Better Not To Know

At the age of 8 my son Sam asked a “what-if” question that gives one pause. At the time of Sam’s question, Nathan was 2 ½, a sweet, but sometimes difficult boy who had completely changed the dynamics of our family. While sitting at the counter in our sunny Kenyan kitchen, Sam asked out of the blue, “Mama, if my sisters hadn’t died, would we have adopted Nathan? I mean, I would love to have my sisters, but I would never want to give up Nathan.”


Sam’s question stopped me in my tracks. I absolutely missed my daughters, Jennie and Maggie. Nathan was born in April of 1997 and the girls were born 3 months later in July so in my mind I often compared Nathan’s development to where my girls would have been at the same time. What if I’d been allowed to choose? Knowing Nathan today as a handsome, intelligent, and full-of-life 16-year-old, I cannot imagine loving him anymore, and yet, if faced with THE choice, would I have chosen my daughters over my son? Would I have chosen to forego the pain and suffering of all that has transpired since?


What if we imperfect humans were given the ability to see the future, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt the result of our actions and choices before they happened? What if we were allowed the “gift” of changing events before they occurred based on our perception of what would be best? Would that knowledge be a gift . . . or a burden?


Today would have been my son Don Isaac’s 23rd birthday. As I do every year on this date, I find myself thinking of Isaac, wondering how life would have been so very different if he were still alive. He would be a college graduate, not incredibly tall (after all, he would have those Roberts/Veatch not-too-tall genes), but incredibly kind. In fact, Don Isaac, in my mind, would be the perfect son in every way imaginable . . .


. . . today, however, I came home not to a 23-year-old man, a man with Devan’s chin and my eyes, but  home instead to a  13-year-old son who looks nothing like us, a son who is struggling to find his way and who does not always make the best of decisions. I came home to a son who continues to be mesmerized with his birth mother, a woman with dark cocoa skin and giant black eyes, whose features have to be conjured since her face remains a blank. I came home to a son who loves me, but dreams of knowing the woman who gave him birth; home to a son who is capable of throwing verbal barbs that wound. I came home to a son who needs me, his mother, to be youthful and involved and long-suffering, even thought I am 54 and tired and impatient. I came home to my son, a son who was placed in my life by a God who knows best and who is wise enough to keep the future hidden; to a son who, in spite of struggles, fills me with a joy that is hard to describe. What if I had been given a choice and had chosen what appeared to be the easier road? What would I have missed?


Singer Amy Grant Gill recently released her first album in a decade, aptly entitled How Mercy Looks from Here.  I remember first hearing Amy in 1979, softly singing Father’s Eyes and being captivated by her sweet voice and simple lyrics. Fast forward 30 years. Amy’s now 53 and in many ways life has presented challenges and changes that she would have never imagined those numerous years ago. One of my favorite songs on her new release is entitled Better Not to Know, and is based on an experience that started over 20 years ago.  She recounts the story much better than me, but the gyst is that she planted 75 fruit trees on a farm that only a few months later she and her husband would have to sell after the demise of their marriage. She wonders aloud . . .  if she’d known what would soon transpire, would she have still planted those trees? To plant trees at such a time would be such a waste . . .

. . . twenty years on. One day Amy received a call from the current property owner who said, “You know those trees you planted back in the late 1980s? You should drive over and have a look.” Driving down the farm’s entrance, a flood of emotions enveloped her as she thought back over her life. To her joy, she came upon trees so laden with fruit that the branches touched the ground. In spite of all that was not known, in spite of the sadness and brokenness of certain situations, the fruit still bloomed.  With that image in mind she wrote these words:


We sowed our seeds
Watered with tears
Waiting for signs of growth
Took months of days
And then took years
We took our steps
We took our falls
Somewhere along the way
We just got lost
And we lost it all
Nothing ventured nothing gained

The risk of living is the pain
And what will be will be anyway

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Those tiny stems became these trees
With dirt and storms
And sun and air to breathe
Like you and me
And some fell down
And some grew tall
And those surviving twenty winter thaws
Have the sweetest fruit of all
But innocence and planting day
Are both long gone
So much has changed
And if we had to do it all again…

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow
Oh… nothing stays the same
Life flickers like a flame
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know
Is it better, better not to know
Is it better, is it better, is it better?

We sowed our seeds watered with tears…

Oh, it’s better not to know…

Yes, it’s better not to know. It’s better for me to look into my sons’ faces and know that their presence in our family is not by chance, it is by design.  And truly, that is  all I need to know.






Filed under Adoption, Conversations

15 Responses to Better Not To Know

  1. Hugs from Tallahassee, Sheila. So beautifully stated by such a sensitive and loving heart. For me, if not the first loss, then no Madeleine. If not the sixth loss, then no Joshua. There are no answers for us today, but the questions (and sometimes the tears) keep coming….

    “For now we see only a reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Cor 13:12

    • And I still wonder if God had said, “You can have Maggie and Jennie or you can have Nathan and Jack,” what I would have said? So thankful that God in His wisdom chose not to let me decide.

  2. Marna

    I love this piece. It’s raw but not in a hard way. I hear YOU.

    • Carol Hochhalter

      Thank you for sharing. I agree with you. It’s better not to know.

      Our “questions” have not come from losses, but from decisions that we made based on the strong leading of the Spirit and a pointed reading of the Word. It was so clear to us that we should adopt. So clear.

      Ten years later, I’m not sure we would do it again if we had known then what we know now. But we didn’t… thanks be to God? We, too, have a child that longs for her birth mother and family… and she was with them for the first 5 years of her life. I also feel like my “mothering energy” is stretching thin, and there is no end in sight of her need. We are still in the middle of the struggle.

      But I see hope. I think the adolescent years are hard for everyone, but particularly hard for adopted kids. It is good that we did not know what we would go through, how challenging Ashley would be, how she would threaten our marriage. And it is good that we (and you) were obedient to the call to adopt. Not easy, but good. I’m praying for you and with you!

      Remembering Don Isaac with you, that precious little (big!) boy. I want to be your neighbor for eternity and enjoy that family reunion! Blessings, friend!

    • That may be the loveliest compliment of all.

  3. Susan

    Sheila, YOUR presence in their lives in not by chance, it is by design. Your boys are SO BLESSED to have YOU for their mother.

  4. emily

    Sheila, I remember Dan Allender — my mentor for almost 30 years — saying once, “Would I choose to have been abused? No, of course not, but yes, but of course, no.” He has touched so many lives with his work in the area of sexual abuse — and would he have done that had he been abused, but who would choose abuse, on the other hand? Only God can make beauty from ashes.

  5. Rejoice in the present, raising those three fabulous boys of yours. The struggle will be worth it at the end. I cannot imagine going through all these “what ifs”. I am sending hugs to a great mom who knows the meaning of “good parenting”!

  6. Kelly

    I have loved all of your pieces but this one made my heart tighten for my own personal reasons. It’s natural to ponder and feel guilty for our “what ifs” but as long as we are also thankful for our blessings, it’s okay. Thanks for reminding me.

  7. emily

    Sheila, I want to reply again. I keep rewriting my response to you because no matter what I write, it seems inadequate. Wish I were there to sit on the beach with you. We could talk until the sun set about our what if’s as the waves crashed ceaselessly upon the shore. And then we could go back home and be mothers and wives again. I love you and love all 5 of the Veatch family.

  8. Deb

    Once again, I was touched by your thoughtful, insightful writing. Life does have many twists and turns and yes, it is better not to know. You are a fabulous mother, friend and mentor to many. I was so blessed to receive that vase of flowers so many years ago in Kenya on a day when loss was so very hard for me..
    Thanks for you.

  9. Cristin Rudi

    Truly enjoyed this post, Sheila! God is so faithful and in His wisdom has us all in the palm of His hand! Praise be to God that he does the driving and we do the riding! Thank you for your words of wisdom! -Cristin

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