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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day: God's Great Grace in Being Called "Dad"

Not too long ago I was plundering through an old wooden chest in our house that was packed full of family memories from the past 22 years. Among the many relics of time that took me back into the past were three pieces of colored construction paper, centered with a tiny individual hand print—one for each of my sons.

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

Where Disability Becomes Amazing Grace-Ability

“One word does well to summarize the day in and day out of families of people with special needs – RELENTLESS. Think about that word, what does it speak to?
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.