“So what did you think…what do you think of that old house at Oldfather Lake?” Jas peppered Junia with questions about the house on their drive back home. Did she like the kitchen, the herb garden on the patio…she wondered what he was up to. Of course she liked the house. Who wouldn’t like a countryside mansion? It wasn’t a mansion by some of the elite’s definitions, but four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and fireplace; and a kitchen with a maid’s quarters…to Junia it is a mansion.
“I think the house is lovely in every way, except…except it tempts me to not appreciate what I already have at home. That would be the only complaint I have about that house. But a wonderful retreat. We’ll have to think of a special thank-you gift to send to Farmer Johnson.”
Her answer seemed to satisfy Jas. He was rather quiet the rest of the way home. Junia knew he was in deep thought about something, something she decided not to probe about just yet. Time to reflect and pray on her own.
The Jaspers prayed daily for their children and now they added to it the need for Ryan to find a new job. Caitlin thought about looking for work too, but that could get complicated now with three kids and even perhaps another baby on the way. Anyway, Caitlin had her own business and had been working from home. She and her brother, John had learned the art of carpentry from their Dad. And even though she had gone to college, got her Business degree and worked for a corporation, actually the same company where Ryan had worked, she loved working with wood. When she and Ryan had married and bought their first house, and without extra money to buy nice furniture, she took her carpentry skills a step further and learned to make furniture, custom made furniture for their own house. To her it was an art. Friends who had visited their home would ask about the furniture and Caitlin had blushed to say she had made it. Then starting with a few orders from friends and then word-of-mouth, orders for her furniture multiplied. Caitlin quit working at the corporation and began working in her studio at home to fulfill orders she received by phone or online. She specialized in oak furniture, either her own design or custom made orders. This venture made enough money to cover the costs of materials, tools and her time, but wasn’t enough to cover all the bills. And since the kids had arrived, she had postponed orders, at least until the kids would be in school. But now that Ryan was home, she began working in her studio again and put the word out that she was open for business with the hope that the extra income would be enough, along with Ryan’s unemployment benefit, until something else opened up for them. The something else being a mystery, yet with a hopeful trust in a faithful heavenly father who always provides. Ryan enjoyed the time at home with Caitlin and the kids. Transition from manager to full-time Dad, from office environment to kitchen and playground, from production reports to story time and games, was definitely a refreshing contrast to his routine. Something he secretly reveled in. And Caitlin secretly worked on making a baby crib, just in case they were soon assigned, as foster parents, to care for a newborn baby in addition to the kids they already had. The three they had would be with them for at least another year, maybe longer, if God willed. Both, Ryan and Caitlin felt content in their new role as foster parents. For several years they had tried to have their own children, however, God had other plans for them. They had never received affirmation from God about offering up their lives to be missionaries in a foreign land, yet when the opportunity came to offer up their lives to be parents to needy children, the confirmation came, along with the peace. And now they would just have to trust God for his provision.
“Now, may the God of peace…equip you with all you need for doing his will…” Hebrews 13:20-21
Summer days, busy with household projects, visiting the new grandkids, weekend campouts, fishing, swimming, backyard cook-outs with neighbors, quickly passed by until it seemed suddenly autumn had arrived. The Jaspers enjoyed their new lifestyle as retirees, especially having grandchildren close by. Even if the new grandchildren could be just a temporary addition to their family, they had decided not to think about that and love them like their own. Their other grandchild, Jenna, lived far away in Colorado, the teenage daughter of eldest son John and his wife Lynette. They kept up with her on Facebook, where she posted pictures of herself with friends and occasionally surprise candid pictures of her parents. John had left home many years ago to attend Colorado State University to study forestry and there he had met his wife, Lynette. His wife often said in jest that John fell in love with Colorado first and her second, so if she had to move he would divorce her and since divorce is not an option, then it was Colorado until heaven. Then John would mock saying that surely heaven must be somewhat like Colorado.
One thing that hadn’t changed with retirement was Jas’ annual physical, something that Jun never forgot to schedule with their family doctor. He would always grumble and complain and say I’m too sick to go to the doctor. But Junia would smirk and reply that liars don’t go to heaven and it’s just a routine check-up so that she wouldn’t have to worry that he’d go to heaven too soon.
And then the day and the hour arrived when he was once again sitting in the doctor’s office, getting restless and annoyed by the wait. Finally, the nurse ushered him to a private room, did the preliminary tests and then after another short wait the doctor did his routine exam. Doctor Paul had been his family’s physician since Jas was a young man. He admired Doctor Paul, an immigrant from India, who said that from age ten he had wanted to be a doctor in America, therefore in addition to all his academics, he studied English language to attend medical school in the United States. He had gained the Jasper family’s respect and trust over the years. Jas noticed Doctor Paul’s hair seemed thinner and whiter, but still matched his mustache perfectly. Doctor peered out over the top of his reading glasses to look Jas straight in the eye and said, “I think we need more tests on the upper respiratory, lungs and heart. Other than that you look good to go. Do you have any concerns we need to look into?”
Jas squirmed a bit, not sure if he wanted to ask. But, he pointed to the back of his neck, to a bump that had gotten larger. Doctor Paul examined it, left for a moment and then came back with a kit to extract a tissue sample to test for cancer. “We’ll get the results back in a few days. Probably not anything to worry about. Suspect it’s just a lot of sun over the years, but we’ll see.”
The doctor’s calm manner reassured Jas as he warned him the test would bite a bit…to hold on. Bite it did, like a giant wasp sting. On his way out, the nurse smiled and in an effort to humor him, handed him a lollipop along with his next appointment card. “This is what the big kids get when they have an owy.”
Jaz grinned and said thank you, then sighed with relief as he walked out the door, glad to have another annual exam over with. Except this time he had more tests to do, an appointment for tests on his heart. Smack-a-doodle…I wanted to surprise Jun with a trip to Branson that week, before it gets colder…oh well, maybe another time.
“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”
One crisp, cool autumn morning in October, God sent baby Ava, a newborn just a few days old, to Caitlin and Ryan. With bitter-sweet emotions, their social worker brought the sleeping baby, bundled in blankets, and carefully placed her in Caitlin’s arms. Baby Ava needed a safe environment, relief from her real parent’s painful situation, a chance to be healthy in every way. She gave the new parents some helpful instruction and informational resources for additional help if needed. Then she visited with them about the boys, who at the moment were in school, delighted about their progress, that they were happy and doing well; expressing her confidence that baby Ava would be well cared for too.
This memorable first day, reserved for full attention from parents to baby, to comfort and attend to every little need, proved the social worker right in her confidence. The new parents took turns with bottle feeding, burping, diaper changing and rocking her to sleep. Caitlin cuddled baby Ava, softly singing or reading to her. She observed baby’s natural routine to establish a schedule that would make baby Ava feel loved, comfortable and cherished.
Soon the boys were home from school, and then they too, gave their full attention to baby Ava, holding her for a moment and introducing themselves. They giggled about her tiny fingers and toes. The proud, protective, older brothers made Jazzy a little jealous for all the attention baby Ava was stealing from him. He scratched on the door to go out and then retrieved a ball from the corner of the yard. When the boys played ball with Jazzy, and then gave him a doggy treat, all was forgiven.
A few days later, the Grands came to meet baby Ava too, bringing gifts for all, even Jazzy. Junia presented a baby blanket and booties that she had crocheted and promised a crocheted doll later, after it was finished. Jas brought her a fuzzy teddy bear that played music when squeezed. They also gave Caitlin and Ryan a gift card to help out with whatever else they needed. Also, a new board game for the kids and a toy for Jazzy. Ryan happily said he felt like it was an early Christmas and maybe they should sing carols and put up a tree.
But after all the cuddling and picture taking, baby Ava began to tire and fuss so Caitlin rocked her to sleep. Then they all feasted on pizza and bread sticks the Grands had picked up at a deli and a salad Junia had made at home. With Ryan’s permission, Denver surprised everyone by making root beer floats from the root beer the Grands had brought and vanilla ice-cream he had found in the freezer. Jas wanted to encourage Denver in his thoughtful endeavor so he secretly slipped him a five dollar tip, pretending he was at a restaurant and Denver had been a good server that afternoon. Denver’s face lit up with joy from the compliment.
After the table was cleared, Benjie and Corby set up the new board game, Denver joined in and then begged Jas to join them because they needed one more player. Jas chuckled and whispered loudly, “Just one game, then we have to go, because Grand Jun, you know she’s old, and she needs a nap.”
Junia chuckled. “I heard that and that’s okay, blame it on me, but we all know that it’s you who needs the nap, otherwise you get cranky.”
Everyone laughed because they knew it was true, but they loved him anyway.
From baby Ava’s shoes, the first few weeks with her new family, must have been quite traumatic, emotionally and physically. Many times she cried till she turned red all over. The only peaceful time for her was when bottle feeding or sleeping, but she didn’t sleep as long as she should. Caitlin tried the therapies the social worker had recommended, salt water baths, massages with baby oil, keeping her bundled in blankets, cuddling her, soft music and her own therapy, prayer.
Baby Ava’s first week had been most trying for all. She slept for just one short hour before waking with a startling cry and then wearing herself out from being out of breath. It was painful to watch and frustrating, not knowing what her cry was about. Was she in pain, was she frightened, was she sick? Oh, how they wished she could tell them. They had tried several routines to soothe her. Ryan prayed while Caitlin held her, rocked her, or patted her back in case there was a bubble in her tummy. Still crying, maybe she was hungry. Bottle feeding helped for a few minutes, but then, crying again. Tried burping her again. No, still crying. Next, salt water bath. No, she cried more. They rubbed her with the baby oil, dressed her in the softest flannel gown, wrapped her up in three soft cotton blankets, all tucked in so only her face was showing, held her again, rocking her, finally she went to sleep, but only because she was worn out from crying. Then again she slept only an hour before waking up again crying. They had taken her temperature, which was very difficult while she was crying. But, her temperature was normal, even with all the blankets she had wrapped around her. They had called their family doctor and explained the symptoms. Dr. Paul asked if there was drainage from her ear. Caitlin checked both ears and no drainage. Then Dr. Paul recommended a small amount of baby Tylenol and to place a warm drop of olive oil in each ear and then bring her into the office if the crying continued.
Ryan went to the store and purchased baby Tylenol, olive oil and baby formula. He decided to try a different brand of formula, even though it was more expensive. He bought a pacifier too, even though Caitlin promised to never get Ava started on one. Almost, out of the baby isle and his eye glanced at baby lotion with lavender, soothing to baby, it said on the label. He grabbed one. He was for trying everything to help baby Ava get better.
When he arrived home, he found Caitlin asleep on the couch, baby Ava sleeping soundly, tummy side down, cushioned on top of all her blankets. He tip-toed across the room to take a closer look at the peaceful scene and smiled at something new, the sight of little Ava with her thumb in her mouth. No need for the pacifier he had just bought. He quietly went to his room to nap himself, before the kids came home from school. He and Caitlin had to nap whenever the baby napped, because it was the only time they could sleep, even for just an hour. Everyone in their household became exhausted from weeks without normal sleep. The kids had trouble staying awake at school. Denver came home with cold or flu symptoms and went right to bed. He had been sent to the school nurse when he fell asleep with his head down on his desk and when the teacher felt his forehead warm with possible fever, she sent him to the school nurse who called for Ryan to come pick him up from school because he was sick. Then whatever it was, Benjie and Corby came down with it too.
Denver trudged into the kitchen one morning, with a tissue over is mouth. “Caitlin, can I, uh sorry, may I have some hot chocolate for my sore throat.”
Caitlin smiled but continued busily preparing breakfast for everyone. “Hot tea would be better. Want to try it? I’ll put some lemon in it.” He nodded his head. “Deni, when did you last take your Nyquil, maybe it’s time to take another dose?”
“I think it was last night.” He coughed a little, covering his mouth with the tissue. Caitlin gave him the Nyquil bottle. “Here, take another dose from that measuring cap on the top. Remember, to that first line in the cup. I’ll bring you a tray with hot tea and some breakfast in just a bit…Are Benjie and Corby awake too?”
“They’re still asleep, I think. I’ll check.” Denver being the eldest brother at age ten had the responsibility of watching over Benjie, who was age eight and Corby who was now age six. They all shared the same large bedroom, furnished with furniture Caitlin had made, four bunk beds, each stacked one on top of the other with a ladder for climbing up to the top, a tall chest of drawers for clothing and personal items and two desks for doing homework. He found his brothers awake and needing some Nyquil too. He washed the dispenser cap and gave a dose to both brothers and told them to stay in bed, except for the necessaries, then reported to Caitlin, breakfast and tea for three.
Fortunately, Caitlin, Ryan and baby Ava had not come down with the colds that the kids had. Caitlin made hot tea, bagels with cream cheese and orange slices for all the boys and took it to them on a tray so that they could stay in bed. She touched each forehead with her hand to check for fever and then tousled their hair. “Getting better, fever all gone. Here, Deni and Benjie sit at the desk to have your breakfast and Corby you sit on the floor pillow over here. Then Deni if you will bring the tray with the dishes back to the kitchen after your done, I will appreciate it. Then, everyone get back to bed and sleep or read.
Jazzy and Rusty had gone out to their place in the kitchen for their morning meal and then out to the back yard, but right back in to sleep on the floor of the boys’ room. There was a week when the whole family was home and in bed trying to sleep, except when baby Ava was awake and crying.
The Grands stepped in to help. They offered to take care of baby Ava for a few days so the family could catch up on rest. But, Caitlin didn’t want baby Ava taken out of her new environment yet, they wanted her to adjust and feel secure in her new home, in case that was the reason for the crying. So after the boys had recovered from their colds, the Grands invited them to stay over for a long weekend, so they could sleep and rest.
Jas set up an old Nintendo game system that his son, John had used when he was a teenager. The boys had great fun playing Mario Brothers, then they watched some movies and made popcorn in the fireplace. Junia enlisted their help with putting together a home-made pizza and then making Snickerdoodle cookies. The plan worked, the boys slept late Saturday and Sunday morning, refreshed from ten hours of sleep each night, even so, they made it to their church for eleven o’clock worship. Caitlin and Ryan had been worshiping from home the past few weeks, waiting for baby Ava to adjust before exposing her to another new environment. Usually on Sundays, Caitlin and Ryan had been taking the boys to their own church, a different church than their parent’s church, a smaller neighborhood church, with young families. The boys had been going to children’s church while their parents attended the worship service in the sanctuary.
“Grand Jas, why not a puppet story in church today?” Corby asked as they walked back to the car after the service.
Jas chuckled along with Denver and Benjie. “I don’t know. It’s a good idea. Is that what they have at Caitlin’s church?”
“Yeah! They have puppets telling Bible stories.”
“Wow, can I go to church with you next time?” Jas asked in jest. Junia smiled and shook her head no.
But Corby was serious when he said, “I don’t know, I’ll ask Caitlin, I think it’s just for kids.”
Eventually, little Ava began sleeping more like a newborn infant should, her cries became normal newborn fussing from hunger or uncomfortable stomach bubbles or wet diaper, and then she rewarded Caitlin with a smile one day. That little smile was worth all the sleepless nights and frazzled days and hopefully the beginning of better days for baby Ava. This hope she had in her heart for all the kids, a hope for them to know God, to prepare them for adulthood and life’s journey, to walk with the Savior.
(To continue reading: Return to Menu + Select Chapter Four)
This story is a fictionalization. Any mention of historical events, people and places are used fictitiously and any likeness to actual events, places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.