Monday, November 18, 2013

Seeing What is Sacred

“Jesus discloses Himself to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes in gradual and unrecognizable ways that become increasingly clear, the way He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).  Sometimes in sudden and spectacular ways that are instantly clear, the way He did with Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). And sometimes in ways that won’t be clear until the end of time, the way He does when He comes to us in the form of someone who in some way needs us (Matthew 25:31-46)…

We have been taught to wait for Christ when He comes again in that one spectacular moment when everyone everywhere will at last recognize Him for who He is. And so we should look for Him. But sometimes in looking ahead, we don’t look anywhere else, and we miss all the other times He comes." (from Ken Gire’s Seeing What is Sacred)

Christopher de Vinck writes in The Power of the Powerless that his handicapped brother Oliver “evoked the best love that was in us. He helped us grow in the virtues of devotion, wisdom, patience and fidelity. Without doing anything, Oliver made all of us better human beings…The meek and humble of heart do all of us a service when they call us to respond in love. For Jesus said, ‘What you did for the least of the brothers, you did for Me.’”

He also writes: “For me to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into a joy, explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband, father, writer and teacher I have become. I remember my mother saying when I was small, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?’ And once she said, ‘When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is ‘thank you.’’ That leaves an impression on a boy…

Oliver was physically and mentally retarded, but he was not spiritually retarded.  I was taught by my parents to look at Oliver and see…the mystery, things that linger, things which stay with us…We can stand before the Olivers of the world and see clearly who we are.”

Through the life of Daniel, these past five weeks, God has been helping me to see what is sacred and to better understand what God has chosen to hide from “the learned and the clever,” He has revealed to “mere children.” (Matthew 11:25) I can remember when we first brought David and Daniel home and we really weren’t sure that Daniel could see or hear. He was so unresponsive. It has been amazing for us to watch him grow in both awareness and responsiveness. And we are so thankful that he can hear and he can see.

I have wondered how often I am like Daniel’s initial unresponsiveness. Having ears to hear but not really hearing. Having eyes to see but not really seeing. Yesterday, Charly shared with our family the Parable of the Sower and the story's meaning: for those who have ears to hear and for those who have eyes to see.

And ultimately, for our hearts to be responsive to the seeds that He is planting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Power of the Powerless

A friend loaned me Christopher De Vinck’s book The Power of the Powerless before we brought the boys home last month. I have read it through multiple times and the story continues to speak deeply to my heart. The author’s brother Oliver was severely handicapped from birth and remained bed-ridden for the entire 33 years of his life. The author poignantly recounts all the ways that his family was blessed by Oliver, who could “do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.”

When Oliver’s disabilities became apparent early in life, the doctor advised his parents to put him in an institution. Instead they replied, “But he is our son. We will take Oliver home, of course.”

So the doctor said, “Then take him home and love him.”

The doctor’s response makes me think of my mother-in-law, who encouraged us several times through skype around the time of our boys’ homecoming that love is the best medicine there is. She is so right.

We have seen both boys blossoming these four weeks in our home, and Daniel has made huge progress, especially this past week. He is waking independently all over our apartment now, holding things in his hands, and starting to feed himself finger foods!

So now, when I read back through The Power of the Powerless, I can only imagine what life might have been like if Daniel had remained bed-ridden and unresponsive. And I have such deep respect for Oliver’s mother Catherine, who wrote the following of her experience with Oliver, before his death in 1980:

“It’s hard to express what such a verdict means to a mother. It pierced me to my depth, ripped apart at the very fabric of life when we discovered how severely different Oliver was going to be all his life. It was not something one could put aside or escape. The world appeared darkened: It was as if the whole of reality had been covered with a gray film. I didn’t understand yet

By the grace of God (and I don’t use this as a figure of speech), I could accept it, in darkness and ignorance—yes, even manage a simple, immediate consent. I remember holding Oliver and saying the Lord’s Prayer, over and over: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I could not see the purpose of this trial, but I could say yes to God. I could begin to realize that God’s ways are not our ways.

For many, many years, I was confined to the house, alone and without the support of relatives or friends. Jose was at work all day and I was with Oliver and the other five children. This enforced seclusion was difficult for me; I had a restless, seeking spirit. Through Oliver, I was held still. I was forced to embrace a silence and a solitude where I could “prepare the way of the Lord.” Sorrow opened my heart, and I “died.” I underwent this “death” unaware that it was a trial by fire from which I would rise renewed—more powerfully, more consciously alive.

I looked into the abyss of human sorrow and saw how dangerous and how easy it is to slide into self-pity—to weep over one’s fate. I was given the grace to understand that one has to be on guard against such grieving, for it falsifies one’s grasp on life and erodes one’s inner strength. Sorrow can be worn as a badge of honor (“See how I suffer!”). It can also be a searing experience. It is not exalting to be alone all day in a house full of small children, to be faced with the same daily chores, with a routine of physical work which appears to narrow one’s life to trivial concerns. Many women who are “just housewives” experience this sense of futility, this feeling of being cut off from the mainstream of life.

But if there is a silence that is opaque and a solitude that is a prison, there is also a silence that is luminous and a solitude that is blessed terrain where the seeds of prayer can grow…

Oliver was always a “hopeless” case, yet he was such a precious gift for our whole family. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) This child had no apparent usefulness or meaning, and the “world” would reject him as an unproductive burden. But he was a holy innocent, a child of light.

Looking at him, I saw the power of the powerlessness. His total helplessness speaks to our deepest hearts, calls us not merely to pious emotions but to service. Through this child, I felt bound to Christ crucified—yes, and also to all those who suffer in the world. While caring for Oliver, I also felt that I ministered, in some mysterious way, to all my unknown brothers and sisters who were, and are, grieving and in pain throughout the world. So, through Oliver, I learned the deepest meaning of compassion.

I have made my peace with the coming of Oliver’s death. I cannot see it as a tragedy. I know that the child who lived in apparent void and darkness sees God, lives forever in health, beauty and light. Here on earth, he was loved. His presence among us was a mysterious sign of that peace the world cannot give.”

Because of our situation with Daniel, I know what she means about a sense of solidarity with hurting brothers and sisters around the world. I also completely understand what she wrote about how easy it is to slide into self-pity. I know how she can say that she learned the deepest meaning of compassion through her care of Oliver for more than 30 years. As I have battled with my own selfishness this past month with the two new additions in our home, I know that I am just scratching the surface of compassion.

Henri Nouwen wrote in the Intro:

“When I finished reading The Power of the Powerless I had a strange vision. I saw our crazy world, full of wars and conflicts, full of competition and ambition, full of heroes and stars, full of success stories, horror stories, love stories and death stories, full of  newspapers, television, radios and computer screens, and millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life. And then I saw a hand moving this heavy curtain of spectacles away and pointing to a handicapped child, a poor beggar, a chronically ill woman, an illiterate monk, a dying old man, a hungry child. I had not noticed them before. They seemed hidden so far away from where ‘it’ seemed to be happening. But the hand pointed gently to these poor, humble, weak people and a voice said, ‘Because of them I won’t let the world be destroyed. They are my favored ones and with them I made my covenant and I will be faithful to it.’”

How true it is that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

I am thankful for the ways that God has been enabling our family to see, through our adoption, the value He places on life and the power He gives to the powerless


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