Show-and-Tell Family

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

Multiple wheelchairs, forearm crutches, a leg prosthesis designed to draw attention, a white cane, a special walker, a precious little girl with a very misshapen body, multiple skin colors, various eye shapes . . . We are never an invisible group when we go out in public, at least twenty of us stretching half a city block as we parade across wide intersections and along winding sidewalks.

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Headed to a Cincinanti Symphony Orchestra concert

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Waiting to cross a major intersection

Zoo Day 8-13 #2

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

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

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

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

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

Are we really being lights?

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

The typical questions go something like this:

Are they real sisters? 

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

How many of those children are your own? 

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

What made you decide to do this?

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

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

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

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

Is it ever wearying to be the show-and-tell family?  Do we ever wish we could just drift out into the world like a “normal” family and not have to answer any questions? I would be lying if I didn’t say yes.

Sometimes I let myself slip into places of self-pity and dream of just being an anonymous, invisible, normal American family. Sometimes we all would like to just take a family outing to the park or to the mall or shoe store and not be noticed (a little hard when we walk out of the store with twenty-plus pairs of shoes and the kids have to stand in a long line as they wait for their turn to get into one of our vans).

Our growing pile of new shoes at Shoe Carnival

Our growing pile of new shoes at Shoe Carnival

And sometimes, it is healthy to go as a family to a very private place where we can have a break – for just awhile. Sometimes we do just that. But we can’t stay there. This is the life God has given us. This is where we live. 

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

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

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Lilyan, opening a birthday present

Swimming Day 8-18 #1

Lilyan with one of her best friends, our dog Saxon

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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

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,” 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 . . .

Swallowed up in Sweet Surrender

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

Have you ever felt that lifting of a burden, that freedom, that exhilarating lightening of spirit that comes when you finally feel absolutely certain of a decision, and then surrender your heart and your will to that knowledge?

Your agonizing struggle is over, and although you’re still uncertain of the outcome, you know without a doubt which direction you should now be facing and what your next step is supposed to be. You’re ready to confidently embrace the future one step at a time. The peace and the courage that flood your soul . . . ah, this is a moment not to be forgotten.

remember one of these moments so clearly that my heart beats with excitement as I revisit it even now . . . almost a year later.

“Do you have room for one more?” 

Lilyan Moriah

Lilyan Moriah

I opened my Facebook inbox one day last year and found this question waiting for me, along with a brief description of a breathtakingly beautiful four-year-old orphan girl who had been born with a terribly deformed trunk and a multitude of accompanying medical needs. Scott’s and my initial human and fear-driven reaction was, “No. We don’t have room (or money, or time, or energy) for one more.”

We were in the midst of one of our most challenging years, ever. Roslyn and Jaden had only been home for about eight months. And those eight months had been grueling. Jaden’s medical needs had taken us to new levels of exhaustion. We felt we had truly reached the end of ourselves multiple times. And we were so very tired.

Our hearts ached for this little girl who had never been wanted by a family, in spite of the advocacy on her behalf by numerous agencies and organizations. She, like every parent-less child out there, deserved a home. Parents to love her and devote themselves to her. Siblings to dote on her. Pets to snuggle with. Pretty dresses, special birthday meals, trips to the zoo. We really did want to obey—to be wholly open to following wherever God led—but we lacked the strength and the faith. How could we possibly continue to meet everyone’s needs if we stretched those needs even further?

Because we had committed, years before, to opening our eyes, ears, and hearts, and praying diligently anytime God seemed to be placing another child in our path, we agreed to do just this. But we experienced so much fear over the possibility that we might actually discover that God was, indeed, asking us to adopt again.

We told only a few people about this and asked them to pray with us, and we continued taking very tentative baby steps in the direction we felt He was probably leading us, asking Him to help us—while still not committing fully or officially to her adoption.

One of the people we shared this with expressed his concern for our family and said to us, “There’s a point where this becomes destructive.”

This hurt. Actually, though, we knew that it was probably true. But where is that point? We felt that only God could accurately answer this question.

So we continued listening for His voice, and only His voice, in our hearts. As we wrestled with our fears and our uncertainty, He slowly began to fill our hearts with confidence and surety about where He was leading and about the validity of trusting Him enough to follow.

I still couldn’t shake the fear of moving forward and making a solid commitment, though. And I was plagued with sadness over the fact that I couldn’t seem to release this fear, and experience joy and excitement over the blessing of another daughter.

Then it happened. Freedom!

That October Sunday afternoon, two months after I had opened that message in Facebook, I was driving alone in the car and praying about this child’s future and our role in that. Suddenly, like flash of light, something happened. Her name came to me so clearly that it was almost as if it had been spoken aloud, right there in the car.

Lilyan Moriah

Moriah is associated with divine providence. It is the name of the place where God led Abraham when He brought Abraham to the point of seeing his own heart concerning his love and commitment for following God. In obedience, Abraham went to Moriah where God had instructed him to sacrifice his only child—his cherished son, Isaac. Even though Abraham had no idea what God was doing, he trusted God completely—regardless of the circumstances—to make the whole situation right and good and perfect. He didn’t have to know how. He only had to follow and trust. He even said, in answer to his son’s question about the animal needed for the sacrifice, that God would provide one. He was confident that God had this situation under control—that he could trust God to work out all of the unknown details. Once Abraham had acknowledged that he was willing to surrender his hold on this son who had come to him and Sarah in such a miraculous way, God said,

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

And then God provided the sacrifice that was needed. Abraham actually called the place, “Yaweh Jireh,” which means, “The Lord will see to it.”

Scott’s and my journey over the preceding two months had been much like this. Even though we felt like we had already given so much of ourselves to God, trusting Him to continue designing beautiful things out of the treasures we laid in His hands, He took us to a place where we were able to see that we still weren’t ready to give Him everything. We were still afraid for the future of our family, being able to meet the needs of our children, our ability to care for this little one as she needed and deserved to be cared for. He asked us  to release these things, to place them all before Him and leave them there and trust Him to “see to it.” 

So I knew with clarity that this child had been chosen to be our new daughter. And I knew that her name was to be Lilyan, which fit our children’s name pattern, and means, “God is perfection.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God knows the perfect path for each of us. We would, in our human fear, turn away from so many of the paths He lays out for us and miss too many blessings to even count if we followed our own earthly wisdom. We can’t see past the scary windings and turnings to know what beauty He has ahead, even in the midst of the painful briers and stones and anthills that lay along that path.

So we will continue to pray for the courage and the faith to trust Him in all areas of our life. We will place our feet where He says to place them. And He will “see to” all of our needs and our children’s needs along the way.

Lilyan Moriah came home to our family in June, 2014, and there has never been a brighter light among us. Her courage and strength and overflowing joy daily inspire every member of our family as she rises above the incredible challenges she faces every single day. Oh, what a gift we would’ve missed if we hadn’t trusted God enough to follow Him down this very scary road. We thank Him constantly for leading us, whispering encouragement to us, making each step clear to us and carrying our daughter home to us in His strong, loving arms.

A mommy and a daddy all her own!

A mommy and a daddy all her own!

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

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

Lilyan and Saxon became close friends almost immediately

Lilyan and Saxon became close friends almost immediately

Just hanging together

Just hanging together

Monkey pajamas just like her brother, Jaden

Monkey pajamas just like her brother, Jaden

Lilyan's first birthday with a family

Lilyan’s first birthday with a family

Ponytails to match her sister, Roslyn

Ponytails to match her sister, Roslyn

This girl loves pink!

This girl loves pink!

Swimming together

Swimming together

So great to play together every day

So great to play together every day

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

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