Monday, September 26, 2016

A Trophy Unmerited

A racetrack.  High performance motors shrouded within thin steel skins decorated with everything from rattle-can spray paint to professional decals indicating thousands of dollars of sponsorship.  Protective roll cages defining form and aerodynamics as engines roared and lurched to be unleashed.  Within the narrow slits that were "windows", helmeted drivers gripped wheels with gloved hands as they steered into predetermined starting positions. 

This was a dirt racing track, and with every passing of the column of roaring beasts, familiar chemical fumes merged with present cigarette smoke as many spectators emulated the exhausting of burning by-products with the same proficiency as the motors churning on the track below.  Smoking engines.  Smoking people.  Dust churning.  Excitement building. 

The announcer relayed vital statistics and race information that was uselessly drowned out into a Miss Othmar muffle by the passing machinery as speakers could hardly complete with the decibel output of performance engines.  Barely audible was the fact that the lead driver in the pole position was undefeated.  As such a "bounty" had been placed up on him.  The driver who could beat him would earn extra prizes.  This had been going on for several races in a row and the bounty continued to grow with each race.  Yet this champion remained unbeaten.   The crowd cheered in anticipation of this new weight added to the contest ahead.

The caution light was removed indicating the race was set.  A final lap and the green flag was expertly waved for all to see as horsepower was unleashed thrusting cars and drivers forward in rapid acceleration.  As with all dirt tracks, winning is not in the straight-aways, but in the turns.  Cars jockey for position for proper turning advantage as they dip or rise into the turns at high velocity.  Sliding through the turn they sling-shot out of them to surge forward, correcting for the loose surfacing slide, seeking to out maneuver briefly before engaging the next turn. 

Not long into the contest a single mistake yields a gasp and many exclamations from the spectators as one decision yields consequences for many.  Vehicles collide, spin-out, and come to a rest.  The yellow flag is thrown and caution lights burn.  Those who avoided the pile-up slow to a crawl, resetting their positions as they were prior to the accident.  Tow trucks race onto the field to extricate twisted frames and pull apart steel and machinery.  Those that are able realign their vehicles to continue the race with scraped and mangled sheet steel torn and missing but frames and engines intact.  Those less fortunate are pulled off of the field to become spectators themselves. 

Again, the motorcade is realigned based on position prior to the commotion.  Yellow disappears and green is thrown.  Again, engines roar to life thrusting steel and drivers forward in clouds of dust and fume.  Above the din can barely be heard the inarticulate announcements of the commentator as he recounts positioning, driver information, and point totals. 

Finally the race nears its ending, the white flag is waved, indicating one final lap remaining.  The champion has held the lead the entire race, staving off two eager competitors attempting to snatch victory.  Turn one, straight away, turn two, straight away, he surges forward increasing distance.  Turn three he expertly steers into the slide, preparing for turn four.  Finally the home stretch and the win.  A champion he remains in a contest that it seems he cannot lose.  A victory lap is taken.  The spectators are on their feet cheering as he drives past, finally coming to rest at the starting line as the other racing machines exit the field. 

The driver crawls out of the window of his machine, taking his helmet off tossing it into car.  Where one might imagine a fierce man of competition, present is a simple man who simply loves the sport he has just competed in.  The announcer puts a microphone up to his face and begins a cursory line of questioning about his feelings on the win, his machine, and his plans.  With humility the man attributes the win to the machine, good fortune, and thanks the other competitors indicating it could have easily been any one of them standing there before the announcer.  A large trophy is then handed to the man and he holds it aloft.  Then he does something unexpected.

Several children of varying ages have gathered in the grand stands near an entrance gate that grants access to the field.  The champion driver, trophy in hand, walks over to the gate as the children clamor for his attention, shouting his name.  He looks them over and then points to a small boy, no more than eight years of age.  Opening the gate, the man hands the boy the trophy, says a brief word and then turns to walk back to the machine that brought him victory.  The other children begin to melt away but the boy holding the trophy is now holding victory.  The prize almost as tall as he is, he makes his way back into the stands to parents waiting with a smile that seems permanently etched on his young face.  This boy is now the champion.

I was privileged to witness the above recently and was immediately drawn to the parallel that I too have been given a gift  that I never actually deserved by one who fought and won a race of much more cosmic and eternal consequence.  Like the driver above, my Champion was undefeated, unparalleled and could not be touched.  A bounty was also placed upon his head and yet he still completed the race before him in stunning victory and then he did something completely unexpected to all who witnessed.  He handed me the trophy. 

We struggle and clamor for so many trophies, prizes, and rewards when many of us know what his Word has this to say on the matter:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

He gave us unmerited favor, unmerited love, unmerited grace, unmerited life.  He gave us the trophy unmerited.  He simply asks that we follow after his example and do likewise for others.  What does this look like?  It is the treasure that does not rust, it is the building up of others, the reaching for the hurting, the compassionate hand, the listening ear in the silence.  The one commonality each of us share is that everyone of us are broken and ruined humans.  When we learn to be broken and ruined for Him, he can use this to affect masses. 

And like the child I witnessed infused with self-worth and joy, we can be instrumental in infusing His life and joy, His purpose into others when we are willing to share this trophy unmerited.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Special Needs

"Special Needs".
The phrase hits a raw spot with people.  It either makes them shift somewhat uncomfortably as they would rather steer conversation in a different direction or it strikes to the core of life experiences of parents, children, or loved ones who have lived the fullness of its challenges out. 

For me it does both. 

I find that I fully embrace the fact that special needs entered our lives in the form of adoption and foster care.  I am thankful that where I might have once shied away from the topic I now daily live it to the point I don't even recognize it.  In fact the phrase has a somewhat jarring effect on my psyche as I have to be reminded that I have a son that is deemed special needs.  To me, he is amazing.  He has challenges, he has issues, he has problems.  But I haven't run into a child, or an adult for that matter, who doesn't.  You just have to get past the facade on some a little more than others to see them. 

There are phrases that I grew up with that might have once been used to describe my son.  I hate those phrases.  They still exist and are still used in conversations by well meaning people with innocent intentions.  When inappropriately used or applied the words can be demeaning and vicious and strike a nerve with those of us who have children with challenges.

But the term special needs is deemed much more polite, more palatable.  Again, it jars my ears to hear it applied to my own as I often forget I deal with a special needs child daily.  The labels are an irritant to me.  When I look at him I don't see special needs.  I see life.  I see joy.  He is funny.  He is opinionated.  He is intelligent, and clever.  He takes a different route to get to the same ending but he gets there, often better than most.  But most importantly, I see my son.

In these writings, I recently referenced a little girl that I met not too long ago in an international adoption program who was deemed special needs.  In that particular post entitled Behind the Eyes, I recounted my sadness that her particular issues were enough to turn people away from the prospect of even considering her for adoption.  Like my son, she has challenges.  Like my son, she is amazing, has a fascinating personality and intellect.  And like my son, she has good days and she has bad days.

Each one of us can picture at least one or several individuals, child or adult, who fit into the category special needs.  Ponder for a moment what challenges placed them in that category.  Is it cognitive?  Is it physical?  Is it emotional?  Regardless of the answer, the same truth permeates throughout - not one of them had a choice in the matter.  Not a single one.

Not one chose speech difficulty.  Not one chose cognitive delay.  Not one purposed to be physically challenged.  Yet at some point in their lives, each and every one of them will be judged for their challenges, put on trial in someone else's mind for their difficulties.  Sounds unfair doesn't it?  In fact, it sounds somewhat horrific.  But haven't we each done something similar at some point or other?  I know I have.

Do not judge and criticize and condemn others unfairly with an attitude of self-righteous superiority as though assuming the office of a judge, so that you will not be judged unfairly. For just as you hypocritically judge others when you are sinful and unrepentant, so will you be judged; and in accordance with your standard of measure used to pass out judgment, judgment will be measured to you.
Matthew 7:1-2 AMP

We are all special needs when it comes down to it.  As stated above, some of us have better facades than others, but at the core we're all deficient, incomplete people who need help.  We were born this way.  It wasn't our choice.  We couldn't help it.  We still can't.  We were born into a sin infested world with sin all over us and we all still get tripped up by it.  That's not a free pass for bad choices - it's a fact that keeps all of us from perfection this side of eternity.  Everyone of us will screw up, step on someone, hurt the ones we love, and ultimately get it wrong at some point. 

That is where grace, forgiveness, and love are so, so, necessary - a lifeline in a sea of hopelessness.  Covering every spiritual deficiency, the cross put each of us in right standing.  Were we to be judged for the condition we were born into, not one of us would survive the outcome, yet because of the ultimate sacrifice of love each one of us can now know the perfect love of a Father who turned creation on its head to redeem and heal us from that state. 

That is also why scriptures such as the one above carry so much weight.  Given that the only truly pure and perfect being in existence up heaved the heavens and hells by this sacrifice to redeem his beloved, there is no room at this table for us to look at a single other person in judgment.  No room to point out the deficiencies of others, no room to point out another's weaknesses or rail against another's flaws.  For every grace and sacrifice has been extended to each of us.  We are, therefore, to extend likewise because we have no right to do anything other.  To point out another's deficiencies in judgment is to ignore the fact that we will all ultimately have our own deficiencies judged with the same measure we judge, criticize, and condemn others. 

This is where we all have a special need
 - for mercy
 - for grace
 - for compassion
 - for love
from each other, but most importantly from our Father above. 

I am so thankful, He doesn't define us by our special needs - he only sees his beautiful child.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


I'm stumblin'.   I've been running at a breakneck pace for several weeks on end without stop and I find I'm starting to misstep.  Ever run until you're so tired your feet start to take on a mind of their own?  Legs act independently.  Limbs begin to decide where the path is instead of listening to the optical input your brain is translating.  The predictable outcome is the misstep, the stutter-step, or the outright face plant.  Comical to watch, unpleasant to live. 

It seems my brain is taking on a mind of its own...

The fuse seems uncharacteristically short in recent days.  Syllables I'm not sure I would normally utter tumble forth more freely.  Words of grace seem distant and the exercising of that grace towards others can seem a herculean effort when so many are in such a hurry and care very little to reciprocate.  Emotions expose more quickly and Karmic justice is the desired end for trespass.


Escape to the garrison of my home.  That's all I need - the safety of my castle.  My domus.
Here I find my beautiful bride.  She is strength to me.  She brings order to chaos.  She orders our home, she orchestrates the meeting of our physical needs.  She clothes and feeds us.  She is raising a young man and two pre-teens while I daily venture into the world to gather the income our family relies upon.  She, in a word, is "amazing". 

And she is stressed.  In my absence of excessive work the strain is showing in our family.  "All hands on deck" is slowing to "A few hands holding the whole thing up".  In the midst of this, a boy adopted from trauma and abuse spirals into a negative behavioral cycle.  These usually ebb and flow.  We expect them from time to time.  But something is amiss, something is off.  This spiral is a nosedive to depths we've not encountered before. 

Perfect timing for my bride who is essentially "single parenting" for weeks on end.  Working six and seven days a week, I leave before the kids are up.  I often return after they've gone to bed.  And my bride has a few minutes via a phone call or before I collapse to sleep to recount the myriad of emotional highs and lows experienced throughout the day.  To say I've dropped the ball on this conversation a few times would be an understatement.  Thankfully this pace is starting to wind down, but at home, I've been stumblin'. 

I ran across the following recently.  It hurt all the way down to my stubbed and achy stumblin' toes.

Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
Psalm 119:165

In the Hebrew in which this was written, this literally says

Great and abundant welfare, tranquility and contentment belongs to those who hunger and desire for God's instruction and direction and nothing will be a stumbling block to them or cause them to fall.

I can honestly say, my "hunger" for God's instruction in recent weeks has gotten lost somewhere between deadlines, appointments, project schedules, invoices, home, and child tantrums.  In fact, I'm pretty certain that I have been fasting and consequently malnourished.  Priorities.  The end result:  stumblin'.

But I have all these responsibilities.  I have the carnival of life going on around me.  It's a three-ring circus and I don't want to get in the clown car again.  I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and sometimes it's just too heavy.  How many would echo similar sentiment?

Jesus would.

In fact, he too stumbled.

He stumbled under the weight of all of it.  The whole world, for all time, on his shoulders.  It started in a garden.  Close friends dozed nearby as he could feel the approach of the storm.  The sheer weight of what was to come drove him to his knees as he bitterly wept "let there be another way..."

It continued in the dragging of rough hewn timbers through dusty streets.  He stumbled despite the screaming, despite the raucous, despite the whips.

It's zenith was with a shuddering breath as a sin laden savior released us all with the words "It is finished".

It concluded when quiet, sure feet, stepped confidently past the stone that was rolled back into the open, never to falter again.

He stumbled so I wouldn't have to. 
Does this mean I never will?  Hardly.  But when I do, I know there is one who knows the alarm of the fall, the dread of the impact, and the pain of the blow.  He's always there with outstretched hand to help me set my feet, and end the stutter-step so that I can move on with purposeful firm steps in the direction that he has for me.

Patiently, he is ever at the ready to lift me up so that I don't have to keep stumblin'.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Laughing at Thieves

I noted his face on the side of a social media page.  A local man that many would recognize if I were to give his name.  With a sense of curiosity that teetered on "I really shouldn't" and " I wonder..." I succumbed and found that a whole page had been devoted to just this man.  It was a page with hundreds of members and thousands of posts.  What had garnered this man so much attention?  What had brought this man so keenly into the spotlight?

This man is a thief; a con-artist.  This man is a criminal.

Again, were I to name this person many would immediately know of whom I write.  Such notoriety has this man gathered to himself.  Such visibility.  Many have had run-ins with him.  Many have fallen for his tales of desperation.  This man has made a living in recent years preying upon the humanitarian and benevolent nature of even the most callous of hearts.  This man has also been caught and been in jail numerous times for numerous offenses.

I recall I had been approached by this man once coming out of grocery store with my family.  My bride and I don't usually give cash but this time I felt led to and my bride followed my lead and he gained a small amount of money and a few of our groceries.  Regardless of what this man did with the money, we determined he was not going to go hungry that night.  But we stopped him and our family prayed with him before doing so.  Gullible?  I don't think so.  If there was no other blessing than my children praying over the man and seeing the lesson of loving others, it was worth it.

Now it seems the tables have turned.  Now a social media site exists just to notify of this man's existence, whereabouts, and doings.  And I was reading it.

"He's at _____ gas station hitting up some guy!"
"Crossing the street in front of _____."
"Resting 'tired' feet at the corner of ______ & ______."
"I wonder how many meals he cried money for today?"
"Think he'll ever make it to ______?  He's been trying to get gas money for years."
"He could've walked there by now.  Where's the car?"

What I was viewing was nothing short of a page dedicated to ridicule.  But this is a criminal so he has it coming, right?  He is guilty of theft, coercion, assault, trespassing - that people know of.  Who knows what this man has done in the darkness, alone or unseen?  This man has earned this page - earned the "wrath of the robbed".  Everywhere he now goes he will be despised, shunned, and ridiculed.  People will avert their faces from him.  He will disappear as he becomes a "non-person" for the avoidance he has garnered.  His is a slow death into the forgotten as others mock from a safe distance.

Similar to thieves flanking a crucified savior.

And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:35-43

One of the people I follow and respect on social media wrote something to ponder regarding the significance of what just occurred at the end of these verses.

I keep going back to this man on a cross next to Jesus. A thief. A criminal. And he had nothing - zero - to offer. No religious resume. No great... story. Nothing. What a loser, right? But he recognized Jesus.

I think at times, we can all be like each of the people in the above narrative.  I like to think I'm not the religious rulers - judgmental, pious, and calloused.  Certainly I don't want to be the soldiers driving the nails - harsh, brash, and insensitive.  I don't want to be the mouthy thief either, trying to get out of his sentence to return to old habits by bartering with the Son of God for an escape clause.  And the crowd standing by gaping, staring, transfixed, immobile?  Inaction at its best. But am I the other thief?  Am I the loser?  He was a criminal, a justly punished man and he lost everything.  Dignity, pride, honor, family, wealth, even his life.  Do we relate to this man?

Consider this; of all the people mentioned with Jesus here, who came out on top?  Who in this crowd ended up with the best outcome possible, securing a front row seat in eternity with the one who was there when the stars were spoken into brilliance and the oceans roared forth from the deep?  (I'll give you a hint - it wasn't the ones who knew the religious rules backwards and forwards.)  It also wasn't the ones imbued with authority and power.  It wasn't even the numerous (I guess the popular vote doesn't count for much in the Kingdom). 

Once again, Jesus picks the low to be high.  He picks the loser to win.  Once again, he spins our preconceived notions of justice, order, and equity to remind that there is only one Judge and he values the low, the least, and the lame.  He seeks out the prostitute, the tax cheat, and the diseased walking dead to lavish love upon and transform the world. 

And a thief is heralded into paradise.

Once again, Jesus reminds that we need to think twice before laughing at thieves.