I’m Right Here . . . Behind the Garden Hoses

If you have been following our family for awhile, then you probably know that there is one common theme in our story every year, especially around this time. Need. Great need. And an undulating rhythm of surging faith, waning faith, fear, prayer, peace. Repeat. Over and over again.

Some years, God is so present, and seems to answer our prayers almost before we pray them. Other years, he stays so quiet that we begin to think he’s forgotten us. Then we start to wonder if all of the things we believe about him are true. As the fear grows, we pour our hearts out to him and seek for any reminders of him in words of Scripture, songs, writings of those who walked this path many years before us leaving behind examples of their own humanness and struggles. We cry out to God to show himself. Please answer us. And so often, the reply is a deafening silence.

This year is one of those years of long silences, great need, and recurring doubts, followed by little assurances here and there that he hasn’t left us. Little whispers to ease that terrifying silence very briefly — just about the span of a breath. But tangible, nonetheless.

This morning, I woke up feeling sad and heavy. I am having terrible pain in my neck again, and God has felt so far away as we pray and pray for so many great needs. I didn’t really even want to do a quiet time, thinking that maybe I would choose instead to indulge in self-pity and to stroke and nurture the fear and doubts that were clouding beauty all around me.

Eventually, I made myself do a bit of a quiet time and ended up posting this quote on my Facebook page:

“Prayer brings heaven down to man. Prayer is pouring out the soul to God, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ A prayer in a moment can fly to the highest heavens. It is a sweet savor to God, a terror to the devil, and a shelter to a Christian. Prayer is the midwife to bring mercies to the believer that were conceived in the womb of promise. God commands his people if they are in any perplexity to call upon him in the day of trouble and he will hear.” ~ George Swinnock (1627-1673)

A little while later, a friend commented on that post, and I replied to her comment. I mentioned that I loved the sentence, “Prayer is the midwife to bring mercies to the believer that were conceived in the womb of promise,” stating that when God is so quiet and seems to be absent, promises are sometimes all we have to hold onto.

As I was typing with her, this vivid memory filled my mind. It was so powerful that I felt like I had been transported right back to my childhood in an instant.

I must’ve been about five years old. My mother had taken me to a hardware store in Center Point, a suburb of Birmingham, AL, where I grew up. I was always a pretty fearful child — afraid of strangers, terrified of fires, paralyzed by the thought of getting lost or kidnapped, often scared even when I didn’t know what I was scared of. But in spite of that fear, I had developed a habit of wandering away from my mother in stores. I never ran away from her, I just always kind of wandered away. And even though she had warned me and scolded me for this before, I did it again that day in the hardware store. This time, my wise mother just let me go. After I had wandered for awhile, I looked around to find her so I could move back to her side. When I couldn’t see her anywhere, I became panicked. I so clearly remember that feeling of fear and of being utterly alone in the world. Everything seemed huge and black and hopeless, and I felt so unsafe as I quickly moved into a state of terror and started to cry. I remember the smell of new tires. I wonder if they sold tires there? She allowed me to fully experience these emotions just long enough to learn my lesson, then she just suddenly appeared beside me and calmed me. I never left her side again in a store.

What I didn’t know until later, though, was that she had been standing behind a tower of coiled and stacked garden hoses, watching me the whole time. She never took her eyes off of me. I was as safe as if I had been physically holding her hand. I felt so loved when she told me this. So safe. Even when I thought she was gone, she was right there, mothering me; teaching me; loving me; keeping me safe under her wing. I know now, as a mom myself, how it must’ve hurt her heart to see my fear and hear my cries. What courage it took for her to stand her ground and see that lesson through to keep me safe in future situations.

That memory has stayed close to me all day, and I’ve thought about it a lot. Why did that particular memory pop so suddenly into my head and heart at that moment? I believe God was giving me a clear and concrete picture — one that even my stubborn, fearful, weary heart could hold onto — of how he loves me as a perfect and all-wise parent.

He seems to be ignoring me. He seems to have left me behind. He seems cold and uncaring as I cry out to him for help. In fact, in my devotional book I wrote these words this morning: “2021 God, do you really hear?”

I believe he answered that question when he breathed that memory into my mind and whispered, “Yes, I do hear you. I see you. I’m right here, behind the garden hoses. I’m watching, even when you wander away, I’m timing everything exactly the way it needs to be. I know what you need more than you do. And I know when you need these things better than you do. I know you are scared. But trust me. Believe me. I won’t leave you. I will step out of the shadows, shine light into the darkness, and answer you at the perfect time.”

My dear mother visiting us in 2017
Mother, all those years ago
Little, fearful me

Following the Curve

Thursday evening. That evening marked a slight curve in the path of one of our babies’ life-journeys. Truthfully, this curve has always been there, part of this son’s story. And we have actually been following it’s gentle arc for years now — not fully aware that we were in a curve, but sometimes sensing where it was leading, nevertheless.

So . . . probably, it’s more accurate to say that on Thursday evening we reached the point in the curve where we could see more clearly, and more certainly, what’s ahead now. And that revelation has been accompanied by deep and softly throbbing heartache. I may write about the details later, but for now, we are all processing and just holding that pain together.

The next day was Friday, and Scott and I left the house for our weekly reset time together at the river in the woods. I carried that heartache with me into our little sanctuary. The soft throbbing had continued through the night, sometimes joined by a literal and piercing physical pain in my chest. I know from past experience that, although the acute physical pain will ease with time, the pulsing grief has become part of me now and will always be with me. It will link itself with my very heartbeat for the rest of my life here on Earth, as I continue walking by this son’s side. Guiding him. Loving him. Crying with him. Laughing with him. Urging him to keep moving forward at his own personal pace. Encouraging him to keep being himself, and resting in the knowledge that he can stop fighting so hard now. That he is enough. That he is precious and perfect. That he is safe.

As Scott and I walked, hand-in-hand, through the woods with our Ellie dog happily prancing alongside us, I breathed in the subtle signs of spring. The undergrowth is now sprouting soft, whispering green-ness in the form of baby leaves, and tiny buds are just beginning to form at the tips of tree limbs.

Then, suddenly, breaking through that gentle whispering among all the winter deadness, I stumbled across this vivid proclamation of spring, rising like the first notes of a joyful song in the midst of darkness and sad silence.

I felt a actual leaping in my chest as my heart seemed to lunge in an attempt to grab hold of its realness. It signified hope for my son’s future, whatever that looks like now, and it instantly brought the words of this quote to mind.

“Glory follows afflictions, not as the day follows the night but as the spring follows the winter; for the winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.”
~ Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

Still processing. Still hurting. Still even wiping sudden tears at unexpected moments. But hope is alive. We will keep moving forward.

Who Was Sir Godfrey Graybeard?

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Our lives have been deeply, beautifully enriched by the dogs that have passed through our family over the almost forty-four years that Scott and I have been married. First was Obi-Wan Kenobi, born and named appropriately in 1977, the year Star Wars first hit the theaters. Later there was Else (pronounced Elsa) and Pippin and Gandalf and Liesl, then Saxon and, briefly Murray, along with Teddy and Silke (pronounced Silka) and Godfrey. Each of these dogs touched our lives in special ways with their own personalities and quirks and challenges.

Avid pet lovers will understand this next statement. While we loved every one of these dogs deeply, and received love from every one of them, some of them reached even more deeply into our souls than others. Those very special ones left profound and eternal marks on our hearts. Sir Godfrey Graybeard was one of those.

Who was Sir Godfrey Graybeard? We don’t actually know who he was for the first ten years of his life. But we knew him intimately for the last four years of his life.

On January 24, 2017, Scott took Kathryn and Nathan along with him to the Butler County Animal Friends Humane Society to check on a little, elderly dog we had learned about the day before on Facebook. When he arrived, pushed Kathryn’s wheelchair to the back, and opened up the gate to the enclosure where this little gray dog was waiting all alone, this scruffy little guy methodically and deliberately walked straight to Kathryn’s wheelchair, put his front paws up on her lap, and laid his head on her knee. It was clear that he had found his home, and that we had found a family member we hadn’t even known we were looking for.

It truly did feel like a hole we never knew our hearts had, was filled instantly that day. He was unkempt and kind of stinky, but he had this debonairness that shone through all of that. And Godfrey just seemed like the perfect name for him. The “Sir” was added later as we began to see more and more of his noble little personality come through. And “Graybeard” was added once he donned his first (of several to come through the years) costume. He was the most distinguished little four-legged pirate we had ever seen.

He slipped into our home as if he had been created just for us, although he was already at least a decade old. We knew that he probably wouldn’t be with us very long because of his advanced age, but we also knew that we wanted to cram as much life as possible into the time we would have together. And we did.

Godfrey loved everybody. He always believed that any visitor who came to our home was there to see only him, and he would calmly proceed directly to them with obvious confidence in his belief that they were his new personal friend, come to be honored by spending a little time in his presence. Likewise, we never encountered a person who didn’t fall immediately in love with him as soon as they met him.

He delighted in being groomed. He would stand tall and proud as he was brushed, trimmed, and blow-dried to perfection, and then he would literally strut out of the shop, holding his head high, certain that every one was admiring his infinite handsomeness. He made us smile so much.

Our pup relished road trips and always rode with such dignity, whether he was looking out of the window (none of this crude tongue-hanging-out stuff for him!), or just sitting primly on the seat.

This little guy adored being held and snuggled, and somehow managed to snuggle back with his whole heart, without losing one whit of his dignity. From his first day with us, he would spend his evenings moving around the family room, taking turns spending time in the laps of those he loved. As he got more and more tired during this past year, he spent increasing amounts of time sleeping in the arms of his beloved people, and there was never a shortage of arms ready to welcome him.

Sir Godfrey was just naturally packed with so much personality, but he had a gift of exhibiting this big personality in a quiet, laid-back, aristocratic way. Although he never hesitated to lift his leg and soak any wall or bush (or blade of grass!) he happened to be passing, he somehow even managed to make that look proper in his own comical little way. But he was never a barker or a jumper or a licker. He just moved through his days, being himself in his own very comfortable way, exuding peace and love to all who came in contact with him, and making people smile and feel warm and just all filled-up inside.

Today, just before lunchtime, we said our final good-byes. A piece of my heart died today. I can’t imagine how the hole we each feel right now will ever heal. He was so small, but always, always bigger than life. Four years was not nearly enough time together, but I can honestly say that we cherished every minute of those years.

Final Goodbyes

Take a little photo journey through our four years with him to get a glimpse of this little angel-in-dog-form member of our family.

I will love you forever, sweet Sir Godfrey Graybeard. You were truly one of the very, very special ones. Thank you so much for dropping into our lives for the last few years of yours.

Nathan and Kathryn picking up our new family member at the animal shelter in 2017
First bath in his new home
Always up for a road trip — sometimes in his seat, and . . .
. . . other times, looking at the passing scenery
Our other dogs tolerated (at best) costumes, but Godfrey was always in his glory when he was in a costume or a new sweater.
Santa Godfrey
The costume that earned him the additional name of Graybeard
Being a Jedi
Being a naughty Jedi
All dressed up for Christmas
New sweater
He so loved showing off when he came home from the groomer
Godfrey loved all of our kids – here he is taking Kathryn for a little ride.
Jaden had to head to the hospital for another surgery, and Godfrey didn’t want him to leave.
Always up for anything the kids wanted, he is riding in our wheelbarrow while the boys split and haul firewood
Letting the kids tuck him into bed for the night.
He always loved his trips to Hocking Hills when Scott and I were able to slip away for one of those.
As he got more and more tired this past year, he spent much more time sleeping and wanting to be carried.
A much tireder Santa pup this past Christmas
Lots of snuggle times for our tired boy.
The weariness in his face, and his whole body, became so visible over these last few months, poor sweetie.
Fly high, sweet boy. Thank you for a job so well and beautifully done with your whole heart. We will love you always.

Goodbye My Saxon-Love

It’s time now. Our hearts are breaking, but we know it’s time. 

Tomorrow morning (Thursday) we will say our final goodbyes to our Saxon-love. Many of our kids, and all of our grandkids, have no memory of life without his sturdy, loving presence at their side. He patiently eased his way into the horribly broken hearts of each of our children as they came home to us from places of so much trauma (almost always terrified of this big furry lion of a dog). One by one, they fell deeply in love with him, and he silently and joyfully pledged to each new child a lifetime of unwavering devotion and protection. He became so protective that we’ve heard multiple people tell us, after jumping out of their skin, that they have never, ever before heard such a powerful and threatening bark come out of a golden retriever. We knew he would never let anyone hurt our kids and would do everything in his power to keep them safe. 

The day baby Saxon came into our lives

But with our babies . . . oh, this sweet boy was as gentle as a lamb and kept them close in his care. His children used him for a pillow while watching TV or listening to our evening reading, as a soft place to let their tears fall when sad, and as a patient when they pretended to be doctors. Our grandchildren, whom he equally accepted as his own, used him as an aid in learning to stand or walk, climbed all over him like a jungle gym, hugged him regularly with all their hearts. Nothing made him happier. Except maybe his trips to Hocking Hills with Scott and me when we were able to take our occasional getaways there. He was always so peaceful and filled with joy during those times with us. Maybe he, like we, occasionally needed a little rest from the tremendous demands on his time and devotion here with so many to watch over — in spite of the fact that he dearly loved his role in life. 

During Scott’s and my last trip to Hocking Hills in 2019, it rained heavily at the end. I woke up very early that morning, and Saxon and I slipped out for one last walk in the rainy woods together. I felt pretty certain that it would be his last time there, and I drank in every second of that early morning walk with him. I’ll never forget it. And as it turns out, I was right. Our loving boy is tired. He has given his heart so fully to all of us during his twelve years here. It’s time now to let him rest. 

Oh, sweet Saxon, we can never thank you for all that you have been to us. You could be such a stinker, especially when it came to trying to steal food, even to the point of robbing ripe tomatoes from our garden. You never ate the green ones, but waited until they were perfectly ripe, almost always on the day we had planned to pick them ourselves, in fact. But when we went to get them, they were gone. We blamed the wild rabbits until we discovered it was you. I will miss the sound of your paws moving through the house and beside my bed during the night. I will miss seeing you sprawled on the floor, surrounded by your children when we are reading or watching a movie as a family at night. You have become part of the very air itself here, and as I type this post and let the tears fall, I don’t want to face the emptiness ahead. I’m so sorry that you were plagued with so much illness throughout your lifetime, due to your severe allergies. We did our best with all those years of injections and medications to keep you comfortable, but I know there were times when you were miserable. Yet, even then, you just walked through each day, doing your job as our dog, loving everyone as fully as ever. You always seemed to be so happy in spite of the pain. We love you with all our hearts, and we always will. 

Today we will all focus on giving Saxon one last happy day with us, showering him with love, and with all the yummy treats he always wanted, but could never have because of his allergies. Right now, in this moment, I don’t want to think about tomorrow when I will sit with him on the floor of our veterinarian’s office, holding him until he stops breathing. I always hate that moment, but it’s an honor, too, to hold him as he drifts away, smelling our hands and knowing how much we love him up to that last moment. Oh, my heart.

So this post in in memory of our Saxon and all of the dogs who have loved the Rosenow family through the years before passing on to a place of rest. And to all dogs who do this every single day for their own families.

God outdid himself when he created dogs, and we lose a little piece of our hearts every time we say our final goodbyes to one of them. 

Rest deeply, our precious Saxon boy. You have certainly earned it.

I love this dog with all my heart
One of my favorite pictures of him
Good sport and up for whatever the kids wanted him to do
Our beautiful, noble boy – getting so tired
This past Fourth of July – he was mesmerized by the fireworks. As I look back at pictures from this past year, I can see how quiet and peaceful he had become — as if preparing himself for these goodbyes.
Our last walk together in Hocking Hills
He was already getting so tired even last year during this trip
This is how he spends most of his time now; his fatigue is deep although his heart remains fully and truly devoted to all of us.
His precious face in my bed this morning tells me that he is ready for this final journey
Goodbye, my love. I will hold you in my heart forever.

White Mother; Black Son

The past few weeks, months even, have left me in a quiet place of pondering and self-examination.

Racism in America.

What is it exactly?

How will it affect my African-born son with very black skin, or my Haitian-born daughter?

And the thought that has plagued me most: how do I prepare them for what’s ahead?

I’ve been searching everything I can get my hands on and (as mother to twenty-three children) everything I can squeeze in time to read.

One of my favorite sources has been a little book called, Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope, written by Jasmine L. Holmes, daughter of Voddie Bachman — a theologian Scott and I have greatly respected since first hearing him speak at a weekend adoption conference years ago. Jasmine’s book is beautifully written in letter form as the Black, biological mother of a sweet, little, Black toddler.

However, one of the first things I read in this book filled my heart with discouragement and fear: “There are conversations that I will have to have with my little boy—conversations similar to the ones my parents had with me—that are unique to our ethnicity.”

“Wait a minute!” my heart screamed! “I don’t know that script!” The conversations I grew up with, as a little white girl in the American South, were completely different kinds of conversations. Talks about being afraid of big, Black boys when forced integration began at my very white school in the early 1970’s, and talks about how to protect myself if necessary. Although these talks also included statements that “they aren’t all bad” and that “some of them will be nice,” the messages of fear and misunderstanding and labeling that had been sifting down through generations since failed Reconstruction in the South, were passed on to me. Only in the last ten years have I begun to understand the history behind these preconceived ideas, the evil they represent, and the damage they caused and are still causing today. And my heart breaks.

So what does my script look like as a white mother to Black children (and brown/Hispanic and Asian children, who will also face some of these same challenges in life)?

My son, like her son, is tall and shows clear signs that he is going to be a pretty big man. She writes, “. . . he is likely to be seen as the biggest kid, the strongest kid, and the one least likely to be seen by outsiders as a kid. We know that he may be perceived as more threatening and aggressive than his non-black peers. We know that . . . he might grow up with stories of having been made to feel ‘other’ because of the color of his skin.”

The reality of these words was not a new idea for me. I’ve known since we adopted our precious Nolan at the age of six-and-a-half (and the same for his sister Madlin, adopted at the age of five) that we would have to learn how to prepare him for life in the world as a Black man. We’ve even had a very few brushes with racism. We knew we had a lot of learning to do ourselves before we could understand how to prepare him for this. But the first years of this baby’s life were not good ones. He was the victim of so much trauma and neglect and abuse and fear. Now, he is finally happy and safe and feels snuggly secure in his family, surrounded by unconditional love.

I don’t want to rob him of these years of joy and safety. For now, he is the son of white parents, this allows him—right or wrong, good or bad—to, in some ways, reap the benefits of our white privilege in spite of his beautifully very black skin tone. That is a fact; a consequence of living in a diverse family parented by a white mom and dad. For now. But what about later when he’s out in the world where people see him only as a tall, Black man who might be wrongly perceived as a threat no matter how polite he might be?

How can I gently prepare him for this future scenario without casting a shadow over the happy, innocent, and safe life he finally has now? I don’t want to take away any of the sunshine from this period in his life.

I still don’t have all of these answers, but we are learning. And as I have begged God to lead me along this path, he is answering those prayers. Jasmine’s book brought me encouraging and hopeful guidance:

But because of your brown skin . . . your exuberance will sometimes be mistaken for recklessness, your passion for anger. Your affection will make some people nervous, especially if your flirtation veers in the direction of the wrong white man’s daughter . . . Some people won’t even take the time to get to know your tenderness. Sweet boy, I do not say these things to jade you. As I teach you these lessons, I pray that they don’t come from a place of bitterness or a life ruled by fear, I want them to flow from a place of wisdom. I can’t just see you as my sweet little boy. I have to visualize the man that you’ll become, and I must prepare you to face the world in his skin. But there is no better preparation for that than to know that you are not defined by the cruelty that some in this world wish to offer you. You aren’t even completely defined by your mama’s love. You are defined by the God of the universe who purposefully gave you that beautiful brown skin for his glory. No matter how the world might perceive you, hold your head high knowing that you are matchlessly loved by your Father in heaven. And you will be fiercely protected by your mother on earth for as long as I possibly can. . . It is no accident that you are black. He placed you in a lineage of glorious complexity and gave you the task of learning how to glorify him in light of the ingredients he stirred into the pot of your identity. He invites you to delve into a deeper understanding of who you are as an individual so that you can see yourself in light of who you are in the grander story that he is writing. You are black. And it is good. . . you will be tempted to question the wisdom of God in speaking your brown skin into existence . . . you will wonder whether God is holding out on you for making you so different from the world you live in. But I pray that you will come to an understanding of who you are that moves beyond your earthly heritage alone. I pray that your heavenly identity will not only supersede your earthly shell, but also give it deeper and fuller meaning as purposeful evidence of God’s grace toward you and everyone around you. My dear, sweet little boy . . . I pray that you will grow to acknowledge your Creator in all aspects of who you are, bowing your knee in gratitude for every single manifestation of his providence toward you . . . He made you a little black boy on purpose. He stuck you into this particular moment in history with intention. I am not your mama on accident.”

“I am not your mama on accident.”

I have held tightly to the truth that God ordained before the beginning of time that each of our twenty-three children would be ours. He brought them each to us in his perfect time and in his perfect way. I am Nolan’s mama! I am Madlin’s mama. The same holds true for every one of my kids. He is not going to leave me alone to figure this out. He will teach me and guide me in the ways necessary to prepare each of them for a life that I pray will be in his service—a life of fulfillment and joy that he has planned for them. A life that will, I pray, enable them to embrace and celebrate their brownness, their Blackness, their “Asian-ness,” and even their blindness, their paralysis, their physical deformities, or their cognitive limitations. They are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and Scott and I were the ones chosen by the Creator of the universe to raise them. What an awesome and breath-taking honor!

For now, among other things, we are relearning the truth of history in America for all people created with black skin. This history has been distorted and re-written in abominable ways. We want to know the truth, and we are teaching that truth to all of our children, regardless of their skin color. What happens in the past, matters so very much in the present and in the future.

If you also would like to begin educating yourself about the past, in order to help you better understand the present and hopefully open your heart to fuller acceptance of the racism that is a reality of life here in America, here are a few links to get you started.

“Why the Lies My Teacher Told Me About Race in America After the Civil War Matter in 2019”

“Lynchings, 1921 Tulsa Massacre, and 8 Other Things School Didn’t Teach You About Race in America”

“How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans”

And I especially love this admission by Christianity Today, of how the Church has failed miserably at carrying this torch. If you don’t read any of the others, please at least read this one:

“Justice Too Long Delayed”

God will continue leading us and bringing others into our lives, as needed. Black, white, brown, Asian friends—we welcome their perspectives in this journey, and we trust God to work through their experience, their wisdom, and their love for our children to continue conducting us along the path he designed for our family.

The day we met our new son, Nolan
Bringing Nolan home to his family

Nolan’s first birthday with his family—brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews
Nolan’s first Christmas with us
Adoption finalization day!
Hiking with one of his twelve sisters
Precious Madlin before she came home to us
Our beautiful Madlin today
Our amazing and handsome Nolan now, at eleven years of age

Though Thunder Explodes and Lightning Flash

My son Nathan introduced me to this song, Lullaby for a Stormy Night, a few weeks ago. It’s so beautiful. I loved it immediately, and I’ve listened to it multiple times since then. These lyrics made me think of a couple of things.

Little child, be not afraid,
Though thunder explodes and lightning flash,
Illuminates your tear-stained face,
I am here tonight.

And someday you’ll know,
That nature is so,
The same rain that draws you near me,

Falls on rivers and land,
And forests and sand,
Makes the beautiful world that you see
In the morning.

My first mental image, while listening to this song, was that of our little Lilyan when she first came home to us. She was so tiny, but also so spunky! However, thunderstorms reduced her to an absolutely terrified, whimpering (sometimes screaming), trembling bundle of baby girl.

I had never seen anyone as terrified of storms as she was. It broke my heart to see her like that, and even just the prediction of a storm would cause me to feel panic on her behalf. 

She has outgrown this fear now, but I sure wish I’d known of this song back then. I’m no singer (understatement), but I would’ve held her and sung it to her.

The other thing it made me think of is God’s ways. Even though it isn’t a Christian song, and even though it doesn’t even mention God.

Oh man! Sometimes his ways seem so dark and scary and bullying and misunderstood. The rain that falls in the midst of the thundering, flashing, panic-inducing storms of life, causing me to skitter like a terror-stricken rabbit into his arms, is the same rain that makes our walk with him beautiful. And this reminder pricked my conscience.

The same rain that draws you near me,
Falls on rivers and land,
And forests and sand,
Makes the beautiful world that you see
In the morning.

Just yesterday morning, I was so far from his arms. I was consumed with sadness and fear; I was pouting and accusing this Father of mine of being mean. Of tricking me — again — by making me think he was about to answer a prayer a certain way, and then reneging on his promises to care for our family.

This temper of mine. It causes me, in times of fear or in the midst of feeling I’ve been betrayed, to behave in such childish ways. Lashing out at those I love, saying things I don’t even mean, and turning my back on my all-knowing Creator who loves me more than I can ever understand while I’m trapped in this stubborn, foot-stomping, human body that sometimes desires comfort and ease and my own way more than knowing this God in deeper and truer ways.

He loves me so much that he gave his life to save me. He died to make it possible for me to run into those arms when I’m scared to death. Will I ever grow up?

Oh, God. Help me to embrace the thunder and lightening along with the life-giving water that you send to make beautiful our path in this world. Grow in me a desire to run to you, instead of away from you, and to nestle in your arms. I know in my heart that this is the only safe place to be during the storm.

Whose House of Cards is This, Anyway?

“There is nothing that comes to pass but God has His purpose in it. Though the world seems to run at random in blind confusion and rude disorder, yet God governs it to make perfect harmony out of all the seeming discords.” ~ Ezekiel Hopkins (1633-1690)

Even after I woke up this morning I kept feeling sick to my stomach when I thought, “What might’ve happened to her if we hadn’t been there?”

Sometimes God shows us why he totally derails our plans. Often not, but sometimes.

I need to update our family blog. But no time just now. These last few months have been brutal. This month has been especially so. My September calendar currently has seventy-three appointments on it! As of tonight, we’ve completed thirty-four of those, but still have thirty-nine more to go. I’m exhausted and functioning in a mental fog pretty much every minute of every day.

But a couple of weeks ago, Scott and I put a special event on yesterday’s date —  the annual birthday outing for our granddaughters’ August birthdays. For our birthday gifts to our grandchildren, we traditionally give a special outing with the two of us. This insures that we have at least one day a year in which we can be just grandparents to each of our ten in-town grandchildren. We gifted these two with certificates for a date with us at a local indoor, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf place.

Because of our overloaded schedule this month, this outing had to be squeezed in around other appointments yesterday. In spite of this, Scott and I were determined to shut out the world for just those few hours we had with our sweet grands and laugh, talk, and focus only on them. But this proved to be an uphill battle from the moment we walked out of our door yesterday morning.

I had the day very carefully planned, and it was absolutely critical that every piece go exactly according to that plan. Timing was delicately orchestrated, and at one point I said aloud that the day (my life at the moment, actually) was just like a card house. It was essential that no one bump any one card, or the whole day would collapse in on itself.

The first card got bumped at the very beginning of the day, and this started a panicked arm-flailing, hyperventilating, frantic effort on my part to catch all of the falling cards and hold them in place. It was futile. I couldn’t do it. Those falling cards changed the entire course of our day — the timing of every single moment.

My biggest concern was that my happy granddaughters not see my panic or my ridiculous efforts to grab all those cards. I didn’t want anything to spoil this special day for them. Finally, with my level-headed husband’s help, I accepted the inevitable and decided that no matter where the day went from that point, I was just going to drink in this time with the girls.

This string of drastic plan changes eventually led us, at the end of our tiring (but fun) day, to a place we never even intended to go, and at a time of day when we had already planned to be back home.

And at this place, God so very graciously showed us why He had so lovingly and tenderly knocked down my carefully constructed house of cards and put together a different one designed and held perfectly in place by His hands.

One of his special and very precious children needed help, and His plan was to use us!

As we were all leaving this place we had never planned to be, we decided to make potty runs before starting the long drive back home.

As Scott went to open the men’s bathroom door, he noticed that a young lady was there, just inside the door. He closed the door quickly, but not before hearing her try to say something to him that made it clear she wasn’t really “okay” developmentally. We know what developmental disability looks like and can spot this at a glimpse with pretty much dead-on accuracy.

The girls had already charged into the women’s bathroom, so I had to get to them. Scott, afraid of scaring this poor girl, posted himself outside the men’s room as her protector, listening for any sounds, praying that no one else was in there with her, worrying about her safety, and waiting for me to come out with the girls.

One of the granddaughters with us yesterday has Down syndrome, and there was a little drama in the ladies’ room that made things take longer than expected. Once I got them both taken care of, we all three went back to Scott. I honestly expected him to tell me that, by that time, someone had exited the men’s room with a perfectly reasonable explanation and that all was well.

This was not the case.

We decided I needed to enter the men’s room and see what was going on while Scott waited right outside in case I needed him. So I stuck my head in the door and called, “Is everything okay in here?”

Silence.

I called again and walked all the way through the door. I saw a pair of feet inside a stall, but still no reply.

Then I heard someone fumbling with the stall door as if they were trying to get it opened, so I called again, “Do you need some help? Are you okay, sweetie?”

A sweet, very confused-looking, older teen/young adult girl walked out of the stall. She had stripped off all of her clothes except for a pair of black tennis shoes and a thin, cropped t-shirt. She was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand her. I was so very upset at her predicament and her alone-ness in the men’s bathroom. Protective mama-mode set in instantly, and with a fierceness I usually only feel toward my own children or grandchildren.

I went to her and tried to calm her down. Once she was calmer, she explained that she had not been able to get to a bathroom in time and had ruined her clothes. I had no idea why she was alone, why she was in the men’s room, or what in the world to do, but I knew I wasn’t about to leave her there.

She was finally able to tell me that her mother had gone to buy her some more clothes, but hadn’t come back. I wondered if it might be possible that she had been abandoned here, but why in the men’s room!?!??

I spent some time talking to her as my mind was racing for some way to get her out of the men’s room and at least over to the ladies’ room. I assured her that she was safe, that I was going to get her some help, and that I wasn’t going to leave her. After awhile, I went to the door to talk with Scott about how to find someone connected with security to come and help us. While we were talking, a woman walked up, looking somewhat frazzled and carrying a bag from one of the stores and started to head into the women’s bathroom. I knew this had to be her. She paused — I assume the sight of me, hanging my head out of the men’s room stopped her. I asked if she was possibly looking for her daughter, and she answered yes, with some panic and confusion in her face.

I told her that she was here, in the men’s room with me. She gasped and dashed past me to get to her daughter and I followed her back in.

She was so embarrassed and looked absolutely exhausted. She kept apologizing to me.

When I told her to please not worry about me, and shared with her that I also have children with special needs, her eyes filled with tears, her face showed hints of relief, and she reached to hug me, thanking me over and over and over again for staying with her daughter. She exclaimed, “God bless you! God bless us both! This is such a hard life!” 

She explained that when her daughter had had this accident, she had been forced to leave her in the ladies’ room, telling her baby to wait there while she went to buy her some clothes and bring them back. She had no idea why her daughter had wandered out of the ladies’ room and into the men’s, and she was so visibly shaken by what could’ve happened to her child. The whole very sad situation, and this mother’s panic and pain, just broke my heart. She seemed to be very alone and at the end of her rope.

Scott and I stayed with our granddaughters and continued to guard the men’s room so this mom could have a little privacy to take care of her daughter. They left the men’s room a few minutes later and headed home.

It actually wasn’t until we had gotten to our van and were driving home that I fully realized just how God’s intricate and providential workings had perfectly rewritten our day to make sure we would be at that very spot, at that very moment, where we were able to make sure this precious girl stayed safe and offer some tiny measure of comfort and encouragement to a mama who was in great need of those things.

Feel free to comment on this post, but if anyone says anything judgemental or critical about this mom, I will delete your comment. You don’t know her story, or her situation, or her daughter’s needs or abilities. God allowed us a tiny snapshot of someone else’s very tough life, but there are a lot of holes and missing pieces in this story. Please do not try to fill in those missing pieces with your imagination. Please just thank God that this child was safe, and pray for this mom as she tries to care for her daughter.

I’ll end with a few photos of our fun day with our granddaughters. I had to reschedule one appointment and totally cancel another, but God made sure the things He felt were important happened yesterday.

We can trust Him.

I will try to remember this the next time my carefully choreographed day falls apart. Only He can see the whole picture, and He always knows what He’s doing.

Aug B'day Outing #4

Glow Golf – so fun!

Aug B'day Outing #3

Gabriela’s turn

Aug B'day Outing #2

Two of our twelve grands

Aug B'day Outing #1

The girls with Grandad

 

 

Beautiful Fresh Starts . . . Or Brain Damage?

Some of you may not read this all the way through. I hope some will.
This isn’t my typical kind of post, but my heart is aching; bleeding. I am haunted continually and having trouble sleeping. I have to write this and hope that it will stop some of my own tears, even if I don’t really expect it to stop the horror that is happening daily in our own arms-wide-open America.
Some of you may stop reading right there. After that last sentence. But I will keep typing anyway.
During the last four weeks, Scott and I have had the incredible honor of welcoming Raiza and her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Jhannel, into our family.
From South America.
Their entry into our country has been as safe, as gentle, as stress-free, and as loving as it could possibly be during such a time of drastic life changes, as they have been surrounded by people who love them, care about them, and are excited about their new lives here.
Jhannel has been doted on by our children, scooped up by the two of us (her new Grandmother and Grandaddy), fed nutritious foods, had all of her needs met through each day. But even under these ideal circumstances, her great need to be in close contact to her mommy, to know constantly where she was and that she hadn’t left her, has been huge. Unfamiliar food, people, language, smells all made it essential that she have the familiar sound, feel, smell of her mother by her side at all times during this upheaval in her life.
We’ve marveled at the beauty of the deep bond and attachment they share. A bond that got them through unbelievably hard times, periods of poverty and need, and constant fear about their future before finally coming to America.
After they had been here for a couple of weeks, we came alongside Raiza to help her ease Jhannel into a place of a bit more independence as we all started working together to help Jhannel learn to sleep in her own little Paw Patrol bed. Still in the same room as her mommy, but for the first time in her life, not in the same bed.
It made my heart hurt as we saw the terror she faced that first night when she tried hard to be brave and follow through with her own desire to learn to sleep in her own bed. She loved that bed, but couldn’t find the courage, all by herself, to sleep in it without her mother’s body nestled against her. Something she had felt every single night since the moment God began knitting her together in her mommy’s womb.
But we all three loved her through that transition, and it got easier for her every night — as long as she knew that Mommy was still in the room with her and would be there when she opened her eyes the next morning. She asked over and over and over again for this assurance.
She now wakes up each morning and runs through the house, announcing happily that she woke up in her own bed, and she is so very proud of this little step toward three-year-old independence, knowing that she is safe and that Mommy is still walking by her side.
And then I think of all the immigrant babies being ripped from their mother’s arms at U. S. borders. I don’t know how the parents or the children ever survive this unbelievably cruel treatment. Hundreds of them! 
In our attempt to be better parents ourselves to our own children from trauma, and to help other parents learn to how to understand their children’s trauma and needs, Scott and I have spent the last few years learning more and more about what childhood trauma does to children’s ability to cope in life, to their emotional and developmental state, even to their actual brain development! So much has been discovered just since the time we adopted our first children in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. It’s huge! Both the amounts of damage done, and the amazing healing that can finally take place when the proper understanding and methods are put in place.
But nothing ever completely undoes this damage. These children are forced to live out their lives limping in ways they would not have done if they had never been through the trauma they experienced. 
Being separated from parents is one of the worst types of trauma that can happen to a child. And we, America, are inflicting this permanent damage onto these massive numbers of children! 
How can this be?!? 
This video is about how to help kids from trauma heal, but it also gives a little peek into how all types of trauma, abandonment, and forced separation damage a child’s brain and development. I urge you to take three minutes to watch it.
These children currently being taken from their parents now are almost always already coming from places of trauma, but at least they had the bond with their parents to help somewhat minimize the effects of this damage — until being pulled forcibly from their mothers’ arms and then driven off to cold, overcrowded detention facilities (sometimes not even in the same state!). I cry again just typing these words.  
Please, please don’t remain silent.
Educate yourself about what’s going on. Here are some articles that help explain it all. (Remember to keep scrolling past all of the annoying adds that pop up in the middle of the articles, so that you read each one to the end.) 
Contact your representatives and cry out on behalf of these families who have no voice. This link will take you to the info you need to do this. In the top left-hand corner, you can click on Change Location to get to the right person for your little corner of the world.
Please share this blog post. Everywhere! I actually write this last paragraph with shaking fingers because I know I will be attacked for writing this post. I already have been attacked on social media for speaking out for immigrants. My heart is passionate for orphans and families and children in need. But I am not brave. I wish I were. Oh, I long to be. But I have the kind of personality, passionate though it may be, that would always prefer to find ways to fight quietly in an invisible corner. So it has taken a lot of courage for me to write this blog post. My heart wouldn’t let me stay quiet any longer, especially as I watched the real-life immigrant story unfold in my own home where God has given us the indescribable honor of being a part of this new beginning.
I’ll end this with some beautiful pictures of Raiza and Jhannel’s transition into their new lives.

Raiza Arrives #5

Raiza’s arrival in Ohio after such a long, hard journey

Raiza Arrives #7

Our kids wanted them to know how happy we all are about their arrival

Celebratory Dinner Out

Big family celebratory dinner

Getting acquainted with all new “aunts,” “uncles,” “cousins,” and pets

Jhannel - Week 2 #4

Dancing with a new very blond cousin and best friend while watching Moana together.

Buddies in a Box

Jhannel and Godfrey

Teddy to the Vet

Jhannel Update #2

Doing some preschool activities in our classroom

Playing in the pool with Mommy

Playing with Mommy in the pool

Precious Cousins

True love at first sight

Jhannel's Prize Box

Jhannel’s prize box – part of our plan for helping her learn to sleep in her own bed

Her Own Bed!

Good morning! So proud of herself!

Our Wrinkles Tell Our Stories

Yesterday was a day filled with joy and thankfulness. Since our daughter Kathryn’s birthday is on May 9, we have developed the tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day and her birthday together each year. It’s always a special day, filled with family and life. Sometimes it’s a hard day (especially those years when Kathryn ends her party with another seizure), but it’s always real, and I cherish the memories of these special days of celebrations, surrounded by the ones who love me best.

Last year, Kathryn was so very sick that there was a shadow hanging over all of us for many, many months — including Mother’s Day. This year, after a grueling surgery and very long recovery during the summer and fall, she is finally healthy and happy, and she sailed through yesterday with smiles and infectious joy. It was a great day.

We also always do a special “photo shoot” of the two of us. I love having these special photos of the two of us. Here are a few from this year.

When I look at these photos, the first thing I see is so much love! I LOVE this girl with all my heart, and she loves me. Her family is her world.

The next thing I see (besides the gray hair that I’ve decided to let go wild now), are wrinkles. These.

Kathryn's 14th and Mother's Day 2018 - #6 - Super Cropped

Mostly, I don’t mind these. You can read the stories of people’s lives through the lines on their faces. They are precious etchings of the pain and joy that make us all who we are, and I believe we should wear them with honor — like badges we’ve earned during the shadows and suns of life here on this earth.

But you see that one super deep one right between my eyes?

I hate that one. That’s a worry wrinkle. That’s only there because of the billions of times I was trying to carry my burdens alone.

Lately, I’ve tried to erase it using some wrinkle cream. But it doesn’t work. We can’t undo the paths we’ve walked in life — not those we have chosen to walk, or those that we found ourselves on unexpectedly.

The unique lines engraved into our faces are visible manifestations and vivid reminders of the journeyings of our souls. Those things can’t be erased. But we can learn from them. Therefore, we can cherish them.

This morning, during my quiet time, I came across these words while reading from “God’s Light on Dark Clouds,” written in 1882 by Theodore Cuyler:

“‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you!’ (1 Peter 5:7). The literal meaning of this tonic text is: ‘He has you on His heart.’ He who piloted Noah and all the precious freight in the ark, who supplied the widow’s waning cruse of oil, who put Peter to sleep in the dungeon and calmed Paul in the roaring tempest — He says to me, ‘Cast your anxieties over on Me; I have you on My heart!’ God’s offer is to lighten our loads by putting His grace into our hearts, and underneath the load. He then becomes our strength. This Divine doctrine of trust is a wonderfully restful one to weary disciples. It takes the weariness out of the heart. It is the fever of worry which consumes strength, and furrows the cheek, and brings on decrepitude! The secret [for Paul] was that he never chafed his powers with a moment’s worry. He was doing God’s work, and he left God to be responsible for results. He knew whom he believed and felt perfectly sure that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord Jesus.” ~ Theodore Cuyler, 1882

You see that bold text in that paragraph?

Worry wrinkles! If only I had learned a long time ago to trust my Father more — no matter what. If only I could really learn this now!

I am giving up on the wrinkle cream. That deep, deep worry wrinkle will be with me through life here. When I get to Heaven, I think it will be gone; wiped away (just as the sin that created that wrinkle will be wiped away); smoothed out of my forehead by the gentle touch of my Father who loves me so much and wants me to remember that I need to ask Him for the ability to lean harder on Him.

But until then, every time I look into a mirror, it’ll be there. And each time I see it, I will take a deep breath, consciously relax the muscles in my face, remember that God “has me on His heart,” and ask Him to carry my burdens for me.

And I’ll try to be thankful for this clear and conspicuous reminder that I carry with me everywhere.

Our stories are all precious. Even the parts that we wish we could undo are key pieces of our stories and of making us who we are in this process of becoming. And God writes great stories.