What Kind of Man Would Do Something Like This?

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

Engagement

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

S&K Wedding - 2

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

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

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

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

Adopting Nathan 1998

In Bolivia to bring home our new son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Recovery

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

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

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

Dancing at our son's wedding

Dancing at our son’s wedding

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

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

RosenowFamilyPhotos-10

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

Hiking with Kathryn way before she reached 100 pounds

Hiking with Kathryn way before she reached 100 pounds

Hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree

Hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree

Helping Kathryn fly a kite

Helping Kathryn fly a kite

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

Speaking on behalf of the fatherless

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

Becoming Grandad!

Becoming Grandad!

Rock Climbing 11-11 Day 2 #4

Teaching a son to rock climb with a prosthetic leg

SharonWoods 8-12 #17

Helping our blind son skip stones

Gabriela Helping Grandad Hang Blinds

Hanging new blinds with the help of one of our granddaughters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our blind son’s new bike

Wrestling Match 12-10 #7

Wrestling with kids and grandkids

Fighting For and Against a Champion

Carlin In Romania #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s not just about her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlin In Romania #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

carlin lying on gandalf

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

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

Home where a mommy can carry her through many difficult surgeries

Home where Mommy can carry her through many difficult surgeries

With a new brother to love and care for her

With a new brother to love and care for her

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

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

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

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

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

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

So precious

So precious

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

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

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

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

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

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

One day at a time . . .

One day at a time . . .

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

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

Sunrise

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

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

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

This Christmas stocking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing has changed! 

I trust Him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing has changed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Just Really, Really Hurts

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

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

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

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

Bandages removed this morning

Bandages removed this morning

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

Lilyan and her pal, Saxon  - just hanging together

Lilyan and her pal, Saxon – just hanging together

Lilyan's spinal deformity affects every aspect of her life

Lilyan’s spinal deformity affects every aspect of her life

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

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

New Glasses Here #1

Our happy, happy girl

The answer rocked my world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now — tonight — I will cry.

And tomorrow?

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

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

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

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

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

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