"Wrestling with an Angel" The Book
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Thinking it was yet another recycled container of ornamental Christmas bliss; I wiped off the attic dust and broke open the disintegrating duck tape seal. I wasn’t prepared for what was inside, but it made me smile.
“Is that everything?” Noah yelled from down the hatch, a floor below.
“One more,” I replied, as I bent over the attic door and handed down the dusty box.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s a Christmas present, from the Lord.” I half-joked, with a serious heart.
I took the box into the house and sat down next to Kim on the couch. She was folding laundry in front of the Christmas tree. Laying the box on the coffee table in front of us I beamed, “Look what I found!”
“Whaaaat is it?” she slowly asked, a bit cautious of my typical canine-like antics of digging up stuff and bringing it to her for approval.
I reached into the box and took out the very fist item on top: a picture of our three boys sitting on a fireplace mantle from ten Christmases ago. Jake and Noah were seven years old, and Aaron was five. Their smiling faces were framed with contentment as their eyes told the story of certain Christmas anticipation and excitement. It’s the story that only small children can tell.
Under that perfect picture lay a few hundred more animated portraits of our colorful tribe, carefully bunched together like a bouquet of grace. Kim and I both shook our heads and smiled as we simultaneously realized that these memories came from a time in our history when we were hoping for better times, not realizing that these were the best of times.
But what caught us both off guard were the pictures of Jake. The past four or five years of complete struggle and frustration had almost erased our memories of the happy, satisfied, charismatic child with the contagious smile that could make a lighted Christmas tree look dull.
As we scanned the photographs we had to look hard to see his disabilities. “That’s Jake!” I said, noting the accurate personality captured on film.
Kim held one of the pictures closely and we both sat there in silence lost in the joy and sadness of all those years that seemed to be so difficult back then. But we couldn’t see the difficulties in the old box of pictures—only happiness, contentment and grace.
As we shuffled through the treasure chest of reminiscences, our five year old daughter came into the room and stood by the old dusty box with a half-eaten candy cane in her hand.
“What’s that?” she asked.
I put down the stack of pictures I was clinging to, picked her up and sat her on my lap.
“Good times.” I replied
“What kind of good times” She asked.
Squeezing her tightly, I created a giggle by placing my nose on her neck. She smelled like peppermint and clean pajamas as she laughed and squirmed in my arms.
“Good times—just like this.”
From The Lucas Tribe
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I’ve tried to make it in five hours, but only at the expense of premature balding tires, a white knuckled wife and a back seat full of regurgitated breakfast cereal.
Still, we make the best of it for the entire family, turning the long and sometimes arduous trip into a regularly scheduled expedition. It is a journey that we have grown accustomed to.
We generally leave home early in the morning and arrive at Romney in the late afternoon. I have discovered over the past year that the more precise the schedule of events, the more stable Jake’s personality remains. Routine is his most effective medication. Perhaps this is what has made the Potomac Center so successful for my son.
His day begins at the same time each morning. A strict program is followed from breakfast to bedtime including specific occasions for hygiene, going to the bathroom, school studies, quiet time and snack time. Since he always knows what is next, he is seldom stricken by the anxiety of unfamiliar transition.
Jake’s therapeutic reaction to this controlled atmosphere is the main reason we are willing to allow him to reside six hours away from our home. For the first time in a long time he is at peace. He is happy. He is progressing instead of regressing. He is accomplishing things at The Potomac Center that we never thought he would be able to accomplish. To remove him from this structured environment would mean starting all over again with potentially devastating consequences to his way of life.
Still we know the day will come when he must move. The Potomac Center is an adolescent facility. When Jake turns 18, they will begin the process of transitioning him into an adult facility (hopefully closer to our home). In the meantime, we make the trip to Romney as often as we can.
Arriving at our destination, we park in the parking lot and do the 7th inning stretch before following the sidewalk that leads to the “A-house” residence where Jake lives. We can always see him waiting for us in the large picture window of the commons room—his face pressed up against the glass, creating a small patch of fog on the cold pane—waiting and watching for us to appear.
As we approach the building, Jake spots us on the sidewalk and begins his dance of celebration—jumping up and down while vocalizing a long, loud and monotone victorious screech. We recognize this sound as the sound of Jake’s happiness—it is inviting and invigorating, and it always makes us smile.
The entrance to the residence swings open and his charismatic presence fills the doorway. As he runs to greet us, his crooked legs swing underneath his body like two drunken men competing in a three-legged race. I am always amazed at how well and how fast they carry him, even as each step appears to be his last.
I step out in front of Kim and the other kids to absorb the initial impact of his onslaught of joy. It is a great duty and delight to both protect my family from the oncoming charge while receiving for myself the full brunt of Jake’s love and excitement. He runs into my arms and I lift him off of the ground, spinning him around while squeezing him tightly to my chest. He smells clean and familiar.
We exchange a flurry of kisses and I set him back on the ground easing him into the continuing blissful reunion with the rest of his family. The first few minute of our visit always remind me of the climax to Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, and the anticipation of heaven becomes a little sweeter with each and every trip to Romney.
The visit itself is always true to the same schedule. We pack the entire family into the Suburban and make the thirty minute drive from the Potomac Center to Moorefield, the nearest town with a McDonalds, movie theater and a Walmart—three essentials for life with Jake.
Once in Moorefield we invade the local McDonalds for Jake’s favorite 10-piece chicken nuggets and fries. It’s here where we really get to sit down with our son and spend time inspecting, examining and observing all the changes he has undergone since our last visit.
His copper colored hair is thick and one of the counselors at the Center has trimmed his long sideburns into “chops”. I run may hand over his face and feel the stubble from his spotty beard.
“You shaving now boy?” I gently tease him.
He laughs and nods his head as he contently stuffs french fries into his mouth. The strict diet at the Potomac Center has Jake lean, muscular and famished. He takes delightful advantage of the junk food opportunity before him.
After lunch, we generally head to the movie theater to catch the latest kid-flick. Movies have always been a soothing mechanism for Jake. The movie for today is “Nanny McFee Returns”. It is an entertaining story for the kids, but Kim and I both became sensitive to how Jake was processing the overall theme of the drama, specifically the ending.
In the final scene of the movie, the long lost father—missing in action from war and falsely reported as killed—returns home to the joyful surprise of his wife and children. It was a wonderful reunion and a very moving portrait with a heavenly paralell. As the credits rolled Jake began to applaud, but he cried as we left the movie theater. I often wonder what scenes are being played out in his mysterious, silent mind.
After the movie we always head to Walmart and let Jake do some shopping for some new DVD videos and Jelly Belly jelly beans. He proudly and recklessly pushes the shopping cart through the store vocalizing loud excitement as he rolls. People stop, stare and get out of his way. Jake doesn’t care; he’s on a mission and he knows exactly where to go. We all laugh with a hint of jealousy at his bold, irresponsible freedom to be content with himself.
This is Jake’s time and my other children, even my five-year-old daughter, is ever so gracious to make sure he is lavished with love, affection and attention. I’m not sure if the saying is accurate that “absence make the heart grow fonder” but I do know that absence makes the heart more sensitive to the brevity of life and the importance of time together—times like these.
After a few hours in the bliss of a completed and reunited family, we head back to the Potomac Center—back to Jake’s security and the schedule that he has grown so accustomed to. Already he is feeling the creeping distress of being out of sync as it approaches dinner time and his evening routine.
The trip back to the Center is usually very quiet as Kim is contemplating the approaching dread of leaving her son once again and I am focused on the impending comfort of my soon-to-be heartbroken wife. This is the part of Jake’s visit that reaches into our soul and wrings out the rationale that tells us we are doing the right things for the right reasons. It often feels like a hard punch to the chest.
We exit the Suburban and walk quietly as a family back down the sidewalk that leads to Jake’s dorm. The other kids make trivial, nervous conversation in an attempt to divert the impending emotions of their despondent parents. After walking into the commons area of the building we exchange hugs and kisses doing our best to hold back the contagious emotion of the moment. Then Jake points to the door and signs, “It’s time for you to go.”
This one adamant phrase from his non-verbal vocabulary lets us know that this is his place, and as much as he loves us and wants to be with us, he has a routine to get back into—a routine that makes him feel safe and normal.
We are somewhat comforted by Jakes display of independence. It helps us to believe that we have done the right thing—the best thing—for our son.
As we exit the building and walk back down the sidewalk towards the parking lot, just out of sight of the big picture window, Kim falls into my arms and weeps openly. I silently motion for the kids to continue walking and I pull her close.
My reassurance always follows the same script, “He is happy. He’s doing so well! He needs us to leave him here. The Lord will take care of him. It’s going to be alright.” But my attempts of comfort are no match for the empty arms of a grieving mother. And so I hold her, as she cries.
I suppose it could be argued (and I have been guilty myself of this thought) that a 12 hour round trip drive through winding mountain roads, followed by an additional 60 minute round trip to the nearest town just to eat chicken nuggets, watch a movie and shop for jelly beans, is hardly worth the effort of spending three hours with someone you can’t even have a conversation with and then leaving with a broken heart.
But Jake would probably disagree.
On the long drive home the daylight fades to dusk and the resilience of youth surrenders its strength as the kids fall asleep in the back seat. I take Kim’s hand and squeeze it tightly in a declaration of assurance and protection. We drive west as the sun sets in a pink sky, highlighting the painted leaves of the Appalachian canvas—a reassuring “Amen” to all our silent prayers.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
If you have about 17 extra minutes, give it a listen.
I pray that you find hope and grace in the gospel, for whatever circumstances life has brought your way. And remember, your circumstances do not determine God's love for you--the cross has already determined God's love for you.
Your circumstances are there to point you towards the hope of God in the gospel of His Son--to show you your weakness so that you may fall on His strength. So step back from whatever difficult situation you are in and look at the big picture of what God is doing in your life. When you do, you will see nothing but grace. And perhaps in that picture of grace you too have a story to tell to the world.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Then, I woke up this morning to a tweet from Justin Taylor from The Gospel Coalition http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/ informing me that "Wrestling with an Angel" is now available. And if you want a discounted price and an ebook (audiobook coming soon), check out the publisher's new website at Cruciformpress.com http://bit.ly/dwsrl4
So, if you have been blessed in any way from this blog through the life of my son Jake, please consider checking out the first chapter of the book and possibly ordering a copy. Also, the book is saturated with grace and soaked with the gospel, so consider getting a copy for a struggling friend who may be in need of seeing their darkest moments through the lens of God's amazing grace.
Thank you all for making this book possible.
Greg and Jake
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Here is a link to the sneak peek and endorsements. http://tinyurl.com/2caf88n It's a Facebook page so you probably wont be able to view it unless you are actually signed in to Facebook. The book is scheduled to be available October 1st through Cruciform Press. I will post more ordering information when it become available.
Thank you all for following my blog. Your prayers and comments served as great encouragement to complete this writing.
Friday, September 3, 2010
I am a scoundrel by nature--unworthy of life.
Like Adam my father—I was a sinner by choice.
Like Cain my brother—I was a sinner by birth.
Like Rahab the Harlot—I was a whore.
Like David the King—I was an adulterer and a murderer.
Like Jonah the prophet—I was a runner and a rebel.
Like Peter the rock—I have denied my Lord.
Like Paul the Apostle—I am still the worst sinner I know.
Dead in the guilt of my sin…
Bound in the shroud of my disgrace…
Buried in the grave of my choices...
Sealed in the coffin of my hopelessness…
Forgotten in the despair of my helplessness…
I was dead in my sin—unable to respond.
But God, through the deep love and mercy of His compassion, for His own glory, granted repentance and faith in the gospel of Christ. And by the payment provided by His own Son, to satisfy the wrath of God deserved for me, through the sacrificial exchange of the Savior on the cross…
I have been ransomed from my condemnation, and raised from the dead!
And Like Jesus—I am righteous!
In Him I am transformed—from scoundrel to saint, from prostitute to bride, from adultery to faithfulness, from murderer to rescuer, from running to standing firm, from rebel to obedient follower, from rejecting Christ to heralding the gospel, from worst of sinner to best of example…undeserving of it all.
This is grace!
Friday, August 20, 2010
“We’ve haven’t been able to come out on the beach together and just sit, relax and stare out at the ocean…not since we were first married.” She softly replied while taking my hand.
This spot on the beach is very special to us. We’ve been coming here since we were in high school; Kim has been coming since she was a little girl. But for the past 16 years our vacations have always been somewhat exhausting and mostly segregated.
The routine was usually followed without much thought. I would come out on the beach in the early morning to be by myself and Kim would spend the morning in the condo with Jake. Around 10 AM I would relieve her and she would come out to the beach with the other children, or by herself, while I would spend the afternoon with Jake. In the evening when the sun wasn’t so hot, we would all go out to the beach and Kim and I would rotate the one-on-one care with Jake.
Children always change the dynamics of a marriage, and time usually spent lavishing attention on a spouse can be divided for the attention of the children. That is mostly normal and not always a bad thing. But when you have a disabled child, sometimes the time divided can lead to neglect. In my 17 years of parenthood, I have been guilty of this sin many times.
I do not mean that Jake has been a burden. It has been an honor to care for him so deeply for all these years. I mean that when Jake was out of his environment—out of his element and off his schedule, he was mostly miserable and even harder to deal with than usual. Add to that the sensory integration of bright sun, hot humidity and his fear of water and his misery often became contagious.
And so this year on vacation when we weren’t running, jumping, swimming or playing, we sat on the beach and watched our 4 year old daughter dig holes and build castles as our other two teenage sons cruised the sand in the self-perceived coolness of their fledgling masculinity attempting to impress the fickle cliques of teenage girls.
It was a wonderful, relaxing, God glorifying time.
But like sand that blows in your eyes from someone shaking off a beach towel, sprinkled throughout our vacation were the moments of sadness and feelings of guilt. Jake was not with us and we were having the time of our lives in his absence. This thought brought our adventure and our peace to a screeching halt more than once during our great vacation.
Then I came home and read a post from John Knight’s blog talking about this very thing—the guilt that sometimes invades his peacefulness during their one week family vacation, taken without their disabled son, Paul.
Although necessary for the refreshment of the family and good for their disabled son at the same time (he gets to spend the week on his grandmother’s farm), the ebb and flow of guilt and shame often weighs heavy on the parents heart.
I was glad to hear John communicate this.
Being the stubborn, prideful man that I was (am?), I always included Jake in everything we did as a family. I thought this was a good thing, definitely a responsible thing, possibly an honorable thing, and maybe even a godly thing. After all, we were a family and families do everything together. So even if Jake was going to be in an environment where he would be miserable, or even if he made the entire week miserable for the other kids, we were still going to be together, and make the best of it.
Last year we took our first vacation without Jake in 16years. We went all out. I took three weeks off work and we drove a total of nearly 4,000 miles as we roamed adventurously all up and down the east coast. We stayed in campgrounds and cooked our food over open campfires. We slept out under the stars and spent more than one night huddled together in a leaky tent braving a bad storm till early morning. It was a wonderful, dangerous, glorious, risky, fabulous time.
My other children still talk about that vacation like it was a trip to the moon.
Truth is—life is difficult, and quality time with family is needed to strengthen the important relationships that this complexity often weakens. For families gifted with a disabled child, these difficulties can be even more magnified, warranting an even greater need for this quality time.
So as I took my wife’s hand there on the beach, with the surrounding peace and senseless fun of this year, the grand memories of last year, and the lessons learned from all the years past—I resolved to plan vacations well. I will fight the guilt and depressed feelings of blame by seeking out the best adventure for my family based on their abilities and disabilities.
And as the tribe-leader of this annual journey, I will balance safe, serene, solitude with risky, dangerous, exciting adventure—for the good of our family and the glory of our God.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Above each hand print were the words, “To my Dad: Happy Father’s Day!”
I am guessing by the size of the hand prints and the disheveled, shaky lines of writing, that this fine artwork was copyrighted sometime in the late 90’s when the boys were in preschool or just starting grade school.
Today these brothers are young men. Jacob is 17, Noah is 16, Aaron is 15 and our family is now complete with a daughter (and little sister) appropriately named Hope, who is 4.
These crumpled Father’s Day cards from yester-year would be treasures enough in and of themselves. But for this father, every Father’s Day card is a reminder of God’s amazing grace and perfect providence.
When I was younger I imagined how great it would be to become a dad. I dreamt of how I would lead my kids into great adventures and pass on lessons of life that would develop into traditions for my children and their children’s children. For me, fatherhood has always been one of the most honorable callings—one that I have always aspired to.
After Kim and I were married we discovered that God had a different plan in store for our family. We would never be able to have biological children. There would be no passing of genetic traits or physical imprints duplicated from us to our baby, born naturally to our family. We would not have a boy with my eyes, or a little girl with my wife’s hair and smile.
But sometimes, instead of blessing us with children that have our own physical traits, God chooses to create for us a family that illustrates the characteristics of His very own grace.
Not too far down in the old trunk from the three pieces of hand-printed Father’s Day cards, is an old newspaper article from 1995. It tells of a two-year-old boy that was maliciously assaulted and nearly beaten to death by his stepfather. The child’s skull was fractured and his back was broken. He had two black eyes and a broken arm. The attending physician also noted several other past broken bones and scars that had healed without medical attention.
“It was the worst case of child abuse I have ever seen.” The state prosecutor was quoted in the article.
The violently abusive stepfather also had a biological son who showed signs of severe physical abuse and trauma as well. These two half-brothers were taken from their biological family and placed into the Social Welfare system of our state.
Back inside the wooden chest, next to the old newspaper clipping was a tiny plastic hospital bracelet that reads, “Baby-boy Harr”. It was taken from the wrist of a premature baby—a patient in the hospital N.I.C.U. where my wife worked, and still works today.
Born to a young mother with a criminal history and a drug addicted father, this tiny boy was small and frail—fair and beautiful. A note was placed on his crib that he was being “abandoned” by his birth mother to Social Services. No one knew anything about this child’s medical history, and no one had a dream of what his future would hold.
Later, on the other side of the world, there would be a baby girl left wrapped in a blanket on a desolate street corner, crying for no one to hear. She would be forsaken for the simple reason that she was a girl and not a boy. This helpless and hopeless baby would spend the next year in an orphanage and the foster care system of her communist nation.
Four lives touched by extreme tragedy, abandonment and abuse by biological blood—left hopeless and alone.
But God writes our story, from the beginning to the end…and He is always the hero.
He is a mighty defender of orphans—giving hope to the hopeless and strength to the downtrodden. He places the lonely into families. He is more concerned with the life giving blood of His Son than the biological blood of men. And what some may intend for evil, God purposely and powerfully turns to His glory and our greatest good.
And with this intentional tenacity, the sovereign Lord picked up the pieces of these broken lives and formed a family—we call it the Lucas Tribe.
None of us look anything alike, but we all share the traits of our Father.
So today, by God’s incredible grace and sovereign providential plan, I celebrate Father’s Day.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Webster’s dictionary defines it as: showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.
The effects of disability do not let up. They are daily, they are hourly, they are there offering challenges by the minute at times. There is no end in sight, there is no cure, there is no healing in the broader sense. But what sweet balm of ultimate healing they will meet if their eyes are turned to Christ.”
Those are the words of my good friend, Justin Reimer, Director and Chairman of The Elisha Foundation in Bend, Oregon.
As divine appointments go, I met Justin through this blog and we instantly bonded through the disability of our sons and the grace of our Father.
A few weeks ago, Justin invited my family out to Oregon to attend The Elisha Foundation Retreat, a special ministry named after his special son, for families touched by disability.
At first I extended a polite, “Thank you, but…” which was followed by a long list of obstacles, barriers and excuses that would need a certified miracle from God to make the trip possible.
However, Justin was “RELENTLESS” as he continued to chisel away at the obstacles, barriers and excuses until finally the providence of God flew us on the wings of grace from Huntington, WV to Redmond, Oregon.
From Redmond, we drove to the Deschutes National Forest outside of the small town of Sisters, to a place called Camp Sherman.
Now I’m not sure what the New Earth will look like, but after last weekend I have a lot better guess. Nestled within sight of the Cascade Mountains in the shade of a forest of 100 foot tall Ponderosa Pines, sit twenty or so cozy cabins separated by a winding, rock laden, crystal clear trout stream.
This was the setting for the “sweet balm of healing” as Justin and his army of volunteers turned our tired and hurting eyes to Christ.
Pastor Paul Martin, from Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Canada stood and delivered with compassion and authority every evening as he brought the gospel to this group of weary travelers.
This was no “feel good” watered down, cotton-candy preaching. It was deep and penetrating as he faithfully exposited from the book of Hebrews proclaiming and magnifying the Christ that “upholds the universe by the word of His power”.
This is the Jesus that provides healing, strength and grace for families touched by the heartbreak and fatigue of disability. This is the Jesus that puts purpose and power in the lives of the disabled. This is the Jesus that was reflected in the lives of so many families at this Christ-centered retreat.
But it wasn’t only the parents who were ministered to. Each family was represented by a child with specific disabilities. These children were embraced, cherished, loved on and protected. They were gently and intentionally pointed to the cross of Christ in word, action and example.
In return, these special children became ministers of grace to the entire camp. I watched with awe and amazement as teenage volunteers (my own sons included) lay aside their pride, egos and sense of clickish popularity for the mantle of humility and Christ-likeness.
I saw adult volunteers go above and beyond to give respite to the families and grace-ability to the disabled. I observed the strong carry the weak and the weak change the lives of the strong.
There were no tears of pity or self-centered sorrow, only weeping of joy and satisfaction in the One who will eventually wipe all our eyes with His healing garment of grace.
In great retrospect, I am glad I traveled across the country to attend this retreat. I am grateful for those who made it possible through their generosity and kindness. I am touched by the many new friends and life long relationships that were built in these few, but powerful days.
Most of all I am amazed by the God of grace who, through a blog entry much like this, knit together the hearts of two families, giving one father the “RELENTLESS” passion of ministry and another the “sweet balm of healing”—both born in the shadow of bitter-sweet disability...or better yet, amazing, grace-ability.
Monday, May 31, 2010
David Platt’s writing drives a stake right through the heart of the cultural Christianity that America has created to satisfy their comforts and soothe their convictions. It is a wonderfully dangerous book.
From first few pages, I bonded with the author’s passion and heartache of how we have been lulled to spiritual sleep by the “good life” of the American dream while leaving behind the mission of our Master, devaluing the cost of our salvation, and losing the wild, untamed risk of our faith.
“I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.” He writes.
Feeling a bit guilty, I stopped reading for a just a moment and glanced above my book for personal reflection, while simultaneously scanning the Mall parking lot for impending trouble like a faithful sheep dog.
About 30 yards to my right I noticed a middle-aged man exit a silver minivan and then walk to the rear and lift the trunk lid. He strained to pull out a small wheel chair, sat it on the ground and opened it for use, locking the wheels in place with the safety brakes.
He then walked around the van to the passenger side sliding door, opened it and disappeared up to his waist inside the vehicle for just a few moments. As he maneuvered his upper body back out of the doorway, attached to him was a small, frail looking boy, probably 8 or 9 years old who moved in jerky, floppy motion, like a marionette with the strings cut off.
The man, who I assumed was the boy’s father, carried the child to the rear of the van, placed him in the wheelchair and strapped him in for better control. He then wiped the sweat from his brow and unlocked the safety brakes from the chair. The child’s arms and legs began to flail wildly, either in the excitement of the moment or from the cerebral palsy he was obviously afflicted with—or maybe both.
I watched as the weary looking dad then shut the van doors and pushed the wheelchair carrying his son across the hot asphalt parking lot disappearing into the front entrance of the Mall.
For obvious reasons, I am very sensitive to scenes like this. I am also very sensitive to the possibility that God sets me in certain strategic places and then opens my eyes to observe things that most people don’t get to see.
An inaudible whisper often comes with these divine glimpses, “Pay attention…there is something eternally beautiful going on here, much more than you could imagine, and I’m inviting you to be a part of it.”
I’m not sure what David Platt’s book has to do with what I observed, perhaps nothing—or maybe everything.
Most of us feel something when we see the plights of an average family struggling with the challenges of raising a disabled child. Some of us feel pity, while others feel sympathy. Still others sense some kind of thankfulness as they place into perspective the smallness of the problems in their own lives.
I also experience those thoughts, along with the empathy that comes from the bond of being a fellow parent with a disabled child. But more than that, I feel the strong desire to act. I want to offer assistance, give advice, share some encouragement, or pray for specific needs.
Sometimes I feel the overwhelming desire to simply place a hand on a shoulder and say, “I know how tired you are, hang in there. God is faithful and there is so much more going on within your circumstances than you can see right now.”
Being in a police uniform and carrying a gun typically stops me from acting in any of those capacities unless prompted by dangerous circumstances or a divine appointment. It does happen, but usually in an obscure moment with little or no follow up.
But as I sit on the parking lot today, I find myself in a different season of life than the father I just observed. My son is now grown and gone, being cared for by others in a way that I can no longer care for him. My life, once very radical, is now very comfortable.
This is a good place to be—for a season. It is a very dangerous place to be—for a lifetime.
I have enjoyed the rest and peace and shift in priorities in my life, but I don’t want to be lulled to sleep by them. Our family has never been a “normal” family. And now we have the chance to live this American dream to the fullest and do all the things “normal” families do. It’s tempting.
At the same time, we also have an amazing opportunity to live radically once again, impacting the lives of many through the grace of God given to us in such a steady supply over these years.
Raising Jake has been an adventure. It has also been an education—a training ground for ministry. God has spent this time equipping us for something great. I will not waste it on comfort and ease while so many around me continue to struggle in desperation and despair.
I suppose this is where my blog and my life take a different turn, perhaps not so much “different” as “evolutionary” or even “revolutionary”.
I hope that you, the reader, will continue to follow this adventure. There is a book coming soon, Lord willing, that will expand on the blog stories of raising Jake and the lessons of grace gleaned from his life. I desire that it will honor the gospel, glorify God and magnify Christ.
I also pray that the book will serve to extend the message of hope and grace to the many hurting families struggling through disability, as well as those who are simply struggling with life and hopelessness. God’s grace is sufficient for all things, and in great weakness there is found great strength from a great Savior. This is the true message of the book, and this is the true hope for all our disabilities.
The blog itself will begin to take on a new role as I attempt to tell the stories of grace in the lives of so many others who wrestle with angels of their own. God’s grace is all around us, waiting to be unveiled and marveled at in the celestial circumstances of life.
At first these accounts may seem few and far in between since I have now obligated most of my free time to complete this book. But I will stay faithful to the prompting of the Lord and I will be observant to what He is doing in and through the lives around me.
I anticipate my calling as a police officer will continue to serve as a window of opportunity to both see and record these adventures of grace.
Thank you for your many comments of encouragement and hope, as well as your petitions and prayers. I don’t respond to all of them in writing, but I assure you that I respond to each of them with praise and thanksgiving to my Father. You will never know the incredible strength that is given to my family on a daily basis through these simple, yet profound words and prayers.
Now follow me as I follow Christ on this untamed, radical journey of grace. There will be many divine appointments along the way. Pay close attention to the eternal beauty of what He is doing. There is so much more going on than you could ever imagine…and He’s inviting you to be a part of it all.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The house is very quiet this evening. I can hear the stream across from our front porch flowing hard against its banks, draining the water from the surrounding hillsides saturated by the violence of yesterday’s storm. But the sky is clear tonight and the woods are alive with the sounds of late spring. There is a certain hope in the fragrance of the air.
I have time to think about all that has happened over the past few years, months and days. Since Jake was born I have not had this kind of freedom to simply sit and contemplate without agenda or interruption.
As we settle into our son’s absence, there are bitter-sweet blessings to behold. To lay in bed on a Saturday morning, to sit on the porch swing with my wife, to go fishing with my sons, have a tea party with my daughter, or go out to a restaurant with the entire family used to be a rare jewel of exceptional grace. Now it is strangely normal. I can see how the average family could eventually take these moments for granted. I hope we never do.
But the sweet blessings of peace, tranquility and quality time also have a bitter side. Our family is incomplete. Our son and brother is missing. There is an empty chair at the dinner table. The house is very quiet—and I have time to think.
Sometimes, in the stillness of it all, anxiety sneaks in and strangles my peace. "Where is my son? Who is caring for him tonight? Is he scared? Is he hungry? Does he feel abandoned or alone? Does he miss his family? Is there something he needs to tell us that only we can understand? What if someone abuses or neglects him…we would never know!"
Anxiety is almost always followed by pride, “No one can care for my son like me. No one will love him like me. When Jake was here with us, at least I knew his basic needs were being met. I do not even know the names of the people caring for him tonight.”
Pride leads to guilt; guilt leads to depression; depression leads to desperation. And desperation always finds me groping for God’s promises. It was in this desperation that I came across Matthew 18:10 and the words of Jesus tonight.
“See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
I do not believe Jake has a guardian angel assigned to his disability to protect him from harm. I do believe, however, that he has a guardian Father who sits on His throne in heaven surrounded by an army of angels intently watching the face of their Commander and Chief.
And with one nod of the Almighty’s head, a legion of angels could be dispatched to preserve and protect my son. Night and day they wait and watch the Father’s face as His eyes watch over Jake.
When Jake was three years old he nearly drowned in a creek outside our home. The Father nodded and the angels were dispatched. My wife found him face down in the water, lips blue and skin cold. She administered CPR until he began breathing again.
When Jake was five he wandered out into traffic on a busy street. The Father nodded and the angels were dispatched. The speeding car screeched to a halt just inches from my son.
A couple years ago, when Jake escaped the house and wondered deep into our neighborhood at the vulnerability of traffic, strangers and vicious dogs—the Father nodded, the angels were dispatched and Jake was brought home.
Only days after Jake moved to the center and school, another mentally disabled resident took a pillow and put in over Jakes face as he slept. The Father nodded, the angels were dispatched, and the care worker decided to check the rooms of the sleeping residents. He walked in as the other child was trying to smother Jake to death, “because he was being too loud.” The other child was removed from the building and Jake never even knew what happened.
Will God always protect my son from danger and harm? No, because it is always dangerous to be His child. And sometimes pain, suffering and even death are ways that God is most glorified in our lives.
But God will forever be present, care for and love my Jake with a Father’s compassion that outshines my best abilities and most hopeful intentions as an earthly father—a compassion that is always diligent, always attentive and always caring for his most intimate needs.
And so as I sit and listen to the creek flowing hard against its banks tonight, I have time to think. It is a bitter-sweet time. I miss my son. But I am reminded that God is on His throne at this very moment. He has His eyes on my boy, and an army of angels have their eyes on the face of my Father.
Jake is in good hands.
Friday, May 7, 2010
“I feel like I have failed him…” she sobbed.
“We have not failed. We have always sought what is best for him. This is best for him…this is best for everyone.” I replied, trying to convince myself in a parallel attempt to comfort my wife.
A few months ago Jake was enrolled in a special school to help him transition to more independent living in a special needs community as adulthood inevitably advances on his life. Much to our amazement, he thrived in this super structured environment.
The original plan was to get him toilet trained, work on his behavior skills, and then transition him back home with respite assistance.
He came home this past weekend for a visit and the original plan fell to pieces. A case worker from the school brought him to the house so we could celebrate his 17th birthday and within minutes of walking through our door Jake had regressed back to the state his original violent, miserable condition.
The case worker stood aghast as Jake messed his pants, crawled on the floor and curled up into a fetal position in the corner of his room. It took three of us to change his clothes and get him cleaned up—two to hold him down and one to scrub and clean.
“He is completely toiled trained at the Center” the case worker defended with a thousand mile stare. “I’ve never seen him act like this before.”
“We’ve never known anything different,” my voice cracking in hope-strangled disappointment.
Most of the visit went well; as well as one can expect with Jake. But the nervous pacing, incessant whining and repetitive compulsive behavior seemed to increase with each hour. As time approached for Jake to return to the school he became peaceful and calm again.
He hugged his brothers and sister; then dad and mom. Before walking to the car he picked up his small computer talker that he wears around his neck and said, “Goodbye”. He waved like the grand marshal in a ticker tape parade and blew us volley of passionate kisses.
I buckled him into the back seat of the care worker’s car. And just like that…he was gone.
For a brief moment I felt like a normal parent watching his 17 year old son drive away to college. Then, in almost a panic, it seemed like someone had just kidnapped our baby boy. Like a good cop and faithful father, I wanted to run after the car, catch the kidnapper and rescue my son.
Then I realized—this was the rescue.
Jake was moving to the best quality of adult life that we could offer. My selfish attitude of, “No one can care for my son as good as myself” faded into the submission and surrender of his future to the care of my sovereign God.
My wife and I sat on the front porch swing most of that day--wondering…grieving…resting. It was almost like a death in the family, except no one came with food and condolences. We were all alone.
I told a friend it was like we had just completed a marathon together, but when we crossed the finish line no one was there to cheer us on. Then we realized the race had been over for quite some time. All the lights were off and the crowds had gone home. There was no celebration, just exhaustion, weariness and fatigue. We embraced each other at the finish line knowing we lost, but still grasping for the hope that at the very least, we finished the race.
I really don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps this will be the final chapter in the book I now have time to write. Maybe I’ll get a hobby, go fishing, make some new friends and do whatever good friends do.
Or better yet, I think I’ll take my wife on a date and not have to worry about getting a call from the neighbors that Jake escaped the house again and was found wondering the neighborhood.
Maybe I’ll spend some quality time with my other three children who have been so patient and generous with their dad’s focus on Jake through the years.
Whatever I do, it will be very different than what I have done for the past 17 years. On one hand this is good—I have a lot to catch up on. On the other hand this is nearly impossible—as Jake has shaped my very character and purpose throughout most of my adult life.
Either way, I know this winter of our life is coming to an end. But at the same time a new season is blowing in like a spring thunderstorm. The storm will end soon, followed by milder weather, greener grass and lots of flowers. And perhaps now I will have time to walk with my wife, hold her hand, and smell them all.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The more I try to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation, the more I am astounded by His grace. That even the faith to believe is a gift given to those who deserve only His just wrath.
So the sovereign Lord gives us faith in His Son and we believe that Jesus came, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for the payment of our sins. All the wrath of the Father justly reserved for us was cast upon His Son. All the righteousness of Jesus is transferred to us by grace through the work of the cross.
As one preacher so simply stated, “On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had lived your life, so He could treat you as if you had lived His.” A profound paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:21
All of this is obtained by grace through faith. I understand that.
I’m not thinking of the native in a far unreached part of the world that at least has a general revelation to point him towards more specific revelation.
I am thinking about my 17 year old son who has the mental capacity of a 2 year old.
I know Jake is a sinner—boy do I know. And I know that he is in desperate need of a Savior. I also know that salvation comes through repentance and faith, neither of which have I ever seen or could imagine seeing in my son’s life.
He does not understand the cross, or the sacrifice that was made. He knows nothing of his Adamic nature or fallen state. I’m not even sure that he treasures Christ above Jelly Belly’s or Santa Clause. So how can he be saved? How is the gift of faith applied to his lack of comprehension of the gospel?
I believe it all comes back to the main application of salvation for each of us—God’s undeserving grace. Yes, Jake is sinful. And yes, he is in desperate need of a savior. If he is saved from the just wrath of God, he will be saved by faith, but how that faith is gifted to him and in what capacity it is made manifest is still only through the mystery of God’s amazing grace.
I rest in that grace, not only for my own salvation, but for the salvation of my son.
I’m sure there is a lot of systematic theology that could be applied at this point, but I am not a theologian, I am a father. However, I do hope that no one mistakes my emotional parental response for a lack of searching the scriptures diligently for a solid answer to this important question.
I have poured over God’s promises like a doctor searching for a cure of the deadly disease in his own child, looking for hope and confidence in this grey area of my son’s life. There are many passages that give hints to the question I pose, but in the end I believe the passage in Ephesians 2 brings the most peace to my own soul—that Jake’s state is really no different from my own.
We are both separated from God by sin, in desperate need of a savior, and even if it is faith that appropriates our salvation, this faith is not our own doing—it is the gift of God. So that in the end our boast and our only hope is in the mysterious, amazing grace of God.
How will my son be saved?
“For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
I rest hopeful in God’s promises.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
“Rock, paper, scissors?”
I joke with my wife in a humorous attempt to decide whose turn it is to handle bath time for Jake.
“I’ll do it.” She replies, with slight resignation in her voice.
“No, I’ll do it.” I respond accordingly to her weary tone. Such a mundane decision for most parents is actually an act of chivalry in our house. One of the most powerful phrases in our love language to each other is often, “I’ll give him his bath tonight.”
Admittedly, she has told me, “I love you” many more times than I have told her.
As I walk up the stairs to Jake’s bedroom I roll up my sleeves and literally stretch my shoulders, back and neck to prepare for the match.
He’s watching TV—flipping through the channels in a rhythmic pattern. The calming effect that the television has on Jake is amazing. Even more amazing is the complete and instantaneous evaporation of composure that occurs when I turn the TV off and begin running the bath water.
I have never bathed a cat, but I know what it’s like to bath a cat—even a family of cats, because I have bathed my son for 17 years. Jake does not like to get naked, he despises getting clean and he fears water. Combine the three and the unholy trinity surfaces for an epic battle, scheduled nightly, usually around 7:30PM.
I approach his bedroom like a UFC fighter entering the ring. My mental focus intensifies as the physical strategies begin sorting themselves out in my mind:
“Gloves on, water drawn, towel down, clothes off…butt cleaned, fight on, in the water, scrub down…wash hair, rinse hair, out of water, towel dry…lotion, commotion, tears like the ocean…dressed again.” It sounds like a strange rap song inside my head. Actually rap music would be more inviting than the noises I am about to hear.
Maybe I’ll wear the iPod tonight…put on the noise cancellation headphones and turn up the music to drown out the wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is something inspiring about putting human drama to a soundtrack. I imagine my life played to a Derek Webb song…or perhaps a Bob Kauflin hymn.
But much to my surprise tonight will be different; gloriously different.
Truth is you never know when or where the wind of God’s grace is going to blow. Grace is like that—unexpected, undeserved and unpredictable. Tonight God would reveal some of that mysterious grace in the peaceful blessing of His presence…at bath time.
As I reach the top of the stairs the wind of God’s grace blows through our house. No less for me than it did for Moses as he stood before the Red Sea, Joshua at Jericho, or Gideon at Jezreel.
To my utter amazement, Jake voluntarily, with a smile, walks into the bathroom and begins to get undressed…on his own.
Miraculously, his pants are not soiled. There is no wiping or fighting. I run the bathwater and he steps in without being coaxed. He motions for me to put some bubble bath into the water and the tub quickly fills up with suds. He’s happy tonight.
Then Jake does something that I have never seen him do; he lies back in the water and relaxes. I mean really relaxes. The ticks and twitches all but stop as he lies motionless in the warm bath. He does not whine. The room is perfectly quiet.
Taking advantage of the rare moment, I get the opportunity to just sit there and look at my son. He looks different tonight, almost like he has no disabilities at all. His glasses are off, his eyes are clear and the continual torment of anxiety has left his face for the moment.
The refraction of the light on the water makes his legs look straight and strong. His complexion is perfect in the soft glow of the bathroom lamp and for the first time in a long time at bath time—his demons are cast out and replaced with a tranquil peace.
I stared at Jake for a long time imagining what he would look like or be like without his afflictions and handicaps. For a brief moment I was given a picture of my son without his disability. It was a wonderful gift from a gracious God.
He stayed in the bathtub till the water got cold and then he stood up on his own to be dried off. As I wrapped the towel around him and lifted his 130 pound body from the water, I embraced him tightly.
He shivered slightly from the cold transition of the water to the warmth of the towel as he allowed me to hold him longer than he usually does. I smelled the strawberry shampoo in his hair and the clean scent of Dove soap on his cheek.
“Thank you.” I whispered in his ear…“And thank You.” I whispered in His ear.
Grace in the small things of life, is never small grace.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
It’s hard to believe that you are 17 years old today. I woke up this morning wondering what happened to that little red headed boy that used to sleep on my chest at night and ride around on my shoulders everywhere we went during the day.
It seems like only yesterday when your mom came to me with the news that you would be our son. You were so tiny. We named you Jacob, after the grandson of Abraham, the youngest son of Isaac in the Bible; the son who was born small, weak, and insignificant but who was nonetheless chosen by God to be a Patriarch of a nation.
I still have the picture of you nestled inside of my old baseball glove wearing that miniature Cincinnati Reds baseball uniform. I didn’t have dreams of you actually becoming a patriarch, but I was sure you would grow up to be an All Star.
I can remember coming home from work late at night (actually early in the morning), just in time for your 2 AM feeding—getting you out of your crib, warming up a bottle and holding you all to my self. It was one of my favorite times of the day.
There in the peace of the morning, I was so content, just sitting in a dimly lit room watching you watch me—your eyes glued to mine—both of us speaking in deep, father-son conversation, without ever saying a word.
As you lay there on my lap taking your bottle, I would fascinate over your tiny, perfect hands, your smooth white cheeks and your fine strawberry hair. I couldn’t believe that I was a dad and you were my son. I was twenty-five when you were born and it was one of the happiest times of my life.
Then, just after your first birthday, you got sick and had to spend a lot of time in the hospital. Your mom and I were young and scared and didn’t know what to do when you stopped breathing and had seizures. We spent that entire year in hospitals and doctors offices trying to figure out what was causing you to be so sick. No one could give us any answers. No one could help you get better. We cried a lot that year. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
Then, just as we were about to give up, we found someone who could help. He picked us up off the floor of our hopelessness, held us up with His strong arms, wiped away our tears with His gentle hands, and healed your seizures with His mighty power. He changed our lives forever. His name is Jesus, and you know Him well—for it was you that introduced us to Him.
From that point on, everywhere I went I told people your story, which has become my story, which is still today God’s story. He turned your tragic disability into a wonderful ability to impact lives and spread His fame. I am still amazed at your one simple life, so well lived in His amazing grace, with such a display of His fantastic glory. You were (and still are) an All Star on His team.
In John 9:1-3 Jesus proclaimed that a certain man’s disability existed, not because of sin or tragedy or misfortune, but that “the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Today, as you turn 17, the works of God have clearly been displayed throughout your life.
Today, thousands of people have heard your story. Many have been helped, healed and even saved. Someday, perhaps millions will hear of the power of God in your life. I’m working on it.
I am now 43, and as I sit here writing this letter to you I cannot help but wonder where the past 17 years of my life have gone. I found a box of pictures yesterday that took me back. You were so little; I was so young. Today you stand eye to eye with your dad, and I can no longer carry you in my own strength.
Your strawberry hair has turned rust and your face is in need of a shave. Your voice is a deep baritone and your hands are as big as my own. But as I look into your eyes I still connect with the silent conversations we had at those 2AM feedings—when all our dreams were so young, fresh and new. And I wait patiently, in hopeful anticipation, for the time to come when you are set free from your disability—a moment of eternity where we will walk steady and talk of deep things like father’s and sons do.
The past 17 years have been most difficult for us all. But I am amazed that when I look back, especially in pictures, I don’t see the difficulty. I see your smile and your magnetic personality. I see the moments where you and your brothers (the“Three Amigos”) did everything that brothers do. I can hardly even find your disability in those pictures. I guess that’s what it means to live life forward and to understand it backward.
It has not been easy being your dad, but it has been great. Greatness never comes with ease. I am proud that you are my son. I love you more than you will ever know this side of heaven. I cherish the memories of the past 17 years, and I look forward to the adventures to come in your life as you display more and more the works of God for all to see.
Happy birthday buddy,
Friday, April 2, 2010
I am by nature a very prideful person; my son Jake is by nature a pride killer. I love that about him—usually not at the moment, but always afterwards in reflection. I love that about him because God loves humility and hates pride. I love that about him because even in his disability, he has the ability to be used by God as a messenger for my good and a vessel for God’s glory.
Truth is, sometimes we are so self-centered that we fail to see the most important things in life. Therefore, we fail to find true joy in things that are truly satisfying because we are so tied up with superficial cares. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. Jake takes my shallowness away and leaves me with real, lasting, eternal reflection.
And that’s exactly what humility does; it causes us to see what is actually significant in life—and what is not.
I remember hearing a pastor tell the story of the time he was invited to speak at a conference to hundreds of people about humility. He was going to be speaking to executives and CEOs as well as big church pastors and seminary presidents. So, he went out and bought a brand new suit just for the occasion.
He only paid $89.99 for the whole suit, but it looked like one that could easily cost $500.00 to $1,000.00. He was sure that all his contemporaries would be impressed and no one would know the difference between a cheap suit and an expensive one. The suit fit him nicely, probably nicer than any other suit he had. It made him look ten pounds lighter and ten years younger. As he got dressed in front of the mirror he thought, “I love this suit!”
When he arrived at the conference, he spent much of the evening before his sermon flaunting around the entire room shaking hands with important people, dignitaries, executives and such, thinking much of himself and his new suit.
Then, just before he was scheduled to speak, one of the pastors standing beside him pointed out something hanging from the sleeve of his brand new suit. There, dangling for all to see was a huge, 3x5 inch price tag with the numbers printed in bold “$89.99”.
Instantly, God made the humbled pastor the illustration for his own sermon.
Sometimes we are so concerned about what other people think and about our outward appearance, that we forget the message we are to deliver. And make no mistake, every parent of a disabled child has a message. It is a message of humility, dependence and grace. And from time to time we need someone to point out our pride so that our message will be more authentic.
Our message to the world is not, “I have it all together and I can handle anything that comes my way”. The message that should be preached by every parent of a disabled child is, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. There are many other messages that follow, but all originate from the strength of God given to weak people for the magnification of His fame.
We carry this message to make much of God, not ourselves. And in making much of God, we allow people to experience His grace and love through us.
Parenting a disabled child is a mighty message of love, patience, servant-hood and humility. If you think about it, your child is actually the preacher of this message. You are just the translator to an audience that cannot understand the mysteries of God borne in trials they have yet to experience. But what an illustration of humble grace your family becomes to those silently watching.
So the next time your disabled child makes a mess of your image, think about the real meaning of the message God is speaking to you and those around you though this unlikely preacher of humility, dependency and grace. And keep the price tag on for all to see what a great deal you really got.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
At first I thought it was someone just playing around, and then I heard it again, and again. I began looking around the parking lot for someone being disemboweled because that was the sound I imagined would come with being ripped apart. Not knowing where it was coming from or what was happening; I called 911 on my radio and reported a “disturbance” in the parking lot.
As I rounded the next corner I found the source of the commotion. There in the middle of the parking lot sat a full grown man with his socks and shoes off hitting himself in the face and screaming uncontrollably. Hovering over him was an elderly gentleman trying his best to collect the socks and shoes and get him on his feet again.
The man sitting on the parking lot was much larger than the elderly gentleman and could not be budged. A confused crowd was forming around the two and at first sight I thought it was a horrible fight between two grown men. I notified 911 with my location and turned on my overhead emergency lights as I rolled up to the scene. Not until I got closer did I figure out what was going on.
The man on the ground was very obviously disabled and the elderly man was his father. I immediately cleared the crowd and asked the father if he needed any assistance. The elderly father explained to me that he had picked his son up for a day visit from the group home where he lived.
“I knew better than to go at it alone, but sometimes he does really well. I wanted to spend some time with him so I brought him to the mall. He was fine until we got to the parking lot. When he gets upset he takes off his socks and shoes in protest.” said the father. “His name is Donald”.
Donald was about 6’3” and weighed about 220 pounds. He was in his mid 30’s with a rough complexion and many self-inflicted battle scars. His emotions seemed to calm slightly when I arrived at the scene, but his face was still contorted with anxiety as he fumbled with his socks. Donald looked like he could handle himself—along with his father and me.
“I’m getting too old for this” the man said with a broken voice. I was guessing he was probably in his mid to late 60’s but looked to be 80. He was tall, thin, and frail with white balding hair, wearing a dark flannel shirt and blue jeans. He looked like an old farmer who had come to town in his pickup truck to get some supplies.
“I’m so tired.” He said as he turned away for a moment.
“I know what you are going through sir” I said, realizing how cliché it sounded after it left my mouth. “You do?” he said rather skeptically. “Yes, I do. I have a son just like your son. He’s much younger and not as big, but he has special needs just like your Donald and he displays very similar fits when he doesn’t get his way.”
I placed my hand on his shoulder, “And I know you’re tired.”
I knelt back down on Donald’s level and picked up his shoes and socks. I wasn’t sure how he would react to me invading his space and I fully expected to be kicked or punched by this large, confused man. I slowly unballed his sock and began putting it back on his foot. He extended his leg in a sort of surrender to let me know that he would comply. I rolled the sock gently over his toes to his heal and then up to his ankle. His pale, crooked feet felt cold and damp and his long sharp toenails were in need of a trim.
Probably true to his age-old routine, he extended the other foot for me to do the same. Once I got both socks on, I unlaced his large tennis shoes and one by one slipped them onto his feet. I then cinched them up and gave them a double tie like I had done for my own son so many times before.
A stark vision of Jesus washing His disciples feet flashed across my mind and I wondered if this was what He meant when He said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
After getting Donald ready to get back on his feet again, (in a strategic attempt to gain leverage) I asked the father what Donald really liked. “Chicken nuggets and coffee” he replied.
I turned back to Donald and asked, “How would you like your dad to take you to get some chicken nuggets and coffee buddy?” He gave a silent nod of approval and we helped him off the ground and into the truck.
After getting Donald buckled in the front seat, the elderly father returned to his side of the truck with a simple expression of gratitude. He shook my hand in appreciation and said “Thanks” in a broken tone drained by the emotion of the moment.
I shot back with, “No problem, I do this for a living.” We both smiled with a strong connection as I gave him a pat on the shoulder opening the driver’s side door for him to get in.
I knew from experience that he wasn’t thanking me for helping him or his son as much as he was being grateful for receiving empathy instead of sympathy. Sometimes just being aware that someone else knows—I mean really knows—what you are going through is enough to bring great comfort in the midst of great despair.
As the two men drove off the parking lot in the old pick up truck I watched as the weary dad lifted his arm and placed it around the shoulder of his son. A prodigal never finds love so satisfying and sweet as he finds it in the unconditional arms of his father.
I realized I had just experienced a divine appointment. In response, I stood for a moment on holy ground praising the God of mercy and comfort, asking for more strength for the future with my own son. My worshipful prayer sounded like this:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Monday, March 15, 2010
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The years when you have seen only one set of footprints,
my child, is when I carried you.”
But what happens when there are no footprints?
Just recently, during a particularly troubling day, I came across Psalm 77, a sort of biblical version of “Footprints in the Sand” I guess.
The Psalmist begins the poem in anguish, “I cry aloud to God…In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord”. He goes on to talk about sleepless nights, waning faith, being spurned by the Lord and the inability to see His steadfast love or find His compassionate care.
Yet in the writer's anguish, there is a sense of familiar assurance, “I cry aloud to God…and He will hear me.”
How can the Psalmist know that the Lord will hear him? How can he know that God will be with him during this anguish? How can he know that God will carry him if need be? How can you and I know?
Verse 10. “I will appeal to this…I will remember the deeds of the Lord.”
Instead of looking around at his own circumstances and trying to formulate a theology of God based on situational emotion, the Psalmist searches the archives and checks God’s record of faithfulness.
“I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty deeds…You are the God who works wonders.”
Then the Psalmist says something at the end of verse 19 that is both frightening and profound, “…yet Your footprints were unseen.”
No calm beach, no pristine sunset, no gentle lapping waves, no peaceful puffy white clouds and no footprints—not two sets—not even one set.
1. When I cannot see God's faithfulness in my immediate circumstances I have an archive of His faithfulness to look back on. His record is spotless, His faithfulness is perfect.
2. God generally prefers to take us through the stormy sea rather than around it or beside it. It reveals more of my helplessness and more of His glory; more of my dependence and more of His strength. It also prepares me with a stronger testimony of His deliverance to share with others.
3. The absence of footprints does not mean God was missing during my trials or that He didn’t carry me. It only means that He is so much greater than all my obstacles, all my problems, all my circumstances that He can carry it all and not leave a single footprint.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Truth is, every time I venture out into public with Jake I am essentially inviting the world to see a little of God’s grace in the raising of my son. I try to maintain that attitude when looks become stares.
What bothers me most is that behind every stare is a thought, perhaps a question that needs answered or a statement that needs to be clarified. As the parent of a special needs child, I have learned to sometimes (not all times) interpret the stares and decipher the thoughts.
Take for instance a recent trip to a crowded shopping mall where, without warning, Jake got mad and threw a box of candy (which contained about 500 or so Jelly Belly jelly beans—his favorite snack). As the box hit the tile floor of the mall, it exploded like a hand grenade, shooting sugary projectiles for 25 feet in all directions.
People froze as if they had suddenly wondered onto an unmarked mine field. Then, like spectators at the scene of a bad car wreck, every eye in the mall zoomed in on my screaming, disabled son as my wife and other children scrambled to clean up the mess.
So I’ll use this multifaceted shopping mall crowd to break down the stares:
1. The angry stare: “Someone needs to get that kid under control. If that were my child I would…”
Response: You would what? You’re right, someone does need to get this child under control. Do you have any ideas? Really? Enlighten us all with your parenting secrets.
2. The compassionate stare: “Oh that poor child and those poor parents, they look so weary. I wish there was something I could do for them”
Response: Why don't you start by helping my wife and kids pick up the Jelly Bellys. We are weary. Thank you for noticing (and that is a sincere thank you). What’s more important is the source of our strength. Your compassion is always welcome. Pray for us, but do not pity us. There are greater things happening here than any of us realize. And if you really want to do something skip down to stare #6.
3. The curious stare: “I wonder what is wrong with that kid.”
Response: I’ll write a book on it someday. Meanwhile, come and ask. (Preferably not right in the middle of an episode though or I might emotionally vomit out, "What's wrong with him? What's wrong with you!") When things settle down, I’d love to share our story with you. I especially don’t mind if you are a small child or young person.
4. The polite stare: “I think they just saw me staring. I shouldn’t stare. I’ll smile now just to let them know I wasn’t staring rudely.”
Response: Yeah, I saw you. It’s ok. I’ve been in the same position before, not knowing what to do. Thanks for the smile. Here’s one back at you.
5. The pretend to not stare, stare: “Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look. Eyes forward. Just keep walking.”
Response: A kid just threw 500 jelly beans down on the mall floor. You didn’t notice? Are you kidding me?
6. The empathetic stare: “I wonder what it is like to live his life. I am thankful my children are not disabled, but I wonder if I could handle that role as a parent.”
Response: It’s heartbreaking sometimes, but it has its amazing moments too. Go home and pass ball with your kids. Squeeze them tight. Take a long walk, have a long talk, and thank God for them. But don’t forget that there are others out there that might need your help too. Get involved, volunteer, mentor, pray, educate and most importantly learn…these kids have much to teach.
I’m sure there are many more stares to interpret and many more responses to be communicated by special needs kids and parents everywhere.
The bottom line is this: the next time you’re in the mall and a Jelly Belly grenade goes off, be cool. Its ok to look...just stop and help us pick the darn things up.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:29
Today I’d like you to meet another one of my heroes—my wife, Kim. That's her hiding in the middle of the picture, surrounded by some of her greatest accomplishments. She’s a transport/flight nurse in the NICU at our local hospital. She saves lives every time she goes to work. But that’s only part of the reason she’s one of my greatest heroes.
Kim is also the driving force in our family when it comes to making sure that Jake (and the other kids) get exactly what they need, to be all they can possibly be.
I sometimes write my blog like I’m on this journey alone. Truth is I stand on the shoulders of my wife as I tell the adventures and lessons of raising our son. I am the voice of this story; she is the heart and soul.
Kim is Jake’s greatest defender this side of heaven. She is the determined ambassador for his good, the skilled advocate for his rights, and the tenacious maintainer of his joy.
Teachers respect her, parents listen to her, and young interns sometimes fear her. But in the end all come to know and love her as Jake’s mom, the woman who would give her last breath to make sure her son is cared for in the best possible way.
So today I bow in love and respect to this great, godly lady who would prefer to stay backstage where the unseen work is to be done, rather than take the spotlight where the story is told and the accolades are given.
And like most men who appear to say and do great things, the unseen strength and beauty of our stories will always be found in the humble fortitude of the great women who walked beside us.
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain…Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the time to come.” Proverbs 31:10,11,25
Thursday, February 25, 2010
One of the longest, most reoccurring prayers I have ever prayed is for my son to be able to speak. If I could heal just one aspect of his condition, if I could give him just one gift for his physical ailment, it would be the gift of speech. For years I prayed to God to give my son a voice, to allow him to be able to communicate.
To have a conversation with Jake is perhaps one of my greatest desires on earth, and just one of the things for me that will make heaven especially sweet. I have so many things I want to tell him and, more importantly, so many things I want to hear from his heart.
God has given me an answer to that prayer, but He has yet to give me the answer. Let me explain.
Here are some of the ways God has granted me an answer to my prayer:
• Some Important words: Jake can say “Momma”, “Dad-da”, “Maw-maw”, “Grand-dad” and “Ho-ho-ho” (Santa Clause). These are some of the words he uses on a daily basis. Yes, we hear about Santa Clause all year round.
• Some necessary signs: He can sign words like, “Jesus”, “Bible”, “shoes”, “play”, “please”, “sorry”, “candy”, “drink” and “eat”.
• Some beautiful singing: He loves to stand in church, or anywhere for that matter, with an open hymnal in hand and sing. His singing is one long baritone note that he can hold and repeat for a much extended period of time.
• Some powerful preaching: He also loves to carry a Bible with him (everywhere). He likes to stand with Bible open and pretend he is reading. Because he is standing, I assume he is preaching.
There are other “nonverbal” forms of communication Jake has developed over the years, like:
• The folding of the arms and the shaking of the head and the looking over his glasses for, “No way—not in this lifetime”.
• The raising of his arms in the air, jumping up and down and yelling loudly with a celebratory smile for, “YES! I really approve of this moment”.
• The hug, kiss and or the blowing a kiss for, “I love you” or “Goodbye”
Finally, there is God’s gift of computers. Jake uses a handheld computer with a picture touch screen that communicates just about any phrase you could think of. When talking on the phone with him you might hear a mechanical voice saying:
• “I love you”
• “I miss you”
• “I want to go to Maw-maw’s house”
This is the difference between AN answer to prayer and THE answer to prayer:
Our sovereign Lord has the ability to grant everything we ask for. But like any loving Father, He has more in store for us than what we could ever think to ask for. (Ephesian 3:20)
In His infinite wisdom, God answers our prayers with glimpses of the greatness to come. He allows us a foretaste of His glory by revealing a shadow of His blessings.
The full answers to our prayers and the full glory of His blessings will only come in eternity—but they will be there for an eternity. This loving anticipation keeps us from trusting in the temporal things by keeping us longing for the eternal things.
Now I will communicate with my son nonverbally, through sign language, a hand full of words and a computer. Then I will sit, talk, laugh and discover in deep, meaningful, God-glorifying conversation for an eternity.
The former is an answer to prayer; the latter is the answer to prayer.