If you follow me on Facebook, or follow our family blog, you may remember that day a few months ago when we took the family to the zoo, only to find ourselves stranded on I-75 on the way home, when our very old 15-passenger van broke down. Again!
And you may have seen a couple of posts since that day, hinting that we would have something big and beautiful to announce soon. Well, it’s time.
And Ethel (who is a little heftier than Lucy because she came with a wheelchair lift!!)
Both brand new. Both custom-ordered to meet our needs. Both gifts to our family. (There is actually a story behind these names. Keep reading.)
There truly are no words to express all that we are feeling over this news. We are still trying to process the concept of not having to worry, every time we leave the house, if we will make it back home without having to call a tow truck, and of having adequate air conditioning; the reality that we no longer have to lift Kathryn and Owen (both over a hundred pounds now) up into van seats; the incredible fact that all wheelchairs and walkers can fit inside of the vans now instead of having to hang on the outside. We can travel in the rain now!
As Scott and I were driving these two beauties home from the dealership on Friday, I felt kind of numb. I felt a little like my brain and heart had fallen asleep; like I was functioning in a fog. I was aware of emotions roiling inside, but they were all stuck there — like they were too big, or like there were just too many of them, to squeeze their way out to the surface. I think Scott and I were still in shock that this had actually happened. That someone (who has asked not to be named) had come to us months ago after that infamous breakdown (only one of many), and said that they felt God had called them specifically to solve our transportation challenges. And that they had then gone on to do just that in a much bigger way than we could ever have dreamed of!
The emotions were there as I pondered all that had happened since that day on the way home from the zoo, but those emotions got clogged and went silent, like gears when something jams them and they stop turning.
Then, suddenly driving down State Route 747, I was sobbing. I mean, sobbing! I couldn’t figure out exactly what was behind all of those tears, but as I wept, the emotions began to kind of uncoil themselves a bit. The gears slowly started to come to life again.
And after a few minutes passed, I realized in the midst of that ongoing flood of tears that I had a clear mental image of looking down from above and seeing our family in two totally constrasting situations.
On the left, was our family back in the year 2000.
We had just begun the adoptions of Robyn and Colin. Their homecomings would bring us to a total of eight children — nine whenever Raiza was in the United States and living with us. We knew that, once these two came home, we would move into a place where our income would no longer easily provide for the family’s needs. But God was asking more of us, even, than that. He was also asking us to walk away from Scott’s secure income and career as an engineer, and follow Him onto a very foggy path to start a ministry that would help find families for other special needs orphans. (This call would eventually lead to the beginning of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry.)
And it was also at this time that we made a conscious decision to accept God’s clear call on our lives to bring home as many children to our own family as He chose for us. We knew this would require a deeper faith than we possessed, and that it would take us to dark and scary places — although at that time, we were mercifully unaware of just how dark and scary things would get further down that road. We were afraid, but we were also very excited about seeing what miraculous things God would do as we followed Him into this unconventional life.
Up to that point, we had had a pretty long list of people who were following us via email. These people were praying for us, encouraging us, helping us as we raised funds to bring each of our children home. We shared these things with this list of people.
And our hearts were broken at the response to our scary and exciting news.
We heard comments like, “You’ve gone too far now,” “We no longer want to be a part of this journey.”
More than half of the people on that list chose to stop receiving our emails and following along with us.
We held a family meeting one evening soon after this and discussed the very real possibility that God might ask us to link arms with each other and go forward alone from that point. We had to choose whether we would follow Him, or give in to the voices that told us we were crazy to take this path that we believed God had designed for us long, long ago.
And every member of the family who was old enough to understand this, committed to moving forward — even if we had to do it alone.
That was one side of this image.
And on the right, was our family today.
After that dark and lonely period, God spent the next seventeen years quickly growing our family and slowly growing, beneath us, a loving and dedicated system of support made up of friends, strangers, family, Christians, non-Christians, people of all ages, color, size, and shape. (A year ago, I wrote a blog post about the ways in which God has blessed us — and continues to bless us — through the giving hearts of others. It’s called, Emptying the Pockets of our Lives. That post will give you a full picture of how God has showered His love upon us through the years. It will add meaning to this post.)
I wish I had the gift of expressing concepts like J. R. Miller or Susannah and Charles Spurgeon did in their timeless writings. But I can only say that the stark contrast of these two seasons in our lives, combined with the real-time sight of Scott driving Ethel home in front of Lucy and me, resulted in a fireworks-kind-of assurance that God will always take care of us. For the rest of that day, this absolute certainty that I can trust God with every aspect of our lives, pulsed vibrantly in my heart and mind.
All those worries I have about my children as they are trying to become adults now? He’s got it!
My fears every single year about providing seasonal clothing, curriculum for school, Christmas gifts for all of them? He’s already on it!
My sadness about the kids’ medical struggles; my dread surrounding Kathryn’s upcoming surgery and the probability that this surgery won’t take care of her issues? He’s holding all of that in His hands.
God has already written this story all the way to the end! It doesn’t matter how scared or confused or abandoned I feel at times! Whatever pain, joy, loneliness, celebration, uncertainty, heartache, or bounty lies ahead, it’s all part of His lovingly orchestrated story. It will all work out perfectly because He never, ever makes mistakes. It might not seem perfect to me — not every answer from Him involves brand new, custom-made, beautifully shining silver vans. But He has woven perfection into the storms of our lives, a perfection that we can’t see here on this side of the clouds; and He has promised to care for us, to provide for us, to lead us along the paths that take us into His arms, and to show His faithfulness to a watching world.
It was an incredible drive. Just Lucy, God, and me as I sobbed all the way home. As I basked in one of those rare moments when God gifts us with the ability to rise above the gut-wrenching work here on earth and see just how full of love and promise all of His plans are. As He gave me a quick but incredibly clear view of the assurance and rest we can find in trusting and following Him.
By the next morning, that mountaintop experience was gone, and I was back in the trenches again with my precious family. Dealing with the hard places in my babies’ hearts, and with the brokenness in their bodies. Wondering how to stretch the Kroger gift cards far enough to get us to payday again; asking God for ways to pay for more new pairs of glasses than we had expected to need.
But every time I looked through the windows at those gifts from God sitting in our driveway, I heard Him whisper to me, “I am with you. I will never leave you. I will always meet your needs and care for you and your children, even when ‘the winds blow and the storms beat upon you.’ Just trust me to do it My way and in My time.”
The second day we had Lucy home, one of the dogs vomited on her floor. The next day, someone hit her in the parking lot. It turned out to be only a bump on one of her mirrors, and no damage was done at all, but these incidents were good reminders that we can never look to any material thing — no matter how amazing or useful — for our ultimate joy. We can enjoy these things immensely, but we can’t find our joy in them. All things of this world are here today and gone tomorrow.
But the promises these vans represent to us are precious and eternal. God hears our prayers. And in His time and in His ways, he will always answer our cries for help and meet our needs. And sometimes He will do it in such big ways that we will be left numb and speechless in our awe. And we might find ourselves sobbing through the emotions.
Oh, and why Lucy and Ethel? If you’ve read our book, Swaying in the Treetops, you may remember that, one of our long-standing family traditions goes like this. Anytime a vehicle breaks down, we watch old I Love Lucy episodes, eat ice cream, laugh and pray while we wait for God to provide help. They seemed like perfect names to us.
Here are a few photos of our kids seeing their new rides for the first time. It was a magical couple of hours. Join us in praising God and celebrating!