s body? What could cause something like that?!” 

Sometimes we see even more than shock or curiosity. Sometimes we see disgust.

Lilyan doesn’t appear to even notice these people yet. But she will eventually. What do I want her to know by the time that happens? What do I want to teach her about how to handle these situations when they come. When she’s hurt? When none of her family is there to run interference for her?

What do I want all of my children to know by the time they face the world on their own?

I want them to know in the deepest places of their souls that they are beautiful and created in the image of God; that God made them perfectly and designed them for His own noble and good purposes; that He wants to use them—just the way they are—to reach a lost, hurting, confused, mean, broken world.

I want them to know that they are loved forever by the God who made them, and by the family who fought, cried, prayed, and worked hard to come and bring them home.

I want them to know that they are priceless jewels shining like the sun in the midst of this dark, twisted, temporary place we all call home.

I want them to exude love; shine like the children of the King that they are; be living examples of the Jesus that they represent here in this world.

But if I teach them, by my own reactions, to be sarcastic, hurtful, caustic when they respond to these people, am I really reaching for my above-mentioned goals?

Many years of experience in the public has taught us that, truthfully, most of these people are not intentionally being mean. Most of them are just ignorant about disabilities, adoption, homeschooling, and how to word their questions, as they try bumblingly to express interest.

Some are honestly touched by what they see and fumble a bit as they look for a way to tell us that. And there are so very many times when an encounter that could’ve ended with angry words and hurt feelings becomes an opportunity for us to tell what God has done in our lives — an opportunity that leaves us feeling like the ones who walked away with a special blessing. Other people are only trying to satisfy their curiosity and not really interested in hearing much past the answers to their blunt questions.

Either way, we believe that we have a God-ordained responsibility because of the platform on which He has placed us, to be a light for Him. Part of our calling, and part of our children’s calling, is to help people understand the world of special needs and orphans and how God fits into that picture.

We should be teaching our children to listen! They have to learn to get past their own insecurities and self-focus, and even their hurt, and really hear what people are saying.

Why did that person use the words he used to ask that question? We have to learn to, and teach our children to, look at people with compassion — trying to understand where they are coming from and recognizing that there might be many reasons why they don’t have the education or knowledge needed to ask a question appropriately, using the currently accepted “politically correct” terms (don’t even get me started on that soapbox – so sick of the PC terms topic!).

Why do we so quickly assume that the intention is to hurt? Where is our respect for other people—even if they may not be addressing us in a way that we feel is respectful?

Our kids, for the most part, have great attitudes about who they are, as well as grace, compassion, and confidence in responding to other people. And even though we may all chuckle together in the family room in the evening as they relate conversations to us that took place at Target (or science class, or in the neighborhood) that day, they have almost never been hurt by the questions they hear. Usually, they are amused.

Colin can explain, when people ask why he has a cane, that he needs it because he is blind.  Why is he blind?  Because he was born too early and developed ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity).

Colin Braille Bible #3 - Cropped

Colin, doing some Braille reading

Nathan has always been pretty natural about sharing the in’s and out’s of living with a prosthetic leg and loves designing them alongside his creative and gifted prosthetist.

New prosthetic leg, designed by Nathan and his prosthetist - Shredder from TMNT

Shredder from TMNT – new prosthetic leg, designed by Nathan and his prosthetist, Rob

Even Kathryn has learned to tell people that she has “CP.” 

Beautiful Kathryn

Beautiful Kathryn

PT Session - May We Help #9

Kathryn with her doll Daisy – both in their wheelchairs

However, there are some people out there whose intentions really are to hurt. The world is full of people who don’t know their Maker and don’t care for the feelings of others — people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down. Our children need to know this and be prepared to experience this someday.

But if we can teach them to be confident about who they are in God, they will be better able to move through painful times like this without any real damage; and even be able to feel compassion for people who have never experienced the love of their Father and therefore don’t know how to pass this love on to others.

There will be times when we do need to stand up to people like this. Even then, though, it should be done firmly but in love, asking God to help us choose the words He would have us say to best illuminate truth, glorify Him, and maybe open up some minds that were previously very closed — doing all without sarcasm and a militant stance.

Also, I believe that it’s critical that we handle, and teach our children to handle, deliberate maliciousness differently than we handle well-meaning people who just don’t think through their words before speaking. Have you never felt your cheeks burn with embarrassment and shaken your head in disbelief at your own stupidity in blurting out something that you suddenly realized was insensitive, or worded badly, or just ridiculous? I certainly have! More times than I care to remember!

A compassionate, understanding heart that is confident about God’s sovereign plans for us — one that responds in love — will be a better educator to the world than one whose goal is to put another notch on it’s belt for blasting one more person who, in ignorance or a moment of inconsiderateness, chose their words badly.

We must be lights to a watching world and teach our children to do the same — for their sakes, and for the world’s sake. Our children are beautiful and have so much to offer. What a travesty it would be if we should stunt their ability to do that because of our “momma bear” protectiveness or a desire to win a one-upmanship battle of words.

“Let your light shine before men; let your good works be such, that when men look upon you, they shall know that you have been with Jesus.”
~ Charles Spurgeon

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Looking at God in an Odious Shape

“If you think God is against you and delights in your misery, it is impossible for you to love Him. The great reason many do not love God more is because they look at Him in an odious shape, and tremble at the thought of Him. We must write His love deep in our understanding. He is infinitely and inconceivably good. A clear sight of God’s merciful nature gives assurance of our happiness.”

“God is love.” 1 John 4:16

This morning, during my quiet time, I read this quote by Richard Baxter. It was written almost four hundred years ago, but it describes where my heart was a little over thirty years ago when my brother was killed very suddenly at the age of twenty-three. I was stuck there for almost two years, and then I, again, teetered on the edge of this mindset a few years later when our first special-needs child was born to us. The excerpt below from our book, “Swaying in the Treetops” (still not published) gives the details. (Scott and I wrote the book together, but we chose to write it in his voice to avoid confusion.) It’s long because most of the chapter is included in this excerpt

(Excerpt): Chapter 1
Hidden Miracles

Sometimes miracles hide
God will wrap some blessings in disguise.
And you may have to wait this lifetime
to see the reasons with your eyes,
’cause sometimes miracles hide.

Sometimes Miracles Hide
by Bruce Carroll Word/Epic, 1991

Some of the most interesting things in life begin unexpectedly. A phone call. An e‐mail. A comment from a friend, and suddenly the course you’re on changes, and your life changes with it. One such change-of-course happened to us through a series of circumstances which, as a whole, proved to be pivotal. This series of circumstances was many years in the making, as God carefully, meticulously wove the tapestry of our lives into a picture vastly different than the one we imagined at the beginning of our married life.

Kathy and I were both raised in Christian homes and professed faith in Christ while still young. We went to the same high school in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, though I was two years ahead of her. I was, in fact, best friends with Kathy’s brother, Gary, and this friendship brought me often into their home. It would be difficult to name just exactly when I began to notice Gary’s younger sister Kathy, or when she began to notice me. I believe I noticed her long before she noticed me, but I couldn’t prove it. I began to look for ways to “happen to be” over at Gary’s house, and in time, both Kathy and I began manufacturing “reasons” for the two of us to end up together. By the fall of 1975, we both realized that we were absolutely crazy about each other. As young as we were, we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. In January of 1976, I headed off to begin my tour of duty in the Navy while Kathy was still in high school, and we were forced to conduct our romance long distance, via letters and occasional visits when I could get leave and afford a plane ticket. As 1976 rolled on toward 1977, we made our wedding plans.

We were married almost immediately after Kathy graduated from high school, in June of 1977, while I was serving in the Navy. About a week after our wedding, we loaded up my car and I dragged Kathy nearly eight hundred miles away from the only home she had ever known, where she would begin life as the wife of a sailor stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, an Army base in a part of the country she had never even visited before. In many ways, this isolated beginning was one of the best things that could’ve happened to us, because it forced us to learn to fend for ourselves and to depend on one another for almost everything. We were young and hopelessly in love, and poor, and just as happy as we could be. As the years have gone by, our love has grown and deepened through all of the trials, struggles, and victories we’ve experienced together. And we remain deeply in love and the very best of friends all these years later.

I had two and a half years to go on my tour of duty when Kathy and I were married. I served out the balance of that time at Ft. Meade in Maryland, and I never gave the notion of extending or re-enlisting a second thought. I knew that military life was not the life for me, and Kathy felt the same. Upon my separation from the Navy, we moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where, thanks to the provisions of the old GI bill, I enrolled at the University of Alabama as a Mechanical Engineering student; Kathy began work as a dental assistant, an opportunity made possible by the training she received while we were living in Maryland. The transition from life on a military base to life on a major university campus was fairly smooth and natural. My school load was not too difficult, and we were having a lot of fun getting used to this new life and looking forward to the future we were envisioning for ourselves. Truthfully, we were not at that time living a life worthy of servants of Christ. We weren’t living immorally, but at the same time, church attendance and prayer were not priorities for us, and we were not living the biblical model of the Christian home. We were just happy to be rolling along, mostly on our own, doing occasional lip service to our faith. In the vernacular, we were still baby Christians; we had been born again, but we had not grown at all in spiritual matters. And then came one of those phone calls, one of those unanticipated occurrences that changes the course of your life.

USCGC Blackthorn
Tampa Bay sits nestled on the western side of Florida, about 100 miles southwest of Orlando. It is a large bay that is home to both Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as a host of smaller, lesser known cities. Spanning the bay across its southern end is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a 5 1⁄2 mile long structure connecting St. Petersburg on the north with Terra Ceia on the south. The center section of the bridge is high and open, providing a passage for shipping traffic through the Tampa Bay channel, which connects the bay with the Gulf of Mexico. For about three months at the end of 1979 and into January of 1980, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, a 180-foot buoy tender stationed in Galveston, Texas, had been in dry dock at the Tampa Bay shipyards, being completely overhauled for continued service in the Coast Guard fleet. On the evening of January 28, 1980, Blackthorn was finally headed home, making her way out of the bay via the ship channel. As the cutter approached the Skyway bridge, she had to move over into the center of the channel to make room for the passage of Kazakhstan, a brightly lit and fast-moving cruise ship also steaming out of the bay. The seas were calm that evening, with a temperature of 61 degrees and a light breeze from the north. Shortly after Blackthorn passed under the Skyway bridge, with Kazakhstan’s deck lights blazing ahead of her, Blackthorn’s officer-in- command noted the approach of a large vessel coming toward them, inbound in the channel. This approaching vessel was Capricorn, a 605-foot tanker loaded with 150,000 barrels of fuel oil bound for a power station within the bay area. For reasons that remain somewhat unclear to this day, the men in command of both of these ships acted in apparent confusion, with the result that the ships collided less than a mile west of the bridge. The initial impact rocked Blackthorn but appeared to have no significant effect; some of the crewmen were shaken up, but no one was seriously hurt. According to standard procedures, general quarters were sounded and the crew members rushed to their assigned duty stations. Unknown to everyone involved, a fateful consequence of the impact between the two ships was that one of Capricorn’s two seven-ton anchors lodged itself in Blackthorn’s hull. Following the collision, Capricorn continued to drift into the bay, and as she did, her slack anchor chain gradually played out—wrapping itself under Blackthorn’s hull. Once the anchor chain had played out to its full extent, it went instantly taut, and when it did, the drifting tanker jerked the much smaller Blackthorn under the surface of the water, pulling her straight to the bottom of the 50-foot-deep channel. Serving on Blackthorn that night was Gary Wayne Crumly, age 23, Quartermaster Second Class—Kathy’s only brother.

Early on the morning of January 29, 1980, Kathy and I were awakened by a phone call from Kathy’s mother—that life-changing phone call I alluded to above. She was calling to tell us of the wreck of Blackthorn. At the time of her call, Gary and twenty-two other crew members were missing and presumed still on board. We jumped into our car and drove the two hours home to Birmingham to be with the family while we waited for news on Gary’s status. The next three weeks are still something of a blur for all of us. After the first few days, Kathy and I returned to Tuscaloosa where Kathy continued to work and I continued attending classes. We would live our seemingly normal life from Monday until Friday, when we would pack up our car and our dog and drive back to Birmingham to be with Kathy’s family again—and to hope for some news—until Sunday night, when we would drive back to Tuscaloosa to do it all over again. A liaison officer from the Coast Guard was dispatched to keep the family updated on developments, and there was a regular stream of visitors at Kathy’s parents’ house, offering prayer support and bringing food for the family.

There were times when we would all sit together and try to make quiet conversation, laughing about funny things Gary had done or said, reliving memories as a family, encouraging each other to hang onto hope that he would be found alive. Other times we each found places of solitude, or we would sit in a silent group, staring at the fire in the fireplace, trying not to let our minds go to the dark places or dwell on the horrific possibilities that seemed to become more likely with each passing day, trying not to lose sight of our belief that God would answer our prayers and bring Gary home to us. And we all spent so much time praying, individually and together, that he might somehow, miraculously, be found alive. We knew that there were stories of survivors of shipwrecks who had found large air pockets within the submerged vessels, and we could imagine that somehow Gary might have found such a pocket and was just waiting for the ship to be raised. Or he might have been swept away by the current and have landed on some strip of land somewhere, and was making his way back to civilization. The details were not of concern to us; we just knew that we were praying, in faith, that God would save Gary in this ordeal.

Day after day, we waited for news that the ship had been raised from the bottom of the channel. After a couple of weeks, Kathy traveled with her mother and father and sister to Galveston, Texas, to spend some time with Gary’s young wife, Glenda, who was essentially all alone during this tortuous ordeal. As the days passed while they were all in Galveston, Kathy and her family began to face the growing certainty that hope for Gary’s survival was fading. They spent about four days in Galveston before heading back to Alabama.

The weather in Tampa that winter was completely uncooperative, and day after day, we got reports that efforts to raise the ship had been thwarted. For three long weeks we waited, and for three long weeks, we prayed. Finally, late in February, the Coast Guard was able to raise Blackthorn, and the last whisperings of hope in our hearts were stilled: Gary’s body had been located, still on board. He was found in the map room, exactly where he should have been at general quarters. He had suffered a blow to the head that, in all probability, had killed him before the ship even sank. A large cabinet had fallen and had struck him on the back of the head. He had been dead the whole time we were waiting and praying for his rescue.

Ultimately, we were left with our terrible grief: Kathy’s parents had lost their son; Kathy and her sister had lost their brother; Glenda had lost her husband; I had lost my best friend and my brother-in-law. The pain and sadness and sense of loss that had been building over the previous three weeks now resolved into a deep and abiding grief. We weren’t alone in our grieving: in all, twenty-three of the fifty crew members on board Blackthorn were killed in that accident, which remains the worst peacetime incident in Coast Guard history. Twenty-two other sons, brothers, husbands, and best friends had died, and all of those families’ lives were forever altered, just as ours were.

We have observed, through our own experiences and those of others, that one never gets over the loss of a brother or a child or a spouse, or any dearly loved one; one simply learns to live life differently, with a sort of a hole in the heart. The wound in the heart heals over, but the tender scar remains. I believe that God allows us to go through painful experiences for many reasons, and among them is the reality that through these trials, we learn to trust Him even when things don’t make sense, even when our prayers are not answered in the ways we think they should be, and even when, like Jacob from the Book of Genesis, we walk with a limp for the rest of our lives because of the trial.

It’s difficult to state clearly just how important the accident and Gary’s death were for us, how crushing and earth-shaking. Our upbringing had taught us, essentially, that our faith was the critical element in seeing our prayers answered. Kathy and I—and especially Kathy—were convinced that if we prayed with enough faith during the time Blackthorn lay at the bottom of the channel, then Gary would miraculously be found alive when they brought the ship up. But when they did finally salvage the vessel and Gary was among those found dead, we were presented with a crisis of faith. This crisis of faith may be summarized as follows: we knew that God, the omnipotent One, could have saved Gary if He had chosen to; we prayed with all of our might and all of our faith, believing that God would, in fact, save Gary; Gary died; so, either God was not really able to do what we asked Him to do, or He chose not to, not to answer our prayers—the prayers we had prayed in faith, claiming the promises we knew from Scripture.

The consequence of this line of reasoning was that God was either not really God, because what kind of God is One who is not omnipotent, or He was a God who didn’t care about the prayers of His people. We rejected the former, knowing that it was a logical (and theological) impossibility, and we settled on the latter. The fact that God could have saved Gary and chose not to, in our minds made Him guilty of Gary’s death. This produced in us—and again, especially in Kathy—the reaction that said, if this is the kind of God He is, then we don’t want to have anything to do with Him. Now, there were many who moved in the same spiritual circles we moved in who said that God allowed bad things to happen but did not cause them. To us, it didn’t really matter whether He allowed Gary’s death or caused it; the fact that He could have prevented it and chose not to, in our minds made Him responsible. Again, it would be difficult to state with adequate force the impact of this conclusion for us. Because this was such an emotional issue, our infantile reaction was to turn our backs on this cruel God, whom we had suddenly come to see as if for the first time. We weren’t willing to say that it was all untrue, that there was no God and no reason to seek any sort of salvation; but we were willing to remain indifferent. Maybe there was a sovereign God, but we chose to ignore Him.

This state of spiritual rebellion lasted for well over a year, though in retrospect we can see that God’s Holy Spirit was working in our hearts and in our lives during that whole time. A few months after Gary’s death, while we were still in the throes of our spiritual struggling, Kathy and I decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer to start our family. In January of 1981—on the first day of classes of that winter semester—our daughter Kristen was born. We were thrilled. Kristen was beautiful and bright and precocious, and though she was a sober child, we could tell there was a lot going on behind those green eyes. By the time Kristen was about three months old, we came to the realization that as this child grew, we would have to teach her something about God and religion. We knew that it was time to make up our minds about what we truly believed and who God really was. Ah, the hubris of youth. We smile a bit as we look back at who we were then, with the arrogance to think that it was our place to sit in judgment on God. But our God is infinitely patient, kind, and loving, and He never turned His back on us. Through a series of events, He brought us into contact with the right people in the right circumstances at the right time, and He gently drew us back to Himself. We came to the place where we realized that God’s Word is true; not just theoretically true, but existentially true. What God has to say about things really matters. One of the truths that impressed itself upon us through all of this was that our idea of what is “good” is not always the same as God’s idea of what is good, but that His definition of good is always the right one. It is difficult—even impossible—to express so weighty a truth as God’s beneficent sovereignty in a portion of one little chapter of one little book, and so I will not try. But through all of this we learned that God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We don’t have to understand why apparently bad things happen to apparently good people; we simply have to—we are privileged to be able to—trust the One who alone is sovereign, who alone is wise and good and just. This marked a turning point for us, and even a beginning. It was the beginning of our learning to trust God, even when things didn’t make sense, or didn’t seem fair, or didn’t turn out the way we thought they should. It only takes a few sentences to put all of this down on paper, but as I said, the agonizing process actually took more than a year.

In and through all of this spiritual awakening, Kathy and I slipped pretty easily into our new routine as parents, and life was good. Just before Kristen turned two, I graduated with my degree in Mechanical Engineering, and we were all off on our new life together.

Our introduction to special needs
Three months after I graduated, we welcomed our second child, Erin, into the world, in March of 1983. Erin, like Kristen, was beautiful, but in many ways she was completely different than our first child. While Kristen met all of her developmental milestones naturally and on time, Erin did not. Erin was slow to hold her head up, slow to roll over, slow to sit up, slow to crawl, slow to walk, and slow to talk. Our initial reaction to Erin’s lack of age-appropriate progress was one of concern, but we were assured by her pediatrician that she was simply a bit slow in her development, and that there was no cause for alarm.

When Erin was seven months old, we moved to Slidell, Louisiana, where I was starting a new job. Shortly after we got there, Erin developed a mysterious fever that turned out to have been caused by a severe urinary tract infection. After several months and a host of diagnostic procedures, it was determined that she had a condition called bilateral vesicoureteral reflux. This condition means that urine from the bladder back-flows up into the ureters, which are the tubes connecting the kidneys with the bladder. The condition can be so severe that the urine flows all the way back up into the kidneys and can lead to kidney damage. Erin’s severe infection, in fact, had resulted in significant damage to her left kidney. We were pleased to learn that her overall kidney function was normal, but the left kidney thereafter was only able to do about 25% of the total load; the difference was made up completely by the right kidney, which simply increased its capacity in response to the need—a tangible example of the wonder that is the human body as created by God. Erin ultimately, at the age of three and a half, required major reconstructive surgery to reimplant her ureters and correct the reflux. And thus began our sojourn into the world of doctors, medicine, clinicians, and experts. Little did we know that this sojourn would in due time become a way of life for us.

One of the things that Kathy and I came to realize as we were going through all of this with Erin was that we hadn’t yet “arrived,” spiritually. We still struggled with questions about why. Why would God not answer our prayers for Erin’s healing and for her to enjoy “normal” development? And why were we still asking why? The spiritual walk, we were discovering, consists of gains and plateaus. As we would encounter difficulties, and as a consequence of our wrestling with God over those difficulties, we would grow stronger in our faith and in our ability to trust God. But once we would get through those difficulties, we would often level off in our spiritual progress, and more or less coast for a while. Then the next challenge to our faith would come, and we would again have to wrestle with God and ask questions and confront our own complacency. And so we continued our process of growth in and through the struggles we experienced with Erin. Kathy, especially, struggled much with this. Erin would often awaken in the night crying after having a nightmare, but she lacked the verbal skills to explain what had frightened her so badly. After calming Erin each night and getting her back to sleep, Kathy would lie awake in bed, crying silent tears, begging God to heal Erin and allow her to begin talking to us. Kathy often slept fitfully, having a recurring dream in which Erin would walk into our bedroom and describe in full sentences and great detail the nightmares that tormented her. But this dream remained only that—a dream. Erin did not miraculously begin talking, and Kathy was forced, once again, to face her feelings of anger toward this God she continued striving to trust and follow. There was much more soul-searching and wrestling with God as Kathy vigorously fought for years, with all of a mother’s love and passion, to open up the locked places that kept this precious daughter isolated from the world around her . . .

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Swallowed up in Sweet Surrender

“Ah! Little do you think how God is now about to unfold to you the depths of His love, and to cause your will sweetly, filially, and entirely to flow into His.”

Have you ever felt that lifting of a burden, that freedom, that exhilarating lightening of spirit that comes when you finally feel absolutely certain of a decision, and then surrender your heart and your will to that knowledge? Your agonizing struggle is over, and although you’re still uncertain of the outcome, you know without a doubt which direction you should now be facing and what your next step is supposed to be. You’re ready to confidently embrace the future one step at a time. The peace and the courage that flood your soul . . . ah, this is a moment not to be forgotten. I remember one of these moments so clearly that my heart beats with excitement as I revisit it even now . . . almost a year later. “Do you have room for one more?” 

Lilyan Moriah

Lilyan Moriah

I opened my Facebook inbox one day last year and found this question waiting for me, along with a brief description of a breathtakingly beautiful four-year-old orphan girl who  had been born with a terribly deformed trunk and a multitude of accompanying medical needs. Scott’s and my initial human and fear-driven reaction was, “No. We don’t have room (or money, or time, or energy) for one more.” We were in the midst of one of our most challenging years, ever. Roslyn and Jaden had only been home for about eight months. And those eight months had been grueling. Jaden’s medical needs had taken us to new levels of exhaustion. We felt we had truly reached the end of ourselves multiple times. And we were so very tired. Our hearts ached for this little girl who had never been wanted by a family, in spite of the advocacy on her behalf by numerous agencies and organizations. She, like every parent-less child out there, deserved a home. Parents to love her and devote themselves to her. Siblings to dote on her. Pets to snuggle with. Pretty dresses, special birthday meals, trips to the zoo. We really did want to obey—to be wholly open to following wherever God led—but we lacked the strength and the faith. How could we possibly continue to meet everyone’s needs if we stretched those needs even further? Because we had committed, years before, to opening our eyes, ears, and hearts, and praying diligently anytime God seemed to be placing another child in our path, we agreed to do just this. But we experienced so much fear over the possibility that we might actually discover that God was, indeed, asking us to adopt again. We told only a few people about this and asked them to pray with us, and we continued taking very tentative baby steps in the direction we felt He was probably leading us, asking Him to help us—while still not committing fully or officially to her adoption. One of the people we shared this with expressed his concern for our family and said to us, “There’s a point where this becomes destructive.” This hurt. Actually, though, we knew that it was probably true. But where is that point? We felt that only God could accurately answer this question. So we continued listening for His voice, and only His voice, in our hearts. As we wrestled with our fears and our uncertainty, He slowly began to fill our hearts with confidence and surety about where He was leading and about the validity of trusting Him enough to follow. I still couldn’t shake the fear of moving forward and making a solid commitment, though. And I was plagued with sadness over the fact that I couldn’t seem to release this fear, and experience joy and excitement over the blessing of another daughter. Then it happened. Freedom! That October Sunday afternoon, two months after I had opened that message in Facebook, I was driving alone in the car and praying about this child’s future and our role in that. Suddenly, like flash of light, something happened. Her name came to me so clearly that it was almost as if it had been spoken aloud, right there in the car. Lilyan Moriah Moriah is associated with divine providence. It is the name of the place where God led Abraham when He brought Abraham to the point of seeing his own heart concerning his love and commitment for following God. In obedience, Abraham went to Moriah where God had instructed him to sacrifice his only child—his cherished son, Isaac. Even though Abraham had no idea what God was doing, he trusted God completely—regardless of the circumstances—to make the whole situation right and good and perfect. He didn’t have to know how. He only had to follow and trust. He even said, in answer to his son’s question about the animal needed for the sacrifice, that God would provide one. He was confident that God had this situation under control—that he could trust God to work out all of the unknown details. Once Abraham had acknowledged that he was willing to surrender his hold on this son who had come to him and Sarah in such a miraculous way, God said,

“Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear (revere) God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12) 

And then God provided the sacrifice that was needed. Abraham actually called the place, “Yaweh Jireh,” which means, “The Lord will see to it.” Scott’s and my journey over the preceding two months had been much like this. Even though we felt like we had already given so much of ourselves to God, trusting Him to continue designing beautiful things out of the treasures we laid in His hands, He took us to a place where we were able to see that we still weren’t ready to give Him everything. We were still afraid for the future of our family, being able to meet the needs of our children, our ability to care for this little one as she needed and deserved to be cared for. He asked us release these things, to place them all before Him and leave them there and trust Him to “see to it.”  So I knew with clarity that this child had been chosen to be our new daughter. And I knew that her name was to be Lilyan, which fit our children’s name pattern, and means, “God is perfection.” 

“As for God, His way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30

And Moriah because of the deep, personal journey of the heart that we had traveled to come to this point of complete surrender—where I did finally find waiting for me peace and excitement about what was ahead.

Then, although that moment of release had been so dramatic and real for me that I didn’t really need further confirmation, I was blessed to stumble across this writing by Octavius Winslow four days later. Our hearts had heard correctly.

Can the Believer walk happily, when there is a constant opposition in his mind to all the dealings of his God and Father? 

Oh no! Holiness and happiness are closely allied; and both are the offspring of a humble, filial, and complete surrender of the will in all things to God. 

It is not on the high mount of joy, but in the low valley of humiliation, that this precious and holy surrender is learned.

 It is not in the summer day, when all things smile and wear a sunny aspect; then it were easy to say, “Your will be done.” But, when a cloudy and a wintry sky looks down upon you; when the chill blast of adversity blows; when the heart’s fondest endearments are yielded; when the Isaac is called for; when you are brought so low, that it would seem to you lower you could not be; then to look up with filial love and exclaim, “My Father, Your will be done!”—oh, this is holiness; this is happiness indeed. 

It may be God, your God and Father, is dealing thus with you now. Has He asked for the surrender of your Isaac? 

Ah! Little do you think how God is now about to unfold to you the depths of His love, and to cause your will sweetly, filially, and entirely to flow into His. 

Let me repeat the observation—a higher degree of sanctification there cannot be, than a will entirely swallowed up in God’s. Earnestly pray for it, diligently seek it. Wrestle for an entire surrender—to be where, and to be what, your covenant God and Father would have you.

Only God knows the perfect path for each of us. We would, in our human fear, turn away from so many of the paths He lays out for us and miss too many blessings to even count if we followed our own earthly wisdom. We can’t see past the scary windings and turnings to know what beauty He has ahead, even in the midst of the painful briers and stones and anthills that lay along that path. So we will continue to pray for the courage and the faith to trust Him in all areas of our life. We will place our feet where He says to place them. And He will “see to” all of our needs and our children’s needs along the way. Lilyan Moriah came home to our family in June, 2014, and there has never been a brighter light among us. Her courage and strength and overflowing joy daily inspire every member of our family as she rises above the incredible challenges she faces every single day. Oh, what a gift we would’ve missed if we hadn’t trusted God enough to follow Him down this very scary road. We thank Him constantly for leading us, whispering encouragement to us, making each step clear to us and carrying our daughter home to us in His strong, loving arms.

A mommy and a daddy all her own!

A mommy and a daddy all her own!

Lilyan's first night with her mommy and daddy - and her new teddy bear

Lilyan’s first night with her mommy and daddy – and her new teddy bear

Lilyan and Saxon became close friends almost immediately

Lilyan and Saxon became close friends almost immediately

Just hanging together

Just hanging together

Monkey pajamas just like her brother, Jaden

Monkey pajamas just like her brother, Jaden

Lilyan's first birthday with a family

Lilyan’s first birthday with a family

Ponytails to match her sister, Roslyn

Ponytails to match her sister, Roslyn

This girl loves pink!

This girl loves pink!

Swimming together

Swimming together

So great to play together every day

So great to play together every day

Surrounded by new brothers and sisters who think she is just the greatest little thing

Surrounded by new brothers and sisters who think she is just the greatest little thing

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Ripples

Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.
~ James W. Foley ~

Water Ripples

Her name is McKenna. And she’s just about one of the most perfectly beautiful little girls I’ve ever met. She glows. She has a family now. And there’s much more to her story.

I’m not able to sleep tonight. I’m awake and watching Kathryn on her monitor camera. She’s restless — sleeping, but fitfully so.

As I watch her sleep, I remember the fear surrounding our decision to adopt such a severely disabled child exactly ten years ago. I remember the relief of finally surrendering to what I knew God was calling me to do. I remember our choosing her name in faith.

Kathryn Felicity, “pure joy.”

I remember begging God to fill her with joy and to spread joy to others through her life — in spite of the warnings we had been given that she would always be “a vegetable.”

We asked, and believed, that God would work through her life to somehow further the work of His kingdom and shine light into the world regardless of how severe her limitations might be.

We obeyed, brought her home, fell head over heels in love with our girl, and watched God answer our prayers as He filled her with joy and caused her to defy all of the predictions made about her future.

WithKathryn-Guat               ForPortrait

As I’ve shared before, Kathryn is a very, very disabled little girl. But she’s happy and she brings happiness to others and she surprises the world every day by making fools out of those who focused on the many things she would “never do.”

This was enough for us. We felt that our prayers had been answered. And she was a precious gift to our family.

But God is always working behind the scenes. We won’t know until we get to Heaven exactly how He worked so many things together in this world for His own purposes.

Sometimes, though . . . He lifts that secret veil and allows us a little glimpse. Sometimes when we are most in need of encouragement and a reason to carry on . . . He hears our cries for help and lets us have a little peek.

One such peek happened for us just eight weeks ago.

While sitting at the breakfast buffet in Guangzhou, China, Scott and I were feeding our new little daughter Lilyan and whispering about the beautiful little girl at the table just behind us. I could tell she had cerebral palsy, and she reminded me so much of Kathryn that she took my breath away. Her peaceful face and angelic smile drew me irresistibly to her table where we started a conversation with her new parents who had just adopted her from another province. Dinner with the Nelsons #2

As we became friends with this family, we eventually learned that McKenna’s story is long and winding and absolutely filled with God’s fingerprints and breathtaking miracles. (And I hope they will write it out for the world to read someday.)

But we also learned that her story actually started with Kathryn. Before McKenna was even born. Remarkable!

McKenna’s parents had written to us years before, asking questions about adoption. We had just returned from Guatemala with Kathryn and had apparently written back to them and shared Kathryn’s story. Then we had gone on with life and actually forgotten about this.

But Kathryn’s light shone brightly and lit a fire in this couple’s hearts. We had no idea that they eventually made the decision to begin adopting. By the time we bumped into each other at breakfast that morning, they were in the process of adopting their fifteenth child.

McKenna. Cherished child of God. Rescued from a life of hopelessness because God had so patiently guided us through our fear and given us the courage to step out in faith and bring Kathryn Felicity home from Guatemala. Then He used her life to reach across space and time, creating a ripple effect that would eventually lead McKenna home.

But things didn’t stop there, because McKenna’s parents also shared with us that other families had made decisions to adopt after watching their adoption journeys unfold over the years.

Ripples.

We just don’t know what will happen when we toss that one pebble and let God take it from there.

He always has a plan. And He graciously, lovingly gives us opportunities to be a part of those plans if we will just close our eyes and leap into His arms when He calls to us.

It doesn’t matter how dark or uncertain or terrifying the leap might be. It’s not important for us to know how the leap will end. He — the One who whispers to our hearts to take the leap — knows and has it all planned as part of His design.

What an incredible day it will be when we enter Paradise after completing all that He has here for us to do. Will He allow us to look out over the finished picture and see how He intertwined our lives? How the ripples of our leaps spread and spread until they formed a masterpiece of beauty and glory? Will we be able to recognize the delicate threads of our own faithful choices throughout His intricate work of perfection?

I believe we will.

 . . . And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

Dinner with the Nelsons #1

McKenna with her daddy, and Scott with our sweet Lilyan

Third Day - Guangzhou #9

Lilyan and McKenna, sweet friends – both newly adopted

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Of Mud Pies and God’s Glory

Image

“Sometimes in the country, you will see an old water-wheel outside of a mill. The water fills its buckets, and all day long it turns round and round in the sunshine. It seems to be working in vain. You see nothing that it is doing by its constant motion. But its shaft runs through the wall; and within the mill it turns the stones which grind the wheat, and the bolts which prepare the flour for the bread that feeds hundreds; or runs the looms which weave the fabrics that keep many warm in winter. There are lives which with all their ceaseless toiling, seem to be accomplishing nothing; and yet they reach through the veil into the sphere of the unseen world, and there they make blessing and benefit which value is incalculable. There is a success which is not measured by the standards of this vain world. There is an invisible sphere in which values are not rated by dollars and cents, but by their spiritual and eternal character.” ~ J. R. Miller, 1896

I’ve been awake since 4:20 this morning. We just returned home from China with Lilyan and are still marveling over her story and the wonder of the actual, real-life “her.” She’s amazing, and I’ll try to share more about her and our trip to China in future posts, but for right now I’m struggling with a terrible case of jet lag, and ashamed to admit that I’m quaking in my boots this morning as I think about the year or so I know we have ahead of us.

Lilyan’s medical needs are even more severe and unclear than we expected, and tomorrow we will face the first of an unending stretch of appointments as we begin to get a better picture of where our life will go from here.

But the memories of our son Jaden’s first year at home are fresh enough that I have a pretty good idea what’s coming at us now.

And I feel tired. And scared.

As I was trying to focus my foggy brain on a quiet time this morning, I came across the quote above, and it reminded me of something I wrote almost exactly a year ago, during that really tough time with our new son. I haven’t posted it here, yet, so I’m doing that now.

Re-reading it today encouraged my heart as I try to stop flinching and just rest in the knowledge that whatever is waiting on the horizon for us is part of God’s beautiful story. He already has it well in-hand.

Maybe it will encourage someone else, too.

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“You guys must walk a life of faith. I felt the presence of God the minute I walked into your home. You and your husband are so alive with the power of God, and I’m so blessed and a better man just because of meeting your family today.”

As I sat in the back of the ambulance with our little Jaden and listened to the ambulance attendant say these words, I felt so confused. I wanted to hang my mouth open and say, “Seriously??!! I mean, are you kidding me?”

I remember not so many years ago, feeling like God was painting a beautiful masterpiece as He built our family and ministry, The Shepherd’s Crook, and how He had seemed to be working through our lives to show Himself to other people.

It was a hard life, and some years were harder than others, but most of the time God’s presence was so tangible, and we felt like we could see the incredible piece of artwork He was creating as He wove the threads of our life together day by day.

We felt like His fingerprints were so visible to a watching world, and we regularly asked Him to make us worthy to serve as His ambassadors.

This was what we had longed for when we made that commitment to give God every aspect of our lives as a sacrifice and when we told Him that we would follow Him anywhere He led us—even if we couldn’t see where we were going.

But during the year or two leading up to this encounter in the back of the ambulance, we felt we had been battered about so severely that we were just scrabbling to survive every day and to maintain some kind of a grasp on God and our faith.

There were times when we clearly felt His hand moving through our lives as He brought new children into our home and still sometimes brought big answers to our huge prayers for help. But more and more it seemed like we were asking questions we felt we should’ve been mature enough to already know the answers to, and fighting with doubts concerning truths of God’s character that shouldn’t still be a part of our Christian walk.

We were tired. We were discouraged. We were dealing with some big behavioral and spiritual issues with a few of our children that challenged our confidence as parents; we were fighting medical crises one after the other with no end in sight; we couldn’t pay some of our bills; we hadn’t been able to attend church for six months; The Shepherd’s Crook was in serious financial trouble and on the brink of folding; and weariness seemed to just be waiting for us, hovering in the air each day as we climbed out of bed.

Just the day before this ambulance ride, I had gone out for my early morning walk and prayer time.

My prayers that morning were nothing but whimpers for help, as I poured my heart out to God, telling Him that I just didn’t know what He was doing or what had happened to the beautiful testimony we thought He had been sharing through our family.

I cried out to Him, “God, what happened to that beautiful work of art You were creating? Everything is such a mess now. Where are You? I feel like we’re nothing but just a big ol’ smashed mud pie now!”

I had come home from my walk with a heavy heart and unanswered questions.

And suddenly here was this sixty-plus-year-old ambulance attendant stating that during the ten minutes he had been in our home placing our son on a stretcher while Jaden’s siblings watched and encouraged their baby brother, he had seen and felt God’s presence and that his life had been changed! How could that be?

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As I pondered this over the next few days, I was ashamed of my arrogance in thinking that I was the best judge of what God was doing through us. And I began to regain my perspective.

We shouldn’t spend too much time wondering if God is using us. We shouldn’t be focusing on ourselves at all. Instead, we should just be looking at Him and trying to keep doing the work He puts before us no matter how hard or how useless it seems to be.

It just might be that, when we see nothing but messy, watery, flattened mud pies, God is causing a watching world to see fabulous sand castles built in His name, created by His hands.

Are we willing to let God smash us and make a mess of the pictures we create in our minds when we think we’re smart enough to have His plans all figured out?

If we can reach a place of letting go in this area, then He will squeeze and squish and shape us into something that will allow the world to see past us so that they will be able to look into the face of the Living God.

“. . . But he who calls in secret on his God—who spends much time in holy retirement—who delights to meditate on the words of the Most High—whose soul is given up to Christ—who delights in his fullness, rejoices in his all-sufficiency, prays for his second coming, and delights in the thought of his glorious advent—such a man, I say, must have an overflowing heart; and as his heart is, such will his life be. It will be a full life; it will be a life that will speak from the sepulcher, and wake the echoes of the future. ‘Keep thine heart with all diligence’ (Proverbs 4:23), and entreat the Holy Spirit to keep it full; for, otherwise, the issues of thy life will be feeble, shallow, and superficial; and thou mayest as well not have lived at all.” ~Charles Spurgeon

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Traversing the Unknown

“Providence is wonderfully intricate. Ah! You want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Visit to a local tea room with Mommy and Daddy for her 10th birthday

Kathryn’s visit to a local tea room with Mommy and Daddy for her 10th birthday

Just a couple of weeks after Kathryn turned two, I journaled the following thoughts:

Midnight Reflections – May 20, 2006

It’s after midnight, and she’s having trouble sleeping. This is one of those nights when she needs to know that I am here, feel my arms around her, feel my body touching hers. I look down into Kathryn’s face and wonder at the beauty there. It takes my breath away. Such a perfect little body; such a broken little brain. Oh, God, I love this baby. My heart feels as if it could burst with the love You have planted and nurtured there for this incredible child You created. How can I ever say thank you for allowing me—for trusting me—to parent her for You? She must be so special to You, yet You entrusted her to my care for however long she graces this world with her presence. God, what do I do, though, if she still needs to be held like this when she is fourteen? How will I meet her needs when she no longer fits into my arms? But right now, at this moment, she isn’t fourteen. She is just barely two. And she fits perfectly in my arms with her beautiful head nestled against my chest and her soft breath rhythmically warming my face as I lean over to smell her hair and her silky skin. So for now, I will hold my precious baby and drink in the miracle of being her mom. There is no time but this moment, and I will revel in it. Kathryn Felicity, “pure happiness,” welcome to our world for a time. I wish we could all live in yours. 

And now  . . . here we are. Kathryn turns ten today. She’s not yet fourteen, but she weighs ninety-two pounds and is still as helpless as she was at the age of two.

I can no longer lift her, and she no longer fits into my arms. Yet, how comforting—thrilling, really—to see that I am still able to meet her needs. She has no trouble finding ways to snuggle with me and drink in the assurances she needs that I’m always here beside her. God continues to provide all that she—and I—need as we weave our way through the very uncertain path that is Kathryn’s life.

Our journey with Kathryn has always been a mystery. You can read more about Kathryn’s story here, but every day with her is a wait-and-see moment.

Life at her side has been full of unexpected victories and heartbreaking disappointments. And the future remains shrouded in secrecy. Only God knows what’s ahead.

As she nears adolescence, it’s likely that her seizure activity will increase. There’s always the possibility that she will sustain further brain damage from these seizures and lose much—or even all—of the ability she has so surprisingly achieved.

We don’t even know how long her life will be. Her time with us could end unexpectedly at any time.

And what if she does live on much longer than anyone imagines? If I should go Home before she does? How will she ever survive without me? I am her lifeline. This is one of my greatest fears in life, and, yet . . . I can’t bear the thought of even one day here without her.

Although it’s much more obvious in some lives than in others, we are all walking through a land of complete uncertainty. We may think we have our plans all nicely laid out, but it only takes one horrible car accident; one tornado; one always-feared diagnosis and our lives are changed forever.

One of my favorite quotes is from a poem by Minnie Lou Haskins originally titled, “God Knows.” 

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

To truly and intimately know and walk with the One who can see the full picture brings indescribable peace and assurance that all is well. There is nothing to fear.

Yes, there will unquestionably be very hard things ahead. Pain and unwelcome changes await us all. Of this we can be sure. But each and every trial and triumph is carefully orchestrated and wrapped in—infused with—love that is richer, more complete, deeper than anything we can imagine. And each one comes to us overlaid with promises that we will never pass through them alone. He will walk with us, sustaining us; taking us from “strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7).

We chose long ago not to allow fear to rob us of any moments of joy brought to us through parenting Kathryn. We would’ve missed so much if we had wasted the past ten years wringing our hands and fretting over the what-ifs.

We are very human, though. Physical exhaustion; mental and emotional strain; the stresses of every day life—all of these things often allow the fear of the unknown to break through and disturb our peace.

The only remedy for this is a tighter hold to the God who brought Kathryn to us and a more complete surrender of the flimsy grasp on our futures that we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have. And when I’m too tired to hold onto Him, then I relax into His forever-promised hold on me.

“You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you.”  Isaiah 46: 3-4

Then peace flows through my soul. Rest. Deep contented sigh. I’m set free to soar to heights unimaginable and soak in all of the joy this life has for me; every precious drop of happiness that God squeezes through the ups and downs of parenting my no-longer-so-little Kathryn.

Happy, happy birthday to my girl. She has already accomplished far, far more than anyone ever dreamed possible. Her determination and perseverance and spunk and innocence and effervescence urge me on to better things every day. She and I will continue forward together—sometimes dancing, sometimes crawling, sometimes crying, sometimes rejoicing–through the days ahead. We don’t know what those days hold, but we know Who holds them and us.

The following is a photo journey of our amazing life with Kathryn through the past ten years:

Kathryn #2

The very empty little girl we found when we arrived in Guatemala

Kathryn #3

So disconnected from the world around her

Kathryn #5

Finally – Daddy arrives to rescue her; to sing to her; to carry her through the rest of her life

Kathryn #6

Meeting her new family – being snuggled by her brother, Colin, who is blind

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn #7

Such a very different little girl now

Kathryn #9

Cooing at her brother, Nathan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn's beloved companion, Gandalf

Kathryn’s beloved companion, Gandalf

Kathryn #12

First pony tails

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning three

Turning three

 

 

The judge who finalized Kathryn's adoption and wrote about her in his book

The judge who finalized Kathryn’s adoption and wrote about her in his book

Learning to walk!!

Learning to walk!!

Seizures #1

The ugliness of seizures (trying to eat an ice cream cone in the aftermath)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming an aunt

Becoming an aunt

Hiking with Daddy

Hiking with Daddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to pack away the "pacis"

Time to pack away the “pacis”

 

A new walker for a bigger girl

A new walker for a bigger girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to toast marshmallows

Learning to toast marshmallows

 

More seizures

More seizures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning six

Turning six

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First visit from the tooth fairy

First visit from the tooth fairy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a block tower all by herself!!

Building a block tower all by herself!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brand new, very special tricycle for Christmas

A brand new, very special tricycle for Christma

 

Learning to fly a kite with Daddy

Learning to fly a kite with Daddy

 

A flower girl for her friend and former occupational therapist

Filling the role of flower girl for her friend and former occupational therapist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new special swing all her own

A new special swing all her own

Teaching herself how to draw circles!!

Teaching herself how to draw circles!! (this shouldn’t even be possible!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A walker for her doll - Christmas present from a brother

A walker for her doll – Christmas present from a brother

And more seizures

And more seizures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7th birthday - the first time she ever blew out her candles by herself

7th birthday – the first time she ever blew out her candles by herself

 

 

Taught herself "tall knees" (amazing!)

Taught herself “tall knees” (amazing!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new walker - hands-free! This opened a whole new world for our girl.

A new walker – hands-free! This opened a whole new world for our girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonding with a rescued baby robin

Bonding with a rescued baby robin who lived with us for awhile

Continued seizures

Continued seizures and snuggles with a sister afterward

 

 

 

Learning to bowl

Learning to bowl with Daddy’s help

Playing basketball with her physical therapist

Playing basketball with her physical therapist (truly astounding!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Tenth Birthday, my beautiful, perfect girl!

Happy Tenth Birthday, my beautiful, perfect girl!

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