Joy in God’s Unexpected Plan
JOY IN GOD’S UNEXPECTED PLAN
By Robyn Shelton
“It became clear in our minds that this was God’s plan for us. We knew it and we couldn’t deny it. We knew that following God’s plan for our family wouldn’t be easy, but that it would ultimately bring our family the most happiness.”
Tears rushed down my face and I lay curled on the floor of what was supposed to be my son’s nursery. Why did this have to happen to me? Doesn’t God trust me to be a mom? Didn’t He know how much I wanted this and that I had everything planned? Didn’t He know that I was supposed to be rocking my newborn baby boy instead of feeling the emptiness that comes with loss? This wasn’t supposed to happen to me! I dreamt of being a mom my whole life. I wanted motherhood more than anything. My “due date” had come and gone, and instead of holding my baby I was mourning the loss of my sweet Collin. He was born too early and lived for 3 short days. Those 3 days he spent in the NICU, while I lay recovering from my C-section. I had so much hope! I had faith. I believed that God could do miracles and that my Collin would beat the odds. I couldn’t deny that God was in control and even though I didn’t understand why this heartbreak was part of my journey, I knew that God had a plan for me and my family. But even knowing that didn’t take away my pain, and it didn’t stop me from crying out to God for strength and answers. Through those many tears and many prayers I felt peace — peace that I would feel happiness again, and peace that I would have the opportunity to raise children.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
Fast forward 7 ½ years and I had 3 beautiful children at home, Ethan, Kenidee and Eleanor. My pregnancy journey with each one of them was challenging at times. I spent countless nights in the hospital, on bed rest, and had 3 more c-sections all one month early. I dealt with the fear that my new babies would be taken from me in the middle of the night, and I would pray for angels and their big brother Collin to watch over them so that I could find enough peace to close my eyes and sleep. These 3 brought so much joy and happiness to our home. I loved being a mom. Yes it was overwhelming and hard, but also joyous and fun.
During this time my husband’s brother divorced his wife, who was making poor choices in her life. As a result, he received full custody of their two children, Emma and James. However, because of serious medical challenges, caring for his children became very difficult. Ultimately, he moved in with my mother and father-in-law to receive help caring for Emma and James. As time went on, it became apparent to me and my husband that this wasn’t a sustainable, long-term solution for Emma and James or my mother and father-in-law.
Emma and James were young, four and two, and my in-laws were already caring for several other family members. The feeling that Emma and James needed to join our family started growing in our hearts. We tried to ignore it and reason it away. You see life was good and we were happy! We had our hands full with a six, three and one year old. How would this possibly work? Five kids all within five years of each other! Wasn’t that crazy? How would I have the time to be a “good” mom and give each child the attention they needed? To add to the situation, James had some serious developmental delays. What if he never catches up? What if he acts like a baby forever? Can I really do that?
We couldn’t answer all or really any of these nerve wracking questions, but the feeling that they needed to live with us continued to fill our hearts. We knew that God had blessed us both throughout our lives. Chris had a successful career that enabled us to financially care for additional children. We had a deep and meaningful relationship with each other, one that took work to develop over the years, but provided us with love and confidence in each other. I felt blessed with a strength in mothering to find so much joy, happiness, and fulfillment. Ultimately, we both felt like we could help our family and provide our sweet niece and nephew with a life filled with love and happiness.
As a teenager, I received a blessing from a Patriarch in my church. A line from that blessing rang in my head and heart through this time of decision, “where much has been given much is required.” We knelt in prayer together asking God if this was right. We wanted to be sure. We wanted to make sure our children would thrive and still feel the love and attention they needed. We talked to our kids. They were so sweet and so excited with the idea. We told them they would need to share their toys and their mom and dad and they said “We will!!” with huge smiles. It became clear in our minds that this was God’s plan for us. We knew it and we couldn’t deny it. We knew that following God’s plan for our family wouldn’t be easy, but that it would ultimately bring our family the most happiness.
Fast forward six months to my 29th birthday and I sat rocking my inconsolable nephew singing songs and praying he would finally lay down and sleep in his crib. We officially received permanent guardianship of Emma and James the day before and I was overwhelmed! Again, I questioned. How was taking in two additional kids, one with significant delays going to make me happy? What was I thinking?! What was God thinking?! Didn’t He know that this was too much? I couldn’t do it! I didn’t feel happy; I only felt stressed and overwhelmed. James required so much attention. He couldn’t talk and constantly whined. He had nights of screaming for hours on end. I was thrown up on a few times from those crying fits. For those first few weeks he never left my side. He would act out and hit my baby and himself. The two of them fought for attention and fought to be the baby. I tried so hard to maintain my sanity. Some days I just lost it and bawled my eyes out in the shower.
For the first few months, Emma cried every time she came back to our house after visiting her parents. She questioned why she had to live with us and through her tears she told us she missed her mom and dad. It broke our hearts to see her with so much heartache. She acted out with tantrums over the tiniest things. The days and weeks and months continued on in such a blur. I had breakdown after breakdown as I tried desperately to mother five little kids six and under. I felt moments of anxiety going to bed knowing I would most likely wake up tired, and knowing I wouldn’t be able to rest again until bedtime. Through it all, I cried to God for strength and peace to know that God had a plan for me and my family. Every time I felt an undeniable sense of love and peace that this is what I was supposed to be doing — loving His precious children as He does.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Ever so slowly we were able to adjust. The routine and consistency Emma and James craved so desperately was started to show rewards. James has been learning to talk and his behavior has drastically improved. Emma is flourishing in school. She has been learning to do hard things and has been learning she can depend on us. There are still rough patches along the way but here we are a year and a half since Emma and James joined our family and over nine years since my baby boy, Collin, passed away and we are happy. Life isn’t perfect. And I still have moments where I wonder why this had to be God’s plan for my motherhood journey. It isn’t what I would have chosen for myself, but despite that I feel so fulfilled. I know I am doing what God wants me to do. Life is busy – oh so busy – and often times overwhelming, but more than anything, life is filled with joy. Joy in the little moments when all five kids are gathered around while we read stories, or wrestle and laugh with dad. Joy when I get five big hugs and I love yous each morning and night. And so much joy in knowing that God has always been watching over me and my family and guiding us down our path of happiness.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience, and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Romans 5: 1-5