I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
These are the opening verses of one of my favorite pieces of literature, Canto I of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, Inferno. I first read this text in my twenties and I now find a kinship with the author the older I get as Dante wrote the work later in life, in part, reflecting upon his own mortality and the divergent paths of the course of his existence and of others.
Today I am praying for a family and this has me reflecting. Though their path in life is not identical to my bride's and mine, they are, none-the-less, engaged in challenges and trials that my bride and I can relate to. Today they are in the midst of events, some would call the apex of trial, and my heart, along with the hearts of many are with them. Through a path consciously chosen, loss has encompassed them and as many seek to comfort, console, and support, many others will question "why?" Why did they choose to walk towards apparent heartache? Why did they purpose to pursue a course that would leave them wounded? Why would people do this?
A few years ago I recall sitting at a table at a conference hosted by the Chosen Ministry asking myself this same question. I was at a fork in the road. At that point in our lives, we had already lost a daughter to miscarriage and watched as God had miraculously retrieved our other two children from the jaws of death due to near fatal birth defects and cellular blood deficiencies. We knew we would have no more biological children and I was content. Through God's providence, I had a healthy son and a healthy daughter. My bride, a cancer survivor, was on the mend and we had even been blessed with a new job with significantly higher income so I could provide for them all. Everything was as it should be and the future was bright. Except I was at a table listening to a man named Tom Davis tell me that it wasn't - that my contentment was a death sentence to others.
Next to me sat my beautiful bride who had convinced me we needed to be here, listening to this man. For years before she knew in her heart that God had called her to a larger family than we would generate ourselves, but her husband was not so willing to engage this wild notion. After all, who could predict the outcome of such a venture? Who would unnecessarily invite government intrusion and oversight into their home by organizations such as the Department of Child and Family Services? Why would one embrace the unpredictable nature of bringing troubled children into one's home? Domestically these kids might not even be able to stay as they might be returned to birth families in the foster system. Internationally, a family could get stuck with a nightmare on their hands. And what of the expense of it all? Wouldn't this sideline any fiscal security? These were darkened woods that no one would intentionally venture into, would they?
Through the course of the evening, my fears were eroded as my conscience was mercilessly exposed to wave after wave of truth. God's passion for the fatherless and the abandoned was relentlessly and repeatedly brought forth in verses such as Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalm 10:14, Isaiah 1:17, John 14:18, and James 1:27, to name a few. The Father's instructions were clear - to truly claim His compassion and love, one must embrace His heart for the orphan and the abandoned, for we were each of us orphans before adoption into His majestic family. Convinced there was no more clear calling in the Word to marry faith and action, we stepped from the broad route of comfortable acknowledgement and onto the path of compassion for "the least of these".
The journey has transformed us and continues to do so. We have encountered deep loss, experienced mountain top joys, marveled at God's provision, called out in despair, and been amazed as adoption entered our own home. We have witnessed His restorative work and been broken upon the damages of man-made solutions to neglect and abuse. We've seen the light of joy flicker and die in small eyes, replaced by dull survival-ism and knowledge of loss.
Foreign soil has been tread upon and small ones speaking foreign tongues have been held and loved on, permitting a glimpse of the Father's sheer joy in each of us. Death has been witnessed in those same lands and oppressive and seemingly insurmountable poverty and disease has been encountered. But on those darkened paths, a faint chorus of small voices singing is still heard, thick with African accent "...the Lord will bless someone today, the Lord will bless someone today..."
This path does not permit "coasting" or resting on laurels. It's comfort was never promised. Often the surroundings are imposing. This path inexorably leads away from what seems logical often causing others to question our intents, sometimes even seeking to hamper our course of travel in the name of love for us or for our own good. In truth, we've discovered this journey even makes others uncomfortable. This is literally the hating mother, father, wife and children that Jesus spoke of in Luke 14:26 - following Him when those closest oppose you.
But this path has never been trodden alone. I have never ceased to marvel that no matter how dark the wood around becomes, no matter how isolating the circumstances, in the midst of it all, there is one continually present who has never left our side. Sometimes He was ignored for the chaos in our minds, but He was ever present, none-the-less. And this one knows the path all too well, for He is the one who blazed the trail our feet pursue. Having, himself, traversed into the depths of Hell, this one gently reminds
"Lean on, trust in, and be confident in me with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge me, and I will direct and make straight and plain your paths."
Proverbs 3:5,6 AMP
He is the one who never leaves or abandons. Regardless of the imposing nature of the wood or the storm around us, when we embrace His calling to pursue His way He will illuminate before us a straightened path working towards an eternal glory.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18