It Doesn’t Really Matter Now

I spent the whole day Tuesday in my pajamas. Mostly sitting on the couch, checking Facebook and messages over and over and over again, waiting for word that my friend had died.


Suzy’s well-known smile

I prayed. I cried. I remembered. And I cried and prayed some more.

It felt as if all of life had been suspended. Like we were all floating above time and waiting for the news I didn’t want to hear.

During the afternoon, I spent several hours reading back through years of correspondence between us.

Suzy and I met many years ago when Scott was in college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and I was pregnant with our first child. I worked for an endodontist, and Suzy worked next door for another doctor. We became friends.

Kristen and Me at Suzy Wheat's House

c. 1982 Kristen, our first child, with me at Suzy’s house; Suzy took this photo

After Scott graduated and we moved away from Tuscaloosa, Suzy and I swapped Christmas cards and photos for many, many years. And then gradually, we lost contact with each other.

Six years ago, we found each other again on Facebook. Things had been hard for her during the years we had lost touch.

But by the time we reconnected, she was starting a fresh life and wrestling with the concepts of God for the first time ever.

We wrote so many letters back and forth as she asked questions about her journey as a new Christian, and I did my best to answer those questions, assuring her that I was still trying to figure out these weighty concepts myself.

She told me that she was absolutely starving for a deeper understanding and a more passionate walk with this Father she had only fairly recently come to know. She longed for peace and knowledge.

And she asked great questions.

Through the years, I watched her grow and it seemed to me that she did find the peace and the assurance she was looking for, even as she — like the rest of us — continued to ask the hard questions.

I was so inspired as I watched her live such a full life that revolved around helping other people and rescuing abandoned animals.

I have no idea how many dogs found homes because of her and her husband. But I know that there are many.

Suzy and Puppies #1

Two of the many, many lucky puppies rescued by Suzy and her husband

She shared with me how much she loved her husband, her children, her granddaughter, her nephew. She prayed so much for all of them with a passion that longed for them to also know this peace.

She prayed for me. Constantly. Anytime I needed prayer about anything, she was right there. More than once, she even offered to drive from Tuscaloosa, AL, to Cincinnati in order to find some way to help me out when things were tough. When Scott was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago, her first response was that she was praying; her second was that she would be here in a heartbeat if she could help in any way.

She was like that. She would drop everything — always with that great smile of hers — if any person or animal needed her. She was selfless.

This past October, she and her husband did drive to B’ham when our whole family was there speaking on adoption and orphan care. She came to hear us speak and to finally meet our children in person. It was so great just to see her face again and to hug her.

But why, oh why, did I not think to get a picture of us together?! The same thing happened the last time I saw my brother alive; I forgot to take any pictures. And then it was too late.

Before Scott and I left for Tampa last week, Suzy sent me a message. Continuing to thirst for deeper understanding and a closer walk with God, she wanted to know what devotional book I was using this year. I didn’t get a chance to answer that message before we left. I told myself I would answer it while we were in Tampa.

Unfortunately, I had underestimated how packed the schedule would be in Tampa.

And then . . . just two days into that busy schedule in FL, I got word that my friend had collapsed at work when her heart stopped with no warning. She fought hard through the weekend, but Tuesday morning I awoke to messages from her husband and her daughter, telling me that she would probably be in heaven within a few hours.

And I never answered her last question.

Which devotional book am I using this year? I am still using some of the same ones I told you about before, my sweet friend. And this year I have also added, Day by Day With the English Puritans; Scott gave it to me for Christmas. Now, it’s too late to tell you that.

But . . . it doesn’t really matter now. Because you are sitting at the feet of your Father! You are now able to worship Him truly and completely — just the way He intended when He created man and before sin entered this world and spoiled our beautiful fellowship with Him. There are no more limits to your ability to freely love this Savior you longed to know better. And you know Him fully now. You won’t be needing any more devotional books.

Your journey here on earth, so full of questions and the search for an intimate walk with our Creator is ended. You have that complete peace that can only come once we cross over into our Savior’s waiting arms. I’m so happy for you.

But I miss you. My heart aches at the knowledge that you are no longer just a few keystrokes away. Even as I type this post in your memory, I recognize that there’s a back corner of my brain that keeps thinking of questions I want to ask you; and almost instantly, the shocked realization (again and again) that I won’t be able to do that.

The world will miss you. You changed so many lives while you were here, and it was an honor beyond description to have been among those lives touched by your beauty and your love and your selflessness.

 “When my heart is brought to lie at the footstool of mercy, this seems to be the panting and breathing of my soul — to know experimentally and spiritually the blessed truths that my eyes see in the word of God, to have them opened up to my understanding, brought into my heart, grafted into my soul, applied to my conscience, and revealed with such supernatural and heavenly power that the truth as it is in Jesus may be in me a solemn and saving reality, that it may bring with it such a divine blessing as to fill me with grace, enlarge my heart into the enjoyment of the gospel, gird up my loins with spiritual strength, give and increase faith, communicate and encourage hope, shed abroad and draw forth love, and fill me with joy and peace in believing.”
~ Joseph Philpot (1802-1869)

 You searched diligently for these things in your life here. And now you know them in ways that the rest of us are waiting for still. Bask in His love, my friend. We will meet again in a few short years, I’m sure. Until then, relish the truth that, while you would not have chosen to leave your loved ones so soon, you now have all that your soul was longing to grasp while you were still here among us.

I love you, Suzy. Thank you for being my friend.

Suzy and Puppies #2






A Little Update

To those of you who want to follow the unfolding story of Scott’s cancer, we want to be sure you know that, while I will still sometimes be posting thoughts from my heart here on this blog, most of the updates — the ones with details about treatment, etc. — will be posted on our family blog, “Where Love Learns Its Lessons.”  

If you like to get an email anytime we post an update there, please go to the site and click to follow. Then you can know that you won’t miss any updates.

We just posted one there this evening — “There’s More to Life Than Cancer.”  

Thank you all so much for your flood of emails and texts and prayers. We are almost undone by the love we have felt over the past three days.

And Sometimes The Little Things Are Big Things

“The hand of the Lord may be felt in strengthening the soul and lifting the spirit up toward eternal things. Oh, that I may in this sense feel the Lord dealing with me! A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul toward heaven as on the wings of eagles. At such times, we are full to the brim with spiritual joy, and we forget the cares and sorrows of earth. The invisible is near, and the visible loses its power over us.” ~ Charles Spurgeon


Such an ugly word. Such a powerful word. Full of fear and terrifying unknowns.

And when used in a sentence to diagnose the person sitting next to you— the person whose heart has beat with yours for almost half a century; the person without whom you are sure that your very life would cease; the person who knows you better than you know yourself — then it comes to life as an all-powerful monster robbing you of everything.

The air is sucked from your lungs. The light leaves your world. Beauty vanishes. Hope evaporates. Dreams die.

My husband has cancer. My fingers stumble over the keys as I try to type those words; try to make myself accept the reality of them.

Us Dancing

My love; my life

We have been pretty sure of this for weeks, and we thought we had prepared ourselves to hear this roll off of the doctor’s tongue.

But maybe it’s not really possible to prepare yourself for this. Maybe you can’t fully experience the horrifying personification of this word until you are actually staring it in the face.

The Oxford dictionary defines cancer as, “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.”

“An uncontrolled division of abnormal cells…..” To know without a doubt that cells are dividing uncontrollably in the body of the man whose arm you lean on when you can’t stand alone….

Family Photo Shoot 9-10-15 #16.jpg

My partner in all things; an anchor for our family

But… wait… That’s not true. Stop. Breathe. Look up. You have promises that assure you that this is not true.

Not one atom in this world is outside of the control of the Creator of the Universe. Not even cancer is outside of His loving control. No cell can divide at all without His permission. And even then, these cells can’t divide any further than He will allow. That division is not uncontrolled. It is most definitely carefully, lovingly, powerfully controlled by One who has nothing but good in mind for you. By One who loves you more than anything you can possibly even imagine. Designed and controlled for your good. For the good of your family. For the good of each person dear to you.

It doesn’t matter that you can’t see that good right now. That you can’t even find anything about this that could be good. It’s true. You know this. You have taught this to your children.

Scott and I tried to breathe after this dramatic introduction to what will now become our new normal. As we left the medical building, I said to him, “Our whole world just changed.” I’ve heard that said before, but I totally get it now. In that instant, our life as we have known it ended. It will never be exactly the same again now. And we need time to grieve this fact.

But God remains steadfastly at the center of this new normal — this changed world. He hasn’t changed at all. Nothing is spinning out of control.

And immediately, He began sending us reminders of these truths. In fact, He had already been carrying us into this new life. Through a friend, He sent us a book weeks before that prepared us for just this moment in ways we weren’t even aware of while reading it. I can’t even describe how much more ready we were to absorb what the doctor had to say to us and to begin making informed decisions about treatment, even as our hearts were screaming, “No! This can’t be real!” It was a gift that He brought this book to us when He did.

We immediately contacted our adult children and were enveloped in their love; their support; their assurances that they are there for us. The palpable sense that we are not alone in this washed over us, filling us with a sense of relief and gratitude.

Once in our van, we realized that, before we went home to our other children and shared this news with them, we needed some time to process what had just been thrown at us and to try to bring our emotions back in line with what we knew to be true.

We felt the need to go a place where we wouldn’t meet anyone we knew. A place where we could be alone and try to talk through all that we were feeling. We weren’t ready to be with anyone else just then.

We chose a little out-of-the-way coffee shop close to our house that Scott had just happened to notice while in Home Depot recently, buying materials to repair a broken faucet. We had never been there, so it was unlikely we would know anyone.

As we slipped through the door and out of the 10º weather, we spotted a welcoming fire glowing in the fireplace. The atmosphere in this little shop oozed comfort and quiet and peace. We almost instantly felt our heart rates slow and our shallow breathing deepen into a calming and rhythmic pace. The walls were decorated with scripture. And then I heard Matt Mahr’s voice over the PA singing, “Lord, I Need You.”

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

My eyes filled with tears of gratitude that He had led us to this place to rest for just a little while. I listened to the words and confessed my desperate need of Him in that moment.

Coffee Shop of Comfort

The owner came over to greet us, and before I could hide my face, she noticed the tears. She kindly asked if we were okay. It was awkward, and I didn’t want to talk. So I was surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth, “We’re okay. We just need a quiet place for a few minutes because we just got a diagnosis of cancer.”

She immediately sensed our need for privacy, but told us that she would slip away and pray for us right then.

When she brought our coffee to the table, I apologized for the whole uncomfortable encounter, and she softly explained that she and her husband believed that God had led them to open this shop for moments just like this. That they had felt from the beginning that it was supposed to be a haven — a place where people could come for quiet and rest.

Isn’t that amazing? It was just a little thing. A few minutes with a cappuccino and a warm fire and lyrics of truth floating through the air and spilling into our hearts.

But God is in the little things. And sometimes the little things are big things. 

A Cup of Calm and Promise.jpg

So thankful for this place to rest for just awhile

In those moments God brought us back to a place of peace and assurance that He will guide us through the decisions we are facing, and through the days, weeks, months that are ahead of us now. He steadied our hearts so that we were able to go home and sit in our family room, surrounded by our amazing children and tell them the news that would make them cry. And shake the security of their world. And remind all of us that until our security rests wholly in Him, it will be shaken. 

He guided us through the difficult and painful conversation that followed as our children expressed their fears and sadness and anger. And their thankfulness that God made them part of this family.

We think we know the treatment path we’re going to take, and we will share more about that when we are certain. But it will require scaling mountains that seem impossibly huge. We will need miracles and much help from others.

And as we discussed these things and how impossible it all looks right now, one son tearfully reminded all of us that every one of the children in that room, including himself, represented miracles just like the ones we will need for this next chapter in our lives. That each one is home and part of this family because of just such miracles. He urged us to remember those miracles and all of the people God brought alongside us to carry us through when we needed that. And he said that he was even able to almost feel excited about seeing what God will do now.

We all agreed to link arms and move forward together, one tentative step at a time, placing our feet into the footprints our God has already left for us to follow.

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
Job 12:10

“The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand.'”
Isaiah 14:24

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand.”
Psalm 31:14-15

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,  for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,  for you are with me.”
Psalm 23:4

I’m a Junk Drawer; But They Call Me Mommy

It was a black, gloomy day. I’m not even sure why except that I hadn’t slept well for many days.

We had just taken an absolutely grueling (but beautiful) road trip to AL — thirty of us — and had been home for less than a week. I was still recovering from that and hadn’t even finished unpacking.

I was exhausted and aching for rest, but unable to shut off the continual flow of adrenaline that had been needed to pull off such an adventure. It always kicked into high gear just as I was trying to go to sleep, and I was dragging a little more with each passing day.

My mind was a swirling mass of chaos that morning. Mostly stress and guilt about things that needed to have been done ages ago, but that I hadn’t managed to get done yet. And the hammering, annoying, relentless to-do list pounding away in my head was making it hard for me to breathe. Appointments that I needed to make; emails that I needed to answer; the 7000+ emails in my inbox that needed to be cleaned out; ordered items that needed to be returned; teens who still needed to learn to drive; prep that still needed to be done for Orphan Sunday presentations. On and on and on the list went. To infinity.

I walked into my bathroom to drop some stray pony-tail holders into the top drawer. When I opened that drawer this is what I saw.

Junk Drawer

When did this drawer turn into such a catch-all mess? I hate disorder in my closets and pantry and drawers. But no would would ever know that by looking in those places now. Most of them look kind of like this these days. When did I so totally lose control of my life?  Was it with child number 12? Or 16? Or 21? I couldn’t remember when exactly it had happened.

I stood looking at that drawer and all of my frustration came bubbling to the surface. All I could think was, “THAT’S my life!! I’m a junk drawer!”

Tears stung my eyes as I slammed the drawer shut, pulled all of my self-pity up around me like a warm blanket and walked back into my bedroom.

The air felt stuffy in my room as I began wrapping birthday presents for our newest son who was turning seven that day. This would be Nolan’s first birthday as part of our family. I wanted to make it perfect for him, but couldn’t shake the black cloud hanging over everything.

I opened some windows and tried to pray, but the words wouldn’t come. As I turned my back on the windows overlooking our backyard and went back to wrapping, I heard a tiny voice yell excitedly, “Mommy!! Mommy!!”

I wearily walked back to the window and looked down at our giant-sized jungle gym. Five-year-old Roslyn had apparently looked up just in time to spot me at the window, and she just couldn’t resist calling out to me.

I waved to her, and she yelled happily again, “Mommy, yook at Yiyan!”

My little Roslyn was standing on her paralyzed legs, aided by her leg braces, and pushing her even more paralyzed sister Lilyan in a swing. They were both giggling and full of joy.

As always, once the other kids noticed that I was there, a whole cascade of “Mommy watch me’s!” began gushing forth.

Jaden, also five, yelled, “Mommy! Look how high I am!” as he proudly showed me how he has learned to swing himself in spite of the 110º curve in his spine.

Nolan called out to me, waving wildly, “Hi Mommy! I love you, Mommy!”

My sweet Kathryn called up with a smile, “Mommy! I’m climbing in the fort.”

And in that moment, something happened.

You know how, when you’re flying on a cloudy, rainy day and it’s dark and the raindrops smear across the little oval-shaped windows as the plane climbs and climbs through the storm? And then sometimes, very suddenly and with no warning at all, you burst out above the clouds and the light is shining so brightly that it’s almost blinding? And you can look out the little windows and see the dark clouds below you and you know that the storm is still there on the underside of those clouds, but not up where you are?

That’s what it was like. This instant flash of brightness and the ability to momentarily see above the gloom of the day and look out over the big picture.

Although, I’m never unaware of the fact that these children are mine through the miracle of adoption, most of the time, we just live normal life. I’m their mommy and they are my babies. I care for them and train them and love them and get annoyed with them. And they come to me for help and test me and love me and annoy me. But for that moment, I was powerfully struck by the amazingness of the whole thing.

Each of these babies grew inside another woman’s body as she went about her life in some unknown corner of a different part of the world. And then, once they were fully formed, they exited her body and came into our lives. And now, they call me Mommy! 

I am 100% fully and completely their mommy! I am 56 years old and a grandmother many times over, but I still have five- and six-year-olds who call me mommy and really mean it.

For that moment, this profound picture took my breath away and lifted me above the funk I was in.

It only lasted a moment. It didn’t take away the fatigue-induced cloud that was engulfing me. The gloom returned and stayed with me the rest of the day (although it didn’t prevent our Nolan from having a perfect birthday just as I had hoped.)

But God had given me that moment of light and reminded me that there was a very different picture up above the clouds currently surrounding me.

Being able to glimpse, again, the beauty of the story that He’s writing was something for me to hold onto while I waited for the clouds to pass. And it reminded me of another one of my favorite quotes:

“A Christian may for many days together see neither sun nor star, neither light in God’s countenance, nor light in his own heart, though even at that time God darts some beams through those clouds upon the soul; the soul again, by a spirit of faith, sees some light through those thickest clouds, enough to keep it from utter despair.”
~ Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

There will always be cloudy, gloomy days. Sometimes we’ll know what causes them, and other times, they will just sneak up on us with no hint of their origin. But God is still our same loving and perfect Father behind the clouds, and He has promised to carry us to the end and to write our stories to completion.

And sometimes He will “dart some beams through those clouds upon [our] souls”  so that we can “again by a spirit of faith, [see] some light through those thickest clouds.” 

I’m so thankful for this!

I will probably be a junk drawer for the rest of my life now. But I will also be called Mommy for the rest of my life. And I can see the beauty in that even on the darkest of days.

Jaden Swinging

Jaden practicing his swinging

Kathryn's 11th and Mother's Day #4

Being Mommy to my Kathryn

The day that I officially became Mommy to Lilyan

The day that I officially became Mommy to Lilyan

Nolan's 7th #5

Beautiful, special first birthday in our family for our new son, Nolan

Roslyn Meeting Keller

Introducing Roslyn to our youngest grandson, Keller

Family photo showing the nineteen still living at home who call me Mommy

Family photo showing the nineteen still living at home who call me Mommy

I Want To Be Your Hero

Eight years ago today, this boy came home to us.

Home. At last. Ian's 13th #1 His life started in China, where he was abandoned by the parents who gave him life. His severe, bilateral cleft lip and palate would’ve been a huge — probably insurmountable — challenge for a family there, as in most developing countries.

Ian as a baby - waiting for a family

Ian as a baby – waiting for a family

Finally, as a young preschooler, a family came for him. He spent days with this family before circumstances resulted in his being returned to the orphanage, and this family’s return to America without him.

Alone. Abandoned. Again.

Then, when he was four, another family came for him. This time they took him all the way to America. Sadly, fifteen months later, these parents were looking for another home for him.

He was five when he came to us. His resilience astounded me then; his beauty of character, his laugh, his contentment all continue to amaze me today. Ian and Balloons 2 copy

Ian - After He was like one of those jigsaw pieces you just can’t find a place for. You keep trying, but you have to continue putting it aside.

And then . . . finally! Once you have enough of the other pieces in place, it becomes so very clear that . . . there! That’s where this piece belongs!

When God had all of the necessary pieces in place, He brought Ian home. For good.

And he slipped so beautifully into place here — just like that puzzle piece that was put aside over and over again until just the right time. What a gift this child has been to our family.

Whenever Scott and I travel to bring home a new child, our oldest daughter and her husband (and children) move into our house to stay with our children until we return. One of the things she does with them to help count down the days until our return, is to take a family photo and cut it into jigsaw pieces. The number of pieces matches the number of days that we will be gone. Each night, they put one piece of the puzzle together. By the time we come home with their new sibling, the family photo has been completed — just as our family is, once again, “completed” with the homecoming of the new child.

The kids working on the family puzzle during one of our recent trips to China for a new sibling.

The kids working on the family puzzle during one of our recent trips to China for a new sibling.

But, actually, the puzzle only appears complete to us at the time we bring home our new one. Only God sees the truly completed puzzle. Only He knows exactly how many pieces are still out there waiting to slip into place in our family photo jigsaw puzzle.

Ian was the second child to come to us under such circumstances.

And a third is on his way home now, to fill his place as the 22nd child in our family.

Our new son. We will be able to share more of his story and his name before too much longer.

Our new son. We will be able to share more of his story and his name before too much longer.

I don’t know how these children survive what they are forced to live through. But I do know that they don’t come through unscathed. They all arrive home with scars, and sometimes with open, bleeding wounds.

Recently, I was praying for my children who still struggle with those scars, and especially for this new son who will join us very soon. The words, “I want to be your hero,” flitted through my mind. You know how words sometimes come faster than your realization of what was behind them? Does that ever happen to you?

I was kind of surprised by these words. And I began to examine what my heart meant by sending those words to my head.

There are a number of songs out there about heroes: Enrique Iglesias’s love song, “Hero

I can be your hero baby; I can kiss away the pain; I will stand by you forever; You can take my breath away

Mariah Carey’s, also called “Hero”

And then a hero comes along; With the strength to carry on; And you cast your fears aside; And you know you can survive

Foo Fighters’ song, “My Hero” (definitely not my choice in music, but I do like what these particular lyrics say about a hero)

Don’t the best of them bleed it out; While the rest of them peter out?

I noticed that each of these songs have some characteristics in common when referring to heroism:

Rescue; strength; courage, comfort; hope; commitment; perseverance; freedom; self-sacrifice. 

Years ago, one of our sons won an 1828 Noah Webster dictionary in a writing contest. I love that book! I looked up “hero.”  This was Mr. Webster’s definition of a hero:

A [person] of distinguished valor, intrepidity, or enterprise in danger.”

“Intrepidity.” What an awesome word! It’s definition is: “Fearless bravery in danger; undaunted courage or boldness.”

And what about “valor?”  “Strength of mind in regard to danger; that quality which enables a man to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery; courage.” 

Oh, my! I don’t have any of those things.

But . . . I want to be your hero! I want to kiss away your pain; I want to commit to you forever; I want to keep my promise to never hurt you; I want to remain brave and strong when you are scared and weak; I want to give you hope when you can’t see any reason to hope; I want to give up my very life and breath for you; I want to be brave enough to “bleed it out” when that’s what’s required for your full healing.

And “enterprise?” “A bold, arduous or hazardous undertaking.” (Wow. Sounds a lot like the adoption of an older, very broken child.)

One of the things I don’t like about the Mariah Carey song quoted above is that the main point of her song is that heroism is inside of us if we just reach down deeply enough and try hard enough:

So when you feel like hope is gone; Look inside you and be strong; And you’ll finally see the truth; That a hero lies in you

 You may have noticed that the very name of my blog is rooted in the deep conviction that we really do not possess this strength on our own — inside ourselves.

But . . . I want to be your hero! 

Immediately I am reminded of the words of Richard Sibbes, who lived in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries:

“Weakness, with acknowledgement of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect His strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities drives us out of ourselves to Him in whom our strength lies.”

And there is the secret. God will perfect His strength in my weakness. He knows my heart’s deepest desire. He is working through my less-than-heroic attempts to love my babies back to healing. Back to a place where their untapped potential will be free to gush forth for all of the world to see. I can’t wait! 

I can be your hero with God’s help.

I am so excited about this new son. I can’t wait to look into his face (even though he almost certainly won’t be able to look back into mine for a long time). I am excited about this next “enterprise,” as God gradually reveals this already-written chapter for our family; as He brings us this next puzzle piece and fits him into the slot that’s been designed just for him. We’ve been waiting for this son without even knowing it.

And I’m ready for God to do something amazing in the lives of each of my children. I’m waiting in breathless anticipation, even as I crawl through the trenches for them.

Through Him I will continue to find the perseverance I’m lacking on my own. I will continue to find strength and courage and the ability to sacrifice myself when my sinful heart wants to run for places of comfort and ease.

He will continue to bring to my children — through my weak-but-genuine efforts — rescue, hope, comfort, freedom from fear.

Isn’t that amazing!? I can be my children’s hero with God’s promised help. I can be one of the most critical keys that unlocks all of the beauty and talents and joy and gifts and music and light hiding inside my little scarred ones.

And those scars. Each and every one of them has been a part of creating the beauty that will emerge as the healing takes place. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers. But I trust the One who does. And I’ll keep allowing Him to teach me how to trust Him more and more.

“No possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.” ~ C. S. Lewis

You Not the Boss! I the Boss!

God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot

I lay in bed several nights ago, desperately trying to shut off the annoying active machine that is the inside of my head. I was so tired. I so badly needed sleep. But sleep was nowhere in sight.

In addition to the fact that I had a running mental list of things that needed to be done, my emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t quite hone in on the primary/foundational emotion that was driving all of the others. I could identify frustration, sadness, anxiety, but they were all coming from some other stronger feeling.

Everything just felt so out of control. Almost nine months had passed since Lilyan’s homecoming, and although we had been steeling ourselves for a full year of great intensity as we settled her into our family and began working our way through her myriad of medical issues, we had been pleasantly surprised.

Lilyan - Dentist and RUS #2 8-27 Lilyan's 5th #15

Her adjustment as a new Rosenow turned out to be so easy and resulted in practically no negative impact to our family, and after just a few months, doctors decided that ultimately dealing with her biggest medical issues would require some significant research and needed to be pushed out a bit once she was stable and functioning relatively well. She reached this point of stability pretty quickly, and we relaxed.

This was like a breath of fresh air as we realized that we were now, surprisingly, looking at months of calm and quiet — fun science experiments (the kind of school fun that our very full life rarely allows in our homeschooling routine), trips to the zoo, wonderful home-cooked meals, free concerts and picnics in the park, family hikes, etc. It had been such a hard few years. We hadn’t been able to do many of these things for many months, so this was a pleasant turn of events for us.

But things didn’t unfold as we expected. Almost right away, our life suddenly began filling up with unexpected surgeries and accidents. We would get through one crisis only to find ourselves facing another energy-sucking, unplanned interruption to life.

Then, several of the kids who had made such beautiful progress with their trust issues, their negative behavior, and their struggles to allow us into their hearts, suddenly began experiencing regressions — all at the same time!

In the middle of this, we also faced several disappointments as we watched a number of long-term prayers we thought were finally about to be answered begin falling apart. I recognized that I felt, in some ways, like I had been tricked by God.

“Hey, look what I’m going to do for you in answer to years of asking. Just kidding. Not really.”

I knew in my head that God doesn’t “trick” us, that everything He does is loving and truly for our best, regardless of how it looks to us. But my heart was pouting anyway.

All of these things combined had gradually pulled Scott and me away from each other, interrupting the connection required for us to “do this life” as a team. We were both feeling sad and somewhat lost and a sense of gasping for air without this vital unity.

And just that afternoon, we had learned that another child would have to have a major surgery to correct a new problem with her bladder. This new problem had already caused some damage to one kidney, and if she didn’t have the surgery soon, she was at great risk for further damage.

SO!! NOT!! FAIR!! 

Mad! That was it! I was mad! Anger was the dominant emotion behind all of the other things I was feeling. So much anger.

I tried to pray, but the words wouldn’t come. I couldn’t reach into the emotional tempest and pull out any words.

I wanted to cry, but there were no tears. Just anger.

In just a few days, our Meghan would turn nineteen, and this thought caused my mind to wander back to my long to-do list as I ran through the things I still needed to do to prepare for her celebration. And, as I so often do when planning one of our children’s birthday celebrations, I started to remember her story. One phrase stood out in my mind:

“You not the boss! I the boss!” 

Meghan had been abandoned as a newborn at a place described to us as “something like a homeless shelter” in northern China. She was about three and a half when I flew to China alone to meet her and bring her home to be our daughter.

Meghan, waiting in her orphanage for a family she was regularly told would never come for her

Meghan, waiting in her orphanage for a family she was regularly told would never come for her

She was our second adoption. The first had been just the year before.  A little eight-month-old Nathan — a beautifully chubby, round-faced and smiley Bolivian baby boy who acted like the best day of his life was the day we showed up and gave him our name and took him into our arms. That adoption had been like a dream. It was like getting a perfect baby boy without having to go through pregnancy and labor. YES! we wanted to do this again.


Our new baby boy, Nathanaiel Jeremiah

Adopting Nathan 1998

The two of us ecstatic about our first adoption in La Paz, Bolivia

I waited in the hotel lobby that chilly fall morning in Changchun, China, watching anxiously for our new little girl to arrive.

And then . . .  there she was. She was much tinier than expected. She walked right into the lobby, and as I knelt down in front of her, she launched herself into my arms and held me so tightly that my eyes filled with tears. Oh my! Yes, adoption was magical and beautiful, and I was so relieved that it would, once again, be an easy thing to assimilate this child into our family.

I was wrong.

It became clear even before the end of that first day together that Meghan was a child with the ability to feel only one thing. Anger. Lots of anger. She was strong-willed and manipulative, and she had learned how to exhibit signs of love with none of the feelings. She would greet anyone the same way she had greeted me. That hug from her had meant absolutely nothing. And she quickly perceived me as the enemy and decided that she would do everything within her power to drive me away.

Meghan's true personality when I met her.

Meghan’s true and angry personality when I met her.

That day was the beginning of something we were definitely not prepared for. Although we had been through some very hard things with Raiza during her time with us, and I had learned some painful things about myself through those challenges, we had experienced nothing in our lives to really prepare us for what we had ahead of us with Meghan. I had no idea that so much fear and ugliness lurked inside of me — or that this tiny-but-mighty little girl would be the tool God would use to reveal these things to me about myself.

The only small preparatory hint I had been given came through a dear friend who had also adopted a child at about this same age. Before we ever even met Meghan, she had said to me, “Don’t be surprised or shaken if you suddenly realize that you not only don’t love this child, but that you don’t even like her and sometimes wish you had never adopted her. This is completely normal and God will guide you through these things.”  

Although I had initially discounted her words, thinking I could never, ever feel these things about my own child, I eventually found myself holding onto them as I tried to work my way through all of the things I felt and all of the challenges Meghan threw my way as she tried to push me out of her life. I had no idea at the time that this was actually a really good sign — that the very fact that Meghan felt threatened by me showed that there was love locked away inside of her; that she was crying out for help; that she somehow sensed I was the person who would give her what she needed, but was too afraid to let her guard down and trust me. She was feeling my love, and it terrified her. This was good. But I didn’t know enough about the world of adoption to see this at the time. As years passed, and Meghan began to share painful memories of her time in her orphanage, the hospitals, and unhappy foster homes, we better understood the reasons for her anger. She had been through so much in her young life, and had done her best to hang on all by herself.

Once I got her home from China where Scott and I began working together to address her disobedience and strong will, we started seeing some progress initially. About six months down the road, though, she suddenly hardened herself anew, and we entered new territory.

Then came the day that marked the beginning of our first real turning point. Meghan had challenged me on every issue all day. She had been in and out of time-out over and over again. I  had called Scott (who was still working as an engineer during those pre-TSC days) at work in tears multiple times that day. He had tried to encourage me to stand my ground and press on.

In the afternoon, I went to take Meghan out of time-out again to see if she was ready to obey. As I talked to her, she looked at me defiantly and said, “You not the boss! I the boss!” 

I don’t think anyone could’ve summed up our powerful little girl any better than she did herself when she spat these words at me. I sighed wearily and told her firmly that, she could be the “boss” in her little world of time-out, but that until she was ready to let us be her “boss,” she would have to keep going to time-out every time she disobeyed us.

The battle raged on, but then . . . One of my happiest memories ever is when she came to me days later and said softly and tearfully, “I ready be your little girl now.”

What a powerful choice of words! My heart melted, and that truly was a turning point for Meghan. There were still many up’s and down’s over the next few years, although nothing like what we had already been through. And I can remember feeling sadly that she might not ever allow herself to become 100% my daughter. I remember thinking specifically about her teen years and lamenting the possibility that we would never have those sweet mother/daughter teen experiences together like I’d had with Kristen and Erin. That thought broke my heart.

But God had such surprises ahead for me. This girl. My heart practically sang inside of me that night as I lay there in bed and basked in the profound love that Meghan and I, fully mother and daughter, now feel for each other. I was warmed by the beautiful and happy memories we’ve made together; the cherished teen years we did get to share; the amazing adult young lady she has become. She is one of the kindest, most caring people I’ve ever known. She can be passionately selfless and greatly desires making other people happy and alleviating their pain.


Meghan - Easter 02

Meg and N - wedding 4-02-02

Escorted by Nathan as part of a friend’s wedding

Meghan's Picture 051906

At a Ukrainian orphanage, holding the little one who would become her new niece, Mikaela

At a Ukrainian orphanage, holding the little one who would become her new niece, Mikaela

Meghan Profile Pic

With her sister Robyn right after they both got their braces off

Sisters Madlin and Meghan

At a concert in the park with her sister Madlin

Her new baby brother and sister -- Jaden and Roslyn

Her new baby brother and sister — Jaden and Roslyn

Mother-daughter visit to a local tea parlor

Mother-daughter visit to a local tea parlor

Singing with brothers, Stephen and Colin, for an Orphan Sunday service

Singing with brothers, Stephen and Colin, for an Orphan Sunday service

Celebrating her 18th birthday at a special dinner with the two of us

Celebrating her 18th birthday at a special dinner with the two of us

Beautiful, 19-year-old Meghan today

Beautiful, 19-year-old Meghan today

Watching God unwrap the forlornly-wrapped package that was Meghan the day she arrived in that hotel lobby has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever experienced. Seeing what beauty was really hidden inside . . . I can’t even find words to express the surprise and delight that has been.

I love this girl more than I’ll ever be able to express, and she has brought so much unexpected joy into our lives. I thank God every day for her and for the gift of being chosen as her mother.

And, although I didn’t know it at the time, God was using that stinker of a girl to prepare Scott and me for some even tougher and more wretchedly-wrapped packages down the road. There was so much refining needed in our own hearts and lives before we were ready for those precious ones’ arrivals in our home, and God used Meghan to begin that refining process in a big way.

As I lay in bed, pondering these things, I was shocked by a sudden and very vivid mental image. I saw myself standing before God — right then, at that moment — stamping my foot, looking rebelliously into His loving face, and saying to Him, “You not the boss! I the boss!” 

I was so angry that He wasn’t doing things the way I wanted. My carefully planned science unit, still sitting on the book shelf as I juggled crisis after crisis, whimpering that I was tired and wanted a rest; all those recipes I’d been so anxious to try for my family; the concerts that passed one by one without our being able to attend; the answers to prayer that weren’t coming to me the way I’d pictured them; the challenges we are facing in our marriage as we work so hard not to lose each other; another surgery to prepare for . . .

I felt I knew better than God how these things should’ve been handled, even though He has shown me over and over and over and over again that I can trust Him when I can’t make any sense out of what He’s doing. I wanted it my way; not His. “I the boss!” 

I was finally able to see the whole picture more clearly — my loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, always-worthy-to-be-trusted Father looking at me so lovingly as I pouted and fumed and resisted His plans for me and my family, ignoring all of His promises to use all things for my good.

I long to trust Him more in the darkness — to fully become His daughter like I’ve watched Meghan become ours. I want to say to Him, “I ready be your little girl now.” 

I have submitted again. And I will have to submit again tomorrow; and the next day and the next. I know this. But He is infinitely patient with me and already knows when and how I will fall, and when and how He will pick me back up again.

Even after seeing it so many times, I’m still surprised at how often He chooses to use my children to do this.

Happy nineteenth birthday to my Meghan-girl! Thank you for all that you’ve already done in our hearts as part of God’s refining process, and for all that you are, and will continue to be, to us in years to come. Thank you for allowing yourself to become 100% my daughter as God intended from before the beginning of time. I love you.

“The soul that waits upon the Lord is the soul that is entirely surrendered to Him, and that trusts Him perfectly. Therefore we might name our wings the wings of Surrender and of Trust. If we will only surrender ourselves utterly to the Lord, and will trust Him perfectly, we shall find our souls ‘mounting up with wings as eagles’ to the ‘heavenly places’ in Christ Jesus, where earthly annoyances or sorrows have no power to disturb us.” ~ Hannah Whitall Smith

There Once Was a Girl

(Madlin has read this post and given me permission to share these parts of her story. You can read her full story in our book, “Swaying in the Treetops.”)

There once was a girl.

Her skin was ebony; her hair was kinky and fuzzy and matted. Her eyes were scared. Her mouth was sad. Her hope was gone. Her soul was empty.

Still years to go before a family came for her

Still years to go before a family came for her

She was alone. She was unwanted. She was neglected. She was mistreated; misunderstood.

Adopting Madlin 2003

She was born in the poorest country in the world, into a family with much older brothers and a mother who didn’t want one more mouth to feed. So she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Madlin Early #1

This orphanage was a place where people used children to make money. They worked hard to find adoptive families, but if a child wasn’t desirable . . . marketable . . . she was returned to the family who didn’t want her in the first place, in order to make room for those who could fetch a price.

This orphanage was for the petite, darling orphans who were wanted by families willing to adopt.

But this little girl was sad; sullen; disagreeable; withdrawn. She was chunky and ungraceful. Even among orphans, she was an outcast.

Doing Madlin's hair

After a number of failed attempts to find a family who wanted her, it was determined that she wasn’t cute enough or smart enough — not made of the stuff that would attract the attention of someone who would pay to make her their daughter.

So  . . . . she was taken back to the shack she had come from . . . placed back into the care of the family who didn’t want her in the first place.

In the meantime, a daddy in America had spotted her picture and felt that she belonged in his family. He talked to his wife about her, and they talked to their children. They saw beauty when they looked into her face. And together, they prayed and then all decided that they would go and get her.

The orphanage officials returned to the broken-down shack, stood at the fabric hanging across the open doorway, and explained the situation. This woman who had carried this child in her womb and given her life, briskly handed the little girl out to them without a word — seemingly relieved just to be rid of her.

But God was writing her story. God had a plan. This was all part of the path that would bring the little girl to her real family — adding her piece of the puzzle to that beautiful picture He was creating. He had a place for her. A place where healing and beauty and love and salvation were waiting to be written into her story.

And that’s how, after a very long, hard battle, Madlin Arielle finally came home to us in March 2003. Of all the children in our family, she was the most emotionally empty. She reminded me of a paper doll. Completely flat. No fight. No life. No hope. Nothing mattered to her.

Madlin - sleepy - 3-24-03

Fighting for her heart was like battling a mist. There was nothing to grab onto; nothing to wrestle with. Just . . . . nothing. 

Prayer was our greatest weapon. And we prayed!

We tried our best to pour our love into her, but it felt like we were pouring into a piece of netting  — like not even one drop was being retained.

When we finally began to awaken something deep inside of her, it came out as anger. Lies were a part of life with Madlin. Many, many times it felt as if we had taken on a hopeless battle; like we had found a child that could never be reached. She seemed to have absolutely no desire to be loved.

Madlin - 3-23-03

As we struggled through each challenge, one at a time, one of our most common cries was, “God we don’t know what to do! Show us what to do!”

But this story has a happy ending.

Eventually, we began to see glimpses of the child we just knew had to be there, behind that hard shell of anger that confronted us day in and day out.

Madlin Early #11

Madlin with one of her sisters

One of my favorite portraits of Madlin when the healing was in its very early stages

One of my favorite portraits of Madlin when the healing was in its very early stages

It took years and many backward and forward steps. Many fresh starts. Many tears. Thousands of prayers.

We were able to see, early on, that practically all her problems stemmed from a paralyzing fear of being rejected again. Her energy was devoted to making sure we never saw who she really was. So many lies were told to hide things she feared would cause us to give up on her; stop loving her.

Fear of, once again, being turned away dominated her life.

During one of the most painful periods of this process, we discovered some startling things that Madlin had been hiding from us. So many lies. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this was a significant turning point.

After days of pain (for us) and denial (from her), she finally came to us to make a full confession. The betrayal was real and incredibly painful. The anger we felt toward her was justified and understandable.

But God made it clear to our hearts that this was a perfect time to prove to her that she could never do anything that would cause us to stop loving her; that we would never, ever hand her out the door to anyone; that we would give our lives for her, stand by her side no matter what, love her to our dying breaths.

This was a beautiful opportunity to give her a living “skin-on” example of what Christ did for us when He made it possible for us to be accepted through Him by the God of the Universe — THE Supreme Being who calls us His children! and promises that, once we are His, nothing — not even our own sinful, rebellious, tantrum-throwing, afraid-to-be-known selves — can change or undo that.

And then healing came.

The beauty that began oozing from this child’s very being surprised even us. Her eyes became filled with light and hope and love. Her heart became soft; compassionate; longing to serve others. Her face became strikingly beautiful. Her body became graceful. Her confidence; her ability to trust; her capacity for loving others all grew dramatically as her fear and her pain and her anger diminished.

With two of her little siblings

With two of her little siblings

Madlin — like all of us — is still a work in progress. But, oh . . . the promise of the breathtaking finished product is visible every day.

I see it when she comes to share her embarrassing fears with me; when she so lovingly and tirelessly cares for her little sister Kathryn day in and day out. Those two share such a special bond.

Madlin and Kathryn #1

Madlin and Kathryn #2

I see it when she shyly allows us to be a part of the hopes and dreams she now has for her own future — like her new interest in photography; when she tearfully expresses what it means to her to be our daughter.


Some of Madlin’s photography – she loves nature


Madlin’s creative personality comes out in this self-portrait


Her eye for beauty

I see it when she confesses the wrongs she has done and admits that she is afraid of disappointing us; when she continually prays and aches for her siblings who haven’t yet reached these places in their own life journeys.

And she has become my teacher. I have always seen so much of myself in this girl.

She has helped me understand my own fears of failure better; opened my eyes to my own areas of rebellion; revived hope for parts of myself that I long ago lost hope for; prompted me to become increasingly willing to reveal more of myself to the God who already knows me intimately anyway.

Life by her side encourages me to stay the course with our other children who are still battling their way through this healing process as they try to learn to believe that we love them forever, no matter what. She keeps my hope for them alive when it dwindles to barely a flicker through weary disappointments.

A special day at a friend's tea parlor

A special day at a friend’s tea parlor

One of the greatest parenting moments of my life was the day that Madlin came to me and shared a part of her story from her perspective. As she was tearfully remembering the time when her lies and betrayals had been found out and she had finally cracked her hard, protective shell and confessed everything, she said, “This song reminds me of that time. These words are what you and Dad did for me. I remember what it felt like to know that I was still loved by you that day no matter what I had done.”

She was referring specifically to this part of the song:

You slowly lifted your head from your hands
You said, “I just don’t think that you’ll understand
You’ll never look at me that way again
If you knew what I did

And so your tears fell and melted the snow
You told me secrets nobody had known
Oh, but I never loved you more
Even though now I knew what you did

Oh, my dear
I will wait for you
And grace tonight, will pull us through
Yeah, oh, my dear, I will wait for you
And grace tonight, will pull us through

Until the tears have left your eyes
Until the fears can sleep at night
Until the demons that you’re scared of
Disappear inside

Until this guilt begins to crack
And the weight falls from your back
Oh, my dear
I’ll keep you in my arms

She is proof that God will prevail in these children’s lives! She is evidence that He will guide our bumbling, very-human efforts to love them back to wholeness and help them along their way to becoming His masterpieces.

There once was a girl.

She is now becoming a beautifully whole and healed woman of God.

I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for this daughter of mine.

Listen to Madlin’s full song, “Oh My Dear” by Tenth Avenue North.

Madlin's 16th Birthday

Madlin’s 16th Birthday

I Want You To Know

I’ve wanted this for so long. And finally . . . it happened.

I stood on the banks of the bay in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday. And I looked out into the waters that sucked you and twenty-two of your crew members to your deaths. The waters where angels — Heaven’s ambassadors — met you and escorted you Home. The waters that forever changed the paths of the twenty-five men who resurfaced in the oily water that night and did their best to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.

Where your live here, ended.

Where your life in this world ended.

It was all so hard. You wouldn’t be very proud of the way I handled things for those first couple of years. I was so lost in my pain — dominated by anger and fear. I missed you.

My big brother from the beginning

My big brother from the beginning

Sharing our birthdays like we did so many years growing up

Sharing our birthdays like we did so many years growing up

I hated God. He could’ve saved you. He didn’t. Maybe He wasn’t really so powerful after all. Or so loving as I’d always been taught. Maybe He didn’t even really exist. Maybe life was just one big crap shoot, and we all just took our chances every day.

It didn’t matter to me anymore, because I was done with Him after that. I didn’t care If He was really there or not.

But, deep in my heart, I did care. I didn’t know that — not then. He did. And He never left me.

He sent people to help me along the way. The most important of these was your friend, Scott, who has loved me; carried me; cried with me; walked this path by my side all through the years since you left.

Marrying your best friend

Marrying your best friend

Gradually . . . quietly . . . there came a day when I was able to recognize God’s whispers of love over my aching heart; feel Him breathe strength into my feeble attempts to respond to that love.

Eventually, I learned to trust Him again. More accurately, I eventually began learning to trust Him again. It’s a life-long lesson — this back-and-forth dance called Living a Life of Faith.

I watched Him work so much good through the loss of you.

And I want you to know!

Because you died, Scott and I were changed. We became different people, and the path we were on was altered. That path has led to a most incredible adventure.

You have twenty-one nieces and nephews.

Two of these are sons who remind us of you in so many ways. One looks so much like you. You would be proud of the men they are, even though they don’t have it all figured out yet.

The Wedding #12

Ryan and Anna

Two are daughters — one very broken, according to the world’s standards for measuring such things, but she’s leaving her own beautiful mark in the world.

Erin's 31st #1

And the other is filled with so many of your positive personality traits, zest for life, and outgoing social skills. What lively conversations you two would have!

Your oldest niece on her wedding day -- doing it her way.

Seventeen others certainly would not be here if you were.

At Home Family - Barn - for mailing

Because you died, they have been given new life. They are growing up hearing about their Uncle Gary; being told stories of his eccentric personality, his humor, his bold testimony of God’s work in his life, his respect and deep love for God and mankind.

They are told how much he would love them if he were here — how awesome he would think it is that they are home.

Most importantly, they are being taught about a loving, all-powerful sovereign God who used a tragedy — there must be a better word to capture the depth of all that happened that cold, sad, darkest of nights — to bring about His plans for their lives. How He brought to fruition plans that He laid before the beginning of time.

Three of them — our youngest — attended the memorial service with us yesterday at the site of the monument where your name is listed among the other twenty-two: QM2 Gary W. Crumly. A service is still held here every year in memory of you and the others.

Memorial Service #2

They chatted and giggled with your captain’s wife (can you imagine that!?) while we visited with survivors and others who lost loved ones.

They sat in their wheelchairs beside me, looking out over that water where a ship not so very unlike yours floated in the bay.

Kids Looking At Bay

They are too young to understand my tears, or your role in their being here. They only know that they are safe and happy and loved. But they will know. We will tell them.

You have eight great-nieces and -nephews. They are amazing, and three of those are precious little Down syndrome babies who were also rescued from lives of hopelessness and brought home to their family — your niece and her husband . . . because you died.

Mikaela's 5th Birthday Outing #3

Hallie's 5th #4

Isabelle's 5th B'day #4

But there’s even more.

Because you died, hundreds of other children are also living new lives. Children who would otherwise now be dead — or worse, living in hellish mental institutions or prostituting themselves on the streets to survive — are now sons and daughters; brothers and sisters. They have been rescued! They are free to pursue their dreams and serve the God that many of them have come to know and love.

A few of the hundreds who have come home

A few of the hundreds who have come home

And . . . some of your shipmates tell me that, because you died, they are now walking with the God you told them about during your time here.

I want you to know!

I still miss you. I miss you every single day. Constantly, I think of things I want to tell you — share with you. I ache for you to know our children who were saved because of your death. I long for them to know you.

For years I dreamed over and over again that God allowed you to come back occasionally for visits. Not foggy, unreal dreams. These were dreams of great clarity that left me feeling like I had actually spent time with you. We would talk about the kids and my life. There were rules concerning what questions I was allowed to ask you about where you are now, and, in the dreams, I was always careful to follow those rules lest I lose the privilege of having these times with you. They were comforting dreams in spite of the fact that they drew fresh blood from my broken heart. But they were only dreams.

Someday, though . . . oh . . . I can’t wait! You and Scott and I — along with all those who love you — will walk and talk to our hearts’ content. Someday . . .

For now, though, you are never forgotten. You are remembered and loved by so many.

Your impact lives on. You would be shocked to see the legacy you have left behind.

You didn’t become famous. You created nothing spectacular. You never became rich. You never even owned a house or had a son or a daughter to carry on your name. Yet, the imprint you left behind is still growing, spreading — like ripples, it stretches on and on, touching lives, changing the world even now, thirty-five years after you left it.

If everyone could leave behind such a mark . . . what a world this would be!

Someone mentioned to me that coming to this service — seeing the place where you died — would bring closure for me. I hadn’t realized that there was still any need for closure, but in some way that I can’t quite explain or figure out, it does feel like that has happened.

I have been able, for a long time now, to be thankful for all that God has done through your death. But now . . . that joy somehow runs even deeper than it ever has before.

Seeing the place where it happened, and meeting, for the first time, people outside of our family who fully understand and share our pain, somehow freed me even more to celebrate all that God has done through taking you home. Tears flowed as I looked out over the bay, keenly aware of your absence and the absence of so many beautiful memories I once thought we would all make together.

Memorial Service #23

Yet, amazingly, even in the midst of the desperate sadness in my heart, I stroked my babies’ heads and was certain that it would make you happy to know that they were home because you died. And I felt contentment; peace.

God’s plans, while not always appearing to be beautiful, are always good and right and perfect.

He truly does make beautiful things from ashes.

“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos, life is being found in You”
(“Beautiful Things” by Gungor)

I miss you. I will miss you until the day we are together again. But I see God’s fingerprints all over this story.

You made the world a better place while you lived. And God continues making the world a better place through you in your death. Lives have been saved; souls have been redeemed.

And I know that there will be more.

I want you to know.

Mankind is Our Business: Homelessness and Divine Encounters?

“It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been ‘had for a sucker’ by any number of impostors: but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need. After all, the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25: 31–46) makes our duty perfectly plain, doesn’t it? Another thing that annoys me is when people say, ‘Why did you give that man money? He’ll probably go and drink it.’ My reply is, ‘But if I’d kept [it] I should probably have drunk it’ . . .”  ~ C. S. Lewis

Our friends. I wish we could find them again.

Our friends. I wish we could find them again.

It was April, and it was cold. I was exhausted from making the twice daily trek between our home and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I’d been doing it for two weeks already. While Scott stayed continuously beside our son’s hospital bed, I tried to share my time and attention with our son during his very tough post-op period, and our fifteen children at home, waiting for life to return to normal.

As I left the Interstate for the last portion of my early morning drive, I looked ahead. There was another one. A homeless man, standing at the end of the exit ramp, holding his cardboard sign. But suddenly I noticed that there was something different about him. He smiled at the faces in the cars as they passed him by instead of keeping his chin on his chest. I watched him from my place deep in the line of impatient drivers and wondered what his story was. He was a person. Not just a bundled shadow on the side of the road. And there was some kind of hope still alive in his demeanor and even in his movements — a kind of spring in his step that I wasn’t used to seeing.

I had wondered about the homeless in general before and even felt sad for some of them. But mostly what I had felt in the past was an uncomfortable kind of guilty feeling that kept my eyes averted. And maybe I was a little afraid of them. I didn’t want to look at such sadness and try to figure out if I, a daughter of the King, had any responsibility in this “situation.”

But this was different. There was some instantaneous piercing of my heart as I watched this young man. I was filled with compassion and the sudden realization that he was a real  fellow human being with parents, a history, some kind of a story that had landed him on that corner.

The light turned yellow. Arghhh! I wasn’t going to make the turn this cycle, and I was anxious to get to the hospital and check on our son and give Scott a break so that he could at least go walk around a bit and get a cup of coffee. When I rolled to a stop, I was right beside this man. I looked into his face. He had blue eyes.  And immediately I knew! Yes, I definitely did have a responsibility to reach out to this person. 

I was thankful that I had some cash with me, because I usually don’t. I rolled down the window, told him good morning (Is that a dumb thing to say to a person living on the street?), and handed him the bills. He smiled with what appeared to be genuine gratitude.

The light changed to green, and I headed to the hospital, but I couldn’t shake what had happened, and I couldn’t forget this young man. Scott and I talked about him, and decided to pray about what we could do.

The next day, I brought hot coffee and stopped to say hello again, amazed that the light seemed to be timed perfectly for me to stop right beside him again.

Our older girls started baking occasional treats for him, and he began to recognize my car and smile and wave when he saw me coming down the ramp. One day, I included with the coffee and brownies, a picture of our family and a note, telling him that we were praying for him; that we cared. The next time I saw him, he had tears in his eyes and told me that he and his wife had no words to express how this note had encouraged them.

He had a wife?? A history and some kind of a story . . .  

He said that they were keeping the picture and that each night, they prayed together for our family.

Now I had tears in my eyes. 

At the end of his hospital stay, the hospital gave our son a very nice backpack as a gift. He donated his backpack, and our children at home pitched in their money to help purchase toiletries — wet wipes, toothpaste and toothbrushes, tissues, deodorants, etc. — with which to fill the backpack. We included some Kroger gift cards since there was a Kroger in the area where this couple spent most of their time. On my last journey to the hospital to bring our son home, I gave them the backpack and told them that we wouldn’t be coming every day anymore but that we would be watching for them whenever we came for appointments.

That was actually the beginning of a special friendship. With a homeless couple. This friendship lasted for over a year.

We shared meals and stories with them whenever we could. Over Chinese food and hamburgers, they gradually shared their story with us. It was a sad one, and even though it wasn’t their intention, they helped us understand just how complicated and confusing and truly horrible it is to be a typical American family and then lose everything (including your children). And then try to climb back out of that deep, dark hole again.

It made me think. A lot. And it made me shamefully aware of my own pompous attitude and cold heart. It’s really not as simple as, “just get a job” or “go to a shelter.” For one thing, finding a shelter for couples is apparently, almost impossible. They wanted to stay together. Their love for each other and his protective instinct for her were so very obvious. They had only been on the street for a month or so when I first spotted him at the corner that day, and most nights since that time, they had chosen to sleep on the streets rather than to be separated.

We exchanged phone numbers — Scott’s cell number and their number on the government-issued cell phone given to the homeless for emergencies and very limited calling.

At Christmas that year, they were included in our family’s gift shopping list.

One day after lunch, they allowed us to take their picture with Kathryn and put that on our prayer door, and as the months passed, we watched life on the streets begin to take its toll. The spring wasn’t so visible in his step, and although they always greeted us with hugs and smiles, the light that we had first noticed was dimming. It must be so easy to lose hope in the face of such blatant hopelessness day after day and night after night.

Then about a year ago, they called Scott’s phone to ask for some money (the only time they ever asked us for anything the entire time we knew them). They had finally found a shelter that would allow them in as a couple and help them start to get back on their feet, but they needed $60 to get in.

That was our last meeting with them. They have not been back on the streets since that time, and because they (we assume) turned in their government-issued phone, we can’t get in touch with them now. We wonder constantly what happened to them, and their picture remains on our prayer door.

Did they lie to us when they told us their story? Possibly.

Did we ever get “suckered?” Maybe.

Does it matter? Not at all!

Did they see God in our actions? We pray constantly that they did.

Do they have any idea how knowing them enriched our lives and opened our eyes? We certainly hope so. 

We look at the homeless in a completely different way now. We try to keep cash in our car now, and keeping a stash of fast food gift cards is also a great way to reach out.

Knowing this couple changed us. I long to reconnect with them someday. I’d like to know that they are healthy and whole now, that they and their children are back together as a family, and that their homelessness is now just a part of their history.

But I don’t write people’s stories. I don’t even write my own story. I have to leave their next chapters to God.

It’s my place to just do what God puts in front of me to do. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or if I never know what happens, or if the money I pass to others is wasted, or if I am lied to. That’s not important. God can handle those details.

As Marley’s ghost says in A Christmas Carol:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.” 

Good words; good thoughts, Marley,  for this blessed Christmas season.