I have a story to tell, and I need your help. Dear friends of mine are in great need and I’m hopeful that you, the person reading this, whoever you are, wherever you are, can help. It’s a story of heroic triumph to be repeated once again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
It’s a fitting metaphor, because ashes are where this story begins.
On Friday July 27, 2012, as angry storms filled the evening sky over southern Indiana, a family wept as they watched their house and all their worldly possessions burn. All they were left with was each other; their greatest treasure.
The Lustigs are survivors in the truest sense, each of their stories triumphant, even more so when they are woven together as a family.
Steve and Janelle married September 27th, 1996. It was truly a match made in heaven. When I met them they had two beautiful daughters who lived with them and two more from Steve’s previous marriage, who lived with their mother. They were a family constantly on mission. Their weekends and free time spent serving their neighbors in need, or volunteering for hours on end to help with the outreach of their church. Janelle is a paramedic in Louisville, Kentucky, spending her days helping people in their darkest hour while Steve is a contractor, often volunteering his gifts to help those less fortunate.
Four years ago, God began to break their hearts for kids in the foster care system who longed for a place to call home. They became licensed Foster Parents and prayed that God would use them. It was a clear calling to everyone who knew them.
And so their family grew. They welcomed three new daughters into their home; sisters. The girls lived through more hardship in their young lives than you and I could begin to imagine. It was an unspeakably hard time. I choose not to share the details here out of a deep respect for each of these young women, and the wounds they’ve worked so hard to heal. It’s not my story to tell, and though they are facing a time of incredible uncertainty as a family, it is unfair to exploit their heartache to bring about compassion. Trust me when I tell you these girls are survivors in every sense of the word. Their strength, grace, beauty, and fortitude are unmatched. They are precious. It has been a joy to see them blossom as a part of the Lustig family. They have much to offer this world as they model compassion with such authenticity and ease.
Though they were now a family of seven, it would become clear that there was more to their mission. One of their daughters felt very strongly that God wanted them to keep their home open. She and her sisters had a good experience with a loving foster family and wanted to pay that forward. They knew they were among the lucky ones. They remained licensed foster parents and waited as God orchestrated their next new addition. A little over a year after the adoption was final for the girls they got a call about two boys, brothers, who needed a soft spot to land. It began as a foster placement, but it became very clear to both Steve and Nell that these boys were theirs. They were a part of the family. As you can imagine no child enters into the system because they’ve lived a fairy tale life, and their story was no different. As the boys were immersed into the Lustig family you could see their demeanor shift. They were safe, healthy, and cared for. They flourished. They were finally “home”, a place where they could be kids again, and Steve finally had “his boys” to balance out the estrogen in the house. They were a sweet and energetic addition.
They were whole, or so they thought. Steve and Janelle believed their family was now complete, though they felt strongly that they should keep their Foster Care license so they could provide respite care for other foster families. Janelle became a Guardian ad Lidem advocating for kids still lost in the system, as they continued to be a family on a mission to be a voice for the voiceless; to be defenders of the orphan.
And then they got another call, a foster family in need of a break, and a sweet little girl in need of a place to stay. It was “just for the weekend” so the Lustigs agreed. A weekend turned, to months, and months, to a year, as a broken system was poised to inflict another wound on an innocent child caught in the middle. She was just five years old, with bright blue eyes the color of the sky on a clear spring day. She had been bounced from five different foster to adopt placements in her short life. Passed along when her scars were too much for the foster family to manage.
Parental rights were terminated as this tiny girl waited for the world to give her what she was owed; a family. The Lustigs couldn’t bear to think of her being tumbled and torn, caught in the system the rest of her life. They prayed and decided that she was clearly meant to be a Lustig. Her adoption finalized just days before the fire, making them a magnificent family of ten. A bittersweet time indeed.
Though I could go on indefinitely describing the atrocities that each of these kids faced, I won’t. They are my heroes and I hold them in the highest regard. I would do anything for them. In them I see the power of love and redemption.
Fast forward to today. Thankfully the Lustigs did have insurance, though it simply won’t be enough. They are currently living in hotels, with no immediate end in sight.
From the moment the fire died out, their hope rose. They thanked God for his provision in sparing the lives, not only of their family, but for those who fought the fire. They’re perspective has been heroic, in line with the legacy they’ve built.
Their situation has become even more direr in recent days as they found out that the bank that owns their mortgage (Freddie Mac) is requiring they pay off their loan with the insurance settlement, and reapply for a new mortgage. As you well know, it’s an awful time to apply for a loan with a recession that’s lingered longer than any of us anticipated. The last two years have been difficult financially. Steve had to take some time off of work as he healed from numerous kidney stones, and was hospitalized for cardiac care, receiving a stint. This summer was a time of recovery as Steve took a construction job out of state for three months to get the family back on track financially. He got home just in time for the adoption of their newest family member, and then tragedy struck as they found themselves homeless.
As I’ve been praying over the past weeks I found comfort and direction from scripture.
“And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of morning, and a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” - Isaiah 61:3
Regardless of your faith, the imagery here is inspiring. “Beauty instead of ashes.” Though this story, filled with highs and lows, can seem overwhelming, I write to tell you the story isn’t over yet. I believe God has a plan to use every day people like you and me to do something extraordinary for this family.
Are you passionate about caring for kids in the foster care system but maybe don’t feel like you can adopt? Help the Lustigs. Orphan care doesn’t end when the adoption is final. It means coming alongside families who open their hearts and their homes to care for the “least of these”.
The most immediate need is financial. Every little bit helps. Whether it’s just $1 or $1,000, together we can raise the funds to rebuild what the fire destroyed. We can bring “beauty from ashes.” A “Lustig Family Relief Fund” has been established at the Main Source Bank in Vevay, Indiana. There is also a Paypal donation button at the end of this post if you would like to donate securely online.
If you would like more information about how to donate to the Lustig family, relief efforts are being coordinated by a group of their friends. Contact Harmony Hensley at Hensley.firstname.lastname@example.org , or call 513.256.4689.
Though there will come a time to collect items such as furniture, and housewares, the family is not in a position to accept these much needed items at this time. For those within a driving distance of Vevay, Indiana there will also be volunteer opportunities to assist with the rebuild once funds have been raised. If you would like to be kept apprised of ways to support the family please email Harmony to be added to our communication list.
Please keep the Lustigs in your prayers. They covet them as they faithfully walk through this difficult time.
Here’s to changing the world….together!