You Make A Way

Our job is full of burdens. There is always a tragic story, a rough life, a hard reality to accept in the midst of our home. The reason we have to take a child in is because they aren’t cared for properly. The lives of our children are rooted in trauma. It rarely looks hopeful. There’s not a way to escape it. This is the life our kids are dealt. Some days it feels like a mountain that’s impossible to climb, yet other days kids’ pasts seem to be forgotten. As one who is empathetic to my core, it is a constant thought. I am continuously thinking about how the operation of our cottage and the way we interact with children may bring up memories from their home. Putting myself in their shoes can be difficult to handle. I know it’s not for everyone. I would never wish for anyone to be treated the way our kids have been treated.

It is a humbling experience to be entrusted with the memories and offenses our children have endured. It makes each child seem so fragile. It makes me want to keep them inside all day in order to monitor all that they’ll witness. It changes the way I see childhood experiences. I am helpless to what they’ve already lived through. I cannot change one thing about their horrific pasts. For moments or hours or sometimes days, I slip into a deep sadness for their lives. Most of them don’t even know how the course of their lives has been drastically altered because of the home they’ve come from.

Now, I’m a practical person. Give me a list, or I could make one for you. Tell me what needs to be accomplished and when it should be done. I have a ‘Let’s change the situation with hard work and creative ideas’ kind of attitude. You can ask my husband, but I do not handle disappointment well. Being disappointed comes when I have to give up. I have to concede that something can’t be changed, the time is up, there’s nothing to be done. In order to simply love our kids, I have to give up the idea that their pasts can be changed. Between my empathy and practicality, this job is stressful! This is where God steps in.

I recently had a cousin pass away suddenly, tragically. There is nothing but sadness in my heart when I think about his family, the loss. It’s not fair. It’s heartbreaking. There’s nothing I can do to help the huge hole in our family. At his funeral, we sang the song “Make a Way” by Desperation Band. God placed that song there. I couldn’t actually sing one word of the song because of the deep grief all around me. But there is no doubt in my mind that God picked that song for us to cry through together. The chorus goes like this:

Where there is no way You make a way

Where no one else can reach us

You find us

Bridge:

Jesus, it’s always been You

Jesus, it always is You

Jesus, it always will be You

I can get a lot done. I can do every practical thing imaginable. But this job, this family, these burdens. I can’t even touch them. I don’t have one word. Looking at the insurmountable odds stacked against our kids, I’m done. Defeat. Watching my family grieve so deeply for Jordan, there’s nothing to do.

(don’t insert Jesus cliches here)

I know that this all sounds dark and defeated. I have rewritten this post many times already. I know that as a Christian I have hope because of Jesus. I’m aware. But don’t get out ‘Jesus’ answers. Life is hard. Loss is awful. And I don’t know how God will redeem these things. I don’t see how I can even step forward in praising His goodness or waiting to see how He changes a bad thing into good. Because I don’t see how life could get any worse than these situations around me. I look at these things and say ‘There’s no way out’. These practical hands and feet of Jesus are useless. My human nature has taken over.

And then God whispers, in the midst of weeping: “Where there is no way I will make a way. Where no one else can reach you, I will find you.”

So guess what my job is? To tell them that. To say with my actions “where there is no way, HE will make a way. And I don’t know how. But He will. He has to. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you.” Because, if I say that with only my words, I have failed to be Jesus. So, I fly out to be with my family. I cry with a child who misses his mommy. I make an unhealthy meal because it brings back only good memories of home. I stay an extra 10 minutes with a kid at bedtime to hear his thoughts. I spend a few extra dollars to buy the name brand shoes that a boy has never had before. I write a blog with their stories to honor their struggle. Most days I hesitate to tell them that “God will make a way” because no one even knows what that means in the middle of grief and trauma.

I’m learning that God’s love can heal more than I thought it could – the sadness, the despair, the trauma, the grief. I’m learning that my finite mind and empathy can’t always see beyond it all. I just need to do what I know God wants me to – love consistently, share in people’s pain, and let Him do the rest. He is good.

July 7th

July 7th is a pretty big day for Heidi and I. This year on July 7th, we celebrate 3 years of marriage as well as 1 year as employees at Thornwell. I have been blessed beyond comprehension by my wife, and we have both been blessed by Thornwell more than we could’ve imagined.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (‭Ruth‬ ‭1‬:‭16‬ NIV)

This verse was read at our wedding. Ever since I’ve known Heidi, I’ve known that she has a passion for traveling. She has always talked about going crazy places to do crazy things. That’s reason #1438 why I love her: She is always thinking about what is next, where we can go, and what we can do to advance God’s kingdom here on earth. She has incredible vision, and as much as I want her to just settle down and take a breath sometimes, our marriage is better, and I am better because she is constantly pushing us to be better.

When Trenton Livingston read that verse to our family and friends, I don’t think I took it seriously. I’ve been around enough to know that change is one of the only constants in this life. But I was a paramedic and she was a teacher. We were starting the process of buying a house. We had family and friends that we cared about. We were serving at our church locally and internationally. We were in a good place. But God being God, He called us out. He said “Hey, remember that verse that you picked for your wedding? Did you mean it? Will you really go where I go?” I guess for some reason I assumed that if we were going to move somewhere, it was going to be internationally. I figured that all of our family and friends were in Michigan and New York, and if we were going to follow God somewhere else, it would be to serve him in a different country. I was wrong. Really wrong.

This led us to Thornwell. Selling the house we had owned for less than a year, quitting jobs, having to tell family and friends that we were moving. There was a lot of confusion from others and uncertainty from us. There were a lot of questions and doubts about where we were going and what we were going to be doing and why.

July 7th is the day we began our Family Teacher training in Clinton, South Carolina. There is never enough training to prepare you for this job. This is primarily a ‘learn by doing’ job, and I feel like we have been mostly successful in doing that (another advantage to an EMS background.) Music is a big part of our lives, and during our transition down here, Oceans by Hillsong meant a lot to us, or at least to me. “You called me out upon the water. The great unknown, where feet may fail.” Taking this job felt very much like stepping out of a boat in the middle of a lake. We had no idea where we were going, what we would be doing, or if we would even survive down here (thanks to fire ants, I almost didn’t!) But, as per usual, God was faithful. There were plenty of times early on, and even still, that we felt like we were drowning, but he was always there to make sure we didn’t die. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” We’re in deep. We’re doing nitty gritty, hands and feet of God stuff. It’s not glamorous, not prosperous, often it’s not fun, but we’re doing it. We’re definitely deeper than our feet could ever wander. I didn’t even know that this job existed a year and a half ago, but now I’m in way over my head.

Another one of my favorite worship songs is How He Loves. I see God’s love every day when I look at my wife of 3 years. I see His love in the faces of the innocent lives He has called us to care for. If we can comprehend the tiniest sliver of how loved we are, then we don’t have a choice but to love others. I think the second verse of Oceans sums it all up really well, so I’ll end with that.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

–Mr. Jon