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 mother’s 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.

You Adopted Black Ones?!

I am reeling; still so shocked at this woman’s words.

I woke up this morning with clear symptoms of a quickly-worsening UTI. I had to see someone fast on this packed day, so I just ran up to the Urgent Care a couple of minutes from my house (turned out to be a very positive experience), where the doc there did confirm that I have a pretty severe infection. By the time I finally left there and got to Kroger to have my prescription filled, I was in a lot of pain. My meds weren’t ready, so I decided to pick up a few things I knew we needed.

About that time, I remembered that next week is Valentine’s Day. We have always left one of those small heart-shaped boxes of chocolate by each child’s breakfast plate on Valentine’s Day morning, so I quickly grabbed nineteen of these little boxes and stacked them in my cart. I dashed to the check-out and tossed everything on the conveyor. I was hurting so much by this time that I was beginning to see those faint, flashing little star-thingies you see when you’re about to faint. I tried to stay focused as I got my credit card out.

Then I noticed that there was a wealthy-looking woman standing beside the check-out lady, talking her ears off about whatever was in her Kay Jeweler’s bag. The person ringing up my groceries actually seemed kind of embarrassed and like she was trying to tune this woman out as she did her job, but I noticed with some amusement that the “rich lady” didn’t seem to be catching any of her hints. She was about my age and wrapped snuggly in a fur coat. She prattled on and on about whatever she had in her bag, and insisted on pulling it out to show this lady ringing up my groceries. I never saw it because I was trying to do Lamaze breathing to control my pain and desperately trying to remember my PIN so I could pay for my groceries and get my medicine and get home to my comfy jammies.

Suddenly, she noticed the long line of heart-shaped boxes waiting to be bagged and exclaimed, “How many children are you buying candy for anyway!?”

If I hadn’t been hurting so much, I would’ve laughed out loud. (There were nineteen of these boxes — not 300, for crying out loud.) As it was, I mischievously decided to really shock her fur coat off her by telling her that the kids were all mine! I could tell she was the kind of person who would react in an entertaining way. So, I calmly said, “Well, my husband and I are parents to twenty-two children, and nineteen still live at home. Those nineteen boxes of candy are for them.”

I was proud to see that I had accurately predicted her reaction as her eyes flew wide, and she said, “They are all YOURS?!” 

“Yes, they are all ours. Eighteen of them are adopted, and they are all ours.”

“Well, do you have a picture!?” 

“Yes, ma’am, I do.” We are always proud to show off our brood, even to people who are only asking out of morbid curiosity. Who knows when a heart might be softened; eyes opened; minds stretched a bit? We’ve seen it happen. So I pulled up a fairly current family picture and handed her my phone while I pulled my credit card out of the chip reader. Her next words kind of took my breath away.

“You adopted black ones?!?” This was said with something in her voice that I couldn’t identify. It wasn’t exactly disgust, but something kind of close to it. Definitely complete surprise.

I wanted so much to look her in the eye and say, “You do realize that you just said that out loud, right?” But I didn’t. I just mentally (and possibly unfairly) dumped her in the category of  “Too Ignorant to Ever Have Her Eyes Opened,” and tried to finish my transaction so I could get my medicine. But she just couldn’t stop. Her next words really did leave me so flabbergasted that I couldn’t find anything at all to say. I stood there wondering if I had imagined it in the midst of my pain.

She said, “The [so-and-so’s] in our church adopted some black ones. Her mother hated it. I love it. I even take them shopping!” She was clearly expecting some kind of high praise for this; exclamations about what an amazing person she is.

I have some vague memory of feeling dizzy, and of words my children don’t even know I have in my vocabulary swirling through my head (I’ll just write that off to the pain), and I remember staring at her. Was my mouth hanging open? Scott tells me that my facial expressions in situations like this are embarrassingly transparent, so I would assume yes. But she never even noticed. She was off again, going on and on about her jewelry purchase.

As I headed over to the pharmacy to finally get my prescriptions, I noticed that there were stinging tears in my eyes. I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was feeling beyond the shock that there are actually still people out there who are this ignorant. I recognized feelings of anger over her racial attitude, but also a desire to laugh out loud at her absurdity and foolishness. I also felt sad and like I had let my kids down by remaining silent. Why hadn’t I spoken up in defense of my babies? Why couldn’t I have thought of something wise and poignant to help her see how precious my kids are and how self-focused and close-minded she is? It didn’t have to be mean, just to the point and full of truth (not for the first time, I found myself wishing I had a script writer by my side at all times).

This is the world my children will grow up in. I know that there will be times when they will face people like this who would have no qualms about saying these kinds of ignorant and ridiculous things even to their faces. I need to prepare them. But what I really want is to just keep them safe in this happy little bubble where they live right now, surrounded by people who know them as the vibrant, funny, beautiful, accomplished people they are, and not the “black ones,” or the “Hispanic ones.”

But that won’t do. I’m learning this more and more with each passing year. Somehow, it’s our job to teach them how to respond to (or sometimes just laugh off) these kinds of comments and how to never let anyone cause them to get confused about who they are.

They are loved and cherished and each one unique, and I look forward to watching them all make their mark in this world. In spite of people like this woman.

Happy New Year 2018

 

 

 

Responding to the Injustices of Life

This morning, I posted something fairly passionate on Facebook after receiving very disappointing (although not unexpected) news from our insurance company. After four attempts — months-long, tough and exhausting battles — to get coverage for very expensive, but necessary supplies for our kids, we received a final denial. That Facebook post is at the end of this short blog post if you want to read it.

I still believe I do need to speak and fight for my babies and bring wrongs into the light when I’m given an opportunity to do that. Our children spent enough years in orphanages, wearing messy diapers with no one to fight for their needs before they came home, so I will always fight my heart out for them. But God is bigger than insurance companies; and His plans, full of love, are always better than the plans we devise for ourselves (or even for our babies). So I need to follow up on that post with this.

I read (and shared) a blog post this past week from the mom of a child with significant special needs who was really struggling. She wrote that, during an emotional conversation with her child’s neurologist, the doctor kindly stopped her at one point and addressed what she was saying to him. This is from her blog:
“Okay, how about this — you stop saying ‘this is good or this is bad’ and you just accept what it is that’s going on.” He continued by saying, “When the hurricane hit Texas everyone was ready for it to stop; no one wanted another hurricane to hit Florida, but you know what? It did. This is what Chase’s seizures are like. They come and then we find something that stops them for a while, and then when that stops working we find something else. When a hurricane comes the only thing you can do about it is pick yourself up and start with what you have.”
Our faith in a loving and sovereign God should equip us to do this very thing. We can cry for a little while, but then we have to pick ourselves up and start with what we have. We can trust Him with whatever comes our way — good or bad. Scott and I know that He will guide us through the black and swirling waters we find ourselves in now.
Susannah Surgeon, once more, brought perspective back into my heart this morning with her words from 1898. This is truth! This is where we have to keep our focus:
“‘I will strengthen you — yes, I will help you!’ Who will come with me to the King this morning, to lay at His feet a petition for the fulfillment of this Word of His grace, upon which He has caused us to hope? We shall be a company of Feeble-minds, and Much-afraids, and Fearings, and Ready-to-halts, and we may make but a sorry appearance in His courts. Some of us can say, with tear-filled eyes, ‘O Lord, if weakness is a plea for Your promised strength, then are we truly fit objects of Your mercy, for we are at the lowest ebb of helplessness; we have scarcely strength enough left to feel that we are feeble.’ Oh, the condescension and tenderness of our God! Our extremity is His opportunity! His mercy follows hard after our misery. And, oh! with what joyful hearts and shining eyes do we afterwards walk in the light of His countenance! ‘Dear Lord,’ we say, “it is worthwhile being weak to be thus gloriously strengthened by You!'”
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'” Isaiah 41:13
Scott and I will always fight for our kids and their needs. But when we reach the end of all human ability to change the situation, we must fall back on the sovereignty of our God who knows our (and our children’s) needs better than we do.
Here is that Facebook post from this morning about the evils and unfairness and injustice of Humana’s very wrong decision. And one thing I want to say about this post. In spite of some of the comments on Facebook about this, it was never intended to be a political statement. I don’t actually believe that this is a problem that can be laid at the feet of either political party. We, and many others, have fought similar battles with insurance under every type of healthcare out there, regardless of which party was driving the train. I don’t actually know what the answers are for our huge healthcare problems in this country. But I know that the picture truly is much bigger than just which party is in control.
We can find peace in knowing that, while some may believe that parties or companies hold all of the power, God is ultimately in control of the outcomes of our lives. And He loves us incomprehensibly.

Facebook Post, October 24, 2017:
To the person at Humana who has the power to make decisions concerning the quality of people’s lives, my heart longs, this morning, for the ability to strike you with total bowel incontinence for a few weeks. Not so much out of anger or spite, but in a very real desire to open your eyes and your heart to the consequences of your decisions. I wish I could arrange things so that you would, multiple times throughout your day, leak liquidy, smelly stool through your diapers (which others your age don’t even wear) onto your clothes and the furniture on which you are sitting while you are trying to attend church, watch a concert or movie with your family, or play in the backyard with siblings and friends. I wish I could then present you with a solution that finally fulfills your dreams of wearing real underwear like others your age, and works well to mostly keep you free of foul smells and embarrassing public soiling of your clothes and skin irritation caused by the constant leaks — only to, then, cruelly snatch that solution away, saying to you, as you said to my babies, “there are no published guidelines recommending this treatment for your incontinence.” Would you beg for mercy? Would you fight through multiple appeals as we have, searching for someone who will listen to reason; begging for someone who actually cares (and holds all of the cards) to come to your aid? Would you then, finally, weep for the pain you have caused others?
Here are their faces. They are real people whose little hearts ache for the same things you want for yourself or your own children. How does a heart become so hard and cold that the bottom line is what decides the length and/or quality of a life?
Roslyn with Jaden and Lilyan - Spring '15

The Back-Look Into My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathryn's Surgery - Setting Up

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

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

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

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

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

Kathryn's Surgery Wound Cleaining 8-18-17

Wound cleanings are incredibly painful for our girl

Kathryn's Surgery - First Shower

Surrounded by sisters for her very complicated shower time

Kathryn's Surgery - Setting Up for Morning Wound Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Though the Winds Blow

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

If you follow me on Facebook, or follow our family blog, you may remember that day a few months ago when we took the family to the zoo, only to find ourselves stranded on I-75 on the way home, when our very old 15-passenger van broke down. Again!

Zoo - President's Day 11

Zoo - President's Day 9

Zoo - President's Day 14

And you may have seen a couple of posts since that day, hinting that we would have something big and beautiful to announce soon. Well, it’s time.

Meet Lucy!

Lucy and Ethel #1

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

Lucy and Ethel #2

Both brand new. Both custom-ordered to meet our needs. Both gifts to our family. (There is actually a story behind these names. Keep reading.)

Lucy and Ethel #3

Lucy and Ethel #4

There truly are no words to express all that we are feeling over this news. We are still trying to process the concept of not having to worry, every time we leave the house, if we will make it back home without having to call a tow truck, and of having adequate air conditioning; the reality that we no longer have to lift Kathryn and Owen (both over a hundred pounds now) up into van seats; the incredible fact that all wheelchairs and walkers can fit inside of the vans now instead of having to hang on the outside. We can travel in the rain now!

As Scott and I were driving these two beauties home from the dealership on Friday, I felt kind of numb. I felt a little like my brain and heart had fallen asleep; like I was functioning in a fog. I was aware of emotions roiling inside, but they were all stuck there — like they were too big, or like there were just too many of them, to squeeze their way out to the surface. I think Scott and I were still in shock that this had actually happened. That someone (who has asked not to be named) had come to us months ago after that infamous breakdown (only one of many), and said that they felt God had called them specifically to solve our transportation challenges. And that they had then gone on to do just that in a much bigger way than we could ever have dreamed of!

The emotions were there as I pondered all that had happened since that day on the way home from the zoo, but those emotions got clogged and went silent, like gears when something jams them and they stop turning.

Then, suddenly driving down State Route 747, I was sobbing. I mean, sobbing! I couldn’t figure out exactly what was behind all of those tears, but as I wept, the emotions began to kind of uncoil themselves a bit. The gears slowly started to come to life again.

And after a few minutes passed, I realized in the midst of that ongoing flood of tears that I had a clear mental image of looking down from above and seeing our family in two totally constrasting situations.

On the left, was our family back in the year 2000.

Family Portrait 2000

We had just begun the adoptions of Robyn and Colin. Their homecomings would bring us to a total of eight children — nine whenever Raiza was in the United States and living with us. We knew that, once these two came home, we would move into a place where our income would no longer easily provide for the family’s needs. But God was asking more of us, even, than that. He was also asking us to walk away from Scott’s secure income and career as an engineer, and follow Him onto a very foggy path to start a ministry that would help find families for other special needs orphans. (This call would eventually lead to the beginning of The Shepherd’s Crook Orphan Ministry.)

And it was also at this time that we made a conscious decision to accept God’s clear call on our lives to bring home as many children to our own family as He chose for us. We knew this would require a deeper faith than we possessed, and that it would take us to dark and scary places — although at that time, we were mercifully unaware of just how dark and scary things would get further down that road. We were afraid, but we were also very excited about seeing what miraculous things God would do as we followed Him into this unconventional life.

Up to that point, we had had a pretty long list of people who were following us via email. These people were praying for us, encouraging us, helping us as we raised funds to bring each of our children home. We shared these things with this list of people.

And our hearts were broken at the response to our scary and exciting news.

We heard comments like, “You’ve gone too far now,” “We no longer want to be a part of this journey.”

More than half of the people on that list chose to stop receiving our emails and following along with us.

We held a family meeting one evening soon after this and discussed the very real possibility that God might ask us to link arms with each other and go forward alone from that point. We had to choose whether we would follow Him, or give in to the voices that told us we were crazy to take this path that we believed God had designed for us long, long ago.

And every member of the family who was old enough to understand this, committed to moving forward — even if we had to do it alone.

That was one side of this image.

And on the right, was our family today. 

TheBlackBoyCame18

After that dark and lonely period, God spent the next seventeen years quickly growing our family and slowly growing, beneath us, a loving and dedicated system of support made up of friends, strangers, family, Christians, non-Christians, people of all ages, color, size, and shape. (A year ago, I wrote a blog post about the ways in which God has blessed us — and continues to bless us — through the giving hearts of others. It’s called, Emptying the Pockets of our Lives. That post will give you a full picture of how God has showered His love upon us through the years. It will add meaning to this post.)

I wish I had the gift of expressing concepts like J. R. Miller or Susannah and Charles Spurgeon did in their timeless writings. But I can only say that the stark contrast of these two seasons in our lives, combined with the real-time sight of Scott driving Ethel home in front of Lucy and me, resulted in a fireworks-kind-of assurance that God will always take care of us. For the rest of that day, this absolute certainty that I can trust God with every aspect of our lives, pulsed vibrantly in my heart and mind.

All those worries I have about my children as they are trying to become adults now? He’s got it!

My fears every single year about providing seasonal clothing, curriculum for school, Christmas gifts for all of them? He’s already on it! 

My sadness about the kids’ medical struggles; my dread surrounding Kathryn’s upcoming surgery and the probability that this surgery won’t take care of her issues? He’s holding all of that in His hands.

God has already written this story all the way to the end! It doesn’t matter how scared or confused or abandoned I feel at times! Whatever pain, joy, loneliness, celebration, uncertainty, heartache, or bounty lies ahead, it’s all part of His lovingly orchestrated story. It will all work out perfectly because He never, ever makes mistakes. It might not seem perfect to me — not every answer from Him involves brand new, custom-made, beautifully shining silver vans. But He has woven perfection into the storms of our lives, a perfection that we can’t see here on this side of the clouds; and He has promised to care for us, to provide for us, to lead us along the paths that take us into His arms, and to show His faithfulness to a watching world. 

It was an incredible drive. Just Lucy, God, and me as I sobbed all the way home. As I basked in one of those rare moments when God gifts us with the ability to rise above the gut-wrenching work here on earth and see just how full of love and promise all of His plans are. As He gave me a quick but incredibly clear view of the assurance and rest we can find in trusting and following Him.

By the next morning, that mountaintop experience was gone, and I was back in the trenches again with my precious family. Dealing with the hard places in my babies’ hearts, and with the brokenness in their bodies. Wondering how to stretch the Kroger gift cards far enough to get us to payday again; asking God for ways to pay for more new pairs of glasses than we had expected to need.

But every time I looked through the windows at those gifts from God sitting in our driveway, I heard Him whisper to me, “I am with you. I will never leave you. I will always meet your needs and care for you and your children, even when ‘the winds blow and the storms beat upon you.’ Just trust me to do it My way and in My time.” 

The second day we had Lucy home, one of the dogs vomited on her floor. The next day, someone hit her in the parking lot. It turned out to be only a bump on one of her mirrors, and no damage was done at all, but these incidents were good reminders that we can never look to any material thing — no matter how amazing or useful — for our ultimate joy. We can enjoy these things immensely, but we can’t find our joy in them. All things of this world are here today and gone tomorrow.

But the promises these vans represent to us are precious and eternal. God hears our prayers. And in His time and in His ways, he will always answer our cries for help and meet our needs. And sometimes He will do it in such big ways that we will be left numb and speechless in our awe. And we might find ourselves sobbing through the emotions.

Oh, and why Lucy and Ethel? If you’ve read our book, Swaying in the Treetops, you may remember that, one of our long-standing family traditions goes like this. Anytime a vehicle breaks down, we watch old I Love Lucy episodes, eat ice cream, laugh and pray while we wait for God to provide help. They seemed like perfect names to us.

Here are a few photos of our kids seeing their new rides for the first time. It was a magical couple of hours. Join us in praising God and celebrating!

Lucy and Ethel #6

So much excitement on this special day!

Lucy and Ethel #8

A wheelchair lift!!

Lucy and Ethel #9

Kathryn LOVES riding in the van while still in her wheelchair

Lucy and Ethel #10

Owen’s turn to use the lift

Lucy and Ethel #7

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

Lucy and Ethel #11

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy and Ethel #5

Praising God for these indescribable blessings

 

Not Always a Fairytale — And Sometimes Better Than

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Living a Fairy Tale
Written June 11, 2011

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

Family photo  - Fall 1990

Rosenow family – fall 1990

Why is it so hard to take this step? Why are we so afraid to believe Him when He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”? Gradually, God showed us some of those plans as He built our family over the next two decades.

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

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

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

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

Kathy's 52nd #4

My 52nd birthday with kids and grandkids

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

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

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


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

Zoo - President's Day 4

A day at the zoo

Zoo - President's Day 14

Breaking down on the way home from the zoo

MyB'dayBlogPost #11

Another surgery – that tear!

MyB'dayBlogPost #8

Being goofy #1

MyB'dayBlogPost #9

Being goofy #2

MyB'dayBlogPost #14

One of many special birthdays

MyB'dayBlogPost #7

Nineteen of my treasures

MyB'dayBlogPost #6

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

MyB'dayBlogPost #4

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

Out of Emergency Stoma Surgery 4-1-17

Emergency surgery

MyB'dayBlogPost #2

Family movie night

Memorial Day 2017

Baking apple pies

MyB'dayBlogPost #5

Hospital for Kathryn

MyB'dayBlogPost #3

First watermelon this year

MyB'dayBlogPost #1

Scott being Granddaddy

MyB'dayBlogPost #10

Sick again

Kathryn Pain 4-29

Sick again

MyB'dayBlogPost #12

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

MyB'dayBlogPost #13

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

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

Special dinner with my favorite guy in the world

Matthias's 6th B'day Outing

Fun outing with a grandson

Home from Hospita. 4-5-17 #1

Sick again

Kathryn's 13th B'day #5

Such a special picture with my sweet Kathryn

Birthday Flowers

Surprise flower delivery for my birthday from my amazing husband

 

Willing to be Fragrant — or Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before dinner, though . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2016 Birthdays to us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God remained quiet.

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

Christmas Tree Day #9
Christmas Tree Day #13Christmas Tree Day #13
Christmas Tree Day #14Christmas Tree Day #15
Christmas Tree Day #16Christmas Tree Day #17
But day after day passed, and the floor around this beautiful tree remained empty. I began to wonder if this might be the year God would ask us to experience a Christmas without gifts.
Christmas Tree Day #18

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

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

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

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

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

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

New hats and gloves

Choosing blankets1

Roslyn choosing a new homemade blanket for her bed

Choosing Blankets2

Owen choosing a new homemade blanket for his bed

Grill Being Assembled

New grill being assembled in our family room

Gifts from Anonymous Person 12-16

Casacading gifts from an anonymous “Santa”

Ertl's Amazing Surprise

Embroidered fleece throws

Baking Cookies 12-16

Let the baking begin

Baking Christmas Pies 12-16

Sibling Gift Wrapping

Lilyan wrapping her Secret Sibling Gift

Towels from Brian and Sharon Horton

New towels for every family member

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

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

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

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

But this post is also more than that.

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

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

Chatting with Santa1

Catching up with Santa since last year’s chat

Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa3
Chatting with Santa2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, oh how painful growth can sometimes be.

Tree With Presents 12-16

Our tree, standing nobly over gifts for each family member