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.

The Goat and the Cross {An Easter Story}

goat art

It is morning in the camp.  The sounds of a fresh day settle in.  Children run, playing mischievously, darting in and out of tents.  Metal pots clink as breakfast is prepared.  Manna again.  The camp is accustomed to the daily rhythm of food sent from Heaven.

Meals are eaten and the remains cleared away.  All is prepared for the day, this busy day.  Today is a day for gathering as a group – cousins, grand-parents, all will be there.

The sounds of animals can be heard throughout the camp, the quiet bleating of sheep and of goats.  The priest sounds the trumpet and tents begin to empty.  Babies are brought out on their others’ hips.  Toddlers skip along, holding onto the hands of their grandmothers.  It is a noisy gathering.  But a hopeful one.  And then, there is stillness.  A reverential hush falls over the crowd.

A goat is led into their midst, and a priest holds him.  A prayer is said for the people, over the people.  And all the while, the priest holds his hands steadily on the head of the goat.  Forgive their sins, he cries.  Forgive every sin, known and unknown. And the people are sober as they consider their days previous.  Remembering.

A man steps forward.  A young man, a fit man.  And the priest releases the goat to this man.  Go, he is told.  And so he goes.  Far and high, up into the mountainous wilderness surrounding the camp.  The goat steps eagerly, unburdened.  But the man is aware.  He must lead his animal as far away from the camp as is possible.  Only then, only then.

goat art 2

The animal treads on, until the man is weary and he knows that the distance covered is enough.  And he releases the goat gently, coaxing him into eating some grass after so long traveling.  And then he turns to leave, for the walk back to camp will take a long while.  And as he begins the return, he is joyful.  So very joyful.  Left behind, his heart cries.  All is left behind!  And the walk does not feel so long now.

He returns to camp after many hours, weary, but with a heart filled.  And the people sleep well, because of what is left behind.  High on a mountain somewhere, is a goat bearing their shame – and they cannot help but be grateful for the transfer of the sins that mark their days.


And then a few hundreds years later, something better arrives in the camp.  This time, it is a Lamb.  And he is beautiful.  But for Him, the walk up the mountain is neither one of ease, nor is it joyful.  There are no gentle hands placed on His head, but instead a crown – twisted from thorns, sharp and biting.  His wounds are raw.  He bleeds.  He is prodded sharply as He walks, and whipped as he stumbles.  Sorrow marks his face.  And as he climbs toward where he will be left, his strength fails. 

The transfer this time, is harsh.

A Cross awaits this Lamb, and He is placed on it.  High above the city, so that all can see His shame, but only some feel it.  He bleeds and hangs, and all the while He loves.  And the sacrifice of the goat looks so tame now.

And it is.  Because what can compare with a sacrifice that exchanges sin and blood for life and redemption?  The goat followed, but the Lamb led.   The goat symbolized, but the Lamb fulfilled. The goat was left high on a mountain, lost.  But the Lamb left the mountain, and came to find.

This Lamb became Easter for us.

May we celebrate Him always.