The Back-Look Into My Life

This is not exactly a post about Kathryn’s recovery.

It’s more about our other kids, many of whom are serving on the long list of caretakers for Kathryn during this season of their, and her, lives.

It’s more about my own heart that sometimes cries, “Foul!” when my children, or others close to me, go through hard times.

Do you ever question God, or maybe even shake your fist at Him (guilty!), when you watch your children hurt; or see them having to work really hard through something; or witness their hearts break because of circumstances beyond your, or their, control?

Do you ever wonder if He really knows what He’s doing?

Kathryn’s wound care and dressing changes have to be done two to four times a day and take anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours each time. It requires the two of us, with four other daughters assisting us, because of Kathryn’s size, combined with limitations caused by her cerebral palsy.

(If you follow our family blog, you probably know about Kathryn’s major surgery earlier this month and the complications that followed. If not, you can click here – Where Love Learns Its Lessons –  to read about that. The seven most recent posts there tell the story.) 

As I was setting up for her early morning cleaning session today, I was thinking about how God has built this family one (sometimes two) children at a time. He has chosen each child very specifically as He has woven these lives from all over the planet into something incredibly beautiful and cohesive.

Kathryn's Surgery - Setting Up

Beginning to gather some of the needed supplies for our first wound care session of the day

Each child came from hurting places and entered this family with brokenness and a great need to be loved back to healing. And each has, slowly and gently, been enabled through that love, to realize hidden potential and an ability to give back. Each has discovered strength they didn’t know they had, and it has been such a thing of awe to watch this kind of healing take place as God has brought beauty from ashes. Over and over again.

These broken children are becoming whole and healed brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, children of the King — adults who have so much to offer the world.

And I thought about how wise and kind it is that God has planted them in such fertile soil so that deep roots are being established to start them on their way into an adulthood rich in unselfishness and service and sacrificial love.

The demands on our children’s time and energy are great as we are forced to all work hard together to care for so many with such great needs. And, for the most part, they walk this path with grace and beauty. This is so evident as I watch the girls care so lovingly for this sister whose brain damage will never allow her to progress beyond the age of about three years. They love her! And they derive great joy from pouring that love over her as they help us meet her many needs.

Kathryn's Surgery Wound Cleaining 8-18-17

Wound cleanings are incredibly painful for our girl

Kathryn's Surgery - First Shower

Surrounded by sisters for her very complicated shower time

Kathryn's Surgery - Setting Up for Morning Wound Care

Cheering her on while helping her get into position early this morning to start her first wound care session of the day.

And these thoughts, combined with this quote, made my heart sing this morning:

“O how is my soul delighted with the back-look into my life, and ravished with the sweet survey of the conduct of Providence!! Have I not seen it from a hand I expected nothing from, in a way and manner I never could have contrived, and at at time when least apparent? Sometimes seeming contradictions vex the poor expectant, though only sent to exercise his faith in God. Disappointments beautify the blessing. Your path, O Governor of men and angels! is in the mighty waters, and your footsteps are not known! For who can know the ways of Him who is wonderful in working? Therefore I, where I cannot see His end, am silent, and adore!”
James Meikle (1730-1799)

So many times, we are able to make sense out of senselessness when we can look back and see how God was linking lives and circumstances together although, at the time, it all only looked like a huge mess to us.

So as I watch Kathryn hurt and whimper (sometimes weep) through her pain; as I fight panic in the midst of wondering how I will manage to get school done this coming year while juggling her illness and Roslyn’s upcoming surgery; as I try to stop stressing over our inability to prepare meals right now, or cover the costs of everything Kathryn is needing; as I watch our other kids give and give and give to help each other and the family as a whole, often missing out on fun things for themselves — I will try to believe that these hard things are simply more links in that chain that is part of something incredible. Something that I will be able to look back on later and make sense of.

know that this is true. But I sometimes my heart has a hard time believing what my head knows.

I will look forward with breathless anticipation to knowing the people God is molding our children into, and seeing the profound impact each one will have on the world.

Every single brush stroke is necessary to the finished picture. It’s magnificent when He gives me a quick, tiny glimpse of what the finished picture is going to look like. I know it will be beautiful beyond anything I could’ve imagined myself.

” . . . Therefore I, where I cannot see His end, am silent and adore.” 

 

 

 

Though the Winds Blow

“God’s almighty arm is stable ground upon which saints may securely build their trust. His vast power far exceeds our needs, prayers, thoughts, and all that we could ever need, beg, or imagine. We can ask great things and can imagine ever greater. God’s power far exceeds all. If we open our mouth ever so wide, He can more than fill it (Psalm 86:10). An almighty God is a rock. He that builds upon Him will stand, though the winds blow and the storms beat upon him.”  ~ Thomas Lye (? – 1684)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  

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!

Zoo - President's Day 11

Zoo - President's Day 9

Zoo - President's Day 14

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.

Meet Lucy!

Lucy and Ethel #1

And Ethel (who is a little heftier than Lucy because she came with a wheelchair lift!!)

Lucy and Ethel #2

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.)

Lucy and Ethel #3

Lucy and Ethel #4

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.

Family Portrait 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. 

TheBlackBoyCame18

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!

Lucy and Ethel #6

So much excitement on this special day!

Lucy and Ethel #8

A wheelchair lift!!

Lucy and Ethel #9

Kathryn LOVES riding in the van while still in her wheelchair

Lucy and Ethel #10

Owen’s turn to use the lift

Lucy and Ethel #7

Hard for our blind teen to fully grasp all that’s going on and how this thing works, so we gave Colin a ride, too, as we explained everything to him.

Lucy and Ethel #11

Our three “babies” posing for a cute shot on Ethel’s lift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy and Ethel #5

Praising God for these indescribable blessings

 

Not Always a Fairytale — And Sometimes Better Than

I am 58 today. FIFTY-EIGHT!! How did this happen?! I can SEE 60 now! And I still feel like I’m in my mid-thirties most of the time. So many others describe this same phenomenon as they age — the feeling of surprise when they look down and see their parent’s hands attached to their own arms; the shock of looking into the mirror and seeing some old person looking back at them. Anyway. . . here I am.

Six years ago, I wrote a little “thing.” I was turning 52. I titled it, Living a Fairy Tale. I’m going to post it here because it’s all still pretty much a true and accurate picture of my life.

But I didn’t know then that God had four more children waiting to come home to us; that, down the road, the medical needs of several of our kids would reach such intensity that I would seriously feel like I was being held underwater at times; that Scott would fight cancer; that my heart would be broken by my children even more than it already had been at that time.

The past year and a half or so, more than any other time in my life, has brought periods of self-examination; questioning of all that I believe; darkness and feelings of hopelessness; doubts about the path we followed God onto (did we really follow Him here, or did we somehow just wander into a world of nothing but screaming chaos and exhaustion?); even times of wondering if He, and all that I proclaim about Him and His workings in our lives, is real.

And through each of those dark, questioning times — those periods of self-pity and heart rebellion — God, always remained faithful and constant. His love for me never wavered (even when I couldn’t feel it); His provision for our family continued to astound us and a watching world (even when our ability to trust bottomed out during times of silence from Him, and thinking He had forgotten us); His carrying of me never stopped (even when I felt I was all alone and weary beyond description).

He remained the same even while many things around me and inside of me were changing!

For I the Lord do not change. Malachi 3:6
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8

So I’m sharing, here, that little “thing” the 52-year-old I wrote six years ago. Maybe I won’t be so surprised over the next six years when life gets even harder.

Maybe I will be quicker to remember that God is refining me, making me into something beautiful through these trials.

Maybe I will doubt His promises and His love less in the next six years.

Maybe I won’t be so slow to realize, one more time, that I would never change any aspect of our life, and that real life is better than the fairy tales we dream of. Because it takes all of the good and the bad; the blacks and the greys along with the pinks and greens and blues and yellows; the shadows and the light to make His stories and His masterpieces all that they are supposed to be. And all that He does is perfect! 


Living a Fairy Tale
Written June 11, 2011

Scott and I married when I was eighteen — barely eighteen. Almost four years later, we had our first baby, and life seemed so perfect. Baby number two arrived with significant special needs, and suddenly things didn’t seem to be going the way I had planned in all of my little-girl dreams. Baby number three arrived healthy and “normal.” By the time baby number four arrived with a physical disability, God had led me to a place where I was more willing to try to accept His plans for my life, rather than lamenting the death of the plans I had fabricated for myself.

Family photo  - Fall 1990

Rosenow family – fall 1990

Why is it so hard to take this step? Why are we so afraid to believe Him when He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “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.”? Gradually, God showed us some of those plans as He built our family over the next two decades.

Currently, we have eighteen children – fourteen of these adopted, and most of them born with special needs. These special needs range from mild to very severe and include blindness, missing or deformed limbs, cleft lip/palates, hearing impairment, spina bifida, brain damage and cerebral palsy. How can it be that my life is overflowing with joy – not in spite of, but BECAUSE of the challenging life to which God has called the two of us? The answer is that true joy can only come from following the path He lays out for us — from fulfilling the role He created us to fulfill. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10.

Today was my birthday. I turned fifty-two. It was an incredible day. Scott and our older kids all worked hard to give me as much of the day off as possible while they prepared one of my favorite meals, put together a special family birthday party, handled all of the kids’ catheterizations, and took care of most of the typical issues that come up each day in the life of such a large and unusual family.

At dinner, my heart overflowed as I listened to my kids express some of their reasons for loving me so much.

Then as we all gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out candles, I was presented with a huge stack of homemade cards. They were beautiful and brought smiles to my face and tears to my eyes. One of the cutest ones was from our youngest little guy, Ethan. He dictated to one of his sisters, “I like ice cream, I like snowflakes. Thank you for teaching me about birds, insects, and other things. I like insects.” Then he added a “Happy Halloween” sticker.

Kathy's 52nd #4

My 52nd birthday with kids and grandkids

The most emotionally moving card came from one of our children who has struggled much with breaking free from her traumatic and crippling pre-adoption history. The journey has not been an easy one for her or for us, and there were times when we wondered if her heart would ever be ours. She wrote, “You’re the greatest mom ever. Thank you for being so motherly to me and teaching me wrong and right. If it weren’t for you, I would be a mess. Thank you so much for everything. Through the good and bad times, I always have you.” Wow.

My husband’s beautiful card (not homemade) said, among other things, “You are my refuge when the day is long, my shelter when times are hard. You are the sharer of my dreams, my support when I am challenged, and my very best friend on this earth.”

What more could anyone ever want from life than to be loved like this? How can it be that I was chosen to be so blessed? Not always, but sometimes, I really do feel that I am living a fairy tale life. It’s been a really great day.


So, here I am, six years older and tireder and more blessed, and hopefully wiser. I’ll close with a few snapshots of my recent life — the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful.

Zoo - President's Day 4

A day at the zoo

Zoo - President's Day 14

Breaking down on the way home from the zoo

MyB'dayBlogPost #11

Another surgery – that tear!

MyB'dayBlogPost #8

Being goofy #1

MyB'dayBlogPost #9

Being goofy #2

MyB'dayBlogPost #14

One of many special birthdays

MyB'dayBlogPost #7

Nineteen of my treasures

MyB'dayBlogPost #6

Holding my sick Kathryn’s hand while doing the massive seasonal clothes switch-out

MyB'dayBlogPost #4

Our three youngest, just hanging with one of the family dogs

Out of Emergency Stoma Surgery 4-1-17

Emergency surgery

MyB'dayBlogPost #2

Family movie night

Memorial Day 2017

Baking apple pies

MyB'dayBlogPost #5

Hospital for Kathryn

MyB'dayBlogPost #3

First watermelon this year

MyB'dayBlogPost #1

Scott being Granddaddy

MyB'dayBlogPost #10

Sick again

Kathryn Pain 4-29

Sick again

MyB'dayBlogPost #12

Fun afternoon in Lilyan’s Make-a-Wish pool

MyB'dayBlogPost #13

Kathryn on one of her better days, but still not able swim because of her abdominal drain while we wait for her August surgery

Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #1

Special dinner with my favorite guy in the world

Matthias's 6th B'day Outing

Fun outing with a grandson

Home from Hospita. 4-5-17 #1

Sick again

Kathryn's 13th B'day #5

Such a special picture with my sweet Kathryn

Birthday Flowers

Surprise flower delivery for my birthday from my amazing husband

 

Willing to be Fragrant — or Not

“There is something very mysterious about perfume. No one can describe it. You cannot take a photograph of it. You cannot weigh it. Yet it is a very essential quality of the flower. The same is true of that strange thing we call influence. Influence is the aroma of a life. This is really all of you that counts in its final impression upon other lives. No matter how a man may pose, that which he really is, is what breathes out from his life wherever he is known, that which his name suggests to people whenever it is spoken. Every Christian life ought to be fragrant. But there is only one way to make it so. Our influence, the perfume of our lives, is gathered from all the acres of our years  — all that has grown upon those acres during all those years. We live our life in this world, and then cease to be. The things we have done, the words we have spoken, the influences we have sent out, all have taken their place in other lives, and have been built into them like blocks of stone on the wall of a building.”
~ J. R. Miller, 1904

Last year, because of tight finances and time, (all those medical issues for Scott post-cancer, and then the kids), Scott and I never managed to celebrate our birthdays (mine in June, and his in November). Honestly, it almost killed me just to make sure each of the kids had birthday celebrations, so we didn’t even attempt ours.

Through the months, we watched a new Cooper’s Hawk restaurant being built close to our house, and would say, “Maybe someday, we’ll do a really special dinner there one night as a late birthday celebration for both of us.”

The restaurant was eventually finished, but those medical issues just kept coming, and money stayed tight.

Then suddenly things settled down a bit medically, and someone sent us a gift. We decided to take part of this gift and make reservations at this restaurant. We chose Thursday night, March 23,  for this special outing. Unfortunately before we got to that point, some unexpected expenses hit, and the gift we had gotten wasn’t stretching quite as far as we had hoped it would. In the end, however, we decided to keep our plans, praying we weren’t being stupidly irresponsible with this gift. So that night, we went to dinner.

We didn’t order the most expensive things on the menu, but we did order, along with our entrees, an appetizer, some wine, and even a dessert to share. This is extravagant for us.

Before dinner, though . . .

It’s rare that we ever go out anywhere without God bringing an opportunity for us to share our story with someone. As I’ve said before, we so often come away from these encounters feeling like we were the ones blessed. I know in my heart that God is continually guiding all our steps. I firmly believe that no encounter is a chance encounter, and that we need to go through life with our eyes and hearts open, seeing every intersecting of paths as a possible Divine appointment. We know that our family is called to live a somewhat public life, and that our “job” of trying to raise awareness for orphans is pretty much a 24/7 kind of a job.

But that evening, I felt tired and like I just wanted this time between the two of us to be private. I felt like I wanted to just be invisible and look inward; not outward. Selfishly, I didn’t want to find the energy to end up in a conversation about adoption or special needs or large families. So, on the way to the restaurant that evening, I said to Scott, “Let’s just be anonymous tonight and not tell our story to anyone; let’s not be those people with a ton of kids tonight and not even tell anyone we are celebrating our birthdays.” Scott agreed, and we were ready to start our quiet, special evening together.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation, and our hostess, who introduced herself as Robin, took us right to our table and seated us. While I wanted to remain secluded and anonymous, I also did want to document our evening out, so I asked if she would take a picture of the two of us. She readily agreed, and when she finished, she apologized that she had taken several pictures, explaining that she just automatically clicks many times anytime she takes pictures because she’s used to taking pictures of her 24-year-old  daughter with special needs.

(Really, God? You’re trying to say something here, aren’t you?)

Of course, that struck my heart and started a conversation as I asked about her daughter. Her love and pride for this older daughter who functions at a very young child’s level was so clear as she told us that this special one actually dances hip-hop. I couldn’t help it; I also wanted to share a bit about our kids. And we were off as we each shared our mother-hearts, until a short version of our whole story was out there — even the fact that we were celebrating our 2016 birthdays together that night because life had prevented us from doing that last year. She moved on to do her work after that short but packed conversation, and Scott and I settled into our meal.

Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #1

Happy 2016 Birthdays to us!

Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #5

Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #6
Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #3
It was an awesome evening, with no other interruptions, and a warm feeling in my heart over this little bond we shared with the hostess. When it was time for our dessert, they brought it with a candle for each of us, which was sweet and not unexpected since we had ended up telling them we were celebrating birthdays.
Cooper's Hawk - Late B'day 2016 Celebrations #4

At the end of the meal when our server brought our check, though, the hostess who had seated us and the manager came with her. The manager told us (and I’m sure I saw a tear or two in her eyes), that the kitchen staff  was talking about our story and that the servers had now heard it. And that she wouldn’t let us pay for any of the meal!

She said that Cooper’s Hawk likes to choose locations where they can somehow touch the communities around them and celebrate and encourage families. And they felt like this was a great way for them to do this.

We really were completely blown away. We’ve had places comp dessert, or even wine one time, but never an entire meal in a nice restaurant like this!

She asked if we would email her a family picture for them to hang in the kitchen as a reminder of what they are about and thanked us for letting them do this for us. They did agree to let us leave a tip for our sweet server.

Even after all of the times that God has done things like this, it still amazes us every time.

Sometimes, we are asked to be fragrant to the world in a way that leaves us empty and drained and panting for refueling — although somehow also filled-up because we know we are allowing the Author of our story to use us for His own purposes.

And other times, He asks us to be fragrant to the world because He has a blessing waiting for us. Because He just wants to kiss us gently and Fatherly on the top of our heads and say, “I love you; I’m still here; I won’t ever leave you to do my work alone.” 

And Then There Were Presents; But What if There Hadn’t Been?

 If you have read our book, Swaying in the Treetops, then you already know that Christmas for our family is a season of faith and trusting God for provision. This year was another interesting year.

After God’s incredible, even miraculous, provision that allowed us to travel and complete Scott’s cancer treatments in the spring, He suddenly seemed to go very quiet.

On June 26, 2016, after weeks of financial struggles, I started a journal. I wanted to keep track of my thoughts and my prayers — and of God’s answers. Answers that, from experience, I knew would come eventually.

On July 19, 2016, my journaled cry for help said simply, “God, where are you???” 

The following months were full of entries that included my cries for help and God’s answers to my prayers when He sent those. But many times, we waited days or weeks for desperate answers. I won’t go into all of those details, here, but we will probably share much about these months in our next book.

On Thanksgiving night, the children drew names as part of our annual Secret Sibling Gift Swap. They love this part of Christmas better than any other part. They spend the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas thinking about what their secret sibling would love to have, and then we sneak in moments here and there to shop online for just the perfect gifts. It’s such a fun part of the season for all of us as the house comes alive with the buzz of secrets and excitement and anticipation.

But there was no money to begin shopping for these gifts, and as we moved into December, we continued praying about Christmas for the children.

And God remained quiet.

Dear friends who run a local tree farm made sure we got a Christmas tree, just as they have done every year for the past decade. Oh, how we thanked God for that tree! And it was such a beautiful tree, and our home was filled with joy as we decorated it together, asking God to help us just be in that moment and leave tomorrow in His hands.

Christmas Tree Day #9
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But day after day passed, and the floor around this beautiful tree remained empty. I began to wonder if this might be the year God would ask us to experience a Christmas without gifts.
Christmas Tree Day #18

This wasn’t the first year we have wondered that, as we shared in our book. And each year that we are faced with this question, my heart longs to embrace it willingly if this is God’s plan.

But each year, my humanness trembles with fear at the thought, and I have to admit to myself that I want to be able to give my children presents. And this desire always leads me to the question, “Do you want to give your children presents more than you want to follow God’s plans?”

In the end, God provided gifts for all of us to give to each other. It started as a bit of a trickle as friends who knew nothing about our current situation sent money that made it possible for us to buy coats for the few kids who needed them this year. Then more friends from Alabama texted to say they had a financial gift for our family. Other friends from another state sent a financial gift, and little by little, we were able to begin shopping for the kids.

Financial gifts, some sent anonymously, continued to come from completely unexpected places until we were able to finish all of our shopping for everyone and cover some bills we hadn’t been able to pay. Gifts weren’t extravagant, and a number of them were bought used from eBay, but they were perfectly suited to each child’s special needs, level of development, and areas of interest.

And God didn’t stop. The trickle increased to the point of a full-blown shower of blessings.

  • Neighbors who, again didn’t know about our need when they approached us, pulled together resources from friends at work and from their family members and provided gloves and hats; craft items; needed items for our kitchen, like a toaster and a blender; a new huge grill for our deck; homemade blankets for the kids’ beds . . .
  • Someone secretly left bags of gifts on our front porch, and each child got one special gift that was incredibly matched to that child’s challenges and/or hobbies.
  • Other friends secretly ordered beautiful fleece throws embroidered with each person’s name. We all love using these on chilly family movie nights!
  • A steady stream of gift cards from Target, Walmart, Kroger, and Sears, as well as Visa gift cards, took care of covering the cost of special Christmas baking, wrapping supplies, and some other needs.
  • Other friends wrote to us and offered to handle the overwhelming cost and task of ordering color-coded towels for every person in our family and having them shipped directly to us.
Christmas Tree Day #4

New hats and gloves

Choosing blankets1

Roslyn choosing a new homemade blanket for her bed

Choosing Blankets2

Owen choosing a new homemade blanket for his bed

Grill Being Assembled

New grill being assembled in our family room

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Casacading gifts from an anonymous “Santa”

Ertl's Amazing Surprise

Embroidered fleece throws

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Let the baking begin

Baking Christmas Pies 12-16

Sibling Gift Wrapping

Lilyan wrapping her Secret Sibling Gift

Towels from Brian and Sharon Horton

New towels for every family member

Where did all of these people come from? We firmly believe that God moved each person’s heart to be a part of our Christmas story this year. And we were deeply, deeply touched by the generosity of their hearts and their willingness to follow God’s prompting.

There is just no way that we will ever be able to say thank you for the amazing love that was showered on us during this past holiday season. But this blog post is my attempt to try to express how much each of you mean to us. How your generosity and love, your prayers and your gifts blessed us beyond anything we could’ve imagined at the beginning of this holiday season.

It’s our way of trying to remind you that God used you in such tangible ways to meet the needs of our family during a very difficult time. To hopefully enable you to see that you are a part of the incredible story God is writing through our unusual family.

It is our desire that you not underestimate what an important piece of our lives you each have been during a year when we sometimes needed reminders of God’s faithfulness and willingness to always hear our prayers. Thank you with all our hearts. And we pray that God will bless you abundantly in return.

But this post is also more than that.

It’s also an attempt to share/confess the fragility of our faith compared with God’s great faithfulness; to examine His huge benevolence as we grapple with learning what things are genuine needs and which are merely desires; and to focus on His loving sovereignty that chooses the very best path for each of us in every season of our lives.

So I ask myself — what if God had chosen not to send these material blessings? What if the floor around that tree had remained empty? 

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Catching up with Santa since last year’s chat

Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa2

Scott and I did a lot of talking and praying about what kind of an example we wanted to set for our children during those days and weeks of uncertainty. This quote expressed the desires our hearts:

“Men are apt to think of God by his worshippers, and by the people that profess themselves near and dear to Him; therefore it concerns us to walk so that our lives may honour Him. There is no way to honour God entirely and sincerely until we have learned both to know and to do His will. So you see what need we have to go to God, that He will give us grace that we may please Him and glorify His name.”
~ Thomas Manton (1620–1677)

There is no place where it’s more important than in our own homes — in front or our own children — to “walk so that our lives may honor Him.” So we prayed often that God would enable us to accept His will about what our family Christmas should look like and that we might “please Him and glorify His name.”

And more than once, we failed to do this in the ways we longed to do it.

On the days when we felt scared or sad, and not at all strong in our faith, we made sure to talk openly about this with our children. We knew they would sense it anyway, and we always believe that anything that hints of hypocrisy is one of the most damaging things we can bring into our children’s lives. They need honesty from us.

They were all surprisingly comforted by hearing that we experienced times of doubting and fear and sadness because they had been struggling with their own guilt over these same emotions.

There were beautiful moments in our family room, around that empty Christmas tree, when we all encouraged each other, prayed together, quoted Scripture, and reminded each other of God’s promises. And I believe we all grew a bit in our ability to trust through this past season, just as we all grew even closer to each other through these moments.

I also believe that, had God decided this was a year when He was not going to send gifts, His light and joy and presence would’ve filled our home and made it a beautiful Christmas, and that He would’ve given us grace and enabled us to praise Him and celebrate this wonderful season.

I know this because I know that we can trust Him to always decide what is best for us — what will best refine us and make us more like Him as He has promised to do.

I know this in my head, at least. There are times when my heart lags behind a bit. 

After the holidays were past, some of our children began experiencing unexpected medical problems again. Kathryn was one of these as her body suddenly developed significant issues with urinary retention. This is so painful for her. As she was going through her most recent bout with this and whimpering in pain, I was struck by her ability to trust us even when she is hurting. She sat with me on the couch and looked into my face just waiting for me to make things better for her. Innocently trusting that I could and would take away her pain and care for her.

And, once again, I longed for this kind of child-like trust in my Father. He knows what’s best. I want to face every day, even Christmas when it comes around again, trusting Him to do what’s best for us.

I pray, “Deepen my relationship with you God. Deepen it to a place where circumstances don’t affect my ability and willingness to follow wherever you lead; to accept, even embrace, whatever you deem to be good and right and beautiful.”

But I pray this while squeezing my eyes closed and maybe even flinching a bit. Because I do want to grow. I DO want to grow.

But, oh how painful growth can sometimes be.

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Our tree, standing nobly over gifts for each family member

A Wasted Day Not Wasted

What if sometimes the most responsible thing to do is to be totally irresponsible? 

What’s your go-to escape? Whether you act on it or not, what is that your heart longs for when you are exhausted, burned-out, and when life is knocking you down over and over again?

A bubble bath? A night alone in a quiet hotel room? A day to stay in bed and read? Maybe you dream big, and it’s a trip to Hawaii?

When I reach this point in life, mine is almost always the same — hot tomato soup while vegging on the couch in front of old movies. All day.

Why tomato soup? I don’t really know. But this is a very important piece to me. It has to be tomato soup.

And . . . Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman . . . Oh, I love those old movies.

The longing for this is even greater if it’s also a rainy day.

Scott and I have functioned in a place of emotional, physical, and sometimes spiritual fatigue for most of the past year. His cancer diagnosis and treatments, followed by many months of significant side effects were difficult. But these things on top of never-ending medical problems for the kids in the midst of a life that already requires superhuman strength to pull off on a daily basis, kept us continually gasping for breath and longing for rest that sleep alone couldn’t seem to give us.

On Monday, Jaden had another spine surgery to repair a broken rod in his back and to also lengthen those titanium rods to keep up with his growth. Before we could leave the house that morning, though, Kathryn had to have an emergency catheterization because her bladder had suddenly stopped functioning, making it impossible for her to void on her own. This is a new problem that is happening more frequently, and it will probably lead to a major surgery. Once we got to the hospital, we stayed in touch with the kids throughout the day, and Kathryn seemed to remain fairly stable, although not completely normal.

Jaden’s surgery went well, but because of monitor malfunctions and a not-super-considerate nighttime staff, we only got one hour of sleep that night.

Jaden - Rod Lengthening 1-9-16

As we headed home Tuesday morning with Jaden, I called home to check on Kathryn again and learned that things were suddenly getting worse. It sounded like a possible UTI. So about a half-hour after walking in the door, getting Jaden’s pain under control, and catheterizing Kathryn again, I was on my way back to the hospital with a sterile urine specimen.

That night, as we tried to have a little homecoming celebration for Jaden, Kathryn’s pain increased, and we had to reach out to the urologist on call. Plans were made to get us through the night until we could get her to the urology clinic the next day and have a Foley placed. We did get through that night and even got a full night’s sleep.

Wednesday morning, as Scott and I were getting Kathryn ready to head to urology, Nathan had another seizure. A mild one this time, but still so worrisome as no one can figure out what’s causing these. We are trying to watch him closely until we see our neurologist again in a couple of weeks.

By the time Scott and I got back home with Kathryn that evening, a deep, consuming fatigue had settled over both of us. I felt tireder than I could remember feeling in months. I sat in the family room under my new soft, fleecy throw and looked around at my huge family. I could see the effects all of this was having on them, too. The older ones all looked so very tired. Our kids work so hard every day. And mostly they do this with joy and precision, and they are learning valuable skills that will serve them well in life. But the toll of the past year was showing on all of them, too.

Our little ones get the trickle-down effects of exhaustion from all of us who care for them, and this usually begins to manifest in them as a kind of sadness, emotional fragility, neediness, and sometimes naughtiness.

As I sat on the couch Wednesday night, I recognized that old longing for a tomato-soup-old-movies-on-the couch-all-alone day. For years, I’ve ignored that longing and just pushed on because . . . well  . . . 19 kids still at home.

Then suddenly, I thought to myself, “What if we all took a tomato soup day tomorrow? Together?”

I described my dream out loud and every face in the room lit up. Every child, from the oldest child to the youngest, looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders at the mere thought of such a ridiculous idea.

I mean, we really needed to get back to school; and Thursday is deep cleaning and sheet-washing day at our house; and there are always the necessary daily bowel and bladder regimens for multiple kids; and the younger kids all needed baths that day.

And just meal prep alone makes a “day off” impossible. Preparing three meals a day for 21 people is hard. Just really, really hard. And the clean-up after each of those meals is like cleaning up after a dinner party — over and over and over again.

On top of all of this, Scott and I were supposed to be eating on our Whole 30 plan (which doesn’t include creamy tomato soup!).

Then, when I said emphatically, “We’re going to do it! We are going to try to shut out the entire world and just stop everything and rest. We need a bit of a reset,” it was like beautiful, fresh air and sunlight poured into our room through the huge glowing smiles of excitement on the kids’ faces.

One of my rules for our Tomato Soup Day was no planning! Well, as little planning as possible, anyway.

Planning is maybe the most exhausting aspect of my life. I’m a natural planner/organizer, and this is a good thing if you just happen to grow up and become Mom to 22 children. Because everything about running a household this size takes constant planning.

But it can be a curse, too. My brain never, ever stops. Most of the time, it’s even still working in my sleep. This is proven by the fact that I even plan in my dreams. Pretty much 24 hours a day, I feel like that circus act. You know, the one with all those plates balanced on those long sticks, spinning, spinning, spinning?

Except that our daily schedule is an always-evolving thing because of so many “unexpected’s.” So I also have to constantly be shifting plates from here to there while continuing to balance and spin them.

I wanted to put all of those plates and sticks down and rest my arms for a little while. Just a little while.

So, Thursday morning we started our totally wasted day. It did require a little bit of planning, though, to get it started. The kids were a little lost with no schedule, and just stood around in the family room looking at me.

Ok. How do we do this? 

  • Forget the house cleaning today, but let’s go ahead and get the sheets washed. Everyone work together to get them back on the beds as they come out of the dryer throughout the day.
  • Forget the kids’ baths. They don’t smell that bad yet. We will have to keep up with the every-three-hour catheterizations and keep Kathryn’s Foley bag emptied and do all of the necessary bladder/bowel routines. But no baths. 
  • Punt school. One more missed day won’t change anybody’s futures. 
  • No cooking at all. Everyone needs a day off in the kitchen. 
  • We can’t watch only old movies, because they aren’t that entertaining for the younger kids, so we’ll also pull in some Hulu and Netflix. 

From the beginning, the kids were beaming, and Scott got into the spirit of things by introducing the kids to Matlock right away. We were off to a good start.

Three of the teens asked to bake cookies with the M&M’s a friend brought to our house the day before. This baking and clean-up represented fun to them; not work. So, in spite of the fact that we have cut way back on any kinds of sweets here, I said, “What the heck! Bake away!”

As the morning really got going, I decided to introduce them all to That Girl — my absolute favorite TV show when I was a kid. I mean, I loved Ann Marie and her boyfriend Donald Hollinger. For much of my childhood and pre-teen years, I wanted to be her!

We all got comfortable with our fleece throws and watched episode after episode, the little ones giggling their heads off on the floor, the teens sometimes rolling their eyes at Ann’s antics, and Kathryn snuggled in beside me on the couch looking up from time to time to just smile at me with joy and stroke my arm or face. She clearly felt that all was right in her little world.

Tomato Soup Day #2

And it rained outside, which made the whole day even more delightful! 

At lunch time, we ordered tons of tomato soup from Panera. Thanks to a recent surprise financial gift, this was the first pay period in many months we hadn’t run out of money before the end. It was pay day again the next day, and we still had money in the bank!

Tomato Soup Day #3

After lunch in front of more episodes of That Girl, everyone ate one cookie then quickly did a clean-up (which involved gathering everything up and throwing it into a garbage bag).

Tomato Soup Day #4

Then we settled in to watch the awesomely classic movie, Holiday, while the rain poured outside. Oh, Kate shines in that one! And the magic between her and Cary Grant! Love, love, love it! The little ones did puzzles on the floor and the older girls held their breath and hoped that Johnny and Linda would end up together. The older boys hung in there with us.

Tomato Soup Day #7

After this movie, we ordered Chinese noodles for dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching episodes of The Flash. 

Tomato Soup Day #8

Another garbage-bag clean up, and then we all went to bed feeling happy, peaceful, rested.

I was unsure about sharing this day with the outside world. Partly because it was so private; so personal; so special for just our family.

And partly because I know that many people will feel that we acted irresponsibly.

To throw a whole day of school away? 

To sit in front of a television all day!?  

To set an example for our children of such laziness and shirking of responsibilities?

And to be SO wasteful with money?! We had food in the house that we could’ve prepared for meals. And money is not something handled lightly around here. There’s almost never quite enough of it, and when there is a little extra, there are always places it needs to be used. So to throw it away on restaurant tomato soup and Chinese noodles?!? 

I have to be honest and admit that I did wrestle with some guilt as I tried to fall asleep the night before our planned wasted day. But before I finally closed my eyes, I decided a few things.

  • My head said this was irresponsible, but my heart said this was so very right. I chose to go with my heart. 
  • We try hard to make the right decisions about things like this, and we know that we will never please everyone out there who watches us live such a public life. And we know that we will never get it right all the time. But God knows the desire of our hearts, and He doesn’t expect perfection from us. If we truly examined this and felt it was the best thing for our family, but then someday discovered that we had been wrong, well, I knew that God’s mercy and love would always hold us close to His heart anyway. 
  • If we were going to do this, we were going all in. I wasn’t about to throw away this opportunity to waste a day and not get everything out of it that I could. 

So I threw off that guilt and embraced our plans for a mostly-no-plans day.

And now that it’s behind us, I have no doubts at all that we were right to do this.

It was so much NOT a wasted day!  

I lost count of the times the kids came to us just to tell us how much fun they were having.

I’ll never, ever forget the joy on their faces all through the day.

The peaceful, restful looks on the older kids faces alone confirmed that it was time for a rest. It was important that Scott and I acknowledged how hard they work by giving them a day to rest, and it was critical that they all catch their breath a bit.

And I know from 35 years of parenting that the memory of this day will live on with all of them forever. Somehow, this will be important. I can’t explain how I know this, but I’m sure of it. It will be something that they all look back on and draw strength and joy from throughout their lives.

They have all asked that we try to work Tomato Soup Days into our lives on a somewhat regular basis. And we have promised to try to make them happen at least a couple times a year from now on.

Maybe the whole world needs to take a Tomato Soup Day. Just stop everything for a day and reset.

I hope we are teaching our kids important lessons about balance. About stopping to breathe sometimes. About the things in life that are truly important — family, spending time together, laughter, rest . . .

Maybe we would all be much better off if we occasionally chose to waste an entire day here and there. And ate more tomato soup. And watched more That Girl and old movies.

Some Rain Must Fall

“Into each life some rain must fall.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today was one of those days. It started with only about three hours of sleep last night. Sick kids; my dread of trying to juggle the kids’ school along with all of the appointments waiting for us this week and next week; and a sudden return of what our neurologist thinks are seizures for Nathan — all combined to keep my mind too abuzz for sleep.

I called the neurologist’s office when I got up and scheduled an appointment on January 26 for Nathan to see him again and discuss further testing. Then I hurried through school this morning with a dopey, achy head before heading out into the dreary, rainy weather for a blood draw for Kathryn and on downtown for urology testing on Roslyn and Kathryn, followed by an appointment with their urologist.

The girls’ test results weren’t good. The bladder surgery done in September on Roslyn seems to be failing. We are probably looking at another huge bladder surgery for her, but our doctor is going to try one other thing first. We should know within the next six weeks if this will work or not.

And Kathryn’s bladder seems to possibly be getting tired of fighting the incredibly strong muscle tightness in her pelvic floor, caused by her cerebral palsy. Indications are that it just might be, in our doctor’s words, giving out on her. Her recent bouts with infection and severe urinary retention support this possibility. He will first try increasing her medication, but there’s a pretty good chance that, at some point sooner or later, she will also be forced to undergo a major bladder surgery that will then make it necessary to add her to the list of our six kids already catheterizing every three hours.

All of this, combined with the wretched drive back home in pouring rain and ridiculously heavy traffic, just seemed to be more than I could deal with in a mature way after so little sleep last night.

Haven’t my babies been through enough?! All of them! Their lives have already been so very hard! Don’t they deserve a break?!

And where do Scott and I find the strength to add more really major and unexpected surgeries into our lives!?

Enough already! 

I stood out in the drizzle on our deck tonight and looked up into the dark sky. Searching for  peace.

“God, are you there?  It’s me again. I’m kinda mad at you right now.”

Some Rain Must Fall
As I stared at the raindrops and into the heavy darkness around me, I made myself look for those puddles of sunshine I’ve referred to before. Those whispers that God is still by my side as He has promised to be. And as I forced myself to rise above my dismal mood, I realized that I had actually stepped in a few of them throughout the day.
  • My neighbor was suddenly able to go and pick up my Click List order for me this morning when she didn’t think she would be able to. This greatly lessened the stress in our day. 
  • My awesome kids worked as a team to put a pot of spaghetti and a salad together for dinner. The table was set and dinner was ready when we finally got home.
  • And the seven kids who have been sick with colds this week already seem to be improving a bit.

It would be wrong of me to ignore these blessings.

But I’m tired. So very tired. Sometimes there are days and pieces of news that are just predominantly bad. That’s life here in this world. And I think it’s okay to acknowledge that.

Sometimes it’s okay to cry a little bit, maybe even throw a little temper tantrum, then go to bed early and pray for strength to carry on tomorrow.

The final stanza of this poem written by Longfellow (a man well-acquainted with grief and pain and bitter disappointment in this life), somehow seems to coat my weary sadness with something that’s kind of soothing.

I know that behind the clouds darkening my world tonight, our true Sun is shining brightly and still holding me close to His heart.

Tomorrow is a whole new day. A day that I’m not required to carry right now. So I choose not to.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary. 

The Little Black Boy Came

Silence. Like a stiflingly hot summer day without even a hint of a breeze. That’s how the Christian walk sometimes feels when needs are great and God seems absent.

Prayers seem to float out of our mouths and hang, suspended in the still air. Unheard. Unanswered.

Scripture assures us that every cry — even the ones that never make it from our hearts to our mouths — is heard by the God of the Universe; our loving, compassionate Father; the One who has promised to meet all our needs. And that He will answer.

But there are times . . . times when our feeble hearts struggle to hold onto this truth.

Like now. Today. This very hot summer morning.

So I think about this: “The little black boy came!”

. . . . . . . .

One year ago today, Scott and I boarded a plane and flew to Oklahoma. One year ago tomorrow, we met him for the first time. Six years old. Clumsy, awkward body, communicating stress and anxiety in every movement; fearful, darting eyes full of confusion; beautiful ebony skin; tangled, kinky hair; shy, uncertain smile. Our son.

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Our first meeting with our new son

His young life had already been very hard. Born to a young African birth mom who lived on the streets, he spent the first couple of years of his life surviving there with her. We’ve been told that it was an abusive relationship.

He eventually ended up in an orphanage and, after awhile, was adopted by a family in the United States. Sadly, this adoption did not work out. And it became clear to us almost immediately that he not only felt responsible for this “failure.” but that the fear of “causing” the same thing to happen in his new family pretty much dominated his little being.

Those first few days and weeks were incredibly hard. It required so much energy to stay on top of his constant motion. So much patience to deal with the outbursts of anger. So many prayers to find words for assuring him that we were there to stay forever, that it was not his fault that his first adoption had failed, and that nothing he could ever do would make us give up on him.

TheBlackBoyCame3

Very scared to trust this new daddy

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After a few days, we were beginning to get some genuine smiles and even giggles

We were immediately and palpably aware of his sweet, tender spirit hiding under all of that fear and anger and guilt. And this gave wings to our determination as we threw ourselves into pulling this little one close to our hearts and trying to breathe healing into every fiber of the broken little him.

The love we felt for him was instant, and although it was clear that he was afraid to believe that love could really be true, he began very tentatively responding to it almost right away.

We chose the name Nolan David for him. It means “beloved noble one.” We so loved this courageous and strong little boy.

And we chose a very special song for him — Andrew Peterson’s, “Rest Easy.” These lyrics were perfect for him:

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

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Nolan continually asked, with great anxiety, if we were really, really sure the other kids wanted him to come home to them. When we drove up to our house and he saw this sign they had made for him, his heart almost burst with relief and joy.

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His sweet, sweet spirit sang out loudly through his interactions with this new very fragile sister. He shared his precious Lamby with her as soon as he met her.

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He immediately fell in love with our dogs, and Saxon, as always, faithfully welcomed this new little one home and offered comfort from their first meeting.

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It was a joyous day when we all removed the armbands we had been wearing while waiting for Nolan to come home.

And healing happened! And continues happening every day.

Not long after Nolan came home to us, we were having a family discussion about delayed answers to prayer. About God’s seemingly indifferent silences to the pouring out of the desires of our hearts. We all took turns sharing something we had prayed a very long time for, or that we were still praying for.

By the time it was my turn to share, the younger children had begun to drift off into bored daydreams, but they were all sitting still and quiet, including Nolan. I said, “I prayed for ten years that God would bring me a little black boy.” (This was very true, and for reasons that I could never explain, I continually felt that our family wouldn’t be complete until God had answered that prayer.)

Suddenly Nolan, who had been sitting in distracted quietness beside me, jumped off of the couch, threw his arms out wide, looked me in the eyes, and proclaimed with a glowing face and a voice that gushed with joy, “The little black boy came!!!”  

My eyes still fill with tears of happiness as I type out that memory. So much truth and emotion and encouragement and wisdom packed into those words!

God tarried until just the right time; waiting for just the right little black boy and for just the right moment in our lives. He had been listening to my prayers all through that long decade, but His timing is always perfect.

Today (and anytime in the future), as I wrestle with God’s silence over some very great needs our family is facing, I will remember this. “The little black boy came!”

Although, personally I love Nolan’s way of speaking this truth, Richard Sibbes, also did a pretty good job of it back in the 16th century.

“To pray properly is not any easy matter. To pour out your heart and soul before God, to believe He hears and will come to help you; to pray in faith and to wrestle with Him; to strive for a blessing and hope against hope; being delayed, yet waiting for Him until He comes; this is exceeding hard to be done. Our ignorance of the nature and methods of God hinders us from praying properly. We have a false image of God and view Him more like one of us, and not as One filling heaven and earth with His majesty and glory. Though He is so good to us, our prayers are weak and cold. We view delays as denials, our faith wavers and we are discouraged and give up.”
~ Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)

As we celebrate this one-year anniversary of our first meeting with this remarkable son, and rejoice over his healing and all of the beauty he brings to this family, I will refuse to “view delays as denials.”  I will try harder not to become “discouraged and give up.”

I will wait for God’s answers, and watch for signs that He is hearing me in the silences.

This is our beloved noble one today.

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A little photo-journey through Nolan’s first year at home.

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Nolan was so proud when he finally learned enough self-control to push a kid-sized grocery cart through the store with me.

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Trusting his daddy enough now to let him toss him into the air.

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“Nolan paper dolls” made for him by one of his brothers (I LOVE these!)

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Such a perfect fit

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His first birthday with his new family, surrounded by the love of siblings, nieces, and nephews

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A very special visit with a very special Santa

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Everyone to court for Nolan’s adoption finalization with our dearly loved Judge Rogers

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A family movie night

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Bonding with his new family deepened even more as we all temporarily relocated to Knoxville and helped Daddy through his cancer treatments together.

If you are waiting and waiting and waiting for answers to some prayer. Remind yourself today that “the little black boy came!!”

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Emptying the Pockets of Our Lives

“Extravagant love, the offering of everything, the emptying of the pockets of our life, is the essence of true Christianity.” ~ Eric Ludy

From Our Grandpa Tree

A gift.

A beautiful step stool.

But so much more than that. 

A symbol of hope.

A reminder of God’s goodness and the love of His people.

A week or so ago, Scott and I, along with our kids, were discussing this life we chose to accept years ago when God offered us the opportunity to dive in and drink deeply. He has revealed so much of Himself, and so much about our own brokenness, in the years since that decision was made.

And so much about the love and goodness in the hearts of others.

I so clearly remember how more and more children came home, and our 2000 sq. ft. house became as crowded as our calendar full of appointments for these new children with so many special needs. Our entire life changed drastically, although somewhat gradually.

Eventually, Scott walked away from his engineering career and salary to come home and serve as full-time director of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry. And we learned to get by with less and to trust God more, although we definitely didn’t do this perfectly.

Time continued to pass until the day came when we were no longer always able to provide Christmas or shoes or new clothes each season for our increasingly larger brood; our furniture began to wear out; walls became desperate for paint; cars got old and broke down; our home improvement projects went undone because of so little money and so little time.

There were specific times during those sometimes-very-hard-years when I was faced with new levels of surrender as I occasionally felt tempted to succumb to feelings of self pity concerning the gradual decline of our beautiful house and our inability to give the children all we longed to give them. I knew that God would provide for us, and although it was tough at times, we embraced broken furniture, worn-out carpet, and beaten-up walls as part of God’s plan for our lives. We trusted Him to decide for us what our real needs were, and what things were only “wants.” He filled us and our home with joy, and pointed out to me areas where I was still clinging to my old human desires for our lives.

And He blessed us so much — sometimes with additional painful opportunities to trust Him better, but often with exactly those things we thought we would never have.

He sent people to help with projects. Friends and strangers came to our home on so many occasions to paint, plant flowers, clean or even replace carpet, do home repairs, etc.

Every year He has provided through others whatever was needed for clothing our children or making Christmas magical for them; gifts that made it possible for us to take them to movies or concerts or other enriching family outings; and He even gave us an occasional family vacation. We have never asked for these things or publicly made our wants or needs for them known. But He always provides.

He is gradually providing us with more space in which to raise all of these children with their special equipment and adaptive devices. This is being done through the love and sacrifice of others — brothers and sisters from our church congregation, neighbors, strangers, friends (some local and some from far away), businesses, organizations like Make-a-Wish . . .

We have most recently been blessed with a huge, beautiful kitchen to replace my old, very small one; family room furniture that is brand new and beautiful (I never imagined such a thing!), money to purchase picture frames and photo ledges in order to make our family room a place where our once-orphaned children can daily look at our walls and see proof that they are finally home and part of a family; a swimming pool to help with all of their physical therapy needs; a deck around that pool to allow for those who struggle with CP or lower limb paralysis to wheel to the edge and independently lower themselves into this pool; a play room with enough space for all of them to play; and toys and equipment in this play room to spark imagination and strengthen weakened or paralyzed muscles.

Family Room and Kitchen

Playroom Almost Done - 7

The giving just goes on and on. And we are humbled — awed by the incomprehensible goodness of our God. We know that we can trust Him in the bad times  — the times when we don’t know how we will provide for upcoming needs; the times when we watch our children try to cope with almost unimaginable pain or emotional brokenness beyond the comprehension of most; the times when Scott and I come face to face with the reality of our own weakness and immortality (as when Scott was recently diagnosed with cancer) — and we can trust Him in the good times when He showers us with so many gifts that we find ourselves feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the certain knowledge that we do not deserve such unexpected blessings. (That could be a whole blog post all by itself. Maybe someday.)

And continually we are left with a complete inability to express to a such multitude of people the depth of our gratitude for this giving that stretches through a couple of decades.

Several years ago, the Rosenow Home Project Team was formed by people who love us dearly and longed to find a way to provide more living space for us. After years of raising funds and praying with us for this need, they finally had enough money to break ground on the home addition that would double the size of our existing home.

Sitting right in the middle of what would become our new family room was this tree.

Home Addition - Goodbye G'pa Tree

It had been planted almost twenty years earlier in memory of Scott’s dad, who had passed away just before we moved into this house. We always called it our Grandpa Tree. It broke our hearts that this tree would have to be cut down in order to make way for the space needed to carry on the work God had called us to.

Dad's Tree

Our baby Grandpa Tree the day we planted it in 1996

Just before the scheduled ground-breaking, we devoted a day to loving on this tree, reflecting on the memories we had of Grandpa and this tree’s growth in our yard, and giving the kids a full day to climb in its branches and make some new memories. This was an especially poignant day for our blind son Colin who had wanted to climb a tree, but had never done so.

Then the construction equipment rolled into our backyard, and we all stood inside the house, watching through the windows as our Grandpa Tree was ripped violently from the ground and broken into pieces. There were tears as we felt many different “feels” — sadness over the passing of a season in our lives, excitement about the new season to come, such thankfulness for the massive answers to hundreds of prayers about more space for our growing family.

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Scott and the kids took some cuttings from the tree, with the hope that we could start another, but they didn’t survive the winter.

That was three and a half years ago. Since that time, our home addition has been being slowly, gradually, beautifully  completed as these loving friends and strangers continue raising funds and pouring themselves into finding ways to come alongside us to care for orphans.

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Rainy ground-breaking ceremony for our home addition

And then a couple of weeks ago, one of the main players in this decade-and-a-half-long drama, showed up at our house with this step stool.

He had, with his own hands and in his own precious spare time, lovingly crafted this amazing gift from the wood of our Grandpa Tree. He had been secretly working on it in the years since the tree had been taken from its place in our backyard, and he delivered it to us along with a copy of the book, The Giving Tree.

If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s a children’s story about giving and giving until we have nothing left to give; about the joy that comes from this kind of selfless sacrifice; and about unconditional love — all things that should be part of Believers’ lives during our pilgrimage in this world.

And both the gift and the book are extremely symbolic of our family’s life. The giving of others that is such an integral part of our journey.

We wish there were some way for all of those who have given and given and given, to understand what an example they have been to our children of how to live as servants of the King; lights in the world.

Over and over again, you have all given us hope when the Enemy who hates the work we do tries to trick us into feeling that a given situation is hopeless. You have put strength into our hearts when we felt we were gasping our last. You have encouraged us beyond description when seemingly unanswered prayers and events in our lives have beaten us down to dark places of discouragement. You have served as shining lights of remembrance when we have lost our way and forgotten God’s promises to care of His children in such perfect ways.

To all of you who have “emptied the pockets of your lives” in service for our family and in the furthering of God’s work and kingdom, we thank you with all our hearts.

And, Mark, we will forever cherish this step stool sitting in our new kitchen, reminding us of God’s goodness and constant presence in our lives, as our “Grandpa Tree” continues serving our family.

Stool and Book