What Kind of Man Would Do Something Like This?

We were seventeen and just-barely-nineteen when he gave me the ring.

Engagement

We were barely-eighteen and solidly-nineteen when he married me. I thought he was perfect.

S&K Wedding - 2

He wasn’t. Neither of us was. We were twenty-seven and twenty-eight when we realized that our passion for each other had died, and our marriage had gone numb due to neglect, complacency, and the distractions and stresses that accompanied raising three children — one of whom was born with significant cognitive disabilities.

But as our love was gasping for its final breaths, he roused himself, vowing that he would never lose me, committing his heart to God and to our marriage in ways he had never done before, and fighting to rekindle our cold but-still-breathing connection.

We were twenty-nine and thirty by the time our marriage was healed and our love was flourishing with a fresh heartbeat and renewed passion and commitment.

We were thirty-eight and forty when I watched his heart break for a child four thousand miles away in desperate need of a daddy. He declared this child his son — even though he already had two sons and two daughters. He trusted God to move the mountains that stood between us and this little one, and steadfastly pursued his adoption to bring him home to the family waiting for him.

Adopting Nathan 1998

In Bolivia to bring home our new son

We were forty-six and forty-eight when it became obvious that he was no longer so crazy about engineering (he could talk quite passionately about the design of HVAC systems), but had, rather, been consumed by a burning desire to save the orphans of the world. I watched him courageously walk away from his career; take a huge cut in pay (even as our family was growing each year), trusting God to provide all that he would need to care for his family; smile with confidence when some told him he was foolish and irresponsible to take such a step; and give up all hope of retirement to pursue his passion for finding families who would step out and make sons and daughters of orphaned children who were broken in body and spirit.

I’ve watched this man, upon hearing of a hurting child he will never meet, become so choked with emotion that he could barely speak.

Through the years, I’ve looked on as he wisely, firmly, lovingly counseled his sons about how to be men of integrity, how to prepare themselves for future wives; and as he looked into his daughters’ eyes, trying to assure them of their beauty and worth. Not even his teens manage to get off to bed at night without a hug from him.

I’ve seen him drop everything in order to devote hours at a stretch to talking and listening and teaching as he’s tried to ignite in his children’s hearts his own passion for knowing God and surrendering all of life to Him and His plans so that they could be free to be all that He has created them to be.

This man has loved his children with such intensity that he gave up any desires he might’ve had for his future fun or comfort to sit by their hospital beds year after year, whispering love into their ears as they fought wave after wave of pain like most of us will never know in this lifetime.

He has sung a billion songs to them over the years (Peter, Paul and Mary; Queen; Rich Mullins; Elton John; Beatles; Billy Joel; Chris Rice), made them laugh so hard sometimes that they could hardly catch their breath, and impressed them with his ability to still do headstands and leap over fences almost as easily as he could when he was in his twenties.

I’ve admired and respected him as I’ve seen him shed tears over his many faults and the things he wishes he had done differently. He has apologized to our children countless times through the years for the ways in which he has allowed stress and impatience to get the best of him. And he has served as a great example of how to apologize, repent, brush yourself off, and then get up and try again — learning from the mistakes and persevering in overcoming the weaknesses of character that we are all destined to carry through this life.

I’ve never loved him more than when I’ve seen him lovingly cradle in his arms one of his terrified and dangerously ill daughters, so drenched in her own vomit that it soaked through his clothes to his skin.

In Recovery

He has swept me off my feet by climbing triple bunk beds to play tooth fairy and won my heart forever by pulling muscles in his back while hoisting our precious one-hundred-pound Kathryn over his head so that he could gently toss her into bed — just to hear her laugh and to make her happy.

And he has always believed that he loves his children best by showing them how much he loves their mother. And how he has loved me!

In spite of the insanity that makes up our life, he tells me every day how much he loves me, how I’m the person he wants most to spend time alone with. He moves heaven and earth to protect our weekly dates, rarely lets me walk past him without grabbing me for a hug, and regularly insists that I dance with him while our children and grandchildren look on with giggles and shining eyes.

Dancing at our son's wedding

Dancing at our son’s wedding

And every night, I fall asleep to the sound of his voice praying for our marriage, for our children’s futures, and especially for the hearts of our children who aren’t, yet, following this God we love and serve.

Now we are fifty-five and fifty-seven. Happy birthday to this man of mine. I will love you with all my heart until the day God says we’re done here. Thank you for choosing me when you were nineteen, for choosing me again nine years later when I thought we had lost each other, and for choosing me every day.

RosenowFamilyPhotos-10

Thank you for being the kind of man who would do something like this.

Hiking with Kathryn way before she reached 100 pounds

Hiking with Kathryn way before she reached 100 pounds

Hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree

Hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree

Helping Kathryn fly a kite

Helping Kathryn fly a kite

Speaking on behalf of the fatherless who aren't able to speak for themselves

Speaking on behalf of the fatherless

First Time Standing - sm         FirstTimeStanding-11-19-08

Becoming Grandad!

Becoming Grandad!

Rock Climbing 11-11 Day 2 #4

Teaching a son to rock climb with a prosthetic leg

SharonWoods 8-12 #17

Helping our blind son skim stones

Gabriela Helping Grandad Hang Blinds

Hanging new blinds with the help of one of our granddaughters

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Our blind son’s new bike

Wrestling Match 12-10 #7

Wrestling with kids and grandkids

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Fighting For and Against a Champion

Carlin In Romania #1

Our baby, trapped in Romania, often confined to a crib with no arms to hold her, waiting and waiting for a family she didn’t even know was fighting to get her home

Once upon a time, I said it had been a two-year battle. Then I discovered more and declared that it had been a four-year battle. I revised this one more time down the road and said that it had been a six-year battle. Now it’s been  twelve years, and I no longer deceive myself into thinking it’s a battle we’ve won yet. I never dreamed that a heart-winning process could be so long. I know differently now.

Sometimes life is just harder than words can describe, and that’s especially true when it involves adopted children who have been broken almost beyond repair before they ever even get into our arms.

It’s sometimes hard to find the right balance when it comes to sharing with a watching world.

We desire the protection of our children’s privacy as they work through the tough, not-so-attractive stuff, and we don’t want the beauty of adoption lost in our sharing of the uglier side of parenting these miracles.

On the other hand, we also don’t want to paint a picture full of misconceptions that the life our family leads is one that runs only along sunny paths strewn with roses.

We want, to the best of our ability, to accurately represent what God is doing in our lives — through our family. And sometimes that means sharing some of the yucky stuff.

Today we celebrate our Carlin’s 14th birthday. Her story has been one of the toughest of our adoption journey. It’s been wrought with deception and pain and betrayal. It’s left us with holes in our tired hearts that will scar over, but never go away.

But it has also had many beautiful moments that have encouraged us to press on.

Carlin Jessica means, “little fighter beheld by God,” and we are certain that God has never taken His eyes off of our girl.

But oh, there have been times — so many times — when she has fought His love and our love with all the strength her shredded little heart could muster.

This can happen when little ones are betrayed too many times. Something breaks, making it pretty much impossible for them to ever trust anyone, love anyone, accept love from anyone again.

She’s not the only Rosenow who has stepped — or is still stepping — to this very intricate dance. Wanting our love and true acceptance so badly; coming close to surrendering; being jerked back by something inside that just won’t let go; pushing with all her might against all who love her; suddenly recognizing the aching desire for this love and choosing to back up and  try again. Sometimes things look so “okay” on the outside — often for very long periods — and then it all crumbles or it becomes clear that it was mostly all a facade.

The healing is happening. We are sure that, in spite of the steps backward, this dance also includes steps forward — enough of them that there is actual forward motion. But it is indescribably slow.

Sometimes I fear that we’ll run out of steam before we ever reach the point of actual victory. Then I remember that God has promised. She is His. We are His. He will never leave us to fight this alone. He is the Master — THE Victor — when it comes to heart battles. He can reach in deeper . . . . deeper . . . way past the point where our human love and methods can reach.

The real, real Carlin is in there. Still locked away much of the time, but over the years, we’ve seen more and more glimpses of her, and we know that there is a work going on inside the deepest part of her that we believe will eventually result in a beautifully finished masterpiece of God.

We know that, no matter how many times we want to give up, no matter how many times we feel that it’s hopeless, we must press on. This child is our daughter. Too many people quit on her before she got to us. We have promised that we will never, ever quit on her. We promise her that daily, knowing that we can trust God to carry us through that promise.

And it’s not just about her.

The truth is ever present in our minds and evident in our walks with our Heavenly Father that this unbelievably hard task of reaching a child’s true heart is part of His refining of our own hearts.

There’s nothing like dealing with someone else’s uglies to make you so very aware of your own uglies and need for redemption and healing. So many times, as we’ve tried to process the pain caused by our daughter’s rejections of us and betrayals of our love, I’ve been startled to bump right up against myself in her actions. I’ve said to myself, “Wow. That’s exactly how I act toward God!”

I’ve been faced with the disappointing reality that there are so many pieces of my heart that I’m withholding from Him; that I also dance backward and forward as I give Him some of those pieces, and then snatch them back. She has been the mirror (one of the mirrors) God has chosen to use, so that I can better see myself.

He has planned each child for this family, brought them home at just the right time, and is busy every minute of every day rubbing us together, mixing our pain and our joy and our past hurts and our future hopes all together into something that will one day be beautiful.

If we will surrender to this polishing, refining process, we will all come out as better people on the other side. Our bodies and our hearts will be battered beyond recognition. I’m sure of this because I witness it every day. But the real us — the us inside these imperfect earthly bodies — will be slowly, slowly shaped into the likeness of our Savior. If we will surrender.

Constantly I pray for my children’s surrender of their hearts, their wills, their love to us as their parents, and of their entire beings to God as their true Father.

I pray that they will choose this surrender so that they will be free. Free to feel our love for them in their deepest beings. Free to trust us with their very lives and their heart secrets. Free to soar well beyond the limits that their previous lives set for them, where they will discover all that God created them to be.

I pray for that with all my heart. And every day, we commit anew to staying this course by our children’s sides.

Today, we will celebrate Carlin’s 14th birthday and her presence in our home. Today, we will thank God again for reaching into Carlin’s dark world, snatching her out, and bringing her to us.

We will continue looking forward, hungrily grasping every hint of light and hope that we see, and we will continue allowing God to chip away at our own brokenness as we follow His leading and command to passionately love and parent Carlin and all of our children through to adulthood.

I will never give up hope that she will someday emerge whole, intact, and well-prepared to serve as His champion. And He will never take His eyes off of her.

The crib where she spent so much of her life when there wasn't a missionary available to hold and care for her

The crib where Carlin spent so much of her life when there wasn’t a missionary available to hold and care for her

Carlin In Romania #3

Beautiful little girl - already losing the ability to trust and hope

Beautiful little girl – already losing the ability to trust and hope

Alison, the missionary nurse - angel - placed there by God to care for Carlin as often as she was able -- and to eventually became practically part of our family

Alison, the missionary nurse – angel – placed there by God to care for Carlin as often as she was able — and to eventually became practically part of our family

Finally home after an almost-two-year battle to complete her adoption

Finally home after an almost-two-year battle to complete her adoption

carlin lying on gandalf

The internal turmoil was already so obvious, almost from the beginning

The internal turmoil was already so obvious, almost from the beginning

Home where a mommy can carry her through many difficult surgeries

Home where Mommy can carry her through many difficult surgeries

With a new brother to love and care for her

With a new brother to love and care for her

Alison comes for a visit and becomes a dear family friend and aunt-figure to all of our children

Alison comes for a visit and becomes a dear family friend and aunt-figure to all of our children

Another hero who fought for Carlin and many other orphans in Romania

A visit from another hero who fought for Carlin and many other orphans in Romania

More surgery - with Daddy to help her every step of the way

More surgery – with Daddy to help her every step of the way

So precious

So precious

Holding a brand new sister - Carlin's capacity to love has always been so clearly seen in her care and concern toward her baby sister, Kathryn

Holding a brand new sister – Carlin’s capacity to love has always been so clearly seen in her care and concern toward her baby sister, Kathryn

Sometimes, the peace is within reach - this story isn't finished yet

Sometimes, the peace is so tangibly within reach – this story isn’t finished yet

Taking part in her oldest sister's wedding -- along with all of her other siblings

Taking part in her oldest sister’s wedding — along with all of her other siblings

One day at a time . . .

One day at a time . . .

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Nothing Has Changed — And You Know? 
 . . . I’m Okay With That!

It’s morning. It’s tomorrow. And here comes the sun.

Sunrise

The view of the rising sun from my bedroom window this morning.

As soon as I awoke and became aware of anything, I felt it. The shadow of yesterday’s news has already passed! I am filled with peace after a good night’s sleep, and soft, whispered reminders of who God is and who we are in Him through Christ.

I opened my eyes to the beautiful realization that nothing has changed, and thoughts of a Christmas stocking

This Christmas stocking.

Lillian's Christmas stocking - ordered last year in faith, believing that she would come home to us in time for Christmas this year

Lillian’s Christmas stocking – ordered last year in faith, believing that she would come home to us in time for Christmas this year

And I cherished in my heart the miracles surrounding this stocking almost exactly a year ago, the memories of meeting our new daughter five months ago, and the excitement over the fact that this stocking will be hanging on our fireplace in just a few weeks now, along with seventeen others.

Nothing has changed. Everything God has planned for Lilyan still stands. Nothing, nothing, nothing can thwart that!

“The Lord of hosts has sworn:
‘As I have planned, so shall it be,
and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.’”
Isaiah 14:23

It’s not that I believe that God is necessarily going to prove the doctors wrong and give Lilyan a long, healthy life. It just doesn’t matter now — because nothing the doctor said yesterday changes the plans that God already had in place when He brought her to us.

Nothing has changed! 

I trust Him!

I trust His plans for Lilyan and for all of our other children. The name Lilyan means, “God is perfection.” 

“As for God, His way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless.”
Psalm 18:30

I trust Him to keep His promise to carry us through any of the hard, yucky stuff ahead of us — no matter how much our hearts might break.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:2

We have Lilyan. He brought her to us. And we have today. He has tomorrow! 

I am free to sing and dance with my babies; to bake cookies with them; to discipline them and teach them about the God who created them, brought them home, and holds each of their stories in His hand; to live life just like we’ve always lived it.

Nothing has changed!

In my blog last night, I mentioned that we give each of our children a song when they come home. Lilyan’s song sums it all up for me this morning:

Long before you drew your first breath
A dream was coming true
God wanted to give a gift to the world
So He wrapped it up in you
Every step that you’ve taken
Every move that you make
Is part of his plan

You were meant to be touching the lives that you touch
And meant to be here
Making this world so much more
Than it would be without you in it
You were meant to be bringing
The gifts that you bring
And singing the songs
You’ve been given to sing
You are perfectly, wonderfully,
Beautifully meant to be
You were meant to be

Long before you took your first fall
And stumbled to the ground
God started telling the story of you to the angels around
Every failure and victory
Everything in between
Its all in His hand

You were meant to be touching the lives that you touch
And meant to be here
Making this world so much more
Than it would be without you in it
You were meant to be bringing
The gifts that you bring
And singing the songs
You’ve been given to sing
You are perfectly, wonderfully,
Beautifully meant to be
You were meant to be

Nothing has changed! All that was already meant to be as part of God’s perfect and beautiful plan, will still be.

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10: 30

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Luke 12:25

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This Just Really, Really Hurts

I’m not sure why the surgeon’s words were such a surprise. Somewhere inside of me, I must’ve known that this was a possibility.

As we drove home from the hospital, I stared through the windows and tried to sort through my feelings. The cold, overcast day so perfectly matched the gloom in my heart. Even the few trees still jealously holding onto their brightly colored leaves couldn’t compete with the darkness hanging over everything today. They just looked lonely standing among the naked branches surrounding them.

The sadness thickened all through the afternoon, oozing over the top of my head, slowly seeping down, down, down like a thick, black sludge, shutting out the light and making it hard to breathe.

Jaden and Lilyan saw their spine surgeon today — Jaden for a routine post-op appointment after his spine surgery last week  . . . .

Bandages removed this morning

Bandages removed this morning

. . . and Lilyan so that we could talk about the plans for her very, very severe spine deformity.

Lilyan and her pal, Saxon  - just hanging together

Lilyan and her pal, Saxon – just hanging together

Lilyan's spinal deformity affects every aspect of her life

Lilyan’s spinal deformity affects every aspect of her life

The bottom line? No one really has any idea what to do for her. The best option known to them was described to us as an “enormous, enormous, enormous, eNORmous procedure. . . just a huge, HUGE deal with many, many serious risks.” 

Well, what if we don’t do anything? Just leave her the way she is? She’s so happy and doing so well.

New Glasses Here #1

Our happy, happy girl

The answer rocked my world.

Lilyan – our precious, joyful, beautiful, light-of-our-lives daughter, will definitely have a shortened life span. In fact, the surgery (this enormous, huge deal with many serious risks) must be done eventually so that we can hope to have her with us just into her twenties, or possibly her thirties. And without that?

He didn’t answer that question. I didn’t even ask it out loud because I didn’t want to hear. My heart just couldn’t bear it at that moment.

Into her twenties?? This is our goal?? Is this supposed to be the happy part of today’s news??  

This means almost certainly no dreams of marriage. No hope of ever parenting children. Essentially no adult life at all. No “what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up.”

And twenty years might’ve sounded like a lot a few years ago, but I know how quickly the past fifty years have gone by. Twenty is nothing! That’s not enough! We just got her! I already missed the first five years of her life. No! That’s just not fair! She has so much to offer this world!

At first, I didn’t even feel pain. Mostly just shock, although the sadness was there immediately. The pain set in over the next hour or so. Following close on the heels of the pain, came . . . tired. I felt — and still feel — just so very, very tired.

Most of my sweet children are victims of this dark and twisted world and all that comes along with living in it. Their little bodies are broken; neglect, poor nutrition, and cruel caretakers have left their minds broken; their hearts have been broken over and over again. And even now — safely in the arms of a family that loves them more than life itself — they will never be able to stop fighting, just to reach their potential, for as long as they live in this world.

I feel overwhelmed as, over and over and over again I lift my tired arms, and try to stick all of their broken pieces back in place to help them function in some way that at least resembles “normal.”

Oh, God. There are so many of them. And they all have so many broken pieces. And I love them  and hurt so much for each one.

And now this. This . . . this just really, really hurts, God. What were You thinking when You chose me for this role of Mom to so many whose needs are so great? I’m not strong enough to be all that they will need me to be for them.

He says to my heart, “My child, it’s none of your business what I was thinking. Your business is doing what I put before you to do, drinking in the great love I have for you, and pouring that love out on each child I bring home to call you Mother. Teach them that I love them. Model for them that I will never leave them.

“For now, rest here in My arms. Cry your mommy-tears on My shoulder. Trust Me. Remember that these little ones were Mine before they were yours. I love them. I know the plans that I have for them. I’ve known the plans for their lives since before they were even created. Plans to prosper them and not to harm them. And those plans include you as their mommy for as long as I choose.” 

I know all of this. I believe all of this. But I need some time to absorb the news we got today. I need some time to cry. This is not the way I want it to be. My dreams for our daughter looked so different from the picture we were given today.

The doctors could be wrong. Or new treatments could come along before Lilyan reaches the end of her life.

Or they might be right. We might only have those short years with her.

Either way, my head knows that the important thing is what we do with each today that we’re given with her. 

Truthfully, none of us knows how long we have in this life. We don’t know what’s ahead for any of us. The healthiest of our children could live their last day on earth tomorrow. We have to learn to live much more in the moment; looking for and drinking in the beauty always right there in front of us; surrendering all of our future plans and those for our children into the hands of God; letting go of the regrets of the past and the stupid things that just don’t matter; listening to our children’s voices and stories and made-up songs; smelling their hair; feeling the softness of their skin and the deliciousness of their hugs; filling them — satiating them — with love, love, and more love as we allow God to work through us, helping them become all that they were created to be.

Yes, I know these things. But right now, this just really, really hurts.

For now — tonight — I will cry.

And tomorrow?

Each of our children is given a special song when he or she comes home. Robyn’s song, from Annie, has been playing in my head this evening.

The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
there’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow till’ there’s none
When I’m stuck in the day that’s grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say . . . oh,
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you got to hang on
till’ tomorrow, come what may!

One day at a time. I will treasure every second with Lilyan and all of my children, and with God’s help, I will learn more and more to live just one day at a time and to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” (Henry David Thoreau)

And I will thank God will all my heart for bringing Lilyan to me. Our lives all changed the day God led us to her and called her our daughter. We will never be the same. Whatever her journey looks like, I have the honor of walking that with her.

I am so very sad tonight. But I am so very blessed.

****  The morning after this blog was posted, I wrote again, sharing the peace that God brought to me during the night. Nothing Has Changed — And You Know? 
 . . . I’m Okay With That!”  ******

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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.

giraffe eyes

Our Jasmin as a baby

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

jasminkissgiraffe-smaller

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

July-04Beautiful

Those eyes – hauntingly beautiful

KathyJasmin 2

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

ScottJasmin

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.

Cristian - Down's - serious - 12-02

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 . . .

KathyAndCristian

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

ScottAndCristianPlaying

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.

Evan - 2006

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 during 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.

IMG_1854

Headed to a Cincinanti Symphony Orchestra concert

IMG_1860

Waiting to cross a major intersection

Zoo Day 8-13 #2

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.

IMG_4107

Lilyan, opening a birthday present

Swimming Day 8-18 #1

Lilyan with one of her best friends, our dog Saxon

IMG_3695

One of many, many tests always being done

Lilyan - Dentist and RUS #2 8-27

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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