Horribly Broken Places

I remember some kids dying. A man would come with a bag. When he came, I knew another orphan had died. He was kind of bald and had a little bit of a beard. He would carry the dead kids away in the bag.

Oh, dear God! Help me! He’s been home with us three-and-a-half years now and, at the age of ten, is finally beginning to feel safe enough to start sharing little snippets of the hell he lived for at least three very long, damaging years of his life.

This son of ours was found abandoned in a bus station when he was about three years old. Very little is known about the beginning of his life, but he was able to tell those who found him that someone—an older man, presumably a father or a grandfather—had left him there after his mother died; that gathering and selling empty water bottles didn’t generate enough income for this man to continue feeding and caring for a paraplegic child who also suffered from severe incontinence.

But someone had cared enough to try for at least three years in a country where babies are regularly abandoned at birth because of less severe birth defects than this. Someone had seemingly loved this little one enough to hold onto him and try to give him a life.

Then she died. And he was alone.

Soon after being found, this child whose world had been turned completely inside out, was sent to live in a place that has a reputation for being one of the worst orphanages in his birth country. It would be another four years before he was finally able to come home to us.


We’ll never know everything his innocent little heart survived during those years, but he’s finally beginning to drop a clue here and there. He seems almost ready to begin testing the waters a bit by letting us very slowly into this secret world of his.

Disobedience, lying, sneaking . . . unattractive characteristics—all of them. And they have been appearing with greater frequency over the past year or so.

Experience has taught us that sometimes this means our love is finally breaking through a layer or two of that protective armor these kids are forced to don in order to survive the lives they find themselves in—through no fault of their own.

Sometimes . . . when a layer crumbles away . . . it leaves behind raw, bleeding pain. And sometimes . . . that pain looks and sounds like nastiness: I don’t want you; go away!

But the pain is really screaming: Please don’t leave me; come and find me; don’t give up on me! 

It’s hard. So very hard. This is the side of adoption that isn’t talked about so much. It’s much easier to share the happy birthday pictures; the Christmas morning stories; the physical healing after desperately-needed surgeries.

I overheard the nannies saying some things that made me think the babies were taken and burned when the man took them away in the bag. But I think the older kids were put into some kind of a truck when they died.

For a little one to witness this as a regular part of his childhood? This is inconceivable even when we read about it in an article on the Internet; when we shed a tear and place a hand to our throats while trying to process such things happening to some unknown child.

But to listen to one’s own child share such horrors—things that we mothers would sacrifice our own lives to protect our children from . . .

Hours later, my mind and heart still can’t absorb it. I can’t sleep. I keep seeing him as such a little boy. Alone. Watching this drama play out day after day right before his eyes. No one even trying to explain to him what has happened; assure him that he is safe and will be taken care of; shield him even a little bit from things that even adults couldn’t live through without deep, permanent scars.

There was another building out in back of the building where we lived. Behind us. That’s where the  “out-of-control” kids were sent to live. 

He was unable to explain what he meant by “out-of-control kids” so chose to give us an example.

One night after the nannies put us to bed, they went out for a walk or something, and an older, big boy came sneaking into our room to hurt the other kids. I saw him sneak into our room. But the nannies came back and caught him and he had to go live in the other building in the back—behind our building.

He told us he remembered a doctor who was nice to him sometimes. And he has at least some clear memories of the severe neglect that resulted in the horribly infected bedsores discovered when we finally got him out of this place; ulcers that left him terribly scarred all across his lower back, buttock, and upper thigh.

I was always wet, and no one changed my clothes. And I remember my blankets where we slept were always wet and didn’t get changed.

I’m confronted with my helplessness. How can one ever be prepared to do what’s needed to heal a child with places this broken inside his aching heart?

God in Heaven, what EVER gave You the idea that I was the one to be this little one’s Mommy??? Where do I begin? I love him more than words can express, but HOW do I help him?

I have actually never doubted that I am his mother. As soon as we learned about him and began discussing the possibility of adopting him, we started praying for him. Early one morning, as I sat in my bedroom praying for this little one and for clear direction about our role in his life, I was suddenly and dramatically overcome with feelings of urgency and protectiveness for this boy; very much emotions of a mother’s heart. Immediately, I just knew with such certainty that he was ours. I remember crying and praying, “God, he’s my son. I have to go and get him. We have to bring him home! This child is my son! Please bring him to us!”

And the battle was not an easy one as we fought to complete that adoption in the face of major obstacles. But he was ours. We knew that, and this certainty kept us strong for the fight.

Finalizing the adoption - a  new beginning for our boy

Finalizing the adoption – a new beginning for our boy

His first night with us - sleeping soundly in clean dry pajamas and covers, snuggling his new doggie and blankie

His first night with us – sleeping soundly in clean dry pajamas and covers, snuggling his new doggie and blankie

Laughing with his new Mommy at the zoo in his birth country

Laughing with his new Mommy at the zoo in his birth country

Finally home, and meeting his new siblings at the airport.

Finally home, and meeting his new siblings at the airport.

So, as the battle for his heart and his soul rages on, I will choose to fall back on this confirmation that he is my son; I am his mother.

God doesn’t have to explain His plans to me. It’s enough to know that He brought us together.

And it’s enough to know that He has promised to be the strength in my weakness; to guide us as we pour endless gallons of love over this son of ours and petition Heaven with a continuous bombardment of prayers for his eventual healing—complete healing and freedom from the memories that haunt his thoughts and affect his actions.

Celebrating his most recent birthday, trying valiantly to overcome the many scars that plague his heart and mind

Celebrating his most recent birthday, trying valiantly to overcome the many scars that plague his heart and mind

I will trust the dreams I believe God placed in our hearts for this boy’s future; promises to slowly reveal to a watching world the amazing person buried under so much pain and hurt.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

This son’s heart is not beyond the reach of the God of the Universe. He is capable of healing when no human hand can accomplish this. And the fact that he is beginning to share these very private places with us—this is a sign that the past three-and-a-half years have gradually been bringing about the healing so critical to his reaching his fullest potential.

And when I’m too tired or scared or weak to go on, I’ll rest in the arms that brought this child to me and wait for God’s whispered direction. This battle is His. I am merely His child, chosen to fight in obedience, and promised victory in the end—promised so many things. I can cling to these assurances from Him.

And we will fight to our dying breath to keep helping to rescue other orphans (yes, I used the very un-PC word “rescue” and I dare anyone to read this post and argue that these situations can’t be described as rescues!) and find families who are willing to enter into battle themselves to uncover the hidden treasures buried deep in the hearts of others just like our son.

“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.  . . . stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you . . . the Lord will be with you.”
2 Chronicles 20: 15, 17

“He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”
Isaiah 40:11

“How blessed is the man whose strength is in You . . .
They go from strength to strength.”
Psalm 84:5, 7

“He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.”
Isaiah 40:29

“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
 and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power . . .
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor His delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who . . .
put their hope in His unfailing love.”
Psalm 147:3

“He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted . . .
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Luke 4:18










Cracks in the Sidewalk

Such a long, cold, hard winter. My winter-loving soul delighted in this. I love the cold and the snow and the dark mornings and early sunsets. I love a winter so long and harsh that, at the end of it, my whole being is panting for spring.


Ahhh . . and then, that morning in early April when the sidewalks were finally completely free of icy patches and piles of shoveled snow; when I could be sure of walking in the dark pre-dawn without the risk of slipping and falling. . .

Saxon and I had really – really – missed our early morning walks. We were both giddy just to be back out there again.


Saxon, looking longingly through the window

I walk to clear my mind, to fight the many natural consequences of aging, to prepare myself mentally for the day. I walk for the solitude before my brood is awake and needing my attention and the emails start pouring in. I walk for an uninterrupted hour of prayer.

Saxon walks because it makes him happy to be with me and to protect me from all those evil shadows he’s convinced are out to get me.

I stood in my driveway under the fading early-morning stars, slowly and deeply drinking in the cool air; the silence. Then we walked.

As my little flashlight guided me along my way and illuminated each crack in our neighborhood sidewalks, I thought about how many years I’d been walking pretty much this same route. And I started to pray. I like to use this hour to pray through our long list of children, one at a time; to intercede on behalf of dear friends in need; to present my own personal petitions to the God of the universe—the One who has promised to meet all of the needs His children bring to Him.

Walking #2

When my light hit the next sidewalk crack up ahead of me, I was instantly reminded of a morning a couple of years before.

I had been walking and pouring out my heart concerning the financial crisis that our non-profit, The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry, was facing. As a small non-profit, we have struggled just to survive for our whole twelve years of existence, and this current crisis was the worst to date. We were very rapidly approaching the point where we would have to begin the process of shutting down. And then Scott would have to find a job—somewhere.

I cried and shared my thoughts and requests honestly with God, reminding Him that He had promised in Scripture to equip us to do any work He called us to.

I talked to Him about how much we loved the work involved in running this organization, how our hearts beat with the desire that we be allowed to keep touching the lives of orphans and bringing families together.

I acknowledged that this was His work—not mine—and that we had always asked Him for the strength and courage to walk away if there ever came a time when He, for any reason, was ready to move us on to something else.

And I confessed that I didn’t have that courage on my own as I shared my fears about the unknown.

Then, panic! It struck so suddenly that it took my breath away. What would we do if we reached that point—just a couple of weeks away now—where we actually had to leave behind the life we had come to know so well and love so much over the past twelve years?! Where could Scott possibly find a job at his age and after being away from engineering for so long???

At that moment my flashlight beam had hit the next crack in the sidewalk, and the words, “Do you see that crack in the sidewalk? You aren’t to it, yet. Why are you worrying about things that are still ahead of you? When you reach that crack, I’ll be with you,”  passed through my mind and settled comfortably into the deep places of my heart.

I was able to release the fear. I wasn’t able to face losing our ministry and job. But I was able–for that moment–to stop being afraid; to leave it in God’s hands; to wait quietly for Him to show us the future in His time.

Such freedom accompanied that release!

And God did send financial help just in the nick of time; a breathtaking rescue for TSC; we are still plodding along today, doing the work we love so much.

From that moment on, I tried to think about—watch for—those sidewalk cracks every time I walked and prayed about our needs, the desires of my heart, my worries for our children.

As the years passed, those cracks also began to represent answered prayers:

I remembered how, for almost two full years, I had walked that path, crying and begging God to bring Shannen home from Guatemala. When adoptions there began sputtering in 2007 and eventually stopped in 2008, her process became hopelessly stuck, we were forced to face the probability that she was never coming home. I would pound along those sidewalks in the dark; begging God to reach into that place of sadness where my baby was being held and snatch her out; whisper-singing the special song we had chosen for herIf You Were Mine, by Fernando Ortega. Every time I got to the lines:

. . . And I would fight for you with all the strength that I could find.
I would lead you home by your tiny hand
If you were mine, if you were mine . . . 

 . . . the tears would flow so freely that I would have to stop singing. I was never able to do more than whimper my way through those lyrics.


We were blessed to spend time with a very tiny and undernourished Shannen in Guatemala. Here, I’m trying to help her eat in spite of the cleft in her lip and alveolar ridge.



And then . . . suddenly . . . unexpectedly . . .  the miracles fell into place and God answered those hundreds of prayers. Shannen Mariana came home to us!


Scott with Shannen when we went back to Guatemala to finally bring her home!


At home – a happy, spunky little girl

Now, instead of worrying about surviving each day, our little former orphan girl worries about important things like growing her wild hair out to look like Merida from “Brave.” This is one of her greatest desires in life, and she’s well on her way.

Image Image


I remembered praying for Colin—terrified about how I could ever teach a blind child math (and about a billion other things). “Do you see that crack in the sidewalk? You aren’t to it, yet.”  At that moment, I only had to focus on teaching him how to take himself to the bathroom and to make his bed.


And now . . . through the miraculous provision of necessary tools and an aide to help daily with his school, Colin is able to solve complicated equations on his abacus . . . and play chess and do chores and use a pogo stick (and about a billion other things).

Math Lesson Colin 11-11 #3



I remembered praying for our oldest son as he struggled to keep seeking God’s plans for his life and trusting God with the timing and circumstances of bringing him a wife. So many, many prayers for this unknown girl. So many, many pleas that God would prepare their hearts for each other; bring them together soon.

And then Nicole came out of nowhere. Such a perfect fit for the waiting places in our son’s heart.




Prayers for our next son. His struggles. His questions. The need I sensed for a soulmate—although he seemed unaware of this need.

Anna. Unlooked-for; beautifully created for this particular son. God’s timing in bringing her to him was so right.



How will we pay for curriculum this year? Where will we go for the neurosurgery our children will need? What will we do when we really outgrow this house and the addition still isn’t built?

“Do you see that crack in the sidewalk? . . .

How will we ever reach this wayward child if her heart never softens? What happens when Kathryn is so heavy that even Nathan and Scott can no longer lift her into her carseat and we still don’t have a van with a wheelchair lift?

 ” . . . You aren’t to it, yet. Why are you worrying about things that are still ahead of you? . . . 

 — if we don’t have all the money needed for this or that child’s adoption when it’s time? — if we can’t buy spring (or winter) clothes when they are needed? How will we ever get them all through college if they want to go?

”  . . . When you reach that crack, I’ll be with you.” 

Thousands of steps.

More whispered prayers; shared fears; cries for help; expressions of gratitude than I could ever count. On and on and on . . .

So many cracks in the sidewalk. Each one a reminder of God’s faithfulness. All of them gentle encouragements to let go and trust God with all of my heart’s desires and needs and scary unknowns.

Walking is good for the soul; the body; the mind; the heart. When I walk, I’ll be watching for those cracks in the sidewalk.

“It is not the cares of today, but the cares of tomorrow, that weigh a man down. For the needs of today we have corresponding strength given. For the morrow we are told to trust. It is not ours yet. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today that the weight is more than a man can bear.” ~ George Macdonald

Walking #3