Thursday, February 12, 2015


I must confess I've been acting like a five year old this week as it pertains to God. There's been some foot-stomping, some finger-wagging, some pleading and screaming, some silent treatment, and much crying in His arms. I am arrogant in my ignorance of His plan--I have learned from the best on how to act when things aren't going how I want them. My teacher is a girl named Ella--one sweet, sassy, stubborn little thing--she reminds me so much of myself in many ways, I just hide my strong will better than she does.

We have dear friends going through devastating loss and unthinkable pain--we are crushed by news that has come since last Thursday . . . a precious friend who lost twin baby girls at 26 weeks after losing  two other babies last year; our neighbors of 15 years who lost a husband/daddy to melanoma; and our close friends whose 12 year old daughter is battling cancer and they are running out of options for her treatment. Our whole family is heartbroken for those we love. I've gone about my days with a lump in my throat. It takes but a whisper of a little voice asking why I am sad and the dam of tears breaks into sobbing.

I can't remember a time I've been this broken since our own loss of our son (that I shared about in my last post) and then weeks later the loss of my mother to cancer.  Perhaps being "acquainted with grief" I have appointed myself some kind of safety-patrol of pain and I'm not liking the answer God is giving these families. But God is teaching me to surrender and to trust--this lesson was taught to me again this week in a hospital room.

When we adopted Ella, we knew her medical needs were significant. I remember our first appointment with the spina bifida clinic shortly after coming home from China. The nurse asked me if I had a medical background--she was trying to make sense of our decision to adopt a girl with special needs. She probably pondered "why else would anyone choose a life of surgeries, therapies, of disabilities?" She seemed alarmed to learn that I was an English major, I still chuckle at the look on her face--some days I too question placing myself on this high dive as I look down into a pool deep with diagnoses I can't pronounce or spell. But you see, we chose Ella, not her medical needs. I think it probably takes adoptive parents who are naive enough to make that leap of faith and know whatever is ahead God will equip us for. We love her exactly as she is and as her mom and dad we are just trying to give her the best quality of life possible.

At every doctor's appointment I brag about her--I tell the doctors that she has already exceeded expectations of what we were told she would be able to do. I share about how strong she has gotten with PT and show how quickly she can move with her walker. I pull out my phone to display photos of her climbing the rock wall at the playground. They humor me and then burst my bubble: "But you do know what her future holds, don't you? As she grows, her upper body will not be able to be supported by her lower body. She will most likely need a wheelchair to get around." The only words I hear are "most likely" which I translate into "we don't know what we are talking about" and in my mind I am determined that my girl will prove them all wrong.

But I do listen when my daughter tells me her short list of big dreams: "I want to run like everyone else on the playground, I want to wear pretty shoes like the other girls,  . . . I want a cell phone." That last one will have to wait, and I do cram those leg braces into modified Mary Janes and fur trimmed boots as best I can, but haven't yet figured out how to make that first request happen. And that makes me feel like I have failed her.

And so a couple months ago her sweet neurosurgeon explained there was one more surgery they could do to help her walk. Her tibia bones rotate out at a 45 degree angle thus causing her feet and hips to compensate for the improper alignment. Without surgical intervention she would never walk with a normal gait. He explained that they would saw the bones under the knees, position them correctly, then reattach with metal plates that would be taken out in a year or so. And as any responsible parent would do, I Googled this procedure to make sure he wasn't making it up and we decided to proceed.

So this past Monday we checked into the hospital for her tibia osteotomy. She wasn't the least bit afraid and announced to everyone she met that we were making her legs better. She was a trooper post surgery and handled the pain like a champion. We had some sweet mother/daughter bonding time with room service and movie night but by Tuesday afternoon we were ready to go home. As I packed, Ella asked if they were ready to take those heavy casts off. I reminded her that she would have those on for several weeks--I saw the disappointment. She had not understood the timetable and wasn't happy about it.  "But I thought I would be able to run when this was over?!" she pleaded. I did my best to put a positive spin on the coming weeks of coloring and play dough and quality snuggle time.

She pulled it together until her consolation prize arrived. The hospital had ordered a wheelchair and they were insisting that we leave in it. It was so big her legs didn't even reach the foot rests. It was black and metal and must certainly have looked ugly in her world that is adorned in pastels and themed with princesses. She has seen wheelchairs many times. Her big eyes watch them come and go at our PT appointments. She sees children completely dependent on them and didn't want any part of it--instead of her seeing the assistance it could be, she saw a huge step backwards after a year of great progress. There was a bait and switch in her mind--she didn't go through all this to leave the hospital in a wheelchair. I told her to imagine it was Cinderella's carriage taking her to the castle.  Major eye roll. Had she known profanity, room 4247 would have suddenly not been appropriate for all audiences. She instead gave me a look that spoke volumes and went into full-blown meltdown as the nurse and I put her in the chair.

I got to handle this little hospital adventure solo because kids under 12 aren't allowed during cold and flu season and Brad was home taking care of the others. I got us in the car and headed home--I was ready to have the home field advantage for the rest of the recovery. Ella drifted off to sleep with a pout still on her face. Mr. GPS guided me to familiar territory then I chose to go home a different way because I knew this time of day which roads and highways to avoid and needed to make a stop at the pharmacy. But he didn't like that I wasn't following his computerized route. He started insisting that I make a U-turn at the next light, or turn right, or turn around. I thought, "Oh great, now I'm getting attitude from an app on my phone!"

I turned the GPS off and drove the rest of the way in silence. I couldn't help but see the parallels between how I was acting toward God and how Ella had acted toward me. She didn't understand why we had put her through such pain--even breaking bones and taking her to scary places--when she was just fine before. She didn't know that it is because we love her and in the long-run it will help her--that we agonized over options and felt this was absolutely best for her. She doesn't know that although 8 weeks of casts seems like an eternity now, it will be nothing in the scope of her entire life. She doesn't know that she now has legs positioned correctly and grafted with metal--she will be stronger than she would have ever been on her own. And then I pondered my own spiritual adoption--chosen in spite of my brokenness, loved even when I am hard to love, ransomed so that I would not be subject to the consequences of my sin, and in my weakness I'm am made whole being grafted and held by God's strength.

When we returned home Tuesday night, we got the crushing news that our friend Kylie was too sick to go on her Make-A-Wish trip to New York City. Her dad's Caringbridge post confirmed it . . . it is without question the most heartbreaking thing I've ever read. We pulled our daughter Ava aside to share the news with her first--Kylie is like a sister to her and Kylie's sister Jenna has been one of Ava's closest friends for many years. I wished I had had words of wisdom. I'm the mama bird who is supposed to chew the big stuff into little bits before passing it along to the babies but the pieces were still too big for her . . . for us all  . . . to digest.

Lately I have acted less like a disgruntled preschooler and more akin to Mr. GPS. I am so sure that my ending to the story is better--that my route is in fact the best way to get from point A to point B--that I will not even consider other options. I know firsthand that His plan is perfect yet I still cry out to God begging for a U-turn, an alternative route, a miracle. I know that God does allow us to go through hard times so that we will draw closer to Him but with these families I just can't wrap my mind around a why--already such faithful believers, they had already pointed others to Him in their trials, they were already glorifying Him in their lives. Wouldn't it certainly bring Him more glory to heal a little girl of cancer?! But His ways are not my ways. His thoughts not my thoughts. But His grace is sufficient and I must rest in that. The only tragedy worse than losing a loved one is losing a loved one and not having the Almighty Comforter to carry you through it. He has been so faithful to me during my own times of sorrow, how can I question the wisdom of His plan. And yet as I type this, I still petition for his healing for this precious young lady.

Many have asked how is Miss Ella? She's doing well. Today she was playing with her toys and looked up at me and said, "I love you, Mom" out of nowhere. It took me by surprise and I needed to hear it so badly that I asked her to repeat what she said. She giggled and covered her face, acting all shy about it before repeating her "I love you." I'm hoping this means all has been forgiven. And the wheelchair? It's still in the trunk of the car and will be going back to the medical supply store very soon. She may need it in the future, but she doesn't need it now. We will happily carry her anywhere she needs to go in the coming weeks, just as I know our Father will carry our friends through this heartbreaking time. There is no burden so great, that He can't bear.

Ella--Not thrilled about the carriage, but happy to be going home!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


We've had a typical Saturday morning--the day starts with us shot out like a cannon in different directions. My big girls head out the door for a rehearsal for the school musical, Brad and Brady are at a local gym warming up for a basketball game. I scramble to get the little girls fed and dressed to watch Brady play, Daniel types the gym address into my phone so I know where we're going, I stir my coffee with a fork because we've run out of clean spoons and sip it on the way out the door. We sit on hard bleachers to watch a bunch of 3rd graders dribble and cheer with each basket made as if this is some kind of professional arena. This is the normal that I love.

Yesterday wasn't so easy. I walked around the house with a box of Kleenex close by--I blamed the sniffles on my head cold but truth be told, I spent the day fighting back tears. We celebrate three significant anniversaries this time of year starting with Christmas Eve and ending with January 9th. It's the last one that I dread.  These special days are related to my three boys--brothers who won't all meet until someday in heaven and yet their lives are so significantly and marvelously intertwined that it can only be attributed to the Healer of the Broken.

Eleven years ago today, I delivered our first son Luke. We never heard his first glorious cry. Due to an umbilical cord knot, he was in the arms of Jesus before he made it into mine.  Although we haven't stopped missing him, God in his goodness has since filled my arms so overflowing with children that I don't waste a day wallowing in the what-if. 

Many of you loved on us throughout the following year and know the rest of that story. Three months later I found out I was pregnant again with a baby due on Luke's birthday. We were blessed with our precious Brady born a little early to ring in the the new year. (I'm leaving much of that story out but it can be read here .) He just celebrated his 10th birthday and oh how we love him! He is the peacemaker and prayer warrior of our family--such a gentle and caring young man with a big heart for others. He is a living testimony of God's goodness and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank God for the gift of him.

Eleven years ago I sat in a hospital bed so broken that I couldn't imagine being whole again--if only I could have known that a year later we would be blessed with another son. What I also didn't know is that in Guatemala, my future son was also in a state of brokenness. Only a toddler at the time, but living in Third World level poverty and criminal level abuse. 

This past Christmas Eve marked the five year anniversary of his Gotcha Day. In the adoption world, that is the day that your new family "gotcha". We celebrate Ella's on the day she was placed in our arms in China but since it took a two and a half year ordeal to get Daniel, we celebrate his adoption on that glorious day that we finally brought him home. 

And so this past Christmas Eve we were talking about what a big deal it was--how we couldn't believe it had been 5 years and yet how we couldn't remember life without him. Christmas morning he gave me and Brad one of the most precious gifts I may ever receive. He typed out a full-page letter, printed us each a copy, put them in plastic page protectors (yes, this kid is one of a kind), and placed them on our pillows on our bed. We didn't find them till after the presents had been opened and we were upstairs getting dressed for the rest of the day. 

I don't want to share the entire letter here because it is such a personal outpouring of his heart, but I feel it's okay to share some sentiments. He said he remembers longing for a family at Christmas, but not believing it would ever happen. He shared that he is so glad God didn't give him boring parents (haha) and every Christmas he thanks God for the "first parents who really loved him".  He thanked us for not giving up on him through the long and difficult adoption. He thanked us for believing in him and loving him even when he is hard to love. He thanked us for making the holidays fun and regular days happy. He said his greatest gift is having a family and he is so thankful that we are his parents.

Those plastic page protectors were a good call on his part because the tears were abundant. 

Every year we celebrate Daniel's "gotcha" a few days after Christmas Eve. It's a family night celebration and he gets to choose where we go and what we do. It's usually dinner and a movie. This year he chose "Unbroken" that wasn't age appropriate for all of us. I haven't seen it and probably won't (I can't handle watching anything graphically tragic even if I know it will have a happy ending--never saw the end of "Schindler's List", "Slumdog Millionaire", "Bambi", . . . ).  I do know it's about an Olympic track star who overcame a life of hardship.  Daniel is a runner and he wanted to see it, but I was worried the content of the story would trigger bad memories.

But I let him go--he watched it with his dad and sister Ava and the rest of us went home for our night of G-rated fun. I couldn't help but think how the title of that movie is the perfect caption of his life. If you met him today--you'd have no idea that he didn't start out as a Williams--he is so very much like our other kids I often forget it myself. Our sweet son was protected just like that letter he wrote to us. He experienced pain, and trauma, and tragedy but throughout it all there was a covering from the Almighty that protected his spirit, that preserved his innocence, that provided him hope. Unbroken indeed!

And on the anniversary of the loss of one son, the blessing of another by birth, and the blessing of another by adoption--I see that I am unbroken too. 

Because that's what God can do. He can take a life shattered and make it whole. Not leaving us in bandaged state of repair--like a vase that has been glued back together in bits . . . still revealing the cracks and still displaying the damage and ready to fall apart at any minute. No. He is the Redeemer who restores it all if we focus on His scars from the cross instead of ours from this fallen world.

Daniel summed this truth up in one sentence of that letter. "We don't know His plans, but we know that His plans are for a purpose." Wow. Embracing that is the very reason he is doing so well now. His behavior when he first came home was often difficult. He lived in survivor mode--his words and his actions were rooted in bitterness about the lost years of his childhood and anger about the adult-sized pain he had to endure. He had a need to control everything and trust no one.

While my pain had been different--I understood him. I was also "acquainted with grief." The loss of one son helped me understand the pain of another. The day that I surrendered to the truth that all God's plans are for a purpose--even when the road is hard, and it's not fair, and we don't see how on earth this could possibly bring Him glory--that's the day I was freed from the burden of bitterness and the bondage of fear. I knew if I could just get Daniel to understand this, he would begin to heal as well. Yes, we will have times of sorrow and pain--but we "do not grieve like those who have no hope" 1 Thessalonians 4:13. How grateful I am that he already knows what I didn't fully understand till I was an adult. And I'm so glad that when God gave this boy a second chance to have a family, He gave me the privilege of being his mom.

I've taken a lot of pictures of these brothers together the last five years. Oh how they needed each other! Although in each photo it seems there's a brother missing, I know Luke's presence is still very much with us. Thank you, God, for the gifts of Luke, Brady, and Daniel and for your plans that always have a purpose.