How God Redirected Our Steps
“Dad, how do you tell your kids that their mommy died?” My son sobbed on the phone. His children were six, four, two, and two months old. I had no answer except, “I will be there tomorrow.” I booked the earliest flight the next day to Salt Lake City.
Our daughter-in-law, Maggie, had been having difficulty breathing since giving birth to their fourth child, and it just seemed to get worse. She finally went to Urgent Care, and they immediately put her in an ambulance to the hospital. That night Maggie’s heart stopped beating for a short time. This was serious.
The next morning the doctors diagnosed her condition as peripartum cardiomyopathy. This rare disease, which occurs during pregnancy or immediately after delivery, weakens the heart muscle and causes the heart to become enlarged. The doctors knew that the damage to the heart was irreversible and often fatal, but some had lived with it for many years. Maggie seemed to have a good chance of surviving because of her age and health. She was only 29 years old.
My wife, Marnie, flew to Utah to help the family. During the week Maggie seemed to be getting better and there was hope that she could leave the hospital in a few days. But as soon as Marnie got to Michael’s house the hospital called to say that Maggie had gone into cardiac arrest and to get there as soon as possible. Maggie never revived. A blood clot from the lung had gone into her heart, and because it was already weak it couldn’t recover.
She died January 7, 2017, which was also their daughter Leah’s second birthday. This was when Michael called me in total shock. He had thought that Maggie would recover. We had a lot of questions: What was God thinking? How do we go on from here?
Marnie and I had come home to the United States in 2011 after spending more than 30 years ministering in Asia, mostly in South Korea and Mongolia. We began the process of finding a new role in The Navigators. For all of our married life we had either been preparing to live overseas or living there. That was our identity. Now who were we? We attempted to get connected in a couple of different ministries, but there didn’t seem to be a crying need for us to fill. Yet we wanted to be relevant and fruitful as long as God gave us opportunity.
As I would spend time with God, He kept bringing up the idea of influencing the next generations. I was struck by verses like this one, “We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78:4).
Nav Encore leader Bob Reusser had asked us, “Where are your grandchildren?” He said that often as we get older, grandchildren can be a great avenue of ministry. In the fall of 2015 we began to seriously consider a move to where our grandchildren were and begin a new phase of ministry. Within a month we sold our house in Arizona and moved to Bakersfield, California, to be near our daughter and her family. We bought a house near them. We found a good church and were just beginning to make relationships.
Yet I’m reminded of the proverb, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NLT). Our plans were all laid out. We hadn’t really considered moving to Salt Lake City to be near Michael and his family. Then January 2017 came along—and God determined our steps. It wasn’t our plan to move to Utah, not even our desire, but now we see that it is the right place for us at this time.
Being with our grandchildren is physically demanding, especially for these grandparents in their seventies. But we are truly getting to invest in the next generation. Marnie is thriving in her new role, and I’m enjoying raising grandchildren with a lot more hands-on activity than I ever had with our own children.
We are experiencing the joy of the Scriptures speak of, “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green” (Psalm 92:14, NLT).