Wait! Is This the Right Future?

Twelve years ago I, as co-founder of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry, posted this on my Facebook page:

“Thanking God this morning that we have found a family for little Gabriel. Now on to Andrew, who continues to wait and wait for someone to come for him — along with the other ~145 million orphans out there. Help us find them homes.

“Andrew” was a “name” given to this little boy by his adoption agency, solely for the purpose of allowing us to list him on our website without revealing his true name, as required by his birth country. It was reported to us that this sweet boy not only openly longed for a family, but that he also continually tried to encourage other children in his orphanage not to give up hope as they waited for families, too.

I didn’t know it at the time, but “Andrew” would become our own dear son, and his name would be Owen Samuel, which means, “young fighter heard by God.” Five days after the above was posted on Facebook, we began trying to get permission to adopt him ourselves.

Owen’s story was dramatic, as he came very close to being left behind in China forever when agencies decided to return his file to adoption officials in China and give up trying to find a family to adopt him. It was only because of a series of very obvious miracles that we were eventually able to adopt him. But it did happen. Our little guy’s desires were heard by a God whose ways are often confusing to our earthly minds. He had a family. He came home. He had a fresh start, and his whole future had changed.

“Andrew” becomes Owen Samuel Rosenow

He did, however, come home to us from a history of tremendous trauma. I shared more details about this in another post, back in 2014. I also shared in that post how God had suddenly filled my heart with an inexplicable, but unmistakable and burning, certainty that I was this little boy’s mother. I knew without a doubt that this darling little boy was mine, and that filled me with courage and the ability to fight as a mother for her son throughout that long battle to get him home.

If you read the post above, you will get a clearer picture of the depth of brokenness our sweet son was battling when he came home to us. God heard our prayers and healed this amazing little boy’s heart so beautifully, and filled him with so much inner peace and contentment, and an outward joy that is infectious. He has the sweetest heart, and the most insatiable desire to learn more and more and more. He especially loves history and geography and all things having to do with wars through the centuries, and he has an uncanny ability to retain trivial facts that he reads on these subjects. I can say from personal experience that he is a person you want on your team when playing a family Jeopardy game!

In spite of these areas of great strength, though, Owen has always struggled — painfully so — with academics. He loves books so much, and I was worried for years that he would never learn to read. Thankfully, though, after years of working with him, using some carefully selected reading programs, he did learn to read. He probably only reads at about a fourth grade level, but he can read, and that opened his world up wide. He finds so much joy in this activity.

Owen turned eighteen in August. And a couple of months before that, we made the decision that he would not be capable of living independently and made arrangements to have him tested to confirm this decision. His testing did exactly that, leaving no doubts in our minds. While he tested as high as the 75th percentile in just a couple of areas (the areas that make him a mighty Jeopardy player on family game night), he scored below the 1st percentile in many other areas, including those that are absolutely essential for caring for oneself. Scott and I then threw ourselves deep into the legal process of preparing for a court hearing to officially become his legal guardians.

Owen’s 18th birthday party – he chose doughnuts instead of a cake
Such a perfect book for our fact-loving son

It’s pretty much impossible to describe the depth of pain involved in taking this step with one’s precious child. We went through this with our older daughter, Erin, many years ago, and although having already walked this path of grief before does, in some ways, make this a bit easier, it’s still so hard.

Once this decision was made, we sat with Owen and tried to explain it to him. He was so brave and honest and open with his pain as he discussed this. He cried bitter tears as he expressed how devastated he was about the fact that he will never marry or have the opportunity to be a father. But he also told us with a complete sense of trust that he has known for awhile that he needs lots of help and would need some kind of assistance in order to function throughout all of his life. He said innocently that he had hoped it could maybe be an arrangement like the one that Mr. Monk had in the television series, “Monk.” That made us smile in spite of our tears. But he went on to say that he could see that this scenario wouldn’t be enough help for him and that hearing we are taking this step made him feel safe and protected.

I want to repeat those words: he said our decision made him feel safe and protected. That is healing!!!! Deep-down-in-the heart, miraculous healing! It took him so long to learn to trust anyone. And now he is able to place his future in our hands and tearfully and peacefully entrust us with his care for the rest of his life.

When we become parents, we all have dreams and some kind of plans for our children’s futures. These are usually fuzzy and not-too-specific plans, but rarely do these plans include the child requiring lifetime parental care. And these plans, especially for older parents like us, also include figuring out who will take over that care when we are gone as the chances of our “forever children” outliving us are very great.

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 is a verse quoted often in our house. I have always felt that God made sure his children had access to these words of his because he knew we would struggle with understanding many things about the hard journey through this world. He knew we would need to be reminded that, in spite of pain and indescribable hard, he loves us and really does have a beautiful plan being unfolded in the midst of swirling chaos. And that those plans include the perfect future and hope for each of us and each of our children.

But this wasn’t the future we wanted for our boy (or for our daughter Erin or for our daughter Kathryn who will turn eighteen next year and require this same lifetime commitment of care from us).

Initially, as I grieved through this decision, I kept remembering all of the miracles that had brought us this beloved “young fighter heard by God,” and tearfully asked how this could be the right future for him. Being able to release the dreams we have for one of our children, and then set about accepting a whole new — and to our human minds and aching hearts — less-desirable dream and plan, is a grieving process for sure. And that grief is deep and real.

We aren’t all the way through this grief process yet, and I don’t know that we will ever make our way all the way through. As we have walked through many years of this process with Erin, we’ve learned that we will sometimes loop back and re-grieve certain aspects of this new, unexpected future. But we sat in our family room on November 29 of this year for a court hearing in which we legally finalized this decision via Zoom, and we are at peace.

This was an emotional half-hour, and the pain of it all shows on our faces here.

Over and over again, I’m struck by such thankfulness that Owen Samuel is with us for this curve in the road of his life and not still alone and scared and longing for family. He is also at peace, and he and Erin both told us last week that, although they know in their heads that Santa isn’t a person who actually comes down our chimney and leaves their gifts, they want to always wake up to Santa gifts on Christmas morning. Yes, my sweet ones! You will always have Santa. Their new futures do include Santa toys forever, as well as people who love them and will always fight for them and make sure they are safe

I always picture parents of children with special needs arriving in heaven with limps, bandages, scars from old wounds almost healed over, holes in our hearts, and tears streaking our smiling faces, being embraced by the Father who had a beautiful plan all along for each of our babies even though they never made sense to us here.

I will keep asking this Father to help me choose to accept and embrace these new plans, finding beauty and joy every day and seeing all of the ways he shines his faithfulness and glory through my broken little ones. I don’t want to waste any of the days here just because I don’t understand how these plans can be good. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you … “

A Sweet Story

Have you ever found yourself bumping up against the beautiful right in the middle of the bad? Suddenly realizing that your eyes have been opened in a divine way that allows you to catch just a fleeting glimpse of how God is always working even when we are so stupidly ignorant of his massive, omnipotent, and loving hand?

That’s what happened in a local Best Buy yesterday. In my memory, I see it from the perspective of almost floating above the scene, suspended in a frozen moment while angels hovered breathlessly around me under the watchful eye of the Author of our stories. I didn’t see them, but I know they were there, and when I look back on that moment, it feels like I really almost can see them as clearly as I felt them. I can’t really even visualize that moment any other way. Only from above. Looking down. As if God lifted me up out of the hard, hard chaos and sadness that plagues the entire world right now, and raised that veil between the worlds of the seen and unseen momentarily, showing me a teensy piece of it all, just for a second, from his side.

Sounds weird, I know. But there it is.

A little background leading up to that moment. Covid and the pandemic have wreaked havoc on the world. Our nervous systems are overloaded and overactive and fried. We are lonely and afraid. Businesses are going under as they struggle through an economic crisis and not nearly enough staff to carry the load. Every loyal employee that shows up at any job, whether it’s making hamburgers, checking out groceries, selling or repairing washing machines, sterilizing operating rooms, or doing surgeries in those sterile rooms, is forced to do the jobs of two or more people. The stress of it all is so evident on the faces and in the body language of these overworked fellow beings. And if you’re lucky enough to get someone to answer a phone, that stress is even relayed across the distance through the voice on the other end.

For five months, we have been trying to get Sears to honor the service agreement we bought for our washing machine. Hours of sitting on hold, only to be disconnected and forced to start the calls over again; weeks of waiting for ordered parts and an opening to have them installed, only to discover that the wrong part had been ordered, or that something else wrong in the machine caused the new part to fry as soon as the machine was started again, etc. etc. etc. The agreement says they are supposed to replace it now, but it became clear last week that this is never going to happen. Sears is just one more business that is on the verge of folding, and they don’t have the resources or energy to even care about the customer as they are fighting for survival themselves. We were helpless, and blasting the overworked employee on the other end of the phone would never have helped anything. We had no way to force Sears to honor their agreement, and no way to replace the machine ourselves.

Then we were blown away when a family we know and have been praying for, a family who has been going through indescribable pain and struggles for five years now, bought us a brand new machine from Best Buy so we could stop fighting with Sears and get back to the important things in life. It will be delivered on Monday, and we can’t wait!

We have to have two machines to manage the fifty loads of laundry we do each week, and limping along for five months with only one machine, has been harder than I can describe, and I won’t even try. But we were ecstatic over this news.

Then two days after the news that a new machine had been ordered, our remaining washing machine died. Now we had no washing machine, but still fifty loads a week of dirty laundry. Back on the phone with Sears (who actually answered after a shorter-than-usual hold time), and the most ridiculous exchange you can possibly imagine followed, resulting in an instant realization that they will never, ever repair or replace this machine, either.

Erin and sisters got to work toting loads of laundry to our neighbor’s house so we could use their machine (we have the best neighbors here in our little community!). I cried, and Scott and I prayed for help and answers. Then yesterday, we were once again blessed beyond words when my mother made plans to buy us a new second machine.

We wanted to see if there was a way to have both machines delivered together on Monday, but there wasn’t even a phone number to call and ask (an increasingly common problem with businesses right now — bury those phone numbers so deep that no one can find them on your website), so Scott and I decided to stop in at our closest Best Buy store to talk to them in person.

Best Buy allows well-behaved dogs in their store! Did you know that? At least this one does. So we took Ellie along as we had to run next door anyway to pick up more of her favorite peanut butter and banana treats, and because we want to continue keeping her socialized as we try to hold onto all of the amazing training she got from 4 Paws for Ability before she came to be part of our family.

The second we walked into the store, we sensed the tension in the air. Strained smiles on the faces of the few employees present as they tried to be polite and address each customer’s need, and haggard-looking shoppers who really did seem to be trying to be respectful as they waited for their turn. I was struck one more time by how much our world has changed over the past couple of years, and wondered for the billionth time where we go from here.

We took our place in line at customer service, everyone obeying the six-feet-of-distance rules pretty well. And Ellie, being the good, good girl that she is, parked herself at our side to wait along with us. Occasionally she would stretch her neck out a bit to offer a passerby the chance to pet her head if she seemed to sense they needed that. And some did.

Finally, it was our turn. Jordan, the young man behind the counter, was clearly frazzled but gave us his attention and tried to understand what we were asking his help with. He spotted Ellie and asked her name and if it was okay to pet her. We told him she would love it, so he reached out to touch her head as she sweetly lowered it for his fingers to reach. Then he went back to his computer, trying to pull up our account and see if he could figure out how to get both machines delivered on Monday. As he typed, occasionally lifting his head to tell other customers that he would be with them as soon as possible, I could almost feel how high his heart rate was, and the tension in his body practically vibrated the air around him. We thanked him for being so patient and kind and asked how he was holding up under the staff shortage. He dropped his head and expressed his frustration quietly, but honestly, saying that it’s very, very hard.

As Jordan was typing and talking to us, Ellie quietly, almost imperceptibly, moved around the end of the counter and positioned herself by his side. We have been told that, all her life she, like many dogs, has had an uncanny ability to sense when she is needed, and we’ve witnessed this many times ourselves since she became our dog ten months ago.

Jordan noticed her sudden appearance at his side, and reached down to pet her. Then he moved both hands from his computer keyboard to her head and face, and we literally watched the tension drain out of his body. He smiled as he petted her. And time stood still in that little corner of the world as we all three took slow deep breaths together, united for a matter of seconds in our stress and sadness and uncertainty about life and the future of the human race. We all released little bits of our tension with each exhale in that God-ordained moment.

That didn’t just happen. I know that with every fiber of my being. That moment was planned. The timing of it all was perfection, and God wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. It was such a beautiful gift as I felt his presence and his love and his whispers that it’s going to be okay.

No matter how out of control everything feels on all the levels, this God who created and loves us and made sure that dogs were part of this world, is working his perfect plans behind that veil that blocks our ability to see the supernatural. In the big moments and events, and in the small ones that we usually don’t even notice.

After those few seconds, the world around us came back into focus and began to move again, and Jordan looked into Ellie’s eyes and said, “I needed this so much today. She has made me feel so much better. I really do feel calmer and better now. Thank you so much, Ellie.” And we went our separate ways, a little less afraid, a little less frazzled, a little more filled up, and a little more connected to those around us.

Thank you, God for this incredible dog. For these new washing machines that will both be delivered on Monday. For showing us how to live together as brothers and sisters in these troubled times. For reminding us that you are still holding all of us, and that we must sometimes look around us, see your hand at work, and breathe.

I wish I had asked for permission to snap a picture of Jordan and Ellie together. I did at least get this picture of our girl before we left the store. I want to remember this heavenly encounter always.