Note: Last summer, I was visiting with Asbury University basketball coach Will Shouse when he shared his incredible story of allowing God to work His plans. This appeared in The Anderson News in July, 2017 and is one of my favorite stories I have ever written. Be inspired.
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
Everything seems to happen for a reason.
It can be something small and insignificant. Or it can be a life-altering tragedy. But everything happens for a reason and you will never be able to convince Will Shouse otherwise.
He’s lived it. He continues to live with that knowledge and an unshakeable belief that God is in control.
“It’s my testimony,” Shouse said last summer.
Shouse is no stranger to Anderson County. As a high school basketball player, he was instant offense off the bench for Anderson’s 1997 Eighth Region champions. As a collegian at what was then known as Asbury College, Shouse embarked on a road that would eventually lead back to his alma mater and into the role of a successful college coach.
In that role, Shouse has a platform to share an emotional walk of faith that has had turns that cannot be explained by coincidence. “When people ask me to speak about it, I can’t turn them down,” he said during an impromptu interview at his Asbury office. “I just can’t.”
Two years ago, Shouse and his wife, Whitney, had desired to add a child to their family, but suffered two miscarriages and had an adoption fall through. They learned of a young woman who was serving time in a Florida prison but would be delivering a baby. She wished to give the child up for adoption.
The Shouses gladly went through the adoption process and on August 8, 2015, Ray Hudson Shouse was born. “His middle name is after David Hudson,” Shouse said of his high school teammate who suddenly died in 2010.
But little did the Shouses know that Ray would be born with a birth defect and how he would impact their lives in just four short months.
“If we had known, we probably would not have pursued it,” Shouse says, “but the Lord knew he needed us.”
Ray was born with a diaphragmatic hernia. The Shouses made weekly trips to Shands Children’s Hospital at the University of Florida, but Ray passed away on Dec. 10, 2015. He never left the hospital.
It was not an easy journey.
“Our four months and two days that we were able to be Ray’s mommy and daddy while he was alive changed my heart and tested my faith in ways I never thought imaginable,” says Shouse’s wife, Whitney, whom he met at Asbury. “When I saw this newborn baby hooked up to so many machines with a huge incision across his belly, I immediately loved him like only a mommy can and it was like when I gave birth to our three biological kids. There was nothing in this world I wouldn’t have done for that little boy, and so many times I heard God remind me that He loves me even more than that.”
Yet, over the four months, the Shouse family saw its faith fiercely tested. “I wouldn’t be totally honest if I said my faith never wavered throughout our ordeal with Ray,” Whitney Shouse continues. “There were many times that I just couldn’t understand why this was happening. Why, when so many people literally all around the world were praying for my baby, would God not heal him and let me bring him home? Why did (the Shouse children) Hunter, Layni and Hattie Jayne have to go through this awful pain at such young ages? I’ll never totally understand those answers, but I can look back at Ray’s life now with total thanks in my heart and feel honored that God chose me to be his mommy for his whole, entire life and He chose Will to be his daddy.”
Ray’s legacy lives on today. “He was only four months old when he died,” Shouse says. “He never spoke a word, but brought so many people together. We had so many people praying for him and for us during that time.”
Through the entire ordeal, Shouse and his family kept reminding themselves of the words of Scripture found in Jeremiah 29:11.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The Shouse family grieved through the loss while Will continued to coach at Asbury as he could. But those plans they believed in were far from over.
In the summer of 2016, a social worker contacted the Shouse family concerning a pregnant young woman who planned to give up her baby. She was troubled and did not feel she could raise the child.
The question was simple: Would the Shouse family be interested?
“She wanted the child to have a good home,” Will says. “She never wavered. She knew what she wanted to do.”
Whitney adds, “We had no plans of adopting any time soon. Our hearts were too broken. Our initial call from our social worker was on August 8, which happens to be Ray’s birthday.
“My initial feelings were that there was no way I could handle another adoption process or put our family through this again.”
After much prayer, the Shouse family said “yes” and the mother was contacted.
Ruby was born on Sept. 10 last year, exactly nine months after Ray passed away.
No one will ever convince Shouse the nine-month time frame was a mere coincidence. He references Isaiah 66:9.
“‘Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery,’ says your God.”
The Shouse family fully believes the story was the work of God. “I have never, ever seen an answered prayer quite like God sending us Ruby,” Whitney Shouse says. “Every single thing in Ruby’s adoption process came through perfectly and smoothly. She was even born on my birthday, which happens to be nine months to the day from the day Ray passed away. Nine months exactly. No one but God could have planned that. When I was holding Ray and giving him back to Jesus, He was creating Ruby to put in my arms.”
Will Shouse says the family is grateful for Ruby’s biological mother. “She is part of the pieces that God used to bring this together,” he says.
The story is incredible but reflects the deep faith that Shouse has lived since as a freshman basketball player at Asbury. He’d always been considered a “good guy” but was confronted about his faith at a time when few people were on campus.
“When I was a freshman at Asbury, we had a guy on the team, Art McMahon. At the time, I didn’t see ‘cool Christians.’ During Christmas break, they moved us all into one dorm so they wouldn’t have to heat more rooms,” Shouse says of those days when the hoopsters remained on campus for practice. “We were in the same room and I started pounding Art with questions.”
McMahon is now doing mission work in Haiti.
And Shouse, after two years as head coach at Kentucky Christian University, returned to lead the program at his alma mater. He’s won over 200 games as a college head coach and could probably move up to make a better name for himself in hoops circles.
But he says, “That’s just not me.”
To Shouse, who went 16-14 last year, coaching basketball is more than just wins and losses. It’s about making the people he to whom he is connected better.
“We do so many things here,” he says of Asbury. “We can go on mission trips together. We want to win, sure, but we can change lives.
“The fact that we take vans to road games, some people think that is a negative, but it’s not. When we are on the way to a road game, I can sit by them and talk with them about life. I spend so much time with the team.”
Whitney adds, “As much as Will loves basketball – ‘loves’ may not be a strong enough word – he loves his basketball players even more.”
It’s about more than the fast break, blocking out or the man-to-man. It’s about life.
“I want to be able to help people,” Shouse says. “Just by percentage, I will have some players who will go through an adoption.”
And what those players learn from their college basketball coach will matter much more than hitting a game-winning three.
Whitney Shouse is Will’s biggest cheerleader and knows his ultimate success goes well beyond trophies and winning records. “He knows his boys and their hearts and wants them to succeed in life,” she says, “not just to win games and set records but become godly men, husbands and dads some day.”