February 18, 2013

"Different Like Me"

People are people.  That is one message that God has been drilling into me over the past two years.  We try to throw up walls like cultural differences, different tastes in music, food, art, politics and religion.  But if you sit down for a REAL conversation, where you REALLY listen, you find someone just like yourself, with worries, hopes, disappointments and victories.  And I love listening to stories and seeing the similarities.

I guess God has been showing that to my kids, too.  He started when He had us take in a gentleman from our church who was down on his luck.  He had some health issues, he looked funny, he talked funny, and he would never be considered as a contestant on Jeopardy.  It took our kids a little bit to get used to him.  At the end of the time, my oldest daughter commented that she was glad he had stayed with us because she realized that people who look different aren't really all that different.  Score one for God.

Last week, we took half a day to take advantage of discount tickets at a mall-based aquarium with a few other families.  One of the families has a son with Down's Syndrome.  Last year, she and her husband had decided that public school would be a better option for him and had such a horrible experience with the public school, they pulled him out again.  I had met him once and would consider him relatively high functioning.  His speech is affected a little, but in the short class we all had signed up to take, he kept himself fairly quiet and unobtrusive with just a little bit of help from a friend and his mother.  My oldest daughter had a blast with him after the class and she treated him as she would any other child.  As we were getting ready to leave, the boys mother pulled me aside and told me she had to talk to me.  She told me that she was thanking my daughter for how kindly she treated her son and my daughter's response was something like, "I like him because he is different, just like me."  It had blown her away, and me, too, with gratitude for her perspective.

For those of you who have never met her, she doesn't have Down's Syndrome or any other handicap.  No one would notice her passing her in the street.  Unless she was mugging with one of her overdramatic expressions.  Or using her Smeagol voice.  Or trying out one of her  new voices, which sounds like a squeaky door.  Or talking Gandalf style, which inevitably involves the phrase "You!  Shall!  Not!  Pass!!!!"  That is how she is different and she recognizes that she is different.   So all she sees in this little boy with Down's Syndrome is a boy who is different like her from "the crowd"  but not in the same way as she is different.  And she revels in those differences.  This was one of my earliest goals in homeschooling, to let them be who God made them to be without feeling as if they were weird or stupid, which is the social lessons a lot of kids receive in public schools.  And God is gracious to answer my prayers at least for one child that He has helped me train.  I pray that this quality has been ingrained in her so deeply that the world and its influence will never drive it out and that she will know that people are people, created in God's image and loved by Him more than they can imagine.

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  Colossians 3:11-13

February 9, 2013

Three Magic Words

Today, my family and I went on a trek to see the two grandmas,one in a Senior facility who can still play cards and tell jokes and another, my Nana, who is slowly being eaten away by alzheimer's in a nursing home.  I saw Nana first and this is about our time together.

A long time ago, I stopped looking for the Nana I remember from childhood, or even from the Nana I remember from ten years ago, when her green-gray eyes still twinkled with mischief and laughter and her high, well-defined cheekbones still held more than a hint of the beauty that she was as a younger wife and mother;  when she could follow conversations and make complete sentences.  Now, I look for a stooped woman in a wheelchair with a flurry of frail, pure white hair, sunken eyes that are growing hazy with age and skin that seems papery thin.  Today, she was in the common room, where the TV is, snoozing in her wheelchair with oxygen pumped in her nose.  I touched her arm and called her name.  She stirred, glanced at me, and closed her eyes again.  I pulled up a chair and started stroking her her arm, calling her name again. Her eyelids remained closed.  I walked over to the nurses and asked if she had taken a turn for the worse.   Gravely, they all nodded affirmations.  However, they also encouraged me to stay by her side and hold her hand and just be satisfied with being with her.  So I steeled myself to spend the next 30 minutes or so just holding her hand and seeing if she would respond to my small, gentle acts of love.  I sat down stroked her hand and said the magic words:  "Nana, I love you!"

Her eyes popped open and she looked at me with renewed interest and almost seemed to recognize me.  Her mouth reformed into a big wide grin, not quite the same as twenty years ago, but almost familiar.  It started a whole long "conversation" between us, two old friends, two co-conspirators, two travelers of memory lane.  She would "talk", which really was more similar to baby sounds than anything else, and I would almost understand her at times.  I would tell her my stories and then we would share stories of our trip to California, her camping as a young girl with her parents, the times we would pretend to be police officers (CHiPs with chicks).  Every once in a while, she would laugh the laugh that I remembered hearing and couldn't help but laugh with her from the joy of hearing it, even though I had no idea what she had just told me.  I told her about my kids and showed her the washcloth I was knitting, though I assured her that it wasn't as beautiful as the things she had knit for me.  I told her about saving the dresses she had made for me for my daughters, when they got older.  When I showed her pictures of my kids and told her that they were her great-grandchildren, she made a snort and seemed to say "I'm not THAT old!"  She never did like the idea of being old enough to be a great-grandmother, though she loved her great grandchildren as much as she loved her grandchildren and her children.  I told her that she was a wonderful grandmother and gave her a kiss and a hug.  Our time was almost over.  My husband and the kids were waiting outside in the parking lot.  She didn't seem to mind that I was leaving, or maybe didn't understand.  I gave her final kisses and hugs and left.

I feel blessed to still be able to spend time with her and know that there is still small part of the Nana I knew that is awake and alive.  And if there comes a time when those three magic words no longer have meaning to her, then I will be content sitting silently with her, holding her hand and showing her a small part of the love she has shown me over the years.

February 1, 2013

Convicted. Repentant. Forgiven

Somewhere, we acquired a book called From God To You, 66 Love Letters by Dr. Larry Crab.  It basically summarizes each book of the Bible in an imaginary conversation between the author and God.  In history, we are studying the Kingdom of Israel and so the Bible is one of the source documents.  This week, we were studying Solomon's reign, which is covered in 1 Kings.  Today I picked up the book to get Dr. Crab's perspective and became convicted by the following passages which is his interpretation of God's message for us from this book:

Your desire to be effective, to depend on biblical principles for success in your family, church, career, and friendships, is legitimately strong.  But when that desire is stronger than your desire to be holy and to depend on My power for becoming more like My Son, whether you succeed or fail in other ways, then you will not always advance My plan, no matter how carefully you follow My principles or how much apparent success you enjoy.  And you'll be especially vulnerable to serious sin.

Later on, he writes embellishment from God's perspective in case I don't understand or purposely misunderstand what He is saying:

When efficient management, especially when you're good at it, trumps holy living, the lack of holiness is either not recognized or is not seen as a terribly serious problem....But the center of My plan has nothing to do with well-managed families, ministries, or careers.  When the center of My plan is not the center of your hope, your interior world is unstable, and your soul is weakened.

Busted. And I am without excuse, because the Bible has always pointed to God's power, God's grace, God's plan.  It has never been and shouldn't ever be about me and how well I manage.  The fruit of the Spirit is joy as well as self control and other qualities.  The fruit of my spirit never can achieve these qualities.  That is why the joy of the Lord is my strength--my joy in His plan for me, which might look like disaster and failure to the world, but, because it is pleasing to Him, is glorious in His eyes.

But the most wonderful news is that God doesn't convict us to condemn us.  He wakes us up to our pitiful, blind state so that He can lead us to repentance and forgive us, wiping our ledger clean with the blood of Jesus and leading us back to seeing His plan and following it.

Please God, open my eyes to your plan for me and how you want me to minister to my family, my friends, and my community.  Remove my focus from "the process" and keep them fixed on You, the Author and Perfecter of my faith and on the joy in following Your plan.