In the middle of it all, there He was. He wasn’t there to take it away. He wasn’t there to fix the problem. He wasn’t there to rescue.
But God was there.
He was there with gifts to remind me of His presence, of His care, of His deep love for me.
The day of TR's accident we adopted a dog. We were people who swore for years and years that we weren’t really dog people, not really up for the challenges of dog ownership. And there we were in that pet shop signing paperwork and picking out toys and food and a kennel. And bringing a dog home.
It had started weeks earlier when we were moving into the new house at Camp and I just got a weird feeling. This house needs a dog. It took me by surprise and when I told Darin he just laughed. But a few days later when he learned about the neighborhood cougars, and saw the size of their paws in a patch of fresh-fallen snow, he was joining me in saying, this house needs a dog.
We set out some parameters: we wanted a rescue pup, we weren’t interested in a puppy, it needed to be big enough to not be eagle food, but small enough not to overwhelm small children. And what narrowed down our search even further: it needed to be hypoallergenic as Darin has a bunch of pet allergies. We researched breeds, narrowed things down, and checked the local humane societies daily, if not more frequently.
One day she popped up: a sweet Airdale Terrier, Australian Shepherd mix named Pretty Girl. She looked perfect on paper and the next day after church we headed to the Humane Society to meet her. Unfortunately, we were too late and she had already been adopted. We thought it might be fun to meet the other shelter dogs, but with all the barking and unfamiliar animals it turned out to be really stressful on Daisy and Dani. So Darin took the baby to visit the small dogs and us girls made friends with some kittens. Then we washed our hands well and headed home, disappointed but realistic.
Several weeks later, there she was again. Only this time she wasn’t called Pretty Girl, but instead listed as Adella. It was a Thursday night when Darin spotted her online and we made plans to check her out the very next day. I had a doctor’s appointment for the baby, so Dani and I took him to the hospital while Darin went to Petco to meet Adella.
He called me after about 20 minutes and told me that Dani and I needed to meet the dog. So after the appointment and some lunch, we all went back to Petco. Darin had spent quite a bit of time with the dog and had pet her like crazy, then rubbed his hands all over his face and eyes. He was not going to take a chance that he was allergic. She was a sweet pup, if a bit stinky, and turns out she was also very athletic. Her previous adoption had failed due to her jumping the family’s 6-foot fence, so the humane society volunteer was overly cautious about our potential adoption. But after several hours with her and another volunteer, they let us sign the paperwork, write a check, and take her home.
Turns out this dog, who we quickly started calling Gypsy, was the perfect dog for our family. She has just the right amount of energy and spunk, she adores the kids, she loves to run free along our beach, she is a gift. She gave us someone to love and cuddle and care for in the days and weeks following our loss of TR. She gave us a reason to laugh and to play and to get outside the house and away from our misery.
We adopted Gypsy on the day TR had his accident. I do not believe that is a coincidence. I believe that is our Holy and Loving God knowing the massive trial ahead for us, and giving us something to help us make it through. If you had told me 9 months ago that a dog would be a daily reminder of God’s provision, I would have laughed you out of the room. And yet, that’s exactly what this crazy bundle of fur became for us. And remains as well.
TR had his accident on a Friday. We filled out and submitted an incident report and kept a close eye on him. Four days later we hosted his social worker and our case manager for their regular health and safety visits. We met his new social worker for the first time that Tuesday afternoon.
Seven days after his accident we no longer had him in our care and our foster license was suspended. Nine days after his accident we found ourselves in the middle of criminal and licensing investigations. An investigator sat in our living room taking down the locations of our children so that she could pull them from their classrooms in order to interview them.
We were walking through the fire, we were watching our life burn up around us. And while the flames were licking at our flesh, we were protected. We were protected by all the people who had seen our TR after his accident. By a brand-new social worker who, after two hours in our home, believed we were valuable and trustworthy foster parents. If there was a side to be on, other than the side of truth, everyone around us was on our side.
There is no coincidence in the people who sat with us and interacted with sweet TR in the days following the accident. God was providing for us once again in keeping us safe.
The investigator interviewed our children several days before she came back for a crazy-intense and entirely stressful interview of Darin and me. As she gathered her notes before beginning, she smiled at a memory of sitting across from Dani earlier in the week.
“That Dani, wow,” she said. “Talking with her was like interviewing an 8-year-old. That is the most articulate four-year-old I have ever encountered.”
The investigator then continued on to share with us that at the conclusion of her interview she had asked Dani if Dani had any questions for her.
“Why yes, I do” Dani had responded.
Then the child proceeded to turn every question back on the investigator.
“How many people are in your family?”
“What is your favorite thing to do?”
“What happens when you get in trouble?”
“Do you have enough to eat at your house?”
And this one, the kicker, “Is there anything that scares you at your house?”
For the rest of her life, when I talk about our Dani, this is a story I will tell. She took an intimidating and downright scary woman, and made her a human. She took the opportunity given to ask questions, and asked them.
Maybe she thought it was a game?
Either way, for me, it brought some levity, some lightness. When I share the whole story of losing TR, with all the myriad of painful twists and turns, this moment in the story brings joy. It brings laughter. And anyone who knows Dani at all just nods right along with us. Yup, that is our Dani girl.
I thank God for her.
And for laughter.
In the middle of the deep and dark grief, I wanted to stay in the dark. I wanted to board up the windows and lock the doors and keep my little family inside. Keep us safe. No one in and no one out and we might avoid this kind of pain ever happening again.
There were some phone calls. There were some knocks on the door. There were some meals delivered. There were people waiting and wondering, will she board up the windows or will she come into the light?
And there, in a block of 5 days on our calendar, was a trip. A trip that had been planned months before when I told my best friends that I missed them and needed to get some dates down in pen. A trip that was extended when Darin had a work thing happening that direction as well.
There are few people I know as well as Jen and Amy. Few people I trust my full story with the way I do these two. Few people who would sit with me and hand me tissues and just let me talk when I need to talk and sob when I need to sob. Who will wipe away their own tears when they can pull their hands away from the grip they have on mine.
My whole heart believes those dates set aside to be another of God’s blessed provisions. The three of us girls have busy schedules, but in the middle of the gathering dark there was the time and space for them to gently lead me towards the light. I wanted to hide, but instead I got to run to them.
And there was still more. Because in the middle of the drive home I got a text from Jen saying she didn’t feel like she’d been able to give me enough of her time that weekend and that her husband had told her to buy a plane ticket. So she was booking the ticket right then and wanted to make sure it would work for her to come spend a few days with us in Indianola. I tried to hold back the tears as I couldn’t type YES! fast enough.
I wanted to let the grief consume me. But instead God used these two women and their precious families to step in and remind me that there is so much beauty and goodness and hope and joy in this world. He is the source of it all, but He lets us speak it and show it to one another. He is so good.
When I first wrote about what was happening, I looked forward to the day I would be on the other side of crushing grief. On the other side where God’s faithfulness had won out and I was rejoicing once again.
Now I wonder if there is another side to be found at all. Instead, I am living in the “after.” I am a different person. I can’t tell this story without tears. I can’t look at pictures without grief. I don’t know if I ever will.
And that is OK.
I’m learning not to ask “why?” I’m learning to ask “what?” What is it God, you want me to take from all of this? What do you want me to learn about you from all of this? What do you want to do in me and through me because of this?
I am learning the first of the answers: God is faithful. He equips those He calls. He provides protection, and comfort, and joy, and community.
And while the storm rages, I will always, always look for Him.
He is there.
He is here.