In Isaiah chapter 41, the word of God tells us in verse 10:
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
A good friend of mine shared that passage with me in the midst of a very a difficult time that my wife and I were going through in the spring of 2012. In mid-April of that year, our daughter disappeared, along with our granddaughter who was only three years old at the time. We had no idea where they were. While we didn’t believe any sort of foul play was involved, it was, nonetheless, on the back of our minds. The worst part was not knowing. I latched onto those words from Isaiah, especially the last part: “I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” At the time however, we didn’t feel victorious.
Our daughter had been dealing with some emotional problems, and there were other issues I won’t go into. So when they went missing, my wife and I decided to seek custody of our granddaughter. We retained an attorney and in turn, he referred us to a private investigator whose services were also retained. We spent the next few weeks tracking down leads and checking out local addresses, thinking they were still in the area. And of course we prayed to God continually.
Six weeks into our ordeal, God began answering our prayers. We got the break we had been praying for. It was a small miracle and would be the first in a chain of events that, as I look back, could have only been orchestrated by the hand of God.
On the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day, my wife received a phone call from a young woman who identified herself as Amy. She said she was calling from Ontario, California and what she said next floored us! She said she had our granddaughter! She said our daughter suddenly showed up at her motel room and left our granddaughter in her care. Before our daughter left, Amy was able to get our phone number from her. I believe that was providential.
My wife and I both spoke to our little granddaughter on the phone. She was scared and confused as you might expect a three year old to be in that situation. After we determined that it was it was indeed her and not some sort of cruel hoax, we told her we were coming to get her. Unfortunately, we could not get a flight out that evening. It would have to wait until the following morning.
In Psalm 32 verse 8, the Word says:
“I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”
Again, looking back, I can see how God was guiding us. It was just hard to see in the moment. Unknown to my wife and me, God had set a chain of events in motion and was putting us exactly where we needed to be when we needed to be there. We were originally scheduled to fly to Ontario through San Jose but at the last minute, I found a flight to Ontario that made a connection in Las Vegas (with a stop in El Paso along the way) that would get us to Ontario an hour sooner. That one hour turned out to be very critical. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
As an airline employee, my wife and I get to fly for free (non-revving as it’s called). But if they need our seats for paying passengers, they’ll pull us off the plane and leave us wherever we happen to be. The flight to Vegas stopped in El Paso first and when we landed in El Paso, we just stayed on the plane. But the leg from El Paso to Las Vegas was nearly booked up so they started pulling the non-revs off the plane. All in all, there were 32 non-revs on the plane, including my wife and me, and one by one they started pulling non-revs off the plane to make room for paying passengers. I prayed. We needed to get to California. Of the 32 non-revs, they pulled 28 off the plane. My wife and I and one other couple got to continue on to Las Vegas. Thank you Lord for little things.
But when we landed in Las Vegas, that’s when it felt like everything started to fall apart. We got another phone call from Amy, this time with bad news. She said our granddaughter had been taken by Child Protective Services and was in foster care. It was, to us, the worst possible news and we were so dejected and discouraged that we considered turning around and going back home. But again God intervened.
My wife decided to call her brother’s wife who, as it so happened, used to be a social worker in California. She advised us to press on, if for no other reason than to gather as much information as possible from the authorities in California. Again, it’s easy to see in hindsight how this was another act of God and another link in the chain of events that God used to reunite us with our granddaughter. We pressed on.
Even though God was firmly in control and was showing us the right path, it didn’t feel that way at the time. In our state of mind, in the midst of the frustration we felt over having missed our granddaughter by just mere hours, it was hard to see that God had all of this firmly in hand. But He did. He was guiding our every step.
When we arrived in Ontario, my wife and I both felt compelled to go to that motel where our granddaughter had been just a few hours earlier, before CPS took her away. We knew she was gone, that she was in foster care, and neither of us thought it would do any good to go there. But we just knew we had to go there. I pulled into the parking lot, parked the car, and shut off the engine. I parked next to a row of shrubs that separated the motel parking lot from the parking lot of the office building next door. I happened to look up, and I recall looking through the shrubs and seeing a car that was the same color as our daughter’s Mustang. I looked closer, and I remember thinking, “There’s no way.” But there she was. It was our daughter’s car and she was sitting inside it! In this massively populated area; keep in mind Ontario is part of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area; we drove straight from the airport and parked almost directly in front of our daughter’s car. We were one parking spot over. It was not chance, luck, or coincidence. This was God. Who but the Holy Spirit could have prompted us to drive straight to that motel? Remember that one hour difference in our arrival time I mentioned earlier? If we had arrived an hour later as originally planned, we likely would have never found our daughter. There’s no telling where she would have been.
Our daughter was not in good shape at all. She had fallen in with some bad people and she was in a bad place. And when I say a bad place, I’m not talking about Ontario. She had gotten herself mixed up with some bad stuff.
At first she didn’t want to talk, but over the course of the next few hours, we were able to coax some vital information from her. We learned that there was a hearing scheduled in juvenile court a few miles away in San Bernardino at 8:00 a.m. the following Wednesday morning. It was Saturday, it was Memorial Day weekend, and there was little else my wife and I could do. We found a different hotel and booked a room for the night, and returned to Texas the following day.
My wife and I both prayed countless times, asking God to bring our granddaughter back to us. Our faith had not wavered, but there was denying the difficulty of all this. We were overwhelmed. We didn’t know why these things were happening. We just knew we had been so close to finding our granddaughter, but we were going home empty handed. The flight back to Texas was very painful.
As I said, it was hard to see God’s hand in all of this at the time. Because of the human emotions, the frustration, the anger, the fear over what had become of our granddaughter, it was hard to see that was God was working all these things out. But this is sometimes to be expected, even for faithful followers of Christ.
God’s word tells us in Ecclesiastes chapter 11:
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
We certainly did not understand the work of God at this particular moment. But God does know our hearts and that is important when we are undergoing trials in life.
Before we left Ontario, I sent an email to Bryan, my Bible teacher, and told him that my wife and I might need some help. That was an understatement. I remember telling him plainly that “money is always helpful, but what we really need are two non-stop tickets from Dallas to Ontario.” As an employee of Southwest, yes, I can fly anywhere for free. But there’s always the possibility that we can be bumped and left stranded somewhere. It happens all the time. I know people who been left stranded at an airport for days. We could not, under any circumstances, get stranded somewhere and miss the juvenile court hearing. Judges don’t care for excuses. I was already thinking about these things as we prepared to fly home. I was hoping Bryan knew someone who had some frequent flier miles they could cash in and get us some tickets on an airline with non-stop flights from Dallas to Ontario.
When we arrived back at Love Field, there was a message on my phone from Bryan. He simply said, “Stop by my house on your way home. I have something for you and your wife.”
“Good.” I thought. “He has some tickets for us.”
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” This is recorded in the Gospel of John at the very beginning of chapter 14. Yet, even though Jesus said those words, and I recited them over and over many times, how can you not be troubled when you don’t know where your three year old grandchild is? Yes, she was with a foster family, but what kind of people were they?
When we arrived at Bryan’s house that Sunday afternoon, he and his wife greeted us and invited us in. Bryan handed us a large manila envelope. At first I thought it was kind of thick for two plane tickets. I don’t know to this day how he did it in such a short period of time, but he had taken up a collection for us and in the envelope was nearly two thousand dollars! Plus, he said the church was going to buy our tickets for our return trip to Ontario.
Before we left his house, Bryan prayed a very specific prayer and I’ll go into more detail about that later.
In that same chapter of the Book of John, Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide. And in times of trouble, I believe the Holy Spirit guides others on our behalf. Before returning to Texas that Sunday, I also e-mailed our attorney and updated him on everything we had learned. I firmly believe the Holy Spirit prompted our attorney and his wife to meet with us in his office the following day, Memorial Day, so we could all get together and prepare the paperwork he needed to file in Tarrant county family court first thing Tuesday morning. (attorneys just don’t do that) We needed that paperwork for the hearing in California on Wednesday. So the plan was to get our paperwork in hand and return to California Tuesday evening. The paperwork was in our hands shortly before lunch time on Tuesday. We drove directly to DFW airport to catch our flight.
While waiting for our flight, we received a call from the social worker in California who advised us that the juvenile court hearing had been pushed back 24 hours. Now it would be held at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. It was frustrating because we wanted to try to get our granddaughter out of foster care as quickly as possible. But what seemed frustrating at the time turned out to be a blessing.
After my conversation with the social worker, I had to make some phone calls. A gentleman sitting across from me in the gate area overheard my end of the conversations. He introduced himself as Mike Rodriguez, pastor of Calvary Chapel Church in Corona, California.
Mike and his wife Terri prayed with Janet and me, and he gave us the name and number of an attorney in Ontario. As it turned out, he did not handle juvenile cases. But he referred us to a couple of other attorneys who did.
We arrived in Ontario late in the afternoon, after regular business hours, so we had to wait until the following morning to start making calls. I called the two attorneys who had been recommended by Mike and Terri’s attorney. I left messages and waited.
It was almost 11:00 o’clock and I had not heard from either of the two attorneys I called earlier that morning. So I started looking online. I tried a Christian attorney referral service. That site led me to another site and finally to the California Bar Association website. I filled out a little questionnaire, gave them my phone number, and sent it in. Almost immediately I got a phone call from them. I told them a little about our situation and less than two minutes later, I received a phone call from an attorney named Alan Carlisle who specializes in juvenile cases.
I’m not a real hard nosed negotiator, but I was aware of our financial situation and when he told me what his retainer was, I told him we could not pay the full amount, but I said, “Here’s what we can do right now.” I mentioned earlier that the Holy Spirit works on behalf of God’s people. Mr. Carlisle agreed to split his retainer. We had our attorney in California. ( again, attorneys don’t do that!)
Shortly after I hung up the phone, one of the other attorneys called. That’s when panic set in. Was I supposed to have waited a little longer? Did I try to take matters into my own hands instead of waiting for God? Had I been too impatient? Had I jumped out ahead of God and hired the wrong person? All these questions were going through my mind. It might seem trite but this was tormenting me. I prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness if I had indeed jumped out ahead of Him and acted out of fear and impatience. I prayed that prayer many times that afternoon and well into the night. More than anything else, I wanted to know that I was following God’s will in all of this.
The Bible says in Proverbs 3:6
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
I was in great distress. That night I lay in bed and I was still praying that prayer. I thought about the story of Hezekiah in 2 Kings. When Isaiah told him to put his affairs in order because he was about to die, the Bible says he lay in bed that night, prayed, turned towards the wall, and wept bitterly. It was that kind of distress.
This is the point where God intervened in a very personal way. Most non-believers and perhaps even some Christians would have doubts about this. But I know what I experienced. My wife was sound asleep, so she wasn’t moving or shifting her weight. The air conditioning unit wasn’t blowing air across the covers. I looked down and didn’t see anything, yet there was something with weight and mass pressing down on the bed around my legs. This went on for several minutes and no it was not a rodent running across the bed. I checked! What I felt was very real and unmistakable. It sent chills up and down my back. The Bible says angels are ministering spirits and I believe God sent one to put me at ease. And I want to say right here that I’m not charismatic. I’m a conservative evangelical Christian. I don’t put any stock in the claims of ecstatic experiences by those in the charismatic movement. I know some people would make that motion with their forefingers, pointing at me with one, and circling their ear with the other. “That guy’s nuts!” they would say, but I know what I felt. It was real.
We went to the courthouse the next morning. We met with our attorney and presented him with our paperwork from the Tarrant county family court. All I can say about him is; he was brilliant. He is about 80years old, but he was a bulldog. He knew the system and how to get through the red tape.
While he was talking to the judge and the other attorneys, my wife looked up and for the first time in six weeks, she saw our little granddaughter. The foster family brought her there for the hearing but did not realize my wife and I were sitting out in the commons area. Our granddaughter saw us and ran to us.
I want to pause here and go back to the previous Sunday. Remember I said Bryan prayed with us Sunday evening when we returned from that first trip to California and I said He prayed a very specific prayer that I’ve never forgotten. He prayed that our granddaughter had been placed with a loving Christian family.
As I said, when our granddaughter saw us, she came running! The foster mom made a quick call to the CPS case worker to tell her about us, and she was given the okay to let us visit with our granddaughter. We struck up a conversation and as it turned out, she and her husband were Christians. God heard and answered Bryan’s prayer! Here’s where it gets even better. She and her husband had not taken in a foster child in over 12 years. They had only recently decided to become foster parents again, and had made that decision about eight weeks prior, around the time our daughter and granddaugher went missing! God knew the storm was coming and had prepared a place in advance.
Bryan’s life verse is Mark 11:22. ‘“Have faith in God.” Jesus answered.’ The verses that follow Mark 11:22 tell us that if we say to a mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and do not doubt in our hearts but believe that what we say will happen, it will be done for us. Jesus also said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”.
God was moving things steadily along. Our attorney told us that we got one of the few judges in the building who actually cared. He said most of the judges in that court building had become so calloused and cynical that they just didn’t care anymore. If we had drawn one of them, our granddaughter would be buried in the system for months.
Once the hearing took place, there were four attorneys in attendance. Ours, a child’s advocate attorney representing our granddaughter, an attorney for CPS, and a court appointed attorney representing our daughter. Our system is what it is. The California judge wanted to talk to the judge in Texas. All the social agencies in California wanted to speak with their counterparts in Texas. So we didn’t get to take our granddaughter that day. Another hearing was scheduled for the following morning at 10:00 a.m.
Once again, I believe God worked out everyone’s schedules and helped everyone get on the same page at the same time. Less than thirty minutes into the hearing on Friday morning, the judge ruled in our favor and ordered our granddaughter to be released in our custody.
This was when we found out Alan Carlisle was a believer. He told us we were lucky to be taking our granddaughter home. My wife and I replied that luck had nothing to do with it, that it was the hand of God. He smiled and agreed. He said he didn’t know for sure if we were Christians or where we were spiritually, but he said it was indeed God’s work. He asked about our finances and we told him money was getting tight. Then he called his office and deferred the rest of his retainer for another month.
I may indeed have jumped out ahead of God, but He’s more than able to make course corrections. One thing I’ve learned from all of this is that we cannot outrun God when we truly desire to be obedient to Him. I believe the reason Alan Carlisle called so quickly is because he was obeying the spirit promptly. The outpouring of love and generosity by our church family was also an act of obedience to the Holy Spirit and if not for that generosity, we may not have been able to hire this attorney.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I hang my hat on that verse. We witnessed a great victory. I believe the only way we could have witnessed a greater victory is if we had been alive 2000 years ago and had been at Calvary the day God gave His son for us. God may prove me wrong on this and that’s okay. Jesus may return in our lifetime and that will be the great and final victory. But until God proves me wrong or until Jesus returns, this is the greatest victory we have witnessed in our lifetime.
Countless prayers answered and far too many things fell into place for everything to have happened by chance. It was all coincidence? C’mon….really?