Astounding Suffering & Amazing Grace: The Willis Family

he heals

The best Bible study I have ever completed, is Disciplines of a Godly Woman.  I know that I have “plugged” this study on the blog before, but for good reason.  It is that good.

One of the more challenging chapters to read however, was on suffering.  And how we train our minds and hearts to contend with pain that is so unexplainable and deep, we cannot find a simple “way out”.  The chapter begins with a story I wished never to read, but one that has marked my gauge of suffering since.

scott and janet willis

Scott and Janet Willis were driving along an Illinois interstate one afternoon, their 6 children tucked into their seats in their van.  Ahead of them, a transport truck drove, not noticing that dangling from its rear was a heavy metal bracket, holding the truck’s mudflaps in place.  The bracket broke loose and the Willis van ran it over, puncturing the van’s gas tank.

The van exploded into flames and within a handful of moments, the Willises lost their children.  Five children died immediately, and the 6th lived until late that evening, but then succumbed to his burns.

A hospital attendant, Janet said, told her that Ben knew he was dying and asked her to hold his hand. She couldn’t, because of his burns.

How does anyone live through horror like the Willises have endured?

At a hospital news conference, Scott, a Baptist minister, told reporters that his children “were given of the Lord, and we understood they weren’t ours. They were his, and we were stewards of those children. And so God took them back.”

It wasn’t magic thinking, Scott said. And it wasn’t a roll of the dice. It was God’s will.

Do you find this stalwart belief in God’s sovereignty convicting?  I do.

Last week, the kids and I were watching America’s Got Talent, and we were particularly interested in a large family of 12 children, who performed a fun routine of singing, dancing and instrumentation.


We were amazed to realize later, that these 12 are Willis grand-children.  Of the 3 Willis children who did not perish along the Illinois interstate that day back in 1994, there are now 32 grand-children.

There will never be a way for Scott and Janet Willis to out-run or out-live the pain of losing their precious children.  Until Heaven, that loss will mark every one of their earthly moments.

And yet, I am grateful that their story teaches and reminds of a God who gives.  Who gives life.  And who gives children.

And who has given back to Scott and Janet Willis, 32 beautiful people to love.

His ways are beyond understanding, His paths beyond tracing out.  And in it all, He loves.

Mary de Muth: An Open Letter to Sexual Abuse Victims

mary de muth family

Over the past few years, God has opened up conversations with several friends, in which I have gained a glimpse into the devastation of sexual abuse.  There is nothing like knowing a friend is struggling with what cannot be undone.  Such a helpless place to be.

Sadly, the current statistics now claim that 1 in 3 females are victims of sexual abuse.  And those are merely numbers of those who eventually tell.  Sexual abuse is a highly secret pain, one that stays buried as long as it can, but often seeps out onto the surface of life as adults grow older.

My heart’s desire in this space, is to encourage those of you who have been torn apart by the shame and breath-taking pain of sexual abuse.  I know that your memories are difficult, and this makes every-day functioning of marriage, sexuality and mothering, difficult too.

And maybe you have never told anyone.



Today, I want to introduce you to someone who may encourage you, if you are wrestling through the aftermath of childhood victimization.  Mary de Muth has become a well-known speaker in the Christian realm, courageously sharing her story of childhood sexual abuse.  And an equally powerful message of healing and hope.

Mary wrote a letter to women who have experienced sexual abuse.  I wanted to include it today, as I believe the realm of sexual abuse to be one of the biggest kept secrets among women.  The shame of sexual abuse holds so many captive, and as Christian women, I hope that we can be “safe” and helpful to our friends who have suffered.  And this letter may be a good place to begin



Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor,

I don’t really like the word victim. Even survivor has a strange connotation. And I’m not too keen on victor. None of those words encapsulate what happened to you, the devastation sexual abuse enacted on your heart. But we’re strangled by language sometimes–even writers can’t adequately express horror.

I much like the word BRAVE. Because it’s so darn brave to walk away from something like that. It’s brave to forgive. Brave to live your life in the wake of sexual trauma. Brave to hold your head high.

brave arrow

First let me say I am sorry. I’m so terribly sad that sexual abuse is part of your story. It’s not right. Someone chose to take something from you–your volition and your body. That person (or people) violated you. They used their power and bully persuasion to overwhelm you with their sinful desires. And now you’re the one left feeling dirty and used–while so many perpetrators walk this earth free. 

It’s not fair.

Some of you feel shame and guilt in gigantic measure, heaped upon you. Some of you feel that you invited the abuse. The way you dressed. The hole in your heart that longed for attention. The equating of sex with love and affection. You feel you wooed the perpetrator somehow. Let me say this: A person who adores and loves you would NEVER EVER violate you. Never. Instead of violation, they would protect. They would pray for you. They would honor your boundaries.

Someone’s selfish gratification is not your fault. Don’t own that. Dare to believe your worth, and allow yourself the feel the grace that God grants you. Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You were abused. You didn’t want it. Someone took from you–like a thief. They may have used slick words, threatened you, persuaded you that you wanted it, but it’s not true. Thieves are often liars.

In sexual abuse’s aftermath, you’ve possibly thought of suicide. You’ve cut your skin until the blood came. You over-ate. You spent years hard as rock, bitter as horseradish, always vigilant–ready to fight. You’ve protected your heart with ironclad resolve. No one will EVER hurt you that way again. Not on your watch.

All these coping strategies had good purpose a long time ago. They protected you. But now they’re strangling the life out of you. I only say that because I’ve walked the path of isolation and withdrawal. Actually, I spent about a decade of my life keeping the sexual abuse secret. And once I let the secret out, I decided I’d been healed, so I tucked it back away for another decade and lived inside myself–not daring to deeply engage my heart.

mary demuth quote

An untold story never heals, friend. Isolation only masks the problem.

That’s not living. It’s existing. It’s pushing stuff down that you hope stays submerged forever. Unfortunately, our stories have a way of coming out–almost always in our actions. We end up hurting those we love. Some people become perpetrators because they never deal with getting better.

I know there are questions. I have them too.

  • Why did God allow this to happen?
  • Why didn’t He step in and rescue?
  • Why do I have to suffer seemingly forever for something someone else did to me?
  • Why can’t I ever feel normal?
  • Will I ever be able to enjoy sex?
  • Why does my spouse have to suffer for something someone else did to me?
  • What’s wrong with me that I kept being violated?
  • Was I put on this earth to be stolen from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What was it about me that perpetrators found irresistible?
  • Why do other people keep telling me it was a long time ago and I should be over this?

I want to assure you that these questions are entirely, utterly normal. And you should ask them. You should wrestle with them. Some of them will not be answered this side of eternity.

When I feel overwhelmed by the whys and the whats, I stop a moment and consider Jesus. This may not resonate with you because you might be mad at Him. That’s okay. I hear you. But there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands.

He took on the sins of everyone, including sexual sin, upon His holy, undeserving shoulders. He suffered for everyone’s wicked crookedness. And when He hung on a cross, He did so naked. Exposed. Shamed. Humiliated. Bleeding.

That’s why, when I write about sexual abuse recovery, I have to involve Jesus. He has been the single best healer in my journey. He understands. He comes alongside. He “gets” violation.

Sexual abuse is devastating. It pulls the rug out from under your worth. It keeps you scared. It infiltrates nearly every area of your life, consciously and subconsciously.

mary and husband

But I am here to let you know there is hope. Though the healing journey is long, it is possible. When I tell my own story now, it feels like I’m sharing about another person’s sexual abuse. I’ve experienced profound healing. It didn’t happen passively or quickly. I had to WANT it, pursue it. I had to stop shoving it down and bringing my story into the light–with praying friends, with counselors, with my husband.

Today I enjoy sex. I can share my story without getting that vomit-y feeling in my stomach. The flashbacks are less and less. I still have moments, of course. But I am so much farther along than I had been.

I want to end this letter with this truth: You are amazing. You survived something traumatic and horrific. You are reading this letter blessedly alive, connected to others. Your story absolutely matters. Don’t let the trauma steal your story of hope today.

Joyfully free,



If you find this letter helpful, please forward this post on to family or friends who may benefit.  Mary’s candid approach to healing from past abuse, has helped so many.

And in the mean-time, if you are 1 of the 3 women who have experienced sexual abuse, know that I am praying for you today.  Your hurt runs so deep, and I pray that you find God’s grace and love to be the first facet of your healing.

Guest Post: Gods’ {Grace} in Miscarriage

How do we as Christian women, find joy when our circumstances squeeze hope out of us?

How do we work through pain and land on the other side of suffering- the side where confident joy lives?

My sister shares with us this morning, her story of God’s love displayed through the pain of miscarriage.  How she has been forced to forfeit her rights to God’s plan, and embrace His design for her life. My sister, Grace, is the youngest of the 3 of us girls, and the baby in the line-up of the 5 children that make up our family.  Grace is one of my favorite people, and a piece of the security blanket that makes up my world.  She is in a word, safe.  Grace always conveys warmth and love, and along with these, a firm determination to know and love God. Here are Grace’s thoughts on the events of last Fall, when she lived through the pain of miscarriage.



This Saturday I turn 29.  If I could give this particular birthday a title, it would be: “This isn’t where I thought I would be.”  When I envisioned my life at 29, I figured that I would have a third child or at least have a baby on the way.  That’s how life has always worked for me.  I had Cora and Elinor when I wanted them.  Easy to get pregnant.  Healthy and safe deliveries…right in the time frame I had hoped for.  All mapped out just so.  I hate to admit this but I never thought things would go otherwise.  I wanted babies and so I got babies.  Yes I prayed, yes I trusted…but it was easy to trust because things turned out.   These past few months have been so strange.  The disappointment, the waiting, the hormone fluctuations, the weight gain with no baby in sight.  I didn’t know a body had to recover and heal from just 9 weeks of pregnancy. Strange.  All so strange.


But as strange and hard as it’s all been I am thankful this happened.   When will I learn?  When will I understand?    I can make plans but he can break them.  I am so limited but  He is unlimited in his wisdom, being, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth.  He knows what I need, when I need it.   And he cares enough to give and to take from me.  Not some random, cruel last-minute assault but a lovingly thought out and perfectly executed plan. A plan for me, my life- a little bit of dust and yet eternally important to him.

The Lord works out everything for his own ends- Proverbs 16:4

 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. -Proverbs 16:9

 So although he takes.  He gives.  He gives his love abundant.  His comfort that overflows.  His mercies unfailing. How personal his love has become to me these past couple months.  Love that can make all pain somehow bearable.



I sat this morning reading my Bible and as usual it spoke to me.  I am so thankful for the living, breathing word of God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:13



 How would I ever learn to trust him if he didn’t take from me?

 If he didn’t challenge my frail, immature faith?

I would never choose to lose a baby.  But through this trial I have learned much, I have grown much, I am learning to trust.  For just as he promises, he fills with joy and peace as we trust him.  Our hope will overflow because he is the God of comfort.  He is the God of hope.  He never leaves us, he never forsakes us, and his love is everlasting.




As I enter my last year of my twenties I am most definitely not where I thought I would be but I am exactly where He knew I would be.



And so I rest in his will.


If you would like to enjoy Grace’s beautiful photography, creativity and thoughtful writing, please click on over to her site, Sharing Grace.