Catching Up I: Before

November 11, 2014 at 12:15 AM by Susanna

Hello dear friends,

As we head into the cold, dormant part of the year, it’s evident that our family has not only stabilized, but is being strengthened and nourished from the roots up.  We see it in our marriage and in each of the members of this family and the many interactions we have with each other.  There is grace and forgiveness and healing and restoration and hope and peace here because Jesus the Truth is here, and we are thankful.  So thankful.

This blog has served as a journal for our family, and because of that I’m reluctant to carry on without first going back to fill in some empty spaces.

So without words unless words are helpful or necessary, here are some favorite photos from Before, May to July of this year.

[Note:  If the photos are excellent or I appear in them, they were taken by our fifteen-year-old daughter Laura or by Mindy, the college student who lived with us during her summer break.]













Nature notebooking~









Tommy’s bone density improved from -9 to -5 in one year.











Field trip to Gettysburg~








Eighth Annual Big Families and Friends Picnic~








Laura is friends with Sarah Huizinga, and both are sisters to treasures from Pleven.  Oh the joy of holding Penny for the first time that day.




We are so blessed to witness the friendships between our five oldest children.








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The girls weren’t about to accept another year without homemade freezer jam, so they took matters into their competent hands.

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We’re always glad to see the lovebirds when they come over.  Lindsay is a gift to our family as well as to our firstborn, just perfect.



All the wage-earners of the family pooled resources to invest in a worthwhile gift for Laura’s birthday.  She has enormous natural artistic ability.



Road trip to Kentucky was not for the faint of heart, but oh!  So worth it.








Okay, not exactly a favorite photo, but it sure brings back memories of taking the kids to the Cincinnati Zoo without Joe.  Potty/diaper time in the handicapped stall, of course without benefit of adaptive potty seats or diaper changing facilities.  I will spare you further details.  Oh my.  I was thankful Mindy was along to be with the other children so they didn’t have to wait outside the door for an hour every time.  As you can see, Tommy was unflappable.








Her favorite birthday gift and does she ever use it.

















Fourth of July Barnstormers ballgame followed by fireworks



































Verity was very slow to warm up to Mindy, so we considered this a great victory.





There’s more than one way to clean out gutters.












This is the last photo I took of Tom-Tom.  Getting a tube feeding and watching me make cookies for Family Night.  How I miss this little person and his happy spirit.



Ben and Verity are typically the first to wake in the morning.  This photo will always be bittersweet for me, as it is the final photo from Before.  I took it the morning of July 31st.



Photos from After, August to the present time, are planned for the next blog post.  Before too long, I hope also to have updates on the children in the Pleven orphanage ready to share with you.  And other posts are waiting to be written.

So many of you have continued to pray for us and reach out and minister to us in various ways.  You are a blessing and we thank the Lord for you.


Love in Jesus,







October 14, 2014 at 12:09 AM by Susanna


I walked across the room, book in hand, only partly aware of my surroundings as I read.


And stopped in my tracks as the words unexpectedly jumped off the page at me.


“‘Of course.  He loves you, K.  You are one of His favorite people.’  

The truth resonated in my spirit.  Yes, that is what I feel like: one of His favorites, lavished with His love.”


“I used to feel that way,” I thought wistfully.


And just like that, it cleared, as a heavy, dark cloud dissipates in the wind and sunshine until it is gone.


It’s gone.


And in its place is peace…


…and knowing…


…and joy unspeakable.


You’re here!  I see Your face!  You love me!


Gone is the oppressive weight that covered my spirit and hid Him from me.  I am free.  Free and loved beyond measure.


What was this madness?  These many malevolent lies from the accuser of my soul?  Now I am angry that he tried to drive me from my Beloved, my only hope in life and in death.    


Gone are the anguished, torturing questions.  They don’t matter to me now.


I don’t need answers when I have You.  It isn’t about me and my questions, anyway.  It is all about You, Jesus.  Your identity, not mine.  Your purpose, not mine.  


Gone is the hard shell of “No,” that had formed around me from my fear of more pain.


Gone is the fear.


What do I need to fear when You are with me, You were always with me, and You will always be with me?   It is in love that You wound me, and it is by Your wounds that I am healed.  Now I know that there is no hell that can separate me from Your love.      


And He reached out His hand to me and said, “Come.  I still have living for you to do.”


Yes, Jesus.  


Yes, yes, yes!


I choose You, the One who loves me, the One whom I love.



Whom have I in heaven but You?

And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart fail;

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.





The furnace for gold

September 29, 2014 at 12:12 AM by Susanna


“My dear friend, sometimes God works a greater miracle when He sustains people in trouble than by delivering them.  To let the bush burn with fire and not be consumed is a greater thing than quenching the flame and saving the bush.

Possibly, the hard suspicion that Jesus does not care takes another form.  I do not ask the Lord to work a miracle, but…to feel the full assurance of the Savior’s presence, that this present trial will be swallowed up in a far greater weight of joy.  Yet to my regret, the Lord hides His face, and this makes my trial all the heavier.

It is not unusual for God to wreck the vessel in which His people sail.  Do not wonder if He causes two seas to meet around your boat, that there is nothing but a few boards and broken pieces of the ship left. If you have faith in Christ, He will bring you safe to shore.

It is not at all uncommon for the Lord to add the outward lashing of affliction to the inward scourging of conscience. This double scourging is meant for proud, stubborn hearts, that they may be humbly brought to Jesus’ feet.  God is bringing folly out of you by the sting of His rod.”
~Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in Beside Still Waters


“What shall I say! A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it.”
Sarah Edwards, in Marriage to a Difficult Man




It’s so hard to know where to start when telling an acquaintance how I’m doing. It feels safest and least stressful to interact either with complete strangers, those I was already very close to before Tommy died, or those who have experienced great suffering and come through with softened hearts and sweetened spirits.


The four little boys and I are going weekly to a local counselor who specializes in grief and trauma and is a Christian. We first went two days after Tommy died. Some family and church friends are covering the costs.  My counselor is compassionate, human, empathetic, solid in her theology–no silly fluff, doesn’t talk down to me, goes right to the point, has valuable insight, speaks the truth, and gives me work to do.


All our children are doing well.  Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been before.  It is becoming more evident to us how God has been and still is using Tommy’s life and death as His tool to accomplish His good purpose in our family.


A few have hinted that they miss seeing pictures of our children.  I’ll put some here.  I haven’t taken many photos since Tommy died, but here are a few of Katie with her teacher in school last May that I’d wanted to post long ago.  They take the place of a thousand words.











One more to show you the beautiful, sunny smile I see every day.




How I am doing now doesn’t make sense without an understanding of where I was before.


After many months of severe sleep deprivation and stress and unresolved spiritual struggles, I suffered a major traumatic loss which caused significant physical and emotional repercussions, some of which are still ongoing. I’ve made progress, albeit slow and rocky, but I’m still far from being in a strong place mentally, physically, or emotionally.


It’s hard to describe how profoundly the loss of Tommy and the way he died have affected every level of my life, from the death of the hopes and dreams that God would someday allow us the privilege of adopting more children like Tommy and Katie, to the exhausting inner struggle to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ after months of being sucked into believing cultural lies about myself and our family, to the PTSD-type symptoms like jumpiness/hyper-alertness, mental fog, weight loss, and difficulty sleeping, as well as other wonky stress-related symptoms such as hair loss.


It took weeks to get to where I could write.  At first, there was a solid concrete bunker between me and the outside world. Every breath, every thought was raw pain. It seemed impossible that I could ever again step outside the bunker. Never again would I have anything to write or want to write it.


Then there were better days and worse days. On the better days I felt like I could write. On the worse days, just thinking was a constant, exhausting, lonely battle against the default of “failure as a mom and as a human being.”


Those days still come at times, although less frequently.  I can’t think and I can’t not think. On those days, it’s a battle just to remember how I’m supposed to fight back against the lies.  Jesus. Fall on Jesus. Cry to Jesus.


During the first weeks, there was no clean grief. It was all knotted and tangled up with other complicated and unfamiliar pain.  Eventually, as my soul began to gain equilibrium in response to the truth, I could experience the familiar feeling of simple grieving, the pure hurt of missing my special boy. Through the personal losses of a beloved grandmother, mother, unborn baby, and my husband’s grandfather, I had already learned to know grief intimately as a painful but necessary journey toward healing.


My counselor and those who are closest to me have agreed that I need to regard myself as a wounded soldier.  I need protection, unpressured rest, and healing time, so I’ve been recuperating in a locked internet bunker.  Joe is standing strong with the key.  This means I am reserving my strength for the battle within and only interacting with those who have passed security to visit me in the bunker.


For the time being, I am not reading unmoderated comments or emails or otherwise engaging in the battle outside.


I’m continuing to write as I’m able, however, I’m not functioning well enough yet to put pressure on myself to keep up as I have in the past.  Thank you notes and brief emails are still emotionally exhausting.  My reserve of emotional, mental, and physical strength is miniscule and easily depleted.  But the logistics of our family now allow me time to move through my days in a paced, often slow manner.


We are grateful beyond words for all the prayers lifting me to the Father and for the friends He has sent to minister to me in my weakness and neediness.




All my life until last winter, I had known God to be a certain way toward me, a beloved papa of a beloved child.  Then, during the worst of the outward pressure, it seemed as if He withdrew from us.  The help and protection and provision that He had always freely poured out on us seemed to be dwindling, insufficient, coming to an end.  Every shred of evidence I could see in every direction spoke to me of failure.  I asked, “I know You are good, but how can this possibly be good for our family?”  Silence.  There was no answer, no closeness with Him, no joy.  Only propositional truth to speak to myself in the dark.  In one hand I held the truth that God is good and in the other hand the truth that what He was doing to our family seemed bad.


My only comfort was seeing the agony and suffering of Jesus before the cross and on the cross.  The very Son of God was in anguish and felt abandoned.  He was not bubbling with joy when He was crying out to His Father in the blackness.  He did it for the joy that was set before Him.  This was my only comfort for many endless weeks.


“Please never do that to me again,” I pled.  “I can’t do this job without seeing Your face!”


In the space of three and a half minutes [49:08 to 52:29] in the middle of a documentary titled, “The Time to Live is Now,” He planted a crucial truth inside me that would still be waiting there months later, on July 31st.

“He said, ‘I promise you that if you make an effort to change your question, instead of focusing on why, and how broken you are, and how much it hurts, you instead look at Me and say, “God, who are You? I’m broken and messed up and I hurt because of this thing that happened to me.  But God, who are You?”  He said, ‘If you ask Me that, I promise you I will answer, every day, forever.  You stop and you ask that question and I will be here waiting.  I will answer.'”


I had wanted to feel close to Him as I had in the past, but I hadn’t been asking Him who He was.  I began to ask Him to show me who He is, but in the tumultuous, crazy-impossible, relentless pressure cooker of life caring for Tommy’s enormous needs with no outside help, I didn’t hear an answer.


After the first line of help arrived, and Tommy was in school three or four days a week, I remember saying to Joe, “That wasn’t ‘through fiery trials,’ that was ‘through the deep waters.’    ‘Through fiery trials’ would be losing a child.”  I imagined a vehicle accident taking an older son, or maybe a house fire.


At one point I snapped at Joe for something that offended me, and immediately the thought came to me, “After all that hardship, I am not broken yet.  People who are broken before God don’t snap at their husbands.  What is it going to take?”  And I prayed, yet again, as I have prayed for years, that He would break me.  Whatever it takes.  No matter what.


The week before Tommy died, out of desperate hunger I had begun listening to the Scripture read aloud on CD.  G-tube feedings of the Word, pouring healing, stabilizing nourishment directly into me.  In retrospect, how providential that the CD in the player when Tommy died was the book of Job.


One of the tasks before me now is to complete a ”script” of truth to specifically answer each attack of untruth that comes against my soul regarding Tommy’s death. The input of those who have a godly and objective perspective has been of immense help to me in this task.  But it must go beyond propositional truths I could write on a blackboard and teach to a class.  I am determined to persevere in that inner battle until the Lord grants my request that every answering truth about the loss of Tommy consistently feels true on the inside of me.


From the very first day, as the “Why?” rose within me, it was stopped by God.

“If you ask Me why, I will not answer that question.  You ask Me who I am and I will always answer that question.”


When my soul was in such agony that I couldn’t trust any word but God’s, but I couldn’t feel that the truth was true, I did know this–I knew that the next important thing would be to learn to know Him as He is.


He had to dismantle my incomplete idea of who He is so that I would seek to know Him as I had never known Him before.


He has been with me all the time, but I am asking Him to show me who He is.


Seeking Him.


Resting in Him.


Hoping in Him.


Waiting quietly for Him.





How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.