This Sunday is it, June 1, 2014. It is the day I’ve been anticipating for several years. It is the day where I would see the chains fall off and write “the end” in one book and open the front cover to begin writing a new book. It is the day I saw so many others embrace before me, some with sadness but many with gladness. Expectantly for many years, this Sunday had freedom written all over it. That is until a little event some eight years ago changed everything. In reality, it wasn’t a little event at all. It could only be put into the classification of being an earth shattering, life altering event. It was an event that would repeat itself two more times over the years and not only change the present, but dramatically alter the future. It was an experience that disrupted my “American dream,” a dream I saw so many others living at that time and still live today. This Sunday is the day I looked forward to for many years, letting go of those “child rearing” years and getting on with the rest of my life. But, God would have none of that. He would have none of that self-focused, self-centered life I so longed for. Instead, He laid before us as a family a plan I wish I could say I embraced willingly and enthusiastically. No, not back then, but today, yes! This Sunday, Jody and I will not be writing the final chapter, putting down the pen and closing the back cover, only to pick it up again one day and reminisce. This Sunday, June 1, we will simply be writing another chapter in the book, a wonderful chapter at that, in a book we’ve been writing together for the last 24 years.
This Sunday is Jillian’s day, a big day as she will graduate from Okemos High School. She WILL BE writing the final chapter in her book. As her mom and dad, we couldn’t be more proud of her. Sunday at 1:00 p.m., alongside of her lifelong friend Renee, they will lead the 300 plus graduates from Okemos High School in their procession for graduation. A few minutes later, Jillian will be the first of three commencement speakers who will challenge her classmates. The challenge she will give is not a carte blanche address talking about “going big or going home.” The challenge she will give has the Gospel written all over it. Her name will be read a few minutes later and her tassel turned. And, for her, the book will be closed.
For us, truly, it’s not a bitter-sweet day. For us, it’s just a sweet day. A day, we looked forward to many years ago: raising, investing, training, nurturing and releasing her to do something…many great and amazing things for God. As we’ve seen Jillian grow and mature, God has graced her with some unique qualities. She never desired to fall into the mold of the world where popularity is what young girls so often seek out and strive for. She is just the opposite. With her soft spoken nature, she always fought for the underdog, embraced the outsider, rebuked the critic, opposed the judgmental and stood strong for the Truth. Whether embracing her three younger siblings, giving up so much along the way, or embracing another life, it has become evident of her love for others, which is a true reflection of the character of Christ.
I vividly remember the day last fall when I received a call form OHS. It was her counselor who wanted to tell me a story about Jillian. While at a home football game just days prior, a young man who has some challenges, was standing by himself. The game had already started and the O-Zone was fired up. Jillian was on the front row of the student section with several of her friends. Seeing this young man standing alone, she told her friends she would be right back. She left her spot and went to where he was, and invited him to join her and her friends in the student section. She didn’t know him well but simply knew of him. He followed her up where a couple of hundred high schoolers were standing. This young man, never having this experience, didn’t know what to do: the jumping, the chanting, and the cheering. Jillian told him and showed him everything he needed to do and he did it with her and the many others. It made such an impact on his life that someone would do such a thing for him, he told his parents, his teachers and his counselor who in turn called us and told us the story. Jillian never said a word to us about what had happened and we were even at the game. This story simply defines the heart of Jillian. She just does it. She doesn’t do it to be seen. She doesn’t do it to be recognized. She just does it and she does it to encourage others. This is a trait, along with so many others, we love immensely about Jillian. Sunday, she will write the final chapter in her book. She is ending her senior year on such a high note. What a way to end! It goes without saying, we are overly excited for her. She has indeed finished strong and is ready to move on, as we are ready to let her go..I think!? Now it will be her privilege to step out afresh, seek where she can be used, put her gifts and talents to work, and do something…many great things for God.
On this day, a special day in the life of Jackson, there is celebration. Celebrating a little boy we brought into our family more than two years ago. He turns 7 years old today and is so full of life. He’s come such a long way in a matter of 26 months – embracing a new family, learning a new language, coming to know who Jesus is, loving school – simply his life has been defined by newness. But, on this day, a special day for Jackson, I can’t but help think about his birth parents. There’s a backstory and history with not only Jackson, but our three youngest. Only a few days old, Jackson’s biological parents took him to the hospital. It was evident that physically he was struggling. With a lazy left eye looking inward along with a visible hernia which was present at birth – they had more questions than answers. It was an unknown situation. However, with the diagnosis of having a hole in his heart and the uncertainty of raising a healthy boy, something which is highly esteemed in the Asian community, after two days, his parents abandoned him. Now, a little less than seven years later, his life has dramatically changed. I’ve read enough books and have heard my fair share of first-hand stories to know, on this day, Jackson’s birthday, thoughts of him will most definitely resonate through the mind of his birth parents. Perhaps they have pictures of him hidden away at home – hidden because of reprisal by the authorities if they were ever found to have abandoned a child. Or, perhaps on this day, they remember the face of the little boy lying in the hospital bed in Zhongshan, China, as they walked out of his hospital room peering back for the very last time. Those images are not easily forgotten. But, somehow, someway on this special day, I pray God’s comfort in their life. I pray that God would give them the peace to know their little boy, on the other side of the world, is now part of a family who loves him beyond measure. And that seven years later, in another place and another culture, he is thriving and he is happy. On this day, a special day in the life of Jackson, there is a celebration. Happy Birthday to our little “Bo Bo” – a life that has changed ours and a life that is forever changed.
Today was an interesting day to say the least. Jackson and I made the hour and a half trip to Hillsdale to see his pediatric ophthalmologist. When we left Okemos, we had overcast skies with a winter weather advisory issued. We didn’t know really what to expect but knew that winter weather was coming up from the south, the direction we were headed. Half way to Hillsdale it started to rain, followed by freezing rain, then sleet turning to snow, thunder and lighting, and finally flooding. We made it safely down and back again. The day wasn’t as expected as it took us longer to travel south, even longer to get home and spent an hour and a half at the ophthalmologist. I decided to call Jackson in for a personal day as he would only have two hours of school by the time he arrived. A little bit of dad and son time at Arby’s for lunch followed by a visit to Sam’s Club filled the rest of our day.
Two and a half years ago, Jackson was essentially blind in his left eye. His vision was measured at 20/400. Our plan was to attempt to avoid any kind of surgery by exercising and patching the good eye forcing the weak, lazy eye to do the work. We have been patching Jackson’s good eye five days a week for the last two years. Within the first year, Jackson’s eye sight improved immensely, progressing from 20/400 to 20/70. Last fall it slowed with a measured improvement of 20/60. After six more months of patching and exercising his weak eye, today we received some great news that his eyesight has improved to 20/25! His specialist couldn’t believe the improvement so she tested it again and received the same results. The staff also dilated his eyes in order to look at his optic nerve which is very healthy. They’re still thinking if he continues to improve, he could “lose” his glasses one day. Positive or negative, good or bad results, our God is good. We’ve been on both sides of the fence over the last few years and are still there today. God has given us medical technology and doctors, who have been gifted with knowledge and wisdom to use for the improvement of health. Whether through medicine or speaking a word from His great and glorious throne, we give God the glory for what He has done.
One topic which I am always willing to address is the subject of busyness. Sometimes the busyness we create can be put into the category of being good and beneficial while other times, it is detrimental to life, Godliness and productivity. For the last few weeks, we have found ourselves caught in this controlled trap of busyness as we were locked into a nine week renovation project. It was a good busyness because of our purpose and end result. It began in October and ended the second week of January…at least the vast majority was completed by then. It was a project we have been thinking about for twelve years, but in the meantime, there were some more important “projects” that we were engaged in and had a greater priority – “projects” such as three little kids. Jody was the mastermind behind this renovation while I just worked to complete what needed to get done and done on time. In the end, our little renovation turned out better than expected, giving us the needed room not only for our own growing family, but to have people in our house again. Now, three or four weekends a month, we have groups of people over, either our Life Group, College group or friends as we enjoy life together. I can’t even begin to calculate the many hours we invested in the project, but we stand back today, a little inconvenienced along the way, living out of our garage for a while, twelve years in the making, glad we made this investment not only for our family but for the ministry we can have to others. Smaller projects still remain, but we will tackle those little by little as time, energy and money allows. While in the midst of the construction, Jody and I made two trips out of State, one to Florida and one to Las Vegas – on business of course. We are always thankful for the opportunity to get away for a couple of days here and there, something which does not happen very often. In the midst of it all, we found ourselves traversing through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Before we knew it, they had all come and gone. It was a most special month for us as the holidays were a little different – so much more simpler but seemingly more enjoyable and meaningful. We purposefully didn’t get lost in the fanfare or the indulgence of the season, but plainly enjoyed our time worshipping, celebrating and being together as a family.
As we embarked on a new year, we were thankful for God’s provision in 2013. One truth we see so evident in our lives is, you cannot out give God. As we sought to invest our time, talents, gifts and resources for Him, He provided ever so abundantly for us. What this allowed us to do was to once again, invest what we were given to make an impact for Him. With social media being prevalent in our lives and with the opportunity to re-invest those dollars into something more meaningful, we chose not to send out our traditional Christmas letter this year. This has been a long standing struggle for us as we sought what was the best use of those dollars. No, were weren’t being scrooges, although yes, a couple of people let those words fly in our direction. Rather, we chose to take those monies that we would use for Christmas cards and postage, and give the money to three families for Christmas – people who had needs and most certainly a greater investment in our book on so many different levels. So, here’s a snapshot…a quick snapshot of the Dabrowski doldrums: Caleigh continues to do well even with a couple of glitches in her health along the way. We are grateful for the continued improvement of medical technology and especially Mott’s Children’s Hospital who care for her needs very well. Even on her down days, Caleigh is so unique in that her personality still shines ever so brightly – a trait that makes her such a special young lady. She loves going to school but not so much the work. To her, it’s all about the socialization – but that will allow her to be a great witness for Jesus. On the other hand, Jackson continues to make great strides each week – well, this week he had just a little setback. But as Jody says quite frequently, give him time – so we give him the time to grow and flourish. He loves the first grade and continues to impress us with his “brilliant mind.” He is growing by leaps and bounds, and it is amazing how much he has embraced in a little more than two years. He visits his ophthalmologist in Hillsdale every three to six months to have his vision checked. His eyesight continues to improve and once again, we are anticipating his next visit at the end of this month to see what progress he has made. Chloe, the once little girl we brought home from China now some five years ago is on the threshold of turning double digits – ten years old. She continues to excel in all areas of life. She is a great big sister to Caleigh and Jackson, and is the one who steps up, takes responsibility and makes sure they are on task. Chloe had her yearly checkup with her specialist just last week with no issues. Other than taking labs twice a year, she has been given a clean bill of health for another twelve months. Jillian just completed her next to last semester of high school pulling straight A’s once again. She has been weighing her options of what she will be doing in the coming months and it looks as though attending Liberty University in the fall is her plan. She has already applied, been accepted and received some academic scholarships. It is hard to believe that in only four months, our second child will be graduating from high school, releasing them into the world to do some amazing things for God. Seph continues to be focused as he plans for his future. In the fall, he applied for and was hired at Option One Credit Union in Lansing where he works twenty-five hours each week. In addition, he goes to college full time majoring in the area of business, hoping to land the CEO position at a Credit Union one day. Yes, he has high aspirations. And when he sets his mind to something, there’s no stopping him. In his free time, when he’s not working, going to school, studying, hanging out with friends or spending time with his gal, you will find him at the gym working out. Jody continues to make the hour long drive to Farmington Hills each day working as Assistant Vice President of Compliance and Risk Management at Community Choice Credit Union. She loves her job, the people whom she works with and the challenge of her career. Her life and our lives are about to get a little more busy as she begins graduate school, working on her Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Together we have a plan and purpose in mind to where we would like this to lead, but time will tell and only God knows the desires of our hearts. So, we…she will press on in this endeavor, now having six of our family members in the classroom each day. 2013 was a great year for our family and for the ministry we are passionate about. In 2014, we are praying for greater things and to be used in greater ways. Whatever it may hold, it is our purpose to honor God in all things…Sola Deo Gloria.
It was two years ago this Thanksgiving weekend, Jody and I traveled to Guangzhou, China to bring home Jackson Graham. He was a shy, timid little boy who had an electrifying smile. We will sometimes sit and reminisce in the quietness of an evening about the first night we had him and how difficult it was for him and for us. It was simply emotionally draining for all as he struggled with losing everything he knew – a room, a bed, a blanket, a handful of caretakers and most meaningful, his orphaned friends. Within a few months of his departure, all of his friends would be adopted by loving families. Over the last twenty-four months, Bo Bo, as we often call him [a name he had in the orphanage], has made some incredible strides – blending into an already blended family, learning a new language, making new friends, excelling in school, learning about Jesus, finding his place into a busy-active family and so much more. He has adjusted well. And, even when he seemingly struggles with something, Jody, our encourager always says, “give him six more months.” Somehow, someway, he will always conquer his struggles or fears in that amount of time.
Today, Jackson is a thriving first grader who loves everything about life. He has learned to write and read, speak English fluently and does a lot of it, has made new friends, learned to ride his scooter and bike without training wheels, dives and swims in the deep end of the pool, loves to draw, color and staple… staple… staple… and so much more. And just when you think you know him well, you experience something brand new, never seen nor heard before. Such is what happened last week. Jack loves to sing. You won’t find him singing in public or in front of us – he’s too shy for that. But every morning he wakes up smiling, happy and singing. The other day as I heard him singing, I quietly approached his room to hear what he was bellowing out – “London Bridge” it was. However, his words were not in English, they were in Chinese. In two years, we’ve never heard him sing in Chinese, except right after we brought him home. What a joy it was to hear him resonate words in his native language.
Jack has gone from having a handful of medical issues to medically erasing almost every physical malady. The hole in his heart is healed, his hernia has been repaired – along with some other “plumbing” issues, and his eye-sight has gone from 20/400 to 20/60 with the continued hope of allowing him to have near perfect vision. Why have we invested all of this time, energy and yes, money – something that not everyone understands? Why do we pour so much into the lives of these kids day after day? The simple answer is – to give them HOPE. Hope to excel, hope to do some amazing things, hope to serve and worship God whole-heartedly one day. On this Thanksgiving weekend, we open our eyes and see so many things to be thankful for – including one little boy whose world has been dramatically changed and one day, will have the opportunity to change the world around him.
My wife will be the first to tell you, I am all about the underdog. I don’t root for the New York Yankees with their billion dollar budget; I don’t pull for the Alabama Crimson Tide who have to turn away some of the best players in the country because they are already the best team on the gridiron; I don’t embrace the Labron James’ or even the Michael Jordan’s of my day – I am all about the underdog. I am all about those who are less fortunate; I am all about those who struggle in life or those who need encouragement; those who are hurting and those who long for some hope. Perhaps that’s why iv’e stuck around so long in an economy which has just about decimated our community, where we’ve seen more than thirty-families leave our church since 2008 and move to other States looking for a job, a better job or simply some stability; where we’ve traveled to other parts of the world, four times in seven years, to give hope to kids who have very little hope. Where so many people are about the next best thing, I and we are all about the “underdog.”
In traveling to Zambia, Africa this past summer, one statement which has stuck with me was when Mitzi, the director of LifeSong School in Kitwe described to us what life was like for those kids outside of their fenced community. Simply, there wasn’t much hope at all. In a world which seems to be hammering your hope and stealing your joy – people…kids need someone who is willing to come alongside of them to infuse in them encouragement – lasting encouragement which only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what we did this summer when we had the opportunity to travel with a team of fifteen from Okemos, Michigan to Zambia, Africa to partner with Child Evangelism Fellowship and LifeSong for Orphans. What a wonderful opportunity to not only come alongside of these two wonderful organizations, but some phenomenal people – where together we could share the love of Christ. If you haven’t had the opportunity to view the video of our experience, I welcome you to view it here – http://vimeo.com/76865275 and see how we were privileged to be used by God.
It goes without saying, Caleigh is one of those who my heart continually bleeds for. She is an amazing life who wakes up with a smile on her face and retires for the evening with a grin from ear to ear. She is second to none in my book. When God created her, He no doubt created her with so many unique qualities. Caleigh is a true and precious gift from God. But, she is one who continually struggles physically. I am well aware of the sin problem and the result of sin in this world which is marked by disease and sickness. I see this in our daughter each day. I also am a witness to the immeasurable grace of God in her life and our life alike. Last week we made yet another trip to Mott Children’s Hospital on the campus of the University of Michigan. Their compassionate care is unprecedented –from the moment we walk through their doors until we get into our car to drive home. We are never left alone and are escorted wherever we need to go. Even in the down time while waiting for tests to be performed, they have staff specifically appointed in the kid’s area who work on puzzles, play or do crafts with the children. It’s quiet and calm, and gives the kids an environment which is inviting. The afternoon was filled with tests and evaluations. We went from one floor to the next, from one room to another. While her numbers continue to remain steady, to which we are very thankful, we have taken her care to the next level. Because Caleigh’s disease is advanced for her age, she will start regular ultrasounds, every six months , looking for carcinoma or cancer cells, as well as assessing her overall health. In a follow-up conference call this week, we were made well aware of the ongoing seriousness of her situation. Unless if her disease goes into “remission” as we call it, she remains at very high risk. The survival rate for those kids who contract this type of cancer is less than 10% – so we know what we are up against. Simply, we don’t want to go there. What I do know is, we have a wonderful medical team who is working on our behalf. But even greater than this is we have a great God who is sovereign in all of His ways and can heal with a simple, spoken word. I have seen it in the life of others and this is what we pray for concerning our little girl. As I often articulate, I will go to the ends of the earth and pull out all stops for our kids. As was our theme in traveling to Africa this summer: we will continue to LIVE BY FAITH, BE KNOWN BY LOVE, BE A PEOPLE OF HOPE. Soli Deo Gloria!
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fly back to the east coast where I grew up in New Hampshire, to spend a handful of days with my family. It is something we as siblings attempt to do each year one way or another. Having been spread abroad for the last 28 years has made it difficult, but we make our best ditch effort and most of the time we succeed. On the agenda each trip is to run by the cemetery where our mother’s earthly body awaits her new heavenly body one day. However, this field is more than just the earthly resting place – it’s a place filled with some of the greatest memories from our childhood. Beyond the granite stone with her name etched on it you will see a field. This isn’t any field, this was the home of Dover Southside Little League Baseball for many, many years before it was given back to the city in order to expand the cemetery. For six years, this is where our family spent our summers. For six years, this is where our mother would bring us after working nine-hour days so we could play little league baseball from the first of May all the way through the all-star season of August with the aspiration of making it to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to play in the Little League World Series. This is where we would spend our week nights and long Saturdays as she watched and encouraged her three children. This is where she cheered on our team as my sister Julie, as the starting pitcher, threw all six innings as a twelve-year-old where we won the Southside Little League Championship. The best part of that game, in this all boys league, was when we got to pig-pile on her after she threw the final strike out by the pitcher’s mound. This is also where my mother stood next to me after a game when I apologized to the umpire for arguing a called third strike – which by the way was right down the middle of the plate. Yes, I was mimicking what I saw in the major leagues but still, that was no excuse. This is where she spent six years watching us as we fielded grounders, ran after fly-balls, made some incredible plays along with our share of errors, took our many turns at bat, won the vast majority of our games and even experienced the agony of defeat from time to time. This is where she encouraged us to try our best, play with a positive attitude, taught us that winning wasn’t everything and instilled in us to play the game with integrity. The place which we visit each time we come to this field is more than just a place where her earthly body lay, waiting for the heavenly resurrection; it is a place which brings back some of the greatest memories of our childhood. It’s a place which brought a plethora of joy and happiness, but one day, this will be the place where an everlasting joy and happiness will be introduced for a final time.
Last week we proudly said goodbye to the kindergarten years – finally. After five kids and seven years of kindergarten, Jackson successfully made it through on his first attempt. He’s making the grades, even as he’s only been in America for less than 18 months, so we’re listening to the educational professionals and moving on. Yes, we are finally DONE with this one chapter in our lives – now so many more to write. For the three littlest Dabrowskis, they continue to “excel,” if you can say this at such a young age, in their respective classes and development. Having held Caleigh and Chloe back to repeat kindergarten allowed them to be at the top of their classes rather than struggling and lagging behind. This will certainly help them as they continue to progress and mature throughout elementary, Jr. High and High School. Then there is Jillian, who continues to maintain a 3.7 GPA going into her senior year. Okemos is ranked #7 in the State for High Schools and is considered a “college prep school,” engaging students to excel at the next level. For Jillian, we begin to think through what her near future will look like. In one year, she will be walking across the platform, receiving her high school diploma, ready to embark on a new, fresh, exciting journey for life. As we sat down this weekend to begin to think through the future – she was already thinking BIG. As a matter of fact, this is how she began the conversation – “You know how you’re always telling us to think big!…” Well, what she is thinking, in our minds is pretty big, unique and unorthodox. It is the desire God has place upon her heart and it is a desire we are very excited about. So, we will see what takes shape and how her passion to do something amazing for God defines her near future.
This summer, it’s all about ministry. For us, ministry doesn’t slow down for June, July and August. As a matter of fact, we take it up another notch. With our V.B.S. Kids Camp, On Goal Soccer Ministry, Zelos Wednesday Night Worship and sixteen days in Zambia, Africa working with Child Evangelism Fellowship and LifeSong for Orphans, I am afraid to say it but, before we know it, fall will be knocking on our door, and we’ve yet to fully embrace summer in mid-Michigan. Mix into this equation a trip out to the east coast to visit my family for a long weekend and a two day kayaking trip with Jillian – this is about the end to a fully, busy, ministry filled summer.
We’ve seen some changes in our family and in the life of some of our friends in recent weeks, along with more changes on the way. Yet, one truth which remains without fail is, our God is an unchanging, sovereign Lord. On those days where I or we can’t figure out what is transpiring around us or where God is taking us, we fully embrace the fact, our Lord is in total control and knows what our next step will entail. This is one truth we’ve learned about our Lord: He doesn’t lay down every paver so you see the panoramic view of your life. He simply lays down the next stepping stone. And when by faith you decide to step out, trusting Him and planting your feet firmly upon what He has laid before you, rest assured, the next paver will then be placed. But, it comes by FAITH! As the Psalmist pens so powerfully in Psalm 37:23 – The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way. What a great truth to embrace and a thought to powerfully live by each day. As we seek the next step for our lives, stepping out in faith, following His lead, this summer, look to do something great…something amazing, not for your own name or for your fame, but for His renown.
[Top picture: Chloe, Caleigh and Jackson during the first week of school 2012; Bottom picture: Chloe, Caleigh and Jackson, the last week of school 2013]
Last weekend, I began to teach a nine part series of messages on the life and ministry of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17. As you read, study and embrace his life, if there is one truth which is evidently displayed in his relationship with God, it is God who must, so often, first take you down before He is able to bring you up. God must first take you through the valley before He leads you to the top of the mountain. This is what he is doing for Elijah before he faces even greater challenges in his life. We all face seasons such as this. Our family has been there, even recently, when we encounter the unknown or face what might seem as immeasurable circumstances. These are never easy days, but these are the days we look upward to gather our strength and push through second by second and moment after moment. The affirmation in all of this is, you know after you have been taken down and all of your pride is stripped away, God is going to lead you back to the top of the mountain. And, what a great experience this is!
Today was another trip for Caleigh and me to the University of Michigan Medical Center. As I have spent hours in different hospitals over the years, I, once again, appreciated their personalized care and concern for us. For the last few weeks, we have noted how Caleigh’s stamina as well as her overall health seemed to be improving. This has been a natural indicator of how we believed she was doing physically. In December, we decided, along with regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital, we would also seek direction from a wellness doctor who we know locally. Our purpose was team with the doctors at U of M and to boost Caleigh’s immune system naturally to fight her disease. Over the last four months, we have seen slow but steady improvement with her physicality, even as we have weathered through the long winter months. Today, we received some encouraging news again as Caleigh has been cleared for another visit to Ann Arbor in six months, this time, conducting an additional battery of tests to track her progress. This next visit will more than likely be an all day event, but we are thankful for the full medical attention she will receive. The bottom line after today’s visit is, Caleigh continues to do well and her markers continue to stay consistent. Her body is not fighting her disease nor is it ignoring it. For this we are truly grateful to our Lord. Another day of health, is another day which can only be seen as a gift from God. We embrace the fact…the fact that God is sovereign in all things. As we continue to address her needs day by day, we bring her before God’s unimaginable throne and ask for His continued healing touch upon such a precious life.
There’s a story behind every situation and a life behind every story. This past week, we spent six wonderful days in Florida. We have stayed for many years in the Vero Beach area. This is our one family vacation each year so we desire it to be simple and relaxing. However, with one of the homes we would stay at being sold recently and other houses having limited availability, we went looking for a new vacation home. We are not picky, but the price had to be right and the home needed to accommodate a family of seven.
After searching for a couple of weeks, I found a home in Ormond Beach. It was a beautiful home, boasting 2,600 square feet [more than two times the size of our home in Okemos], three bedrooms, two baths and one nicely heated pool. I thought, there has to be a story behind this home – it was inexpensive to rent – less expensive than a hotel room in Daytona, but in a very desirable, at least for us, location – about 100 yards from the bay and 300 yards from the Atlantic Ocean. So, I went searching and asking.
The story is simple but somewhat heartbreaking. A couple of years ago, this home was purchased by a husband and wife as their “dream retirement home.” Over the years, they had spent many weeks in the Ormond Beach area. It was the place they were looking to settle down in order to spend their retirement years. Within a year of moving to Florida, the husband was diagnosed with an incurable cancer at the age of 63 years old. On June 2, 2012, a few months after moving to Florida, he passed away. One week later, their daughter would be married. With the loss of this husband, it forced a hardship on his wife. She decided her only option was to sell this home and live closer to one of her daughters. With the housing market still saturated in this out of the way community, she was unable to sell the property and desired not to default on the loan. As a result, her realty company offered to rent the property to vacationers to help pay the mortgage until the market rebounds. They cleaned out the house, packed boxes which would be stored in the garage and set up the home for people who would be looking for a place to come, rest and relax. This is where our family steps into the story. This would be the house we would rent for the week. I will often tell people, if it is to good to be true, it is – and most of the time it is. Amazingly, of the 500+ houses I looked at renting, this was the most affordable house, less expensive than any other place we’ve ever stayed, but one of the nicest by far. Most definitely for this fairly young couple, this is not what they believed their retirement years would hold. After learning their story, I was glad to know we rented this house for the week. And next year if the opportunity presents itself, we will rent the same home again.
If there is one thought I know to be true, life isn’t always what we might say is “fair.” In light of our surroundings, we need to make the most of what we have been given…big or little, great or small. Sometimes it is easy and other times, it is most difficult. You have to deal with it. You have to work through it. You have to make the most of it. All the while, you embrace it. All in all, it is God who gives you the ability and the wisdom to do this, and to stand strong for Him. We’ve learned this lesson with our own children. Their history isn’t what they asked for, but together, we work through their story. It was the other day as I was putting the kids to bed, pulling up the covers, kissing them goodnight, Caleigh looked at me and said, “Dad…have you ever met my real mom?” Jody was away traveling and my first thought was – great timing. It goes without saying, I was taken back by her question. My response was short and succinct. “No, I have not.” Hoping she would move on, the next question came: “Why did she give me up?” As I am standing next to her bed, with my jaw hanging low to the ground, I am thinking to myself, the professionals say these questions shouldn’t come until the age of 13, if ever. We’ve sat in the adoption classes. We’ve heard all the questions and all of the right answers. On this night, one thought I could reassure not only Caleigh with, but Chloe and Jackson alike is, each of our children’s biological parents loved them – and loved them dearly. How do I know this? How can I be so certain? Because, they are all here today. They were all placed in populated areas where they would be found. They weren’t thrown into the river. They weren’t left in an open field susceptible to the elements. They weren’t dumped in buckets of water. Yes, I have read the stories and seen the testimonies. They were placed in a populated park, left at a hospital and on the doorstep of an orphanage. In the recesses of my mind, I can only imagine but will never know, the parents love for these kids or how hard it was for these parents to place them, for one reason or another, in a strategic location, only to turn around and walk away. Walk away! I have imagined this. I have tried my best to stand in their shoes. I have attempted to embrace their hurt, their loss and their immeasurable pain. I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve watched their first hand testimonies – with tears streaming down my face – trying to grasp the unimaginable reality of this picture. The right perspective and my perspective is – I have the greatest respect for these parents who for whatever reason, and their motives stretch far and wide, gave these children up. No, life isn’t always fair in our shallow, even sometimes ignorant eyes. But what I can assure you of is this: in the end, I do not judge. I do not look down upon. I do not cast criticism nor do I question. I respect and honor. I revere their love, their care, their grace and their compassion for these kids for the opportunity they gave to each one and to us. And today, I / we embrace not only their history – the past, but their story – what we will write as we journey through life together as a family.