Over a series of three summers during college and graduate school, I was privileged to work at a medium-sized camp in the eastern hills of Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful experience to touch the lives of so many campers and to form lifelong friendships with the year-round staff and my fellow counselors.
Early in that first summer, one of the full-time staff invited all of us to his house for a devotional time. It made a deep impression that Rudy (not his real name) and his wife Violet (not her name) would go to the effort and invite us to get away from the camp for a while in their home.
The more I worked with Rudy and all the full-time staff, the more I saw his huge heart for God and for others. In one situation, I saw him working with one of my campers who was more than I could handle. Patiently, lovingly, and filled with God’s Word, Rudy touched that child’s life and started to deal with some of the core issues. Some people wear off their testimony, but others grow on you; and that’s what Rudy and Violet did.
At one point Rudy shared with a group of us that he and Violet had tried to have children for almost a decade, but weren’t able. So they told us they were going through the adoption process and kept us updated. At some point in the following school year, Rudy called with the thrilling news that the adoption agency had located a child for them. But within months, the birth mother changed her mind, and Rudy and Violet went home to grieve in an empty house.
The second summer I worked there, Rudy and Violet again got called. A young teen was expecting a little girl, but didn’t want it. They visited the birth mother and endured numerous other evaluations of their home and their suitability for a child. But even these hurdles seems tiny compared to their joy.
After birth, the mother transferred the papers to my friends. To say they were ecstatic is too tame a word. They instantly became the godly parents we had observed every summer as they worked with campers and counselors. They were happier than I’ve ever seen them.
A couple of months into the following school year, I again got a call from Rudy. He explained that Pennsylvania had a law allowing a birth mother a certain number of weeks/months to reconsider. If she changes her mind during that period, it cancels the adoption. Their baby had only been with them for four to six months, but the teen mother decided she wanted to try to raise her daughter.
Again, we were all in shock and aching for our friends. After having a baby and creating a family home, Rudy and Violet now had to pack up their nursery things and pass back the daughter who had been “theirs” since her birth.
Many of us questioned God’s goodness and His justice. Here was a young couple dedicating themselves to ministry, praying for a child, but investing themselves in other people’s children. Rudy, on the other hand, tried to help all of US work through our grief for them.
During my third and last summer of camp work, Rudy shared that they had once again been contacted with the possibility of an adopted child. This time they were still excited, but more reserved. The extra exciting thing we learned was that this was going to be a little boy–the perfect match for a Christian School teacher who was also a die-hard sports coach and fan!
We prayed about it all summer, and then kept in touch often to make sure nothing had gone wrong. Nothing did…and little Michael has now been a part of the family for almost 20 years!
But less than a year after Michael arrived, Rudy called with news of Violet. During some testing the doctors had found a mass in her abdomen. It turned out to be cancer with limited treatment options, given its progression. I wept with Rudy on the phone and again prayed and wrestled with God. It just seemed that this couple DESERVED better from the God, Who had already tested their faith in heart-broking ways.
Violet endured multiple treatments, surgeries, nutrition regimens, and medicines, but the cancer continued to grow. All in all, Violet had about three years more with Rudy and Michael.
When I heard that she was close to finishing her race and had been moved to a facility that tries to make terminal patients as comfortable as possible during their last days (otherwise known as “palliative care,” I called Rudy to let him know they were constantly in our prayers.
Even as the phone on his end rang, I began sobbing. Rudy picked up, we cried together, and I asked about Violet and Michael.
Rudy shared something on the phone that I will never forget. He said that he and Michael had just been down to the little stream on the property, because Rudy felt he needed to help Michael prepare for Violet’s Homegoing as best he could. After talking about Mommy going to live with God and being free from any more pain, Michael asked simply: “Are we going to be OK without her, Daddy?” Rudy answered, “Yes,” but Michael immediately asked how his dad knew that so certainly. Rudy said he started internal panic prayer for the right answer. Then God gave it to him.
“Michael, I know we’re going to be OK because God loves us, and everything that touches us is filtered through Him, to make sure it’s good for us.” A short paused punctuated the conversation; then Michael looked up at his dad, satisfied, and said: “You’re right; we’re going to be OK with a God like that.”
That thought has often come back to me in hardship and many times in my own illness. I pray it’s a thought that will change your life, too–whether people have hurt you, illness stalks you, or you daily wake to face disablement, Go back and read the first two chapters of Job, Christian. Read them well. Note Satan’s destructive, malicious intent, and then note that Satan could have never touched Job’s family, wealth, position, and body, unless God allowed it and intended good for Job through it.
Remember this blessing of being a Christian: Nothing can touch our lives unless it has first come through God.
(In Memory of Violet Soane–a friend, a Godly example, a wonderful wife and mother, and an ongoing inspiration to trust God’s hand and timing.)