Emptying the Pockets of Our Lives

“Extravagant love, the offering of everything, the emptying of the pockets of our life, is the essence of true Christianity.” ~ Eric Ludy

From Our Grandpa Tree

A gift.

A beautiful step stool.

But so much more than that. 

A symbol of hope.

A reminder of God’s goodness and the love of His people.

A week or so ago, Scott and I, along with our kids, were discussing this life we chose to accept years ago when God offered us the opportunity to dive in and drink deeply. He has revealed so much of Himself, and so much about our own brokenness, in the years since that decision was made.

And so much about the love and goodness in the hearts of others.

I so clearly remember how more and more children came home, and our 2000 sq. ft. house became as crowded as our calendar full of appointments for these new children with so many special needs. Our entire life changed drastically, although somewhat gradually.

Eventually, Scott walked away from his engineering career and salary to come home and serve as full-time director of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry. And we learned to get by with less and to trust God more, although we definitely didn’t do this perfectly.

Time continued to pass until the day came when we were no longer always able to provide Christmas or shoes or new clothes each season for our increasingly larger brood; our furniture began to wear out; walls became desperate for paint; cars got old and broke down; our home improvement projects went undone because of so little money and so little time.

There were specific times during those sometimes-very-hard-years when I was faced with new levels of surrender as I occasionally felt tempted to succumb to feelings of self pity concerning the gradual decline of our beautiful house and our inability to give the children all we longed to give them. I knew that God would provide for us, and although it was tough at times, we embraced broken furniture, worn-out carpet, and beaten-up walls as part of God’s plan for our lives. We trusted Him to decide for us what our real needs were, and what things were only “wants.” He filled us and our home with joy, and pointed out to me areas where I was still clinging to my old human desires for our lives.

And He blessed us so much — sometimes with additional painful opportunities to trust Him better, but often with exactly those things we thought we would never have.

He sent people to help with projects. Friends and strangers came to our home on so many occasions to paint, plant flowers, clean or even replace carpet, do home repairs, etc.

Every year He has provided through others whatever was needed for clothing our children or making Christmas magical for them; gifts that made it possible for us to take them to movies or concerts or other enriching family outings; and He even gave us an occasional family vacation. We have never asked for these things or publicly made our wants or needs for them known. But He always provides.

He is gradually providing us with more space in which to raise all of these children with their special equipment and adaptive devices. This is being done through the love and sacrifice of others — brothers and sisters from our church congregation, neighbors, strangers, friends (some local and some from far away), businesses, organizations like Make-a-Wish . . .

We have most recently been blessed with a huge, beautiful kitchen to replace my old, very small one; family room furniture that is brand new and beautiful (I never imagined such a thing!), money to purchase picture frames and photo ledges in order to make our family room a place where our once-orphaned children can daily look at our walls and see proof that they are finally home and part of a family; a swimming pool to help with all of their physical therapy needs; a deck around that pool to allow for those who struggle with CP or lower limb paralysis to wheel to the edge and independently lower themselves into this pool; a play room with enough space for all of them to play; and toys and equipment in this play room to spark imagination and strengthen weakened or paralyzed muscles.

Family Room and Kitchen

Playroom Almost Done - 7

The giving just goes on and on. And we are humbled — awed by the incomprehensible goodness of our God. We know that we can trust Him in the bad times  — the times when we don’t know how we will provide for upcoming needs; the times when we watch our children try to cope with almost unimaginable pain or emotional brokenness beyond the comprehension of most; the times when Scott and I come face to face with the reality of our own weakness and immortality (as when Scott was recently diagnosed with cancer) — and we can trust Him in the good times when He showers us with so many gifts that we find ourselves feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the certain knowledge that we do not deserve such unexpected blessings. (That could be a whole blog post all by itself. Maybe someday.)

And continually we are left with a complete inability to express to a such multitude of people the depth of our gratitude for this giving that stretches through a couple of decades.

Several years ago, the Rosenow Home Project Team was formed by people who love us dearly and longed to find a way to provide more living space for us. After years of raising funds and praying with us for this need, they finally had enough money to break ground on the home addition that would double the size of our existing home.

Sitting right in the middle of what would become our new family room was this tree.

Home Addition - Goodbye G'pa Tree

It had been planted almost twenty years earlier in memory of Scott’s dad, who had passed away just before we moved into this house. We always called it our Grandpa Tree. It broke our hearts that this tree would have to be cut down in order to make way for the space needed to carry on the work God had called us to.

Dad's Tree

Our baby Grandpa Tree the day we planted it in 1996

Just before the scheduled ground-breaking, we devoted a day to loving on this tree, reflecting on the memories we had of Grandpa and this tree’s growth in our yard, and giving the kids a full day to climb in its branches and make some new memories. This was an especially poignant day for our blind son Colin who had wanted to climb a tree, but had never done so.

Then the construction equipment rolled into our backyard, and we all stood inside the house, watching through the windows as our Grandpa Tree was ripped violently from the ground and broken into pieces. There were tears as we felt many different “feels” — sadness over the passing of a season in our lives, excitement about the new season to come, such thankfulness for the massive answers to hundreds of prayers about more space for our growing family.

Home Addition - Goodbye G'pa Tree #5

Scott and the kids took some cuttings from the tree, with the hope that we could start another, but they didn’t survive the winter.

That was three and a half years ago. Since that time, our home addition has been being slowly, gradually, beautifully  completed as these loving friends and strangers continue raising funds and pouring themselves into finding ways to come alongside us to care for orphans.

Home Addition - GB 12-11 #13

Rainy ground-breaking ceremony for our home addition

And then a couple of weeks ago, one of the main players in this decade-and-a-half-long drama, showed up at our house with this step stool.

He had, with his own hands and in his own precious spare time, lovingly crafted this amazing gift from the wood of our Grandpa Tree. He had been secretly working on it in the years since the tree had been taken from its place in our backyard, and he delivered it to us along with a copy of the book, The Giving Tree.

If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s a children’s story about giving and giving until we have nothing left to give; about the joy that comes from this kind of selfless sacrifice; and about unconditional love — all things that should be part of Believers’ lives during our pilgrimage in this world.

And both the gift and the book are extremely symbolic of our family’s life. The giving of others that is such an integral part of our journey.

We wish there were some way for all of those who have given and given and given, to understand what an example they have been to our children of how to live as servants of the King; lights in the world.

Over and over again, you have all given us hope when the Enemy who hates the work we do tries to trick us into feeling that a given situation is hopeless. You have put strength into our hearts when we felt we were gasping our last. You have encouraged us beyond description when seemingly unanswered prayers and events in our lives have beaten us down to dark places of discouragement. You have served as shining lights of remembrance when we have lost our way and forgotten God’s promises to care of His children in such perfect ways.

To all of you who have “emptied the pockets of your lives” in service for our family and in the furthering of God’s work and kingdom, we thank you with all our hearts.

And, Mark, we will forever cherish this step stool sitting in our new kitchen, reminding us of God’s goodness and constant presence in our lives, as our “Grandpa Tree” continues serving our family.

Stool and Book





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Sometimes You Have to do the Hard Things

This morning, an IUD was placed in my baby’s uterus.

Scott and I drove over snowy roads to Children’s Hospital early this morning and handed our baby girl over to the staff there so that they could place this foreign object into her body because we felt like we had no other choice. It was the best decision we could make for her under the circumstances. But I still feel in my heart that it was a crappy decision.

Kathryn's IUD Insertion #1

Beautiful early-morning drive to Children’s

The emotional impact of this for me is much bigger than I can describe to anyone. I’m still trying to process all that I’m feeling deep inside. I slept very little last night. I don’t know how to explain why this is so hard.

This topic of helping our “forever-babies” children through the challenging aspects of puberty is a hot topic. In sharing this post, I realize that I open myself up to the possibility of some harsh criticism. I’m not sure my tender heart is up for that.

But maybe my struggles can help some other mom through this heart-breaking piece of raising a child who will never grow up. So I will share.

I don’t have any answers, and I can’t make these tough and very personal decisions for anyone else. But sometimes it helps just to know that you aren’t alone, so . . .

Kathryn will always be a four-year-old at best — a two or three-year-old in most areas. But her body doesn’t recognize this. We knew this day would come, and we felt sure that it would be a terrifying thing for her when it did.

Kathryn's 11th and Mother's Day #4

It has been even worse than we feared. Our sweet baby was plagued with such heavy menstrual cycles that her world was turned upside down for three weeks out of the month. Intense cramping and ten to fourteen days of heavy bleeding were more than her baby self could understand. We watched her shut down emotionally during those weeks and lose hard-won ground developmentally. She regained this ground just in time for the whole process to start over again.

So we did something I swore I would never do. We agreed to let her doctor start her on oral hormones. These did stop her cycles and allow her to function more along her normal curve. But they also added another twelve pounds to a body that fights continually with a much-slower-than-normal metabolism — a body that is already so encumbered by cerebral palsy that it doesn’t need extra weight adding to the gravitational challenges of any type of movement. And I worry so much about the effects of synthetic hormones on her body and system.

We visited doctor after doctor as we searched for someone who would make a way for us to have her uterus removed. That incredibly designed organ that God has placed inside of woman is there for one reason. To provide a warm, safe place for a baby to grow to a point of viability in the harsh world. My sweet little girl will never need a place in her body to carry a baby. As worried as we were about such a major surgery for her, we felt it was the best, and safest, solution for ending her physical and emotional monthly agony.

In spite of the fact that we did find one very kind doctor who agreed that this would be the best choice for our little girl, she made it clear that no hospital ethics committee would ever allow it. She explained that we would have to engage in an intense, drawn out battle we could never, ever win. And that we would probably make enemies along the way. Much more severe cases than our Kathryn’s have already been tossed about in this sea of medical ethics, and the results of those battles have made it very clear where the lines have been drawn.

In an attempt to prevent parents from sterilizing children who might actually be capable of parenting a child someday, a system that allows thirteen-year-olds to have abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent has gone even crazier. The parents of children who have absolutely no hope of ever reaching parenting abilities in life are now forced to make choices they would never otherwise make for their children, or in many cases, even for themselves.

Kathryn trusts us with her whole heart in a way that very few humans are ever able to trust any other human. She innocently accepts whatever we tell her is best for her and depends on us to take care of her. Sometimes the responsibility of getting this right and never accidentally betraying her trust is more than I can bear. And sometimes, sadly, doing what’s best for her means you have to do the hard things, wondering all along the way if you’ve made the right decision.

And that’s how we ended up at Children’s Hospital this morning for this procedure on our baby girl.

Kathryn's IUD Insertion #2

Kathryn, not really understanding what’s going on, but so excited about her new My Little Ponies for her “surgery” gift this morning

Kathryn's IUD Insertion #3

My brave girl totally rocked her IV insertion

The self-pitying, aching-mommy-heart part of me is tempted to hurl accusing questions at the God who writes our stories.

Why, oh why, if You are going to create some special angel-children whose minds will never grow up, can’t you also make it so that their bodies don’t grow up?  

Isn’t it enough that Kathryn already has to fight for every minor accomplishment in life? That seizures and cerebral palsy are part of her daily reality? That her world is already so often a very confusing place for her? 

Isn’t it enough that Scott and I are already trudging along in search of cancer treatment for him and trying to find the right timing for a massive spine surgery for one daughter and major bladder reconstruction surgeries for three other kids? And continuing to look for answers for Nathan’s incapacitating leg and back pain?

Did we really need this on top of everything else? 

I know that this world is not our home. I know that this is a temporary stopping place and that our spirits that will someday soar free — unencumbered by brokenness and limits — are trapped inside bodies that are horribly imperfect.

Once, many years ago, while trying to explain to one of our sons the difference between our souls — the real us — and the bodies that house those souls for now, he exclaimed, “Oh, so our bodies are like a shoebox. And we’re kind of like the shoes inside!” 


And since that time, we have pretty commonly referred to these designed-by-God, yet hopelessly-flawed, earthly  homes for our souls, as “these old shoe boxes.”  They are plagued with poor eyesight, arthritis, cancer. They get fat and break down and behave in all kinds of uncooperative ways.

So deep in my heart I know that, in the big picture, this is not such a huge deal.  We do the best we can and move through this life, looking forward to the day when we are all set free from these earthly bodies and joined together in eternal joy, perfect peace, and glorious fellowship with our Savior and Heavenly Father. (I can’t wait to see my Kathryn dancing through the streets of Heaven, with no cerebral palsy!)

But there are times when the day-to-day working out of our lives here seems to swallow up any picture of the future that we know is ahead for us. And today, I’m feeling a little bit lost in it all. And sad.

Kathryn's IUD Insertion #4

Kathryn coming out of anesthesia with her “Little Murray” on her shoulder, and a photo of her family gripped tightly in her right hand

I am so thankful for an infinitely patient Heavenly Father who understands my deep-inside feelings even better than I do myself. I’m so grateful for the ways He has helped me learn to trust Him even when things seem so very out of control and wrong. I cherish the love that He pours over me when He holds me close while I ask human questions and cry the pain out of my heart onto His waiting shoulder. And I hold onto His promises to help me care for the precious ones He has placed in my arms and in my heart.

Lord, you have searched me and known me!
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Psalm 139:1-4

I have loved you with an everlasting love!
Jeremiah 31:3

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Isaiah 40:11


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It Doesn’t Really Matter Now

I spent the whole day Tuesday in my pajamas. Mostly sitting on the couch, checking Facebook and messages over and over and over again, waiting for word that my friend had died.


Suzy’s well-known smile

I prayed. I cried. I remembered. And I cried and prayed some more.

It felt as if all of life had been suspended. Like we were all floating above time and waiting for the news I didn’t want to hear.

During the afternoon, I spent several hours reading back through years of correspondence between us.

Suzy and I met many years ago when Scott was in college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and I was pregnant with our first child. I worked for an endodontist, and Suzy worked next door for another doctor. We became friends.

Kristen and Me at Suzy Wheat's House

c. 1982 Kristen, our first child, with me at Suzy’s house; Suzy took this photo

After Scott graduated and we moved away from Tuscaloosa, Suzy and I swapped Christmas cards and photos for many, many years. And then gradually, we lost contact with each other.

Six years ago, we found each other again on Facebook. Things had been hard for her during the years we had lost touch.

But by the time we reconnected, she was starting a fresh life and wrestling with the concepts of God for the first time ever.

We wrote so many letters back and forth as she asked questions about her journey as a new Christian, and I did my best to answer those questions, assuring her that I was still trying to figure out these weighty concepts myself.

She told me that she was absolutely starving for a deeper understanding and a more passionate walk with this Father she had only fairly recently come to know. She longed for peace and knowledge.

And she asked great questions.

Through the years, I watched her grow and it seemed to me that she did find the peace and the assurance she was looking for, even as she — like the rest of us — continued to ask the hard questions.

I was so inspired as I watched her live such a full life that revolved around helping other people and rescuing abandoned animals.

I have no idea how many dogs found homes because of her and her husband. But I know that there are many.

Suzy and Puppies #1

Two of the many, many lucky puppies rescued by Suzy and her husband

She shared with me how much she loved her husband, her children, her granddaughter, her nephew. She prayed so much for all of them with a passion that longed for them to also know this peace.

She prayed for me. Constantly. Anytime I needed prayer about anything, she was right there. More than once, she even offered to drive from Tuscaloosa, AL, to Cincinnati in order to find some way to help me out when things were tough. When Scott was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago, her first response was that she was praying; her second was that she would be here in a heartbeat if she could help in any way.

She was like that. She would drop everything — always with that great smile of hers — if any person or animal needed her. She was selfless.

This past October, she and her husband did drive to B’ham when our whole family was there speaking on adoption and orphan care. She came to hear us speak and to finally meet our children in person. It was so great just to see her face again and to hug her.

But why, oh why, did I not think to get a picture of us together?! The same thing happened the last time I saw my brother alive; I forgot to take any pictures. And then it was too late.

Before Scott and I left for Tampa last week, Suzy sent me a message. Continuing to thirst for deeper understanding and a closer walk with God, she wanted to know what devotional book I was using this year. I didn’t get a chance to answer that message before we left. I told myself I would answer it while we were in Tampa.

Unfortunately, I had underestimated how packed the schedule would be in Tampa.

And then . . . just two days into that busy schedule in FL, I got word that my friend had collapsed at work when her heart stopped with no warning. She fought hard through the weekend, but Tuesday morning I awoke to messages from her husband and her daughter, telling me that she would probably be in heaven within a few hours.

And I never answered her last question.

Which devotional book am I using this year? I am still using some of the same ones I told you about before, my sweet friend. And this year I have also added, Day by Day With the English Puritans; Scott gave it to me for Christmas. Now, it’s too late to tell you that.

But . . . it doesn’t really matter now. Because you are sitting at the feet of your Father! You are now able to worship Him truly and completely — just the way He intended when He created man and before sin entered this world and spoiled our beautiful fellowship with Him. There are no more limits to your ability to freely love this Savior you longed to know better. And you know Him fully now. You won’t be needing any more devotional books.

Your journey here on earth, so full of questions and the search for an intimate walk with our Creator is ended. You have that complete peace that can only come once we cross over into our Savior’s waiting arms. I’m so happy for you.

But I miss you. My heart aches at the knowledge that you are no longer just a few keystrokes away. Even as I type this post in your memory, I recognize that there’s a back corner of my brain that keeps thinking of questions I want to ask you; and almost instantly, the shocked realization (again and again) that I won’t be able to do that.

The world will miss you. You changed so many lives while you were here, and it was an honor beyond description to have been among those lives touched by your beauty and your love and your selflessness.

 “When my heart is brought to lie at the footstool of mercy, this seems to be the panting and breathing of my soul — to know experimentally and spiritually the blessed truths that my eyes see in the word of God, to have them opened up to my understanding, brought into my heart, grafted into my soul, applied to my conscience, and revealed with such supernatural and heavenly power that the truth as it is in Jesus may be in me a solemn and saving reality, that it may bring with it such a divine blessing as to fill me with grace, enlarge my heart into the enjoyment of the gospel, gird up my loins with spiritual strength, give and increase faith, communicate and encourage hope, shed abroad and draw forth love, and fill me with joy and peace in believing.”
~ Joseph Philpot (1802-1869)

 You searched diligently for these things in your life here. And now you know them in ways that the rest of us are waiting for still. Bask in His love, my friend. We will meet again in a few short years, I’m sure. Until then, relish the truth that, while you would not have chosen to leave your loved ones so soon, you now have all that your soul was longing to grasp while you were still here among us.

I love you, Suzy. Thank you for being my friend.

Suzy and Puppies #2






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A Little Update

To those of you who want to follow the unfolding story of Scott’s cancer, we want to be sure you know that, while I will still sometimes be posting thoughts from my heart here on this blog, most of the updates — the ones with details about treatment, etc. — will be posted on our family blog, “Where Love Learns Its Lessons.”  

If you like to get an email anytime we post an update there, please go to the site and click to follow. Then you can know that you won’t miss any updates.

We just posted one there this evening — “There’s More to Life Than Cancer.”  

Thank you all so much for your flood of emails and texts and prayers. We are almost undone by the love we have felt over the past three days.

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And Sometimes The Little Things Are Big Things

“The hand of the Lord may be felt in strengthening the soul and lifting the spirit up toward eternal things. Oh, that I may in this sense feel the Lord dealing with me! A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul toward heaven as on the wings of eagles. At such times, we are full to the brim with spiritual joy, and we forget the cares and sorrows of earth. The invisible is near, and the visible loses its power over us.” ~ Charles Spurgeon


Such an ugly word. Such a powerful word. Full of fear and terrifying unknowns.

And when used in a sentence to diagnose the person sitting next to you— the person whose heart has beat with yours for almost half a century; the person without whom you are sure that your very life would cease; the person who knows you better than you know yourself — then it comes to life as an all-powerful monster robbing you of everything.

The air is sucked from your lungs. The light leaves your world. Beauty vanishes. Hope evaporates. Dreams die.

My husband has cancer. My fingers stumble over the keys as I try to type those words; try to make myself accept the reality of them.

Us Dancing

My love; my life

We have been pretty sure of this for weeks, and we thought we had prepared ourselves to hear this roll off of the doctor’s tongue.

But maybe it’s not really possible to prepare yourself for this. Maybe you can’t fully experience the horrifying personification of this word until you are actually staring it in the face.

The Oxford dictionary defines cancer as, “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.”

“An uncontrolled division of abnormal cells…..” To know without a doubt that cells are dividing uncontrollably in the body of the man whose arm you lean on when you can’t stand alone….

Family Photo Shoot 9-10-15 #16.jpg

My partner in all things; an anchor for our family

But… wait… That’s not true. Stop. Breathe. Look up. You have promises that assure you that this is not true.

Not one atom in this world is outside of the control of the Creator of the Universe. Not even cancer is outside of His loving control. No cell can divide at all without His permission. And even then, these cells can’t divide any further than He will allow. That division is not uncontrolled. It is most definitely carefully, lovingly, powerfully controlled by One who has nothing but good in mind for you. By One who loves you more than anything you can possibly even imagine. Designed and controlled for your good. For the good of your family. For the good of each person dear to you.

It doesn’t matter that you can’t see that good right now. That you can’t even find anything about this that could be good. It’s true. You know this. You have taught this to your children.

Scott and I tried to breathe after this dramatic introduction to what will now become our new normal. As we left the medical building, I said to him, “Our whole world just changed.” I’ve heard that said before, but I totally get it now. In that instant, our life as we have known it ended. It will never be exactly the same again now. And we need time to grieve this fact.

But God remains steadfastly at the center of this new normal — this changed world. He hasn’t changed at all. Nothing is spinning out of control.

And immediately, He began sending us reminders of these truths. In fact, He had already been carrying us into this new life. Through a friend, He sent us a book weeks before that prepared us for just this moment in ways we weren’t even aware of while reading it. I can’t even describe how much more ready we were to absorb what the doctor had to say to us and to begin making informed decisions about treatment, even as our hearts were screaming, “No! This can’t be real!” It was a gift that He brought this book to us when He did.

We immediately contacted our adult children and were enveloped in their love; their support; their assurances that they are there for us. The palpable sense that we are not alone in this washed over us, filling us with a sense of relief and gratitude.

Once in our van, we realized that, before we went home to our other children and shared this news with them, we needed some time to process what had just been thrown at us and to try to bring our emotions back in line with what we knew to be true.

We felt the need to go a place where we wouldn’t meet anyone we knew. A place where we could be alone and try to talk through all that we were feeling. We weren’t ready to be with anyone else just then.

We chose a little out-of-the-way coffee shop close to our house that Scott had just happened to notice while in Home Depot recently, buying materials to repair a broken faucet. We had never been there, so it was unlikely we would know anyone.

As we slipped through the door and out of the 10º weather, we spotted a welcoming fire glowing in the fireplace. The atmosphere in this little shop oozed comfort and quiet and peace. We almost instantly felt our heart rates slow and our shallow breathing deepen into a calming and rhythmic pace. The walls were decorated with scripture. And then I heard Matt Mahr’s voice over the PA singing, “Lord, I Need You.”

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

My eyes filled with tears of gratitude that He had led us to this place to rest for just a little while. I listened to the words and confessed my desperate need of Him in that moment.

Coffee Shop of Comfort

The owner came over to greet us, and before I could hide my face, she noticed the tears. She kindly asked if we were okay. It was awkward, and I didn’t want to talk. So I was surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth, “We’re okay. We just need a quiet place for a few minutes because we just got a diagnosis of cancer.”

She immediately sensed our need for privacy, but told us that she would slip away and pray for us right then.

When she brought our coffee to the table, I apologized for the whole uncomfortable encounter, and she softly explained that she and her husband believed that God had led them to open this shop for moments just like this. That they had felt from the beginning that it was supposed to be a haven — a place where people could come for quiet and rest.

Isn’t that amazing? It was just a little thing. A few minutes with a cappuccino and a warm fire and lyrics of truth floating through the air and spilling into our hearts.

But God is in the little things. And sometimes the little things are big things. 

A Cup of Calm and Promise.jpg

So thankful for this place to rest for just awhile

In those moments God brought us back to a place of peace and assurance that He will guide us through the decisions we are facing, and through the days, weeks, months that are ahead of us now. He steadied our hearts so that we were able to go home and sit in our family room, surrounded by our amazing children and tell them the news that would make them cry. And shake the security of their world. And remind all of us that until our security rests wholly in Him, it will be shaken. 

He guided us through the difficult and painful conversation that followed as our children expressed their fears and sadness and anger. And their thankfulness that God made them part of this family.

We think we know the treatment path we’re going to take, and we will share more about that when we are certain. But it will require scaling mountains that seem impossibly huge. We will need miracles and much help from others.

And as we discussed these things and how impossible it all looks right now, one son tearfully reminded all of us that every one of the children in that room, including himself, represented miracles just like the ones we will need for this next chapter in our lives. That each one is home and part of this family because of just such miracles. He urged us to remember those miracles and all of the people God brought alongside us to carry us through when we needed that. And he said that he was even able to almost feel excited about seeing what God will do now.

We all agreed to link arms and move forward together, one tentative step at a time, placing our feet into the footprints our God has already left for us to follow.

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
Job 12:10

“The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand.'”
Isaiah 14:24

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand.”
Psalm 31:14-15

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,  for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,  for you are with me.”
Psalm 23:4

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I’m a Junk Drawer; But They Call Me Mommy

It was a black, gloomy day. I’m not even sure why except that I hadn’t slept well for many days.

We had just taken an absolutely grueling (but beautiful) road trip to AL — thirty of us — and had been home for less than a week. I was still recovering from that and hadn’t even finished unpacking.

I was exhausted and aching for rest, but unable to shut off the continual flow of adrenaline that had been needed to pull off such an adventure. It always kicked into high gear just as I was trying to go to sleep, and I was dragging a little more with each passing day.

My mind was a swirling mass of chaos that morning. Mostly stress and guilt about things that needed to have been done ages ago, but that I hadn’t managed to get done yet. And the hammering, annoying, relentless to-do list pounding away in my head was making it hard for me to breathe. Appointments that I needed to make; emails that I needed to answer; the 7000+ emails in my inbox that needed to be cleaned out; ordered items that needed to be returned; teens who still needed to learn to drive; prep that still needed to be done for Orphan Sunday presentations. On and on and on the list went. To infinity.

I walked into my bathroom to drop some stray pony-tail holders into the top drawer. When I opened that drawer this is what I saw.

Junk Drawer

When did this drawer turn into such a catch-all mess? I hate disorder in my closets and pantry and drawers. But no would would ever know that by looking in those places now. Most of them look kind of like this these days. When did I so totally lose control of my life?  Was it with child number 12? Or 16? Or 21? I couldn’t remember when exactly it had happened.

I stood looking at that drawer and all of my frustration came bubbling to the surface. All I could think was, “THAT’S my life!! I’m a junk drawer!”

Tears stung my eyes as I slammed the drawer shut, pulled all of my self-pity up around me like a warm blanket and walked back into my bedroom.

The air felt stuffy in my room as I began wrapping birthday presents for our newest son who was turning seven that day. This would be Nolan’s first birthday as part of our family. I wanted to make it perfect for him, but couldn’t shake the black cloud hanging over everything.

I opened some windows and tried to pray, but the words wouldn’t come. As I turned my back on the windows overlooking our backyard and went back to wrapping, I heard a tiny voice yell excitedly, “Mommy!! Mommy!!”

I wearily walked back to the window and looked down at our giant-sized jungle gym. Five-year-old Roslyn had apparently looked up just in time to spot me at the window, and she just couldn’t resist calling out to me.

I waved to her, and she yelled happily again, “Mommy, yook at Yiyan!”

My little Roslyn was standing on her paralyzed legs, aided by her leg braces, and pushing her even more paralyzed sister Lilyan in a swing. They were both giggling and full of joy.

As always, once the other kids noticed that I was there, a whole cascade of “Mommy watch me’s!” began gushing forth.

Jaden, also five, yelled, “Mommy! Look how high I am!” as he proudly showed me how he has learned to swing himself in spite of the 110º curve in his spine.

Nolan called out to me, waving wildly, “Hi Mommy! I love you, Mommy!”

My sweet Kathryn called up with a smile, “Mommy! I’m climbing in the fort.”

And in that moment, something happened.

You know how, when you’re flying on a cloudy, rainy day and it’s dark and the raindrops smear across the little oval-shaped windows as the plane climbs and climbs through the storm? And then sometimes, very suddenly and with no warning at all, you burst out above the clouds and the light is shining so brightly that it’s almost blinding? And you can look out the little windows and see the dark clouds below you and you know that the storm is still there on the underside of those clouds, but not up where you are?

That’s what it was like. This instant flash of brightness and the ability to momentarily see above the gloom of the day and look out over the big picture.

Although, I’m never unaware of the fact that these children are mine through the miracle of adoption, most of the time, we just live normal life. I’m their mommy and they are my babies. I care for them and train them and love them and get annoyed with them. And they come to me for help and test me and love me and annoy me. But for that moment, I was powerfully struck by the amazingness of the whole thing.

Each of these babies grew inside another woman’s body as she went about her life in some unknown corner of a different part of the world. And then, once they were fully formed, they exited her body and came into our lives. And now, they call me Mommy! 

I am 100% fully and completely their mommy! I am 56 years old and a grandmother many times over, but I still have five- and six-year-olds who call me mommy and really mean it.

For that moment, this profound picture took my breath away and lifted me above the funk I was in.

It only lasted a moment. It didn’t take away the fatigue-induced cloud that was engulfing me. The gloom returned and stayed with me the rest of the day (although it didn’t prevent our Nolan from having a perfect birthday just as I had hoped.)

But God had given me that moment of light and reminded me that there was a very different picture up above the clouds currently surrounding me.

Being able to glimpse, again, the beauty of the story that He’s writing was something for me to hold onto while I waited for the clouds to pass. And it reminded me of another one of my favorite quotes:

“A Christian may for many days together see neither sun nor star, neither light in God’s countenance, nor light in his own heart, though even at that time God darts some beams through those clouds upon the soul; the soul again, by a spirit of faith, sees some light through those thickest clouds, enough to keep it from utter despair.”
~ Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

There will always be cloudy, gloomy days. Sometimes we’ll know what causes them, and other times, they will just sneak up on us with no hint of their origin. But God is still our same loving and perfect Father behind the clouds, and He has promised to carry us to the end and to write our stories to completion.

And sometimes He will “dart some beams through those clouds upon [our] souls”  so that we can “again by a spirit of faith, [see] some light through those thickest clouds.” 

I’m so thankful for this!

I will probably be a junk drawer for the rest of my life now. But I will also be called Mommy for the rest of my life. And I can see the beauty in that even on the darkest of days.

Jaden Swinging

Jaden practicing his swinging

Kathryn's 11th and Mother's Day #4

Being Mommy to my Kathryn

The day that I officially became Mommy to Lilyan

The day that I officially became Mommy to Lilyan

Nolan's 7th #5

Beautiful, special first birthday in our family for our new son, Nolan

Roslyn Meeting Keller

Introducing Roslyn to our youngest grandson, Keller

Family photo showing the nineteen still living at home who call me Mommy

Family photo showing the nineteen still living at home who call me Mommy

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I Want To Be Your Hero

Eight years ago today, this boy came home to us.

Home. At last. Ian's 13th #1 His life started in China, where he was abandoned by the parents who gave him life. His severe, bilateral cleft lip and palate would’ve been a huge — probably insurmountable — challenge for a family there, as in most developing countries.

Ian as a baby - waiting for a family

Ian as a baby – waiting for a family

Finally, as a young preschooler, a family came for him. He spent days with this family before circumstances resulted in his being returned to the orphanage, and this family’s return to America without him.

Alone. Abandoned. Again.

Then, when he was four, another family came for him. This time they took him all the way to America. Sadly, fifteen months later, these parents were looking for another home for him.

He was five when he came to us. His resilience astounded me then; his beauty of character, his laugh, his contentment all continue to amaze me today. Ian and Balloons 2 copy

Ian - After He was like one of those jigsaw pieces you just can’t find a place for. You keep trying, but you have to continue putting it aside.

And then . . . finally! Once you have enough of the other pieces in place, it becomes so very clear that . . . there! That’s where this piece belongs!

When God had all of the necessary pieces in place, He brought Ian home. For good.

And he slipped so beautifully into place here — just like that puzzle piece that was put aside over and over again until just the right time. What a gift this child has been to our family.

Whenever Scott and I travel to bring home a new child, our oldest daughter and her husband (and children) move into our house to stay with our children until we return. One of the things she does with them to help count down the days until our return, is to take a family photo and cut it into jigsaw pieces. The number of pieces matches the number of days that we will be gone. Each night, they put one piece of the puzzle together. By the time we come home with their new sibling, the family photo has been completed — just as our family is, once again, “completed” with the homecoming of the new child.

The kids working on the family puzzle during one of our recent trips to China for a new sibling.

The kids working on the family puzzle during one of our recent trips to China for a new sibling.

But, actually, the puzzle only appears complete to us at the time we bring home our new one. Only God sees the truly completed puzzle. Only He knows exactly how many pieces are still out there waiting to slip into place in our family photo jigsaw puzzle.

Ian was the second child to come to us under such circumstances.

And a third is on his way home now, to fill his place as the 22nd child in our family.

Our new son. We will be able to share more of his story and his name before too much longer.

Our new son. We will be able to share more of his story and his name before too much longer.

I don’t know how these children survive what they are forced to live through. But I do know that they don’t come through unscathed. They all arrive home with scars, and sometimes with open, bleeding wounds.

Recently, I was praying for my children who still struggle with those scars, and especially for this new son who will join us very soon. The words, “I want to be your hero,” flitted through my mind. You know how words sometimes come faster than your realization of what was behind them? Does that ever happen to you?

I was kind of surprised by these words. And I began to examine what my heart meant by sending those words to my head.

There are a number of songs out there about heroes: Enrique Iglesias’s love song, “Hero

I can be your hero baby; I can kiss away the pain; I will stand by you forever; You can take my breath away

Mariah Carey’s, also called “Hero”

And then a hero comes along; With the strength to carry on; And you cast your fears aside; And you know you can survive

Foo Fighters’ song, “My Hero” (definitely not my choice in music, but I do like what these particular lyrics say about a hero)

Don’t the best of them bleed it out; While the rest of them peter out?

I noticed that each of these songs have some characteristics in common when referring to heroism:

Rescue; strength; courage, comfort; hope; commitment; perseverance; freedom; self-sacrifice. 

Years ago, one of our sons won an 1828 Noah Webster dictionary in a writing contest. I love that book! I looked up “hero.”  This was Mr. Webster’s definition of a hero:

A [person] of distinguished valor, intrepidity, or enterprise in danger.”

“Intrepidity.” What an awesome word! It’s definition is: “Fearless bravery in danger; undaunted courage or boldness.”

And what about “valor?”  “Strength of mind in regard to danger; that quality which enables a man to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery; courage.” 

Oh, my! I don’t have any of those things.

But . . . I want to be your hero! I want to kiss away your pain; I want to commit to you forever; I want to keep my promise to never hurt you; I want to remain brave and strong when you are scared and weak; I want to give you hope when you can’t see any reason to hope; I want to give up my very life and breath for you; I want to be brave enough to “bleed it out” when that’s what’s required for your full healing.

And “enterprise?” “A bold, arduous or hazardous undertaking.” (Wow. Sounds a lot like the adoption of an older, very broken child.)

One of the things I don’t like about the Mariah Carey song quoted above is that the main point of her song is that heroism is inside of us if we just reach down deeply enough and try hard enough:

So when you feel like hope is gone; Look inside you and be strong; And you’ll finally see the truth; That a hero lies in you

 You may have noticed that the very name of my blog is rooted in the deep conviction that we really do not possess this strength on our own — inside ourselves.

But . . . I want to be your hero! 

Immediately I am reminded of the words of Richard Sibbes, who lived in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries:

“Weakness, with acknowledgement of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect His strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities drives us out of ourselves to Him in whom our strength lies.”

And there is the secret. God will perfect His strength in my weakness. He knows my heart’s deepest desire. He is working through my less-than-heroic attempts to love my babies back to healing. Back to a place where their untapped potential will be free to gush forth for all of the world to see. I can’t wait! 

I can be your hero with God’s help.

I am so excited about this new son. I can’t wait to look into his face (even though he almost certainly won’t be able to look back into mine for a long time). I am excited about this next “enterprise,” as God gradually reveals this already-written chapter for our family; as He brings us this next puzzle piece and fits him into the slot that’s been designed just for him. We’ve been waiting for this son without even knowing it.

And I’m ready for God to do something amazing in the lives of each of my children. I’m waiting in breathless anticipation, even as I crawl through the trenches for them.

Through Him I will continue to find the perseverance I’m lacking on my own. I will continue to find strength and courage and the ability to sacrifice myself when my sinful heart wants to run for places of comfort and ease.

He will continue to bring to my children — through my weak-but-genuine efforts — rescue, hope, comfort, freedom from fear.

Isn’t that amazing!? I can be my children’s hero with God’s promised help. I can be one of the most critical keys that unlocks all of the beauty and talents and joy and gifts and music and light hiding inside my little scarred ones.

And those scars. Each and every one of them has been a part of creating the beauty that will emerge as the healing takes place. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers. But I trust the One who does. And I’ll keep allowing Him to teach me how to trust Him more and more.

“No possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.” ~ C. S. Lewis

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