Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Glasses Required

For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection of reality as in a riddle or enigma, but then when perfection comes we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood by God. 
-1 Corinthians 13:12 (AMP)

I trudged down the hallway, listening to the cadence of my footfalls echo off the basement walls.  My head was deep in thought, actually deep in many thoughts.  I recall one of them simply being "I'm tired...".  It's been a rigorous week filled with meetings, much running to and fro, and a laundry list of to-dos that won't stop.  Work is hectic right now and morale is low.  The unappreciative statement "over-worked and underpaid" is almost a religious mindset amongst most of my co-workers as management continually seems to turn the blind eye towards the detrimental effects of the increasing demands they place upon their subordinates. Communication is poor between managers, and even poorer with subordinates and often one poses the question to themselves "how much further out on this limb do I climb before I hear the saw behind me?"  Yes, daily there is pressure.

To distract, I often allow my mind to roam my "other life".  To-do's from home.  Things I need to take care of.  Family commitments, obligations, upcoming events.  Today this has had the effect of creating a dull ache in my neck and shoulders as pressures mount.  My mood is darkening as I reach the stairwell to exit the building.  I make a slight mental note that it does not appear to be raining outside as I pass a window in this historic structure.  The closing of the door below echoes throughout the stairwell as I approach the exit door ahead.  I ponder the brass hardware discoloration briefly and step through.

I am caught off guard.  Before me is a horizon defined by the canyon of familiar brick buildings that characterizes my place of work, a sight familiar.  But the sky above is what captures my attention; the luminous nature of the deep blue depths of a cloudless sky on a spring day.  I proceed on my journey, continuing to take note of the azure beauty of the perfect dome above when my senses are sweetly lured by the fragrance of spring blossoms to a nearby flowering tree.  Magenta, white, and pale yellow blossoms adorn every tree around me as far as I can note.  Bright sunlight firmly defines classical architectural elements of nearby buildings and smaller blossoming trees add accent and highlight to man's endeavors. 

In further casting my gaze across the manicured lawns I note the most rich and luxurious greens in the carpets of turf grass - all of it offering a color balance to the hues above.  Uncharacteristically I found that I had miraculously forgotten every care, every burden and been able to simply enjoy the beauty around me.  It was as if a pair of dark, dirty, scratched bi-focals had been removed from my face and I could truly see reality.  It came to me that my children are healthy.  My bills are paid.  I have food.  God has repeatedly showered his goodness upon my family.  Similar to stepping out of a dark stairwell into a spring morning, my mind stepped out of darkness into the light that God had for me this day.

Then God spoke an important truth into my ear.  "Where are your responsibilities?  Where are the things you were weighted down with only moments ago?"  The answer, surprisingly, was not that they were gone.  They weren't- they had not disappeared.  I was still walking down the sidewalk on this terrestrial ball and I still had to contend with all of the above listed pressure-inducing issues.  While thinking on this I passed a flowering red bud and noted how the colors of this tree contrasted the rich greens perfectly.  Then I realized "the responsibilities are still present, but my excessive worry and cares regarding them is gone."  I was seeing them in a different light - in their true light!  The filthy and distorted lenses of worry, attitude, and frustration had been removed from my eyes and I was seeing the world around me in true perspective.

Then another truth came to my ear.  "Your reality is defined by your perceptions and your perceptions are altered by the lens you are looking through.  You were the one who put those filthy glasses on this morning, no one else." 

The world will always spin this way and that, with people doing things beyond our control, deadlines pressuring, kids fighting, spouses misunderstanding, people abusing.  But apart from God, we do not have the full picture, nor can we see the true nature of the forces around us.  Had my head stayed down and my thoughts remained in darkness, I would have missed out on a lesson learned, one that lasted only minutes but one that has eternal consequences.  By removing lens upon lens, I was able to perceive His reality - able to look upon that which is truly eternal and important in my day.  99.99% of my former concerns did not make that list.  The ability to do this is not a supernatural talent or gifting.  Rather, it is a daily admonition to each of us found in 1 Peter 5:6-7:

Therefore humble yourselves, demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you,  casting the whole of your care (all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.  (AMP)

In casting our cares on Him, we are taking off the glasses, the lenses, and the blinders that the world seeks to entangle around our necks.  This is done in meditating on Him, on His Word.  Note, the problems and circumstances are not gone, but our focus on them has altered and this will alter the outcome of their affect in our lives.  Focusing on what God's Word says about our circumstances instead of how our circumstances make us feel will bring us in line with His perfect sight.  When we do this, we'll see reality with clarity and even on cloudy days, the Son will always be shining - no glasses required.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Birthdays and Butterflies

He sits in his full body pajamas, half concentrating on his breakfast with a quirky grin as he watches one of his favorite morning cartoons.  Today the world is perfect, and the day just begun.  ", we have to get ready for school" I remind him.  He startles and gets back to the busy work of devouring his eggs and toast...for a minute.    Today is his birthday.  Balloons are already present.  Cupcakes for classmates already made and awaiting him by the door.  Evidences all around of a party yet to happen later in the day.  Yes, today is perfect and he sinks into the happiness of it all.  Then his mind drifts back to the cartoon mishaps of his favorite characters again...barely chewing the enormous bite of food in his mouth, half grinning, half forgetting where he is at - completely forgetting the chore in front of him on his plate - he laughs.

Over eighteen months ago this little dark haired wonder entered our lives, changing all of us irreversibly.  This seems such an eternity past that I cannot reckon time without Austin in our lives.  In part because of the roll of the calendar.  Mostly because of the war that has been waged to reclaim, restore, and build up a child who has endured horrors in this life that cannot be mentioned nor should they be in this forum.  Leaving it at "abuse" and "neglect" is palatable but does not do justice to what we have been able to uncover of Austin's first few years.  Through it all, the miracle is that his disarming smile is still intact.  Slightly crooked, defined by deep dimples, affecting his whole being.  This boy's smile and the love of life in his eyes is infectious.  Very often if one falls victim to one of these grins, they are soon to be further launched upon by hugs and an invitation to play.

This journey with our "A-man", as he likes to be called, has been far from all-laughter and hugs.  In fact, We have often questioned ourselves, our adequacy as parents to this amazing child.  He is quick, intelligent, crafty, so very funny, and exudes personality and life to all around who will receive it.  He craves affection and loves to be loved.  But in the journey, healing has had to occur and this has frequently coincided with many tears as we have had to explore and delve into nightmarish past abuse.  Traumas from birth to three years of age still present themselves in an inability to cope with emotions, frustrations with simple or easily overlooked issues, irrational fears, nightmares, and an unwillingness to communicate.  Unlocking the puzzle that is his mind has been one of the single most difficult undertakings we have ever engaged in, but in the process trust has been built.  Trust that in exposure to his parents, there is no harm, that they love him unconditionally.

The results?  Doctors have been astounded.  Social workers marvel.  Teachers beam with pride at his improvements.  Therapists take delight in seeing a difference being made.  The "ceilings" that were initially placed on him were left behind long ago - no child should be capped.   Give the mind freedom, the tools, and encouragement needed and it will soar.  A transformation has occurred and a butterfly has flown.

When I consider my little boy, if I look I can still see "deficiencies".  I can still see faults.  He still throws occasional tantrums.  His speech is difficult to interpret if you are not around him regularly.  In recent testing he is still cognitively playing "catch-up" from the effects of the traumas he has endured in his brief life.  He still occasionally falls, with a will that sometimes moves faster than feet do.  Regardless, my bride and I believe in a God of wholeness and restoration.

But I also see something else.  I see a picture of each of us in my little boy.  By the World's standards, Austin came to us "damaged goods" with a whole lot of baggage.  In fact, had we not adopted him, the likelihood is that he would have ended up institutionalized until an adult because no one is really looking for that challenging 4 year old, emotionally damaged, cognitively/speech/physically delayed child when picking their perfect adoption.  The agencies couldn't place him.  In many regards, people would look at what Austin was and label him "broken beyond repair". 

How often have you felt "broken beyond repair"?  How many of us have been emotionally damaged by others?  Hurt, abused.  How many of us have been pushed around on the playground of life, pushed down, stepped on?  How many have been betrayed, taken advantage and hurt time and time again by those we thought were supposed to have our back, be our protector?  How many of us simply have too much personal baggage, sin, past-deeds we've committed that we're too ashamed to bring to the light even though the weight of carrying it all crushes us.

We too have a Father, one who sees our broken and challenged state.  Only this one loves us infinitely more than Austin's father ever could.  This one went much further.  He gave up his most cherished son in exchange for us.  He went to the furthest lengths, not just to provide respite and protection, but to restore, and make whole everyone who would come to Him, to adopt each one of us as family members into His household (which is majestic as evidenced by simply by looking at the wonders of the night sky).  We will see the fullness of this in His presence, but the beginning of that work starts here.  He loves each of us tenderly and will never stop working to bring forth our best in us - unlocking our maximum potential. 

You see, He doesn't believe in "ceilings" either.  Because He knows us far more intimately than we know ourselves and where we are tempted to give in and quit, he exhorts us and encourages us to press on in Him because He knows the glory and blessings that await.  He knows our true potential for greatness - every single one of us.  He knows the transformative work that He is doing in us.  Though we very rarely see the end result until it is upon us we will from time to time find ourselves lost in thought, pondering just how far He has removed us from our past, our weights, our baggage.  We find ourselves marveling at the distance covered and the ground gained and in those moments, we note that we too have wings for flight.

Laughter.  "Austin...let's go get dressed for school!"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Empty Bowls

Mint green. Lavender. Pastel pink. Small infant feeding bowls stacked in my cupboards. We frequently use them for deserts, ice cream, even snacks for the youngest in our home. Gaily clashing little containers pigmented to entertain the notions of what infancy demands of new parents. With a ten year old and two kindergartners, we hardly fall into this marketing demographic. Half a dozen or so in number, sitting in my cabinet, within each other. Pastel plastic reminders of heartache.

These bowls had a purpose far more grand in our home than to serve after dinner delights to eager sugar craving faces. They were given, some were purchased, all were promised for use as per their created purpose - to be utilized to help nourish our new infant daughter. Very many do not know that last year we were in process of receiving a beautiful little girl, barely months old. A relative newborn. An orphan. We were initially approached by agencies and after much prayer and discussion, we felt the Lord leading us to proceed. We said "yes".

Then the elation set in. We were soon to be parents of a newborn. Then the fear set in. We were soon to be parents of a newborn. As we shared our decision with family and friends many shared our joy with us. Certainly there were those who questioned if we knew what we were doing, adopting two children within a 12-15 month time span. But the Lord was in this and faith is being willing to go where He leads, even when you can't see the end of the road.

Soon, people began to shower gifts upon us. First clothing, then infant necessities. A beautiful crib was given. Bibs, sippy cups, toys, pastel colored bowls. Then the big day finally arrived for our daughter to be brought to us by the agency. They didn't come in the morning as expected.  Puzzled, we called and could not reach anyone. Then they didn't come in the afternoon. Then they closed for the day. We were shocked and hurt. Why would they miss the appointment?  The next day we called repeatedly and through a frustrating series of phone calls and exchanged messages over the next days, we learned our daughter had been taken to another family.

The weeks that followed were an eternity and the outcome was that our daughter, the girl that we had grown to love as our own before she ever was brought into our home, was given to someone else. "Loss" and "Betrayal" are not adequate descriptors. In many ways, this was far worse than our miscarriage. In losing a child in the womb, we felt a sense of closure in the knowledge that our Elizabeth Grace is already dancing with our Savior. In losing this child, the knowledge is bitterly real that she lives within a half an hour's driving distance and will never know the hearts of two parents who loved her deeply before she knew them. Nearly eight months past, my children still pray for their sister who never was.

And what do we have to show for our heartache?  What consolation for our loss? Empty plastic bowls. Mint Green. Lavender. Pastel Pink. Each of them containers for memories that were promised but never delivered.

But picture this: picture a five-year old girl with hot fudge sauce smeared on her smiling face as she eagerly dives into another caramel-chocolate covered scoop of her favorite ice cream out of a small mint-green plastic bowl. Picture a little dark haired boy laughing hysterically at his favorite silly cartoon while absent mindedly fingering through a small plastic pink bowl of Goldfish crackers. Picture a half dozen neighborhood kids chattering and laughing loudly, each with brightly colored pastel bowls filled with chilled grapes on a summer afternoon while taking a break from the hard work of play. Picture life. Picture joy. Picture a change of purpose.

You see, everyone of us has empty bowls. They are the unfulfilled notions or dreams that we were certain were to be the direction and calling of our lives. Certainly we mourn what could have been, what should have been. We seem caught back on our heels that the devil actually lived up to what was promised about him - that he actually seeks to steal, kill, or destroy. That he actually does have each one of us targeted for these things. Empty bowls are a reminder of blessings stolen, of plans destroyed, of dreams killed; less figuratively, loved ones lost, friendships ruined, sickness, death, opportunities snatched. So we stack them, silent reminders of the unfulfilled.

But with God, nothing is wasted and everything has purpose. The empty is filled, the ruined is re-tasked, the crumbling rebuilt, the broken restored. God doesn't want us to keep our cupboards filled with our trophies of defeat. He wants us to let Him show us how to use them for his Glory. Having experienced what we did, I can honestly say that though heartache is still close, I am stronger, more wise, and more impassioned toward the needy child than ever I would have been prior. Where bitterness should be, an understanding of the limitations of man-made systems of welfare where the Church should be the one in action is far more pressing in my heart. Through the darkness of the journey, depths of understanding, trust, and faith are now increased and I know beyond a doubt that I truly can "do all things through Christ who strengthens me" because there were days where we simply needed the strength to breathe.

And my cupboards? They're still filled with empty plastic bowls - but only because we ran out of ice cream.