And the truth shall set you free

August 29th, 2014


This is not real…this can’t be real…I can’t believe this is real…he’s gone…I’m sure he’s gone…he can’t be gone…this can’t be real…please let this not be real…please make this not real…oh please please please please…oh Tom-Tom! 



“We didn’t…bring him home…for this!”

The words come out louder than I expect, forced past the choking weight of tears.

The police officer’s face is kind as he steps toward me where I am huddled against the doorway.

“God already knew this was going to happen,” he said.



After I give my statement to the EMT, she stands and asks, “May I give you a hug?”

And hugs me long and tightly through my wrenching sobs.

“Listen to me,” she says, stepping back with her hands on my shoulders and looking into my face.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot.

You’re going to blame yourself. Don’t do that.”

“How can I not blame myself?” I choke out.

“Look at me,” she says.

“This was not your fault.”



Pastor Mike and his wife Jenny stay with us throughout that endless afternoon of horror, serving our family with quiet compassion along with several other faithful friends and neighbors. As Mike and Jenny prepare to leave, she leans down toward me where I’ve been sitting for hours, holding Katie on the big rocking chair.

She cups my face in her hands, forcing me to look up into her eyes.

The words come through her strong Chinese accent as clear as day.

“God is sovereign. Do not take responsibility for what He did.”




Nothing they say feels true…they’re just trying to make me feel better…

I know God is sovereign, but this feels like a horrible, traumatic mistake.




What was this for? What sin was this for?

Was this because I didn’t trust Him enough?

What is God thinking about me? “You failed the test. You weren’t taking good enough care of him so I brought him home?”

What we managed to give him was so pitiful compared with what we wanted to do for him. We’d hardly gotten started. It was so brief, so pathetic, so pitifully small.

Every official process took months longer than it was supposed to. His whole first year was full of setbacks and delays.  We had big plans for his future. We were finally getting there. Getting so close.

I’m so sorry, Tom-Tom. We failed you.

I hope he knows we loved him. Please, God, tell him I’m sorry.

This was not what we brought him home for.

If he was still in Pleven, he would at least be alive.

Nothing about this could possibly ever be anything but bad. It’s horribly bad for so many reasons on every level.  Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad…

This plays right into the enemies’ hands. They are gloating now–having a heyday.

Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out? Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out? Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out?

We brought Tommy home to take care of him and help him live, not to bury his dead body in the ground!

It didn’t feel like a risk. There are holes covered with duct tape down near the bottom of the tub, and it loses water down to an inch or two. We were always having to go back and run more water for him. “Tom-Tom, where’s your water? You need more water!” Katie can turn on the faucet, but I had never known Tommy to. I expected to see him playing in two inches of water. It didn’t feel like a risk, and he died. I will never trust myself again.

What kind of mother…? Not a good mother.  Mothers like me shouldn’t be allowed…

I’ll never again be able to say, “Sure, bring your kids over here to play!”

I’m a mommy. Mommies take care of their babies when their babies need them.

There’s good mother, and there’s this, and they can’t possibly go together.

Even good isn’t good enough. Nothing less than perfect is good enough. I wanted to love Tommy perfectly, and I failed him in the most colossal way.

I remember hearing about a school bus driver who accidentally backed over a child and the child died. I remember asking Joe how you could possibly go on living with yourself after that. And now here I am. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

There’s preventable and there’s unpreventable. This is called preventable. My child died a preventable death on my watch and nothing anyone says can change that reality.

There’s a big black “F” on the inside of me that will never go away for the rest of my life.

I will never be able to forgive myself.

I’m a failure as a mom and as a human being.




When one of our children is protected from serious injury or death, we heave a sigh of relief.

“God had mercy on us,” we say.

So what was this?

What was this??



“Please, if you think of something true to say to me, say it.  Don’t second-guess yourself or talk yourself out of it.  I’m not going to be offended at you.  I desperately need to hear the truth.  The lies feel way more real to me right now than the truth.”


Texts from our oldest son, Joseph~

“It’s like any wound. You want it to stop hurting, but it takes time to dwindle. It’ll never be gone, only underneath like everything else, good or bad, that makes you who you are.

Right now is the time to allow grief to have its full place. Remember the miscarriage, Verity’s diagnoses, Katie and Tommy at the orphanage? It is keener the more recent it is. It will heal. God will comfort you. But right now I love you and I am sad with you.

Vine and fig. Shall we accept good from God and not evil? You thought that was just about the miscarriage once. But that was just preparing you for more. You made the right decision, a very hard decision, harder than cutting off your hand, when you decided to let go of the things that mattered to you most for God’s glory. And that gave glory to God like nothing before. And then because you were faithful and obedient in the small things, God is proving his power in a larger area.

You are surrounded by strength when you feel weak. You believe the truth when you search for meaning. Satan cannot stand against the Name that you glorify. He cannot make you curse God. And in the end he will howl with disappointment because instead of wrecking your tenacity in holding to Christ, he only caused you to cling tighter.

You are God’s little girl. He collects each of your tears in his bottle.”


Susie, you know why you didn’t just wash him and get him out. You felt like you were cheating him every time you had to do that. Playing in the bath was one of the things he liked to do.


Susanna:  They can’t say anything meaner to me than I am saying to myself.  How can I possibly not blame myself?  If it happened to another mom, I would be judgmental of her.

Joe:  Susanna, no you would not!  Were you judgmental of your friend T. when her two-year-old drowned in her backyard while she had stepped into the house?  You knew she would be in anguish, you grieved with her, and you never questioned whether she was a good mother!  This is your emotions talking.


“As I was crying for you and sensed the floodgates of grief and despair roll over you, to human eye and capacity, more than is naturally possible to cope with, I felt Jesus say to me what he would say to you…

‘And my grace is sufficient for this….yes even this! you have tested me on this many times, and realised my faithfulness in this matter time and time again…and now….my grace is sufficient for this moment in your lives…even this….more than sufficient…as the waves wash over you, they will not drown you…for you will remain standing. And when you really really understand my plan for Tommy’s life, you will realise that this moment, his months with you, as you loved him and transferred him into my arms…and that moment he came into my arms….all part of my perfect plan for him…my son.‘”


“You had plans for Tommy’s future, but they weren’t God’s plans. From the beginning, God intended for him to be home with you for fourteen months and then call him home to Himself on July 31, 2014. God did have mercy on Tommy. He has no long, hard road ahead of him anymore. He got to skip to the end.”


“We cannot take one breath of life without HIM, and we CANNOT die without HIM either. If, perchance, you are going down the ‘if only’ or ‘I should have’ road, please know that road gives you the guilt, but also the power, which does not belong to you. You have been prepared for even this harder step, the deeper cost…”


“As I searched for anything at all to say that might speak some truth to your heart, the first thing the Lord brought to mind was something I learned from you. I will probably get the wording wrong, but you have said several times in the context of adoption that we cannot accidentally take on more than God intends us to. I know that the same must be true here, that even this was not a surprise to our loving Father and that He will equip you to walk through it.”


“Every mother and every father (often even siblings) have instances in their lives. They have moments that could turn out with a sigh or with heart rending, marrow ripping tragedy. In our palms, with fingers curled over, we hold one, two, four…instances. We open our hands not knowing if the instance will result in tears of relief or life altering heartbreak.

One parent may open their palm as they are talking to a neighbor, and a child slides past them running into the street only to stop when called. One father may turn their back for a second, a child toppling a bookshelf on top of them and end in horrible tragedy.

We ALL hold these instances in our hands, Susanna.

In a room of 500, 495 parents would admit to these instances…and four out of the five left would be lying.

We stand around you with our hands held out and our palms closed, not knowing what our instances will lead to. Your beautiful Tommy is no longer on this earth. This is blood pouring out your heart brokenness beyond what can be fathomed.

I know you will blame yourself, but Susanna…I ask you to look around at all the parents around you. We all have our palms out with these instances in our hands. You are not alone. We all have our humanity right out there. You live with the reality of what happened. Yet Tommy is with Jesus. He does not blame you. He’s in pure joy. God does not look at you as anything but His precious broken daughter.”


Praise the Lord in joyful numbers,
your Protector never slumbers;
at the will of your Defender
every foeman must surrender.

“The Protector of little Tommy fully awake and present! The foeman had to surrender when Tommy’s Defender called him home!”


“A few words taken from your blog to comfort you in your grief:

-‘He has not forsaken us.
He can and will keep His grip on us when our strength is gone and we can’t even see where He is in the dark.
He did not make a mistake when He sent Tommy to us.
-He is still a good God.'”



“Tommy was never alone.  Jesus came to get him and Jesus took him home.  Jesus was with him the whole time.”



“Statistically, far more accidental drownings happen to children in small families than in large ones.  Tommy died because God said it was time for him to come home and not for any other reason.” 


She grabbed my hand and said vehemently, with the tears running down her face, “Will you quit saying that what you did for Tommy wasn’t enough?  God knew exactly what you would be able to do for him, and He wanted him to be with you.” 


I thought I believed in grace.

And then my little treasure from Pleven, my vulnerable Tom-Tom, died a preventable death on my watch.

And I was smashed into a thousand pieces of agony at the bottom of the blackest pit.

I did not see the face of God for many days.


What sin was this for?  I wish I knew how He was looking at me, what He thought of me.  I wish I knew what He would say about Tommy’s death if He came and sat next to me and talked to me.

“Can you picture yourself being tenderly held in Jesus’ arms, and He’s calling you His precious daughter?”

“No, I can’t.”


Not only was it revealed that I didn’t truly believe in grace, but I couldn’t explain what it is.

I still can’t define it.

But now, in my wrestlings, I can more clearly see what grace isn’t.

Unknowingly lugging around the presupposition–“No mistakes allowed! No imperfections! No failures!”–the weight growing heavier with every flub-up, more unbearable with each rehearsal of the record of my own wrongs that I was keeping.

Operating from an unexamined underlying sense that everything hinged on my getting it right. Getting what right? Everything, of course. Every priority, every opportunity, every moment…

“I’m failing, I’m failing, I’m failing. This is not working, and it’s my fault.”

That’s not grace.

That’s trying to get it all perfect enough so God will be happy with it and bless me.

Failure as a mom and as a human being? Yes, I fail constantly.  My best efforts are pitifully short of perfection, miserably shot through with sin.

His grace is for failures.

His grace is for me.

Tommy didn’t have to be perfect for us to love him and call him our child.

I don’t have to be perfect for God to love me and call me His child.

I belong to Him, and there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less than He does right now.

And it is in that truth, in the love of my Savior as He is newly revealing Himself to me, that my heart is finding freedom.


Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on
wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

~The Valley of Vision





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165 Responses to “And the truth shall set you free”

  1. Kim says:


    I have been reading your blog for three years. My heart hurt so much for you when I read this news. All of us who are mothers, whether we have experienced the death of a child or not, can well imagine what you are going through. All of us who are mothers could easily be in your place right now. The time my toddler opened the front door and walked out to the street while I was in the bathroom….the time my infant who was sleeping with me rolled between the bed and the wall and I just “happened” to wake up. I could have had my own tragedy. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I’m not religious, so I don’t believe in any plans God might have so I can’t speak any words of comfort in that vein. And I know (as someone who has accidentally caused the death of another human being myself) I know you may never forgive yourself, stop blaming yourself even though you will learn to accept yourself. So I won’t ask you to stop blaming either. I think you have to go through that to get through it. What I would ask you, if you were sitting here now is, “why would you ever believe that Tommy would have been better off without you?” Better in Pleven? He might or might not be still alive there. He certainly would not have been doing much living there. He would not have experienced the love of your family. Your wonderful, wonderful family. You made the life he had rich in love, play, comfort, safety, belonging. You were and you are a good mother. You do things on a daily basis that I couldn’t even imagine accomplishing with my little family of four. It is an amazing and wonderful thing that you got to be Tommy’s mother and he your son.

  2. Mary Feigum says:


    I am so sorry to hear of the death of Tommy. My prayers go out to you. I know I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But I think we can both agree that the Lord is the one who numbers our days. I have been reading your blog shortly after my son Ole who is 4 now was born with down syndrome. Even though I read your blog a lot I rarely comment on anything. I did have a thought today that occured to me that I would like to share with you. In a post you said that in your guilt you think would tommy have been better left at Pleven. I want to remind you that Tommy would no longer be at pleven. With his age would he not have been transferred to an adult facility? And how much care would he have gotten there? Statistically with his level of care he would not have fared long. I hope you do not think this a morbid thought but I like to think that some of his last day was spent happily splashing in a bathtub in a pennsylvania home with people who loved him then perhaps strapped to bed with dirty sheets and a rusty barred window. Susanna go back and watch the film that inspired you to bring him here. Because God numbers our days and he may have actually used you to lenghten tommys life…..not shorten it. Your sister in christ, Mary.

  3. Gina in Spain says:

    thinking of you…..

  4. Priscilla says:

    I am so sorry, Musser family. I am crying for you…and praying that the God of all comfort will make His presence felt in a very really way by all of you.

  5. Shari says:

    Love you, Susanna. No judgement. Just love. And wonderment at the thought of a whole, healed Tommy waiting for you in Heaven.

  6. Jenny says:

    Just letting you know we still love you and are still praying for you.

  7. Kim says:

    I hope every message reminding you of your love for Tommy helps. So here is one more.
    As a mom of kids with and without special needs, I know a few truths.
    1. Accidents and close calls happen everyday to the most loving of parents. I could never count the number of times my hands and feet have tingled with the surge of adrenaline from the fear and realization that I looked away, missed something dangerous, or did something stupid…a thousand times, followed by a big sigh and thankful prayer, and learned caution for next time, rarely making the same mistakes twice.
    2. You loved Tommy and you wanted all good things for him. Your decision to let him play a an inch or two of water was based on love and the knowledge that he couldn’t turn the faucet on. If time was magically turned back, you would make the same decision again, because that is what you knew to be true at the moment.
    3. Tommy knew more love and joy in the last 14 months then a his previous years.
    4. Tommy still is. He isn’t here in physical form, but he is with his creator and he knows unimaginable love and joy now.
    5. There is no sadness or anger in heaven. He forgives you. He thanks you for loving him.
    6. You will be reunited with him again. And there will be nothing but joy.

  8. Gina in Spain says:

    Ditto what Kim said….

    Love and peace, Susanna….Thinking of you…

  9. Cassandra says:

    Hi, I find myself checking your blog for updates though I know there are no “real” updates to be had. Not the update that I want to read (there was a mistake, Tommy was fine and now the hospital returned Tommy and it was all a big misunderstanding, this was all a bad dream and it was written in a moment of lunacy…)

    Magical thinking, I know. 18 months post the death of a family member, I still find myself engaged in magical thinking. “Now God, you are going to return……..” “This isn’t funny at all, God. Bring……. home. ”

    I will tell you what has been so on my heart. Your poor children who understandably, you have not mentioned much. Spiritual amnesia for the horrific moments of that day is what I pray for them. Your little Stephen has to be beyond traumatized. How could he not?? Each of them must be experiencing their own unique grief. Maybe now it is better called mourning.

    So I think of you and Joe as you struggle to take the next breath all the while having to support the kids in their pain. It’s an awful, unrelenting place to land. It’s not as if we can escape the nightmare.

    I don’t have any good advice other than expect little of yourself and the kids other than going through the motions for a long time. It will take a long time, longer than anything else has ever has.

    But one day you will hear laughter and be shocked to realize it is your own. Shocked, and guilty. Eventually you will have 3 minutes where you have not thought about missing Tommy. And three will become five minutes and in a few years, you may have a 15 minute time period free of longing.

    This I do know: Eventually there will be joy. Trust me. You will never forget Tommy, you will always long for him, you might even always have regret but even so – eventually there will be joy.

    I’m so sorry, Susanna.

  10. Gina in Spain says:

    So am I….: (


  11. Gina in Spain says:

    Because frankly you did not deserve this to happen to you. That is how I feel. You…so kind hearted, so generous, so loving. Why?

  12. Lori says:

    I am just a “stranger” (though family through the Lord) who reads your blog. I want to thank you for sharing your insights today. I needed to hear them. God used your words to reveal some truth to me.

    Praying for your hurting, grieving heart. ((((hugs))))

  13. Susanna,
    I bawled through this post. I don’t know if you can ever lose a child and not feel like there was more you could have, should have done. I grieved Emily’s death all over again through your words. I hear myself…different circumstances…but the same pain crying out. I know you are many weeks past this post and the pain is probably beginning to evolve into something different, but I just wanted to take a moment this morning to say how very sorry I am. You ARE loved, and you WILL heal. The scars will be there, but the pain will lessen and you will find rest. Praying for you and yours as I start my day.

  14. Maggie Cole says:


    I’ve not been on your page in a long time, admittedly, so this is a bit of a shock for me to read. I’ve had a rough year, as our friends, the Avery’s, lost their home in a horrific house fire that claimed the life of their 6 month old daughter, Eleanor this past March. I know that her mother, Naomi, has felt many of the things you’ve written here. This hurt so, so very much. All of us. From an article about their family, “My faith in me might be shaken,” Naomi said, “but my faith in Him is not.” I’m sure this is a sentiment you can share, but I hope that you both have healed enough to remember what wonderful mothers you are. I think of them every day, pray for them every day, and cry for them regularly. Now, I will be thinking of you and your family and keeping you in my prayers too.

    What is important for you to remember and know is that you gave Tommy his very best life. What you gave him compared to what he had before, is unspeakable happiness and love! You are a mother I hold in high esteem, both last year when I found your story and this year as I read this! You are an amazing and wonderful mother! Your Father in Heaven will take you in His arms when you return, and say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” And, what you did for Tommy, what your family did for him, serves as a testimony for him to the goodness and grace of God! He is taking his story into the afterlife to teach those who do not believe in God about His plan and His angels (one of which you are.) He is using it to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tommy loves you, he is with you always, you are his and he is yours, forever.

    God bless you and your family.

  15. Ilisa says:

    Hi Susanna,
    I have not been on here in ages and am so sad to hear what happened. It is hard to even comment because I do not know what to say. I know that there are many times I look at something I’ve done as a mom and wonder how in the world my kids did not get hurt or even die from my mistake. Every single parent can wonder that from now until our own time ends. The fact remains is we are not the ones in charge. We just aren’t and I know that does not take the pain or guilt away. That’s the real problem here, I cannot say or do something to take that away for you. I think that like anything else, we have to find (by searching) the blessings in our heart-break and tragedy because there are a bunch of them here. Tommy’s life had purpose and please do not take that away by feeling like you short changed him. That is not true and he would not like you to feel that way, nor would the rest of the family or your friends and readers. We have all known you to be a blessing and Tommy felt that more than anything he ever felt in his life. It was an accident and God has a plan for that and for you. Keep fighting the dear fight and keep remembering that although we will suffer in this life, it will not be in vain or alone. You always have us to lean on and blessings to shed. There are other moms and dads out there who need you, knowing you can truly empathize. Hugs to you and yours!

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