What the photograph says

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Four years ago, our precious, little family returned to the land of rice and tea with Lamb Chop. The day they left for home, Dena said this: “My dream is to have all seven of our boys in one photo someday.”

As the lamb’s first birthday rolled around, I was gearing up to take a trip to China to see them. But then–well, covid, and everything fun and good and normal and right went out the window. For years, their country was locked down. Then earlier this year, the rumblings began. “We’d like to bring all of the boys this summer.”

They prayed. We prayed. The Lamb Chop himself prayed in his little jammies, knees curled up and buns aimed to the sky, asking Jesus to let them come to America. “If I was God,” I told my husband, “I would answer that prayer right away!” Then one happy day, we received the word. They’d be coming, all five of them, for a month.

On a glorious September Saturday, Dena’s dream came true. From different parts of this country and from that land across the sea, all of our boys were, at last, in the same spot on this spinning globe. And all seven of them gathered for a photo.

There’s a golden glow of the miraculous all over this image, not the least of which is the biggest of the seven on the left. Three years ago right now, his father and a family friend took a heart-wrenching trip to the south. For six days in the searing heat, they searched homeless encampments. With a mug shot in hand, they followed every lead, every crumb, every clue, looking for our oldest son.

Stepping over used needles and piles of feces, they looked. Through tree lines and under overpasses, they looked. From dawn until dusk, they looked. They saw other people’s kids shooting up, passed out, folded over, next to death, and they groaned and mourned, all of this as they kept on searching.

“I failed! I failed. I didn’t find our boy.” My weeping husband fell into my arms at the airport.

Holding him, I remember saying, “You haven’t failed! You’ve been nothing but a success. God told me you wouldn’t find him and that it would do the greater work this way. He will hear that you’ve come looking, and it will do the work.”

One week later, he was saved from the streets and near-certain death by policemen straight from God. Now, three years later, he is healthy, whole, and solidly on the path to redemption. And he’s in Dena’s beloved photo.

What I want you to know is that if God can do that for our family, and do allllll of that for Stephen and Dena’s family. If he can save my boy and save Dena’s boy and bring all of them together, just think what He might do for you. For yours.

If ever my faith starts to wane, all I have to do is to hold this one priceless picture in my hands, and I will remember again, and again, and again that God is faithful. That He does the greater work. That it’s not over until it’s over.  That there’s never an actual reason for despair, it only looks like it.

That’s what this photograph says.

For love,

Rhonda, America’s small, caffeinated mom

P.S. – The family friend who went lookin’ for the prodigal son? He and his own family came to town, and one day after this photo was taken, we broke bread together, 13 Americans and 5 Chinese, beneath the evening sky. As darkness fell, a whole roiling, teeming, running passel thundered about the yard, and those China babies, they loved it. Grace upon grace upon grace.


  1. This, Rhonda, this! For so many reasons! I love this photo so much, and love the stories behind it even more. I am rejoicing so very much with and for you, and blessed beyond measure to see it all come to fruition, and for it to continue into more and more blessed goodness. And I am encouraged to see God’s hand and faithfulness in this and so many other things. And I am hopeful and encouraged through this for our very own prodigal, that good things above and beyond what we imagine will come to pass. So appreciate you sharing your heart, your journey, your love, and support with us all. Love you much, my sweet friend.

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