Tyndale House Publishers
The dark cloud came up in the morning. By 10 A.M. on May 6, 1886, it was raining so hard in the Flint Hills of Kansas that one resident said water “ran over the yard like oil.”
Within an hour, Jacob Creek had overflowed and was flooding nearby fields.
Benjamin Jacobs lived on the banks of the creek with his young family, and he grew concerned as the rain kept falling and the creek kept rising. He hitched a mule team to a large wagon and loaded his wife, two children, and brother aboard.
He began driving toward higher ground, through water that was already several inches deep and still rising. He had taken a shortcut through a cornfield and was approaching a hill when a huge wave bore down on them.1
“When I looked up on the creek,” he said later, “the waves were rolling over and over much higher than the wagon.”
It looked, one witness said, like “a great wall of water.”
The wave capsized the wagon and drowned the mules. Benjamin Jacobs managed to grab hold of a limb in a tree that was all but covered by the raging floodwaters. His brother, William, grabbed a tree limb with one hand and Ben’s seven-year-old son with the other, and they climbed to safety.
But Jacobs’ wife, Martha, and his infant daughter, Edna May, were swept away to their deaths. Edna May was found just a few hours later, but it took searchers three days to find Martha. They were buried in a cemetery overlooking the prairie that had been their home.2
Jacob Creek slipped back into silence for more than 100 years. But on a dark summer’s night in 2003, a wall of water would strike again.
I pulled into the garage of our one-and-a-half-story Cape Cod home in the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, Missouri, walked through the door into our kitchen, and made an announcement.
My wife, Melissa, and our four children greeted those words with spontaneous cheers, and I was quickly tackled by my two boys.
Melissa and I loved taking ordinary moments and making them special for our family, whether it was baking a batch of cookies, carving a pumpkin, or cheering because the weekend had arrived.
“Let’s make a memory!” Melissa often said.
This Friday of Labor Day weekend 2003 would offer a lasting one. We often held “Family Fun Night” on Fridays. For us, that meant popcorn, pizza, movies, and ice cream.
“Who wants to go with Daddy to get some movies?” I asked.
Before I could finish the whole sentence, I heard two voices offer a resounding “Me!”—Makenah Alexandra, our eight-year-old daughter, and Nicholas Adam, our three-year-old son. Alenah WenYing, our 21-month-old special-needs daughter whom we had just adopted in January, had a caught-off-guard expression on her face, as if she sensed she had just missed out on an important vote. I also deciphered an enthusiastic grunting yell of approval from Zachary Seth, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome the day after his birth nearly six years earlier. He had a cleft palate, so he had a very limited spoken vocabulary.
Melissa wanted to feed Alenah and bake one of her scrumptious tomato, pepperoni, and mushroom pizzas while we were gone. So I packed our three oldest children into the van and drove to the local grocery store to pick up a few necessities and rent a couple of movies.
When we returned home, the fabulous fragrance of homemade pizza greeted us at the door.
“Hooray!” Melissa cheered as we piled into the kitchen.
My wife had been a cheerleader in high school and was still a perpetual encourager to others—always bubbly and cheerful wherever she went. Her radiant, captivating smile had captured my heart more than 13 years earlier at a sidewalk café in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.
I helped our oldest children wash their hands, and they took their spot on the white bedsheet that Melissa had spread out on the floor in front of the television. Melissa settled Alenah in her high chair where she could munch on pizza bites without being pestered by the boys.
“Let’s pray!” I said.
Prayer time and talking to Jesus was as normal for us as breathing.
Melissa and I made a conscious effort to show our relationship with God to our children every day, not just relegate it to once a week on Sunday mornings. We would often say “Thank You, Jesus,” for simple little things around the house or surprises along the way.
We would frequently pray out loud for somebody’s ouchie or for an ambulance that went by.
We held hands and said our standard mealtime prayer, ending with a strong Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-men!
All our children, especially Zachary, would chime in loudly on the “Amen,” not just with their voices, but also with their hands using sign language. It was our trademark punctuation on the prayer, but it was also a release word: Now it was okay to dive into dinner!
After pizza, a bag of popcorn, and two short episodes of Scooby- Doo, it was getting late.
“Okay—time for bed!” I announced as I turned off the TV.
“Aaaawwwwww!” Makenah whined.
None of us wanted the fun part of the evening to be over so soon, but Saturday was a big day. We would be driving 200 miles to Wichita, Kansas, for Melissa’s Uncle Mark’s wedding. Still, I couldn’t resist sneaking in a little bit of music time around my grandmother’s Steinway baby-grand piano before heading to bed. I started playing a ragtime piece, and Makenah threw the cushions from the sofa onto the floor so that she and the others could bounce up and down.
This was the kind of night we loved—just us and our kids enjoying genuine fun and laughter together. I played two more songs, and then we ushered all four children upstairs to get them ready for bed.
Our bedtime ritual included prayer and Scripture memorization.
Years before, we had heeded the advice we heard from Dr. Joe White on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast to teach your children Scripture every night before going to sleep.
Melissa and I took turns tucking each child into bed. Before I slipped out of Makenah’s room, I placed my hand on her forehead and said, “May the Lord bless you, heal you, keep you, and protect you. May He make His face shine upon you and give you peace and favor all the days of your life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
It was a blessing I gave to all our children almost every night.
With the kids in bed, Melissa and I prepared all the necessities for the long trip awaiting us in the morning: diaper bags, snacks, toys, tapes of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, extra clothes, pillows, and blankets for the ride home. We wrapped the wedding presents and packed the van as best we could until morning.
We were ready to call it a night, but not before Melissa and I each had a bowl of ice cream as we sat on the couch, taking time to talk about our day. When it was time for bed, we headed to the living room, where we’d set up our bed while we were remodeling our upstairs bedroom.
“I love you,” I said, like every other night, kissing Melissa gently on the lips.
“I love you, too,” she replied, after returning my peck.
We drifted off into a deep sleep and didn’t stir until the alarm clock woke us the next morning.
Since neither of us were “morning” people, Melissa and I would typically hit the snooze cycle on the alarm clock. But not this morning. The wedding was at 1:00 in Wichita, a good three-hour drive from Kansas City. Because I was an usher for the wedding, we had to arrive by 11:30 A.M. We also wanted to allow time to change our kids’ clothes and give Matt, Melissa’s brother, time to change into the suit Melissa had just bought for him.
Even though we would be somewhat crunched for time, I still wanted to cook “Daddy’s Famous Flapjacks” for breakfast. Our kids loved pancakes, and this was a tradition we kept alive nearly every Saturday morning at home.
“Who wants to help Daddy make pancakes?” I asked.
“Meeee!” Nicholas volunteered.
I loved involving the children in anything I was doing, whether it was a trip to the hardware store, changing the oil, or, in this case, making pancakes. We finished stirring the batter, and I started making the pancakes. Melissa had Makenah and Zachary help set the table. We always preferred to have our kids help as much as possible with the meal preparations so they didn’t get used to us just “waiting” on them.
While the last batch cooked, I sat down so we could say our mealtime prayer. I closed our prayer with a short postscript that my father had taught me years before as he prayed over our family of 10—Mom, Dad, and eight children, with me as the youngest— whenever we went on family vacations: “Jesus, please grant that we may have a safe journey today, with no mishaps whatsoever, involving us or other people, our vehicle or the vehicles of others, our property or the property of others. We ask this in Your holy name so that we and others may always and better serve in Your holy name and for Your greater honor and glory. Your kingdom come, Your will be done. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
We dove into breakfast, passing the syrup, cutting our children’s pancakes, passing and spreading the butter. We chatted and laughed as we did every Saturday morning.
Time was short, so we cleaned up the kitchen and changed everyone into his or her traveling clothes. We knew better than to dress in our wedding clothes so many hours before the main event. Then we piled everyone into the van. Melissa wanted to drive first; she was usually the best one at getting us somewhere safely and in a hurry. But halfway down the street, we realized that we had forgotten the wedding presents!
“Arghhhh. I can’t stand that!” Melissa groaned in frustration.
She spun us around and zipped back home. I ran in through the garage door, grabbed the presents, and gave the kitchen one last look. I didn’t spot a small backpack just beyond the step into the family room. I returned to the van with the gifts.
“Got ’em. Let’s go.”
Rain fell steadily the entire drive to Wichita, but it was not enough to slow us down significantly. Melissa and I switched places about halfway, near Emporia, Kansas. Once we reached Wichita, we found the church on Woodlawn Avenue in plenty of time.
“Here we are, you guys!” I announced to everyone in the van as we arrived.
Melissa hopped out into the now pouring rain and rolled open the sliding door. I grabbed the umbrella and ran inside to find Matt and give him his suit. We were both ushers and needed to learn the seating instructions for the guests. When I returned to the van, Melissa had a frustrated look on her face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Oh, I’m so mad. I can’t find the boys’ bag of socks and spare clothes. I know I packed them, but I can’t find them anywhere. I can’t send our kids into the wedding in their nice clothes without socks! I bet we forgot the bag.”
“We had a million and one details to remember. So what if they don’t have socks. They’re kids!”
Melissa was nevertheless agitated and frustrated with herself. She had a degree in interior design. The meticulous nature that flourished in design work could be a burden for her in other areas of her life. She liked everything to be just right.
The mini-crisis behind us, we finished juggling umbrellas, diapers, clothes, and children, and we all made our way through the rain into the church. After ushering guests to their seats, I joined my family in a row near the back. When the wedding ended, we filed out of the sanctuary and headed over to the church’s reception hall.
Cake, peanuts, and finger foods filled the tables. We gathered around a big table, along with Grandpa Jere, Melissa’s dad, and Grandma Judy, Melissa’s stepmom, plus Matt and his wife and four children. Many friends and relatives came up to meet our growing family and catch up on the latest developments.
Melissa seemed to glow. She was beaming from ear to ear, so happy with life and proud of our family of six. Many of our relatives had not yet met Alenah. Our children were busy playing hide-andseek with their cousins, running around, and snatching snacks off the banquet tables. Zachary, who rarely wore shoes inside our home or outside in the backyard, had quickly discarded them and was running around barefoot.
We started taking portraits of various families in front of the food table. When it was our family’s turn, we passed our camera around to relatives to capture the moment. Melissa, true to her daily mantra, wanted to “make a memory.” She stood in front of the table with Makenah and Nicholas—one at each side, one in each arm. I snatched up Zachary and Alenah before they darted off again.
I knelt on my right knee and propped Zachary up on my left knee. He still had no shoes or socks on. I pulled Alenah in close to me and cupped her tiny tummy with my right hand. With my fingertips now under her arms, I squeezed and wiggled them ever so slightly to induce a smile for the picture. It worked, just as it had so many times in the past.
Amazingly, the picture turned out perfect: all six of us looking straight at the camera and smiling. That’s a rare occurrence, as anyone with four small children knows.
It was 3:00 P.M.—almost time to bid the bride and groom farewell. But first we had to “dress” their car. Several of the men, including Melissa’s dad and brother and me, went outside to complete the task. I brought Makenah along to witness the fun. She and I were on balloon duty, blowing them up and stuffing them into the car, while others draped streamers across the car and wrote “Just Married!” on the windows with soap. When we had all finished our handiwork, somebody drove the car around to the covered breezeway in anticipation of the newlyweds’ departure.
We helped usher the bride and groom to their car in a flurry of laughs and cheers. They pulled balloons out of the way so they could climb in, and then they sped off. The kids played with the balloons for a while, and we took a few more photos. Then we brought our van around and loaded up the many presents that had piled up for the bride and groom. We followed the caravan of vehicles to the couple’s house and carried the gifts into the living room.
After drying off and visiting for a few minutes around the kitchen table, we asked, “Who wants to go have some ice cream with us at Braum’s?”
Grandma and Grandpa, who typically jumped at any chance to have ice cream, gracefully declined so they could get back home at a decent time. But Melissa’s brother, Matt, and his family accepted. We gave them directions to the store on Rock Road and agreed to meet there. We took our umbrellas and kids in hand and braved the rain.
By then, it was pouring again.