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.

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2 thoughts on “Astounding Suffering & Amazing Grace: The Willis Family

  1. Yes, I remember them. I just remember reading about Scott holding Janet as she screamed towards the van “this is what we prepared for, the Lord gives and takes away.” beautiful beautiful faith in the face of the ugliest result of sin and destruction in this world.
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