Roger Marsh: Welcome friends to Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh. Today's program is the conclusion of a three part conversation featuring our own Dr. James Dobson and his special guest, Bob Vander Plaats. Bob shares with us how God's greatest miracle might be wrapped up in your biggest problem. Now, if you're not familiar with Bob Vander Plaats, let me share with you a little bit about him. Bob is the president and CEO of The Family Leader, a family public policy center in Iowa. Bob earned his master's degree as well as and specialist degree in education from Drake University, and he began his career in education as a teacher and a basketball coach. Bob was the principal at Marcus Meridian Cleghorn High School and Sheldon High School as well.
In 1996, Bob served as president and chief executive officer of Opportunities Unlimited, an organization that provides rehabilitative services to young adults with brain or spinal cord injuries. He then transitioned to Iowa State Chair for the former Republican Presidential candidate, Governor Mike Huckabee. That happened in 2008. In 2016, he also served as the national co-chair for the "Ted Cruz for President" campaign. Bob Vander Plaats married his high school sweetheart, Darla, and together they have raised four grown sons. Sadly, they lost their third son, Lucas, in November of 2021. Lucas was battling a very rare brain disorder. Ultimately, he lost that battle due to pneumonia. Lucas's testimony is at the heart of the three day series. And now let's join Bob Vander Plaats and our own Dr. Dobson right here for today's edition of Family Talk.
Dr. James Dobson: Let me ask you a tough question. If through some divine intervention you could have not had this experience and Lucas could have been normal, of course you would want that. But would you have taken that option? Has this child done something very positive in your life as well?
Bob Vander Plaats: I would say before Lucas was born without question, I'd want a child that's healthy, normal, play basketball. On this side, you'll win. Darla and I are now 60 years old and ready to celebrate 40 years of marriage, am so thankful for the gift of Lucas is it's something that we never would've prayed for, but it is a gift to have a child like Lucas. He taught us so much and he gave us a joy and a purpose that honestly I don't think any other child could have. And like I said, he gave such a powerful sermon. And again, our lives would not be what our lives are today without Lucas. Yeah. So if God opened up on June 13th, 1993 and said, "Okay, this is going to be your journey till November 22, '21," we would've ran from that. I mean, we would've been like, "Count me out. I'm not doing that."
But His grace is sufficient. His mercies are fresh every morning and it's day by day, and that's where we can really get to that. We're just so thankful that He would choose us to have a child like Lucas. This is the only book the Chuck Norris has ever approved, so it carries the Chuck Norris approved seal on it. But Chuck said to me, he said, "Bobby," he goes, "I know that you wanted kids who could compete, especially in the game of basketball." He said, "But I believe Lucas might be the toughest kid I know, but he's not competing for some victory that's here today, going tomorrow in a basketball court. He's competing for his own life." And I agree with Chuck Lucas is probably the toughest kid I know.
Dr. James Dobson: Did he ever say, I love you?
Bob Vander Plaats: He never verbalized, I love you, but I believe through his eyes and through a lot of other nonverbals, he did communicate, I love you. This book, I believe, speaks to a lot of parents who are dealing with children with special needs. There's no doubt about that. We have testimonies of that. But a gentleman who is very wealthy, doesn't know anybody with disabilities close to him, that would be a family member or cousin or anywhere close. When he read the manuscript, he said, "Bob, this is my story." I said, "This is your story?" He goes, "Yeah, this is my story." And this is about expect the unexpected. This is about thank God for moms. This is about don't wear mask, be authentic. This is there are angels among us. He said, when I read that, he goes, "This is my story." And he goes, "I can almost track my journey through Lucas's journey in your book." And again, I believe that's where God is using a child like Lucas to speak to all of us, not just some of us.
Dr. James Dobson: Where Bob, did you get the strength in the midst of all that was going on at home and being up half the night or all the night and nearly losing your child over and over again? Where did you get the strength to go ahead and be useful to the kingdom the way you have? That's why I admire you so greatly.
Bob Vander Plaats: Well, I think that's part of God's sovereignty. Darla and I did not choose this path. This is not a path we would've chosen. Darla would've been a career CPA, probably owned her own accounting firm. I would've been a teacher, a coach, high school principal, maybe a superintendent, and I would've retired at age 55 with full government benefits. But that's not the path God wanted us on. And so we just tried to be in prayer and with Christian community and wisdom and discernment from others to help guide us.
And part of it is, and maybe this is a guilt piece of it, even as I lead the family, my dad served in World War II and I had a peer of mine say to me, "You might have a survivor's guilt." Meaning I never wore the uniform. So I want to fight for freedom in my way because my dad was part of a special generation fighting for freedom in his way, maybe with a child like Lucas. Darla and I really wanted to make sure that his life had a purpose, his life had a megaphone. His life could be displayed in everything. We were just in Arizona and Darla was having lunch with some ladies. And I believe her aunt asked her, said, "Have you ever sat back and thought, what was the change in your and Bob's life that put you on the path that you're on?"
And Darla just kind of looked at her and I don't think you answered right away, but then she responded and she said it was Lucas. And I think we could point back to Lucas. He brought kind of a beautiful chaos to our life. It was a chaos that we didn't want. We didn't, but there was a beauty to it. And then God directed our paths. But it was because of the birth of a boy. So that disruption, that prayer that God didn't answer the way you wanted Him to answer, He might have a special purpose. I tell a lot of people, God's greatest miracle might be wrapped up in your biggest problem.
Dr. James Dobson: What a beautiful way to put it.
Bob Vander Plaats: To pursue it that way.
Dr. James Dobson: And the wonderful thing, it's almost impossible to describe the moment that's going to occur when you meet Lucas as a whole person in the other side. You're going to see him someday. He's going to call you dad for the first time and you're going to go to the feet of Jesus and say thank you.
Bob Vander Plaats: That was a common thread in all of the eulogies that were given at Lucas's funeral. And Lucas's funeral was, Dr. Dobson, it was so much filled with praise and worship.
Dr. James Dobson: It was not anger.
Bob Vander Plaats: Not anger, giving God all the glory and all the praise for Lucas's life. We wanted to honor Lucas's life. And it was a beautiful funeral from start to finish. And it was taking place in one of the most high-tech churches in the Des Moines metro area. And they had three cameras rolling to capture all of this. And when they got done, we had so many people saying, "I want a recording of that. I want to watch that again, or I want to watch it for the first time because I heard of it." But someone forgot to push play. And so that recording wasn't there.
Dr. James Dobson: Oh my goodness.
Bob Vander Plaats: And so part of the book is to communicate what happened at that service. But our oldest son Hans said to me afterwards because he knew that I was struggling with Lucas's service not being recorded because it was such a beautiful testimony that I thought could speak to so many people, especially dealing with their own child with special needs. And Hans said, "I think Lucas gave us another lesson, or God gave us another lesson through Lucas." And I said, "What's that?" He said, "If you wanted to have an impact on Lucas or if you wanted Lucas to impact your life, you had to be there. You couldn't phone it in, you couldn't zoom it in, you couldn't remote it in. You had to be there." And really it comes down to, I think what Jesus talks about with love your neighbors yourself.
It's not a wave. It's not just cut them a check and see you later. Love your neighbors yourself is really getting to know who your neighbor is. And so I thought it was a powerful lesson, but the last seven chapters of this book, Life from Lucas is really Ruth's eulogy, "There's Angels Among Us." It's every one of the boys' eulogies talking about faith, talking about Christian community, talking about only can imagine what Lucas is doing right now in Heaven. Running, jumping, dunking, doing all those things that for the first time. Darla's eulogy was just about a grateful heart. Why Thanksgiving? Because he died right before Thanksgiving. Why Thanksgiving will be a celebrated holiday in our household because we're so grateful for the gift of Lucas.
Dr. James Dobson: Tell us about Lucas's passing. What happened in that experience?
Bob Vander Plaats: Well, I guess if Darla and I look back on it, which we have, we're so close to the situation that we probably couldn't see it, but he was slowly fading. He wasn't as responsive as he used to be. The seizures really took a toll. But at the end, he developed a non-COVID pneumonia, and pneumonia with kids with disabilities. That's a word you never want to hear.
Dr. James Dobson: Yeah.
Bob Vander Plaats: But Lucas had defeated pneumonia several times. He always bounced back. The doctors would predict and Lucas would beat the odds. And so we thought this case would be the same thing. And we thought we had about a 24 hour window when he was in the hospital to see if he would turn the corner or not turn the corner. And so I went home to take care of things and Darla stayed at the hospital and then signs were that Lucas was not going to turn to the corner in a positive way. Darla read Psalm 23 over him. She gave me a call about, "You need to get down here." And so I rushed to the hospital safely, but I was rushing. Then when Lucas passed, Darla said to Lucas, "We'll be with you soon."
Dr. James Dobson: Really.
Bob Vander Plaats: And then Darla called me and I was at the 73rd Street exit. I was about 10 minutes from the hospital, but I felt right away a peace almost as Jesus saying, "I've got this. You don't need to do this. The only one he needs now is me." And Lucas passed at 4:40 on Monday morning, November 22nd, 2021. And the reason I bring out those numbers, 4:40, Darla and I, I taught accounting and she was an accountant. Numbers mean a lot to us. But if you go to Luke 4:40, Lucas dies at 4:40, Luke 4:40, this is where Jesus is having them all bring people to them and he's healing them.
And to us, Jesus healed Lucas at 4:40 in the morning on November 22. And so there was a perfect peace about that. And so when we look down, yeah, we miss Lucas. There's no doubt we missed Lucas. But the Scriptures tell us, lift up your eyes. And I believe they tell us to lift up our eyes for a reason. Because when we lift up our eyes and we see Lucas today who's met Jesus face to face and every tear and every disability is wiped away, and he has a new body, and we cannot wait to see Lucas that day, as Darla said in one of her deals, save a dance for me and I believe there'll be a dance, a glorious dance in Heaven that day.
Dr. James Dobson: There's victory in it.
Bob Vander Plaats: Victory, without question.
Dr. James Dobson: Bob, what drives you now? Where's the passion? You're a hardworking man and you've devoted yourself to so many family related causes. Where's the force, the driving force that compels you today?
Bob Vander Plaats: I believe it has to be our faith. And I think in Lucas's life, Darla and I would say it put our faith to the test. When Lucas passed away right away, we talked about putting our faith to the test, but I think it's also Lucas of the message of "I don't get to do a lot of these things. I can't stand in the gap. I can't even advocate for myself." That I think is really what fuels us. We are going to advocate for the pursuit of righteousness and justice that honors God, that blesses people in our state of Iowa, but across the country. We want to see this country be a beacon in the night, a shining city on hill that embraces a culture of a life from conception to natural death. And so that I think is what motivates and what fuels us. There's an urgency to what we do.
Dr. James Dobson: At the top of the list is the sanctity of human life.
Bob Vander Plaats: It is at the top of the list. Matter of fact, I believe if you get the sanctity of human life, you're going to get a lot of other things right? If you get the sanctity of human life wrong, you're going to get a lot of other things wrong.
Dr. James Dobson: The name of the book is Light from Lucas, Lessons in Faith from a Fragile Life. It's a wonderful photograph of Darla and Lucas, and he's laughing, holding his hand up. Bob, our time is gone. And it's a shame because there's so much more that we could talk about. But there is a story here that has not been said. Of all the proceeds that come from this book, you don't keep any of them. What are you doing with it?
Bob Vander Plaats: Well, first of all, Darla and I want Lucas's light to shine on. So it'd be a great honor for us for all who are listening to purchase a book of Light from Lucas. And they go to thefamilyleader.com and they'll be able to find it really quick of how to purchase light from Lucas. But what I want to tell your listeners, Dr. Dobson, is that every dime, every dime, Darla and I keep none of it. Our ministry keeps none of it. It all goes to sanctity of human life efforts because we want to give God continued praise and glory for the gift of Lucas's life and stand in the gap for other people's lives.
Dr. James Dobson: That is breathtaking.
Bob Vander Plaats: So thefamilyleader.com, all the proceeds go to sanctity of human life efforts.
Dr. James Dobson: And I want to say to our listeners, you need to read this book. It puts life into perspective and someone who needs to read this book, I strongly recommend it to our listeners. Thank you for writing it, Bob. It took the measure of you, didn't it?
Bob Vander Plaats: It was actually a very cleansing process when I was writing the book. It was a way for me to deal with a lot of emotions that might have been built up. So there's a lot of tears in writing the book, but it's been a real blessing. And the best blessing is when we get stories back or emails back, testimonials back about that book and how it's impacted their lives. That tells us that Lucas's life has a purpose and God is allowing his light to shine on.
Dr. James Dobson: Do you miss him?
Bob Vander Plaats: Of course we do. There's different times where it hits you and sometimes it's just that you want to go, you want to go see him, you want to go give him a walk, you want him to center you again. But anytime that we miss him, I think we realize quickly it's for selfish reasons. We know he is home and that's where he should be.
Dr. James Dobson: Thank God for the promise of eternal life.
Bob Vander Plaats: Amen.
Dr. James Dobson: You're a good man and the good father. But I know Bob, that Darla was a fantastic mother to Lucas and to all of her boys, she is gifted in what she does. And what would she say and answer to some of the questions that I've asked?
Bob Vander Plaats: Well I think she would, she would back me up that she's so thankful for the gift of Lucas. We're not the same people that we once were. This has strengthened our faith. It has embolden us in fresh and new way.
Dr. James Dobson: There's no bitterness.
Bob Vander Plaats: There's no bitterness. If I wrestle with anything right now, as I know that children like Lucas are in the crosshairs of the abortion debate, and I think every time we abort a child with Down Syndrome or spina bifida or a child like Lucas with Partial Pachygyria Lissencephaly, we're robbing God of the display of his mighty works. That's what the word, his scripture says. So we are profoundly different today, and we would choose to have Lucas each and every day. That ends in why and twice on Sunday because of how his life has impacted my life and so many other lives. Matter of fact, after Lucas's funeral, I had a college basketball teammate who attended the funeral, and he called me up afterwards. He said, "Bob, after attending that funeral, I wish I would've known Lucas more." And Lucas was a hard kid to get to know. You had to spend a lot of time with him, and that's the kind of thing you want because Lucas had such a mighty impact that people left saying, "I'd like to know him more."
Dr. James Dobson: Let me ask one last question about you and Darla. You had another baby after Lucas came and went. Did you have a discussion about having another child or did God figure that out?
Bob Vander Plaats: Well, God definitely figured it out. I had just left my position of being high school principal to start Opportunities Unlimited, and it was in a turnaround situation. We had to do a lot of things to turn that ministry around. We just bought land. We were going to build a new home. Darla gave me a call from Sheldon. I was in Sioux City, and she said, "Hey, are you sitting down?" I said, no. She goes, "You probably should." She goes, "You know that flu that I thought I had. I went into the doctor, I'm pregnant." And it was a sit down moment, but I do remember that the doctor talked to us about it could be another Lucas, and we said, "We will love this child every bit as much. If it's another Lucas."
Dr. James Dobson: If you'd have had a choice, would it have been yes.
Bob Vander Plaats: I think having the next child, I think we knew we, our plate was full with Hans, Josh and Lucas, just the three of them. We probably would not have chosen to have a fourth child. But boy, did God know what he was doing when he gave us Logan. Logan brought so much healing to our family. He was the little brother that Hans and Josh didn't have with Lucas. They couldn't hold Lucas the way you could hold other normal babies or showcase their friend or teach them how to play ball or do those things. And Logan, just a vital, vital element to our family. I don't know what Logan's name actually means, but it should mean healer because he brought a lot of healing to our family.
Dr. James Dobson: Bob, you've said it very, very well today, and I trust that many hundreds of thousands of people will eventually hear this conversation. Thank you for caring enough to tell the story.
Bob Vander Plaats: Thank you, Dr. Dobson. You're a good friend. Thank you for having us on.
Roger Marsh: Well, I certainly hope Bob Vander Plaats' stories about his son Lucas really touched your heart. Friend, you're listening to Family Talk, and I'm Roger Marsh reminding you that if you missed any part of today's program or the previous two days broadcasts, you can listen to the entire three-part conversation on our website. Simply visit drjamesdobson.org/familytalk. That's drjamesdobson.org/family talk.
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