Quilts, Legacies, Rambling Thoughts

Lucinda Ann Crumly. She was called Lou, and she married William Frank Crumly (called Frank) sometime around 1903. They had six children, and their first one, a baby girl named Bessie born in 1904, died at the age of eight months after a pot of boiling water was accidentally spilled over her. I don’t know the details, but I remember growing up hearing that very sad story and being powerfully affected by it. Lou also spent much of her adult life wheelchair-bound due to arthritis that attacked her body at a fairly young age. Frank died in 1964, but Lou lived until 1985 when she died at the age of 102.

Lou and her husband Frank
Lou, Frank, and some of their children

She was my dad’s grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Great-grandma Crumly. She is also the person who created this quilt, which I suddenly realized today when I spotted it on a closet shelf, is about a hundred years old now. 

I had to take it down from that shelf and touch it and smell it. And photograph it. It’s in surprisingly good shape for its age, especially considering how much it has been used through the years. There are only a couple of holes in it. So many memories spanning the many seasons of my life. 

Although this old quilt is very thin now, there is only one hole worn into it, and only this one section where the batting has pushed through

I remember taking naps on this already-old quilt on hot Alabama days. My mother would place it on the hardwood floor and turn an electric floor fan on me. I loved that fan, although I was also terrified of it — my mother’s repeated warnings ringing through my ears. That fan would cut off my fingers if I reached through the grill on the front — a grill with spaces plenty wide enough to allow curious preschool fingers to pass easily through to the heavy metal blades inside. Thankfully, I was more fearful than curious, and the mental image of my fingers lying on the floor in pools of blood kept my hands close to my sides. But I loved that fan from a distance, and even now, my breathing slows and my body relaxes as I close my eyes and hear the soothing hum of that fan mingled with the summer sounds drifting in through my open window. The chirp of crickets, distant yells of lucky neighborhood kids who had outgrown naps, the faint whack of a bat hitting a baseball somewhere on our street, the rhythmic thwock, thwock, thwock of my brother riding his bike with playing cards clothes-pinned to the wheel spokes. I remember that fan’s cool air blowing so effectively across my body that I would eventually wrap this quilt around me, burying myself in its cocoon before slipping into a peaceful sleep.

Then many years later, a couple of my own babies napped on this quilt. I even remember setting up fans (much safer fans!) for those naps in spite of the fact that we had air-conditioning. I wanted to recreate for them those same feelings of safety and comfort and peace. I don’t know that I ever did. These things are individually personal. But it made me feel like a good mother, and those actions were filled with love for my little ones and a great desire to nurture them. 

Grandma Crumly was a stern woman with heavy, bushy eyebrows, who dipped snuff, sitting in her wheelchair — always wearing an apron over her skirt —  and spitting her “used-up” snuff into an old tin can before using a little brown stick to pack fresh snuff behind her lower lip. And I was always scared of her. I grew up seeing her only once or twice a year when we would drive to “the country” for family reunions and that southern May tradition, Decoration Day. We would start at the cemetery where pockets of relatives would gather here and there in a hushed reverence, placing flowers on graves of loved ones. Later, everyone would make their way to Grandma’s big white house for a good, old-fashioned, pot-luck meal. Always lots of jello at those meals. And potato salad. 

Her house was always dimly lit, and it always smelled of old things and old times. There was an elevator that Grandma Crumly had apparently used in much earlier days, until the upstairs portion was vacated and she settled into the downstairs to live out the rest of her life. That upstairs, sitting empty and abandoned above us, always haunted me, and I was told once that the deserted elevator had been relegated to a place for storing slaughtered hogs, greatly adding to the creepiness factor in the mind of fearful little me. But Grandma’s fifth child, Uncle Pete, is the one who told me that. And Uncle Pete was always drunk. I don’t think I ever remember seeing him sober. So who knows the truth about that forsaken elevator.

Grandma Crumly always seemed to me to be unhappy. Maybe even angry. I mostly kept my distance from her because the thought of doing anything to upset her made me quake in my  scuffed, white patent Mary Janes. But I wonder now what she was really like. She had certainly been through so many hard times in her life. Robbed of the gift of walking, carrying a mother’s guilt over the horrendous death of her first precious baby. I was told that her husband Frank was a gentle, patient, and loving man. I was only four when he died, so I don’t remember. 

But as I studied the many scraps of material that her hands sewed into this beloved quilt a hundred years ago, I realized that I long to know the stories of her life. If only those old scraps could talk and tell what roles they filled all those years ago. A dress for Sunday best? A shirt for working in the cotton fields that surrounded their house? A lovingly sewn baby gown? If only they could tell all of the things they saw and heard in that house as the years passed. Births and deaths. Joys and heartbreaks. Arguments and forgiveness. Marriages and divorces. What secrets must be stitched into this quilt! 

I’ll never know. This is all I have left of this great-grandmother. Is this all there is as her legacy? I don’t remember any stories of good that she did in the world, any significant marks she left behind. But maybe she did do good, help others, make lives better in some way. 

Is there any point to this post? Not really, I guess. Mostly this quilt, and the memories it brought back to me, just made me feel contemplative. But I do believe that it, and the reflections prompted by it, can serve as reminders that our time here is brief, and that we pass this way once. Only once. We get one real shot at making a difference in this world. 

What do I hope to leave behind? I hope that I am leaving pieces of myself embedded in each of my children’s hearts. The better pieces. I hope that I leave them with a desire to love people, to be kind, to fight for the needy, to protect the vulnerable, and to laugh and sing and try to see the best in even the grumpy receptionist on the other end of the phone, or the angry driver who flips them off on I-75. We don’t know those people’s stories, but everyone has stories. Good and bad. 

I pray that they will learn, even while watching me be honest about my own doubts and fears, to trust God a little more even when they don’t understand what he’s doing. I hope they will each believe that they are beautiful in their uniqueness, and valuable and gifted, and that there is a special someone out there to love them for who they are — and I hope that none of them will settle for someone who doesn’t love them and treat them as they should be loved and treated. I hope they understand that they don’t have to be perfect parents to love their own babies to places of wholeness and freedom to live life being who they were created to be. 

Time is funny. Those potlucks in the downstairs of Great-grandma Crumly’s house seem like such a long, long, long time ago. At the same time, life seems to have zoomed by so very quickly. How did I reach, and pass, the age of 60 so soon? I am a grandmother. And now that I know how fast it all goes, I know that I will be someone’s great-grandmother before I can blink. I so much want to make every minute count. I want to learn to stop wasting any of the time I have left here in this world. I hope to leave behind more than only a quilt, although I feel very blessed to have this link to the past.

Wait! Is This the Right Future?

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

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

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

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

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

“Andrew” becomes Owen Samuel Rosenow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sweet Story

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

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

Sounds weird, I know. But there it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.