Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fairytales and Family Relations

I went on a men’s retreat this last weekend with my church.  We did “men things” in the mountains.  We were challenged to grow in our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  We sang songs together.  We stood around a large fire in the dark and under the stars for no particular reason other than “fire!”.

At one point, I even took a nap.

It’s not as lame as it sounds, but it is as self-serving as it sounds.  Does that make it wrong?  No, I don’t think so.  I think we all need to take time sometimes to separate ourselves from the main streams of life and forge new relationships both with one-another and with our creator.  Over the years and the different church trips and retreats that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part-of, I’ve made life-long friendships with men who I otherwise probably would have never gotten to know.  These men, in turn, have become strength and spiritual guidance for me over and over again.  I am thankful for men’s retreats.

On this particular retreat, our guest speaker was quite gifted.  I enjoyed his skills and his ability to draw-in focus.  He had a style of vulnerability, authenticity, and clarity that few seem to really organize.  His speaking techniques were obviously honed with thousands of hours of practice and years of spiritual devotion.  I have nothing but great things to say about this guy.  My primary complaining point today is about one of the stories he told:

Preachers and Speakers – will you please quit telling me fairy tale stories about these holy family reconciliations – particularly with your fathers – where you somehow finally connect with your lost dad relationship at the end, just before he dies… and maybe your dad even accepts Christ at your hands right before the end?  I cannot tell you how humiliating and frustrating this is.

I don’t believe this is a reality for most of us.  I’ve heard so many stories from great speakers that seem to go the same way. They all go something like this:

‘I once was at enmity with my Father, a non-believer (probably).  A rough childhood (perhaps), maybe even abusive or neglectful or just broken?  Right before he died, we somehow worked everything out… and it was like holy magic… he was saved and my heart was healed.’

I can’t deal with this.  I want to hate you for this.  When you talk about this, it makes me feel inadequate.  Your stories used to give me hope, but all these years later as I hear them again and again, they just make me more angry and disappointed.

When I say “we” here I mean me… and you if you’re at all like me.

Do you have any idea how many years of crying, sleepless nights, and prayers of desperation we’ve been through?  Do you know?  Do you know how many times we’ve attempted this conversation with our father/mother/sister/brother – based on the model you gave us – only to fail miserable and receive even greater disappointment?

I guess – I mean – sure – it’s your testimony right… so go ahead and tell us your story.  But please also tell us that it doesn’t always work out like that… and tell us how it’s going to be ok somehow even when it doesn’t work out.  Tell us it’s going to somehow be ok when we don’t see our dad in Heaven or our heart never really fully heals from that LONG ago pain.  Tell us that.

—–

I believe that God can bring redemption to ANY relationship, no matter how broken.  I believe fully in his power to heal completely.

I believe he won’t always do this, and probably not even sometimes.

I believe there are probably good reasons why he wouldn’t do this but those are things I don’t comprehend.

I believe in the thorn in my side.

I believe in the Love of my Christ.


Giggling Hope

Hadden

Today is Hadden Alexander’s adoption day.  It is a day filled with hope, excitement, fear, love, and anticipation.  It’s one of those days where you wake up and your stomach is in knots before your thoughts even realize the world, but deep inside you know that they are good knots.  Good like the kind of knots that hold your shoes together or keep a family from separating even when they pull in different directions.

Hadden is my Hope Personified.  As he is now ours forever, I can finally share his story out loud – and with it- I pray – the same great Joy and Hope that our family and close friends have had with him for the last 17 months.

Hadden’s story is not his origin but it includes that tale.  To experience the full Hope of his situation you have to be able to respect his beginning – but I warn you – do not judge or pity him on this.

Hadden arrived crying into our home in June of 2012 at 4-months of age, a ward of the State of Colorado.  Hadden (whom at that time had a different name) was barely an average birth weight.  He had broken bones in various stages of healing throughout his little body.  He had multiple documented forms of brain damage from physical trauma.  His little arm was in a cast and we could only guess that all he had really known was pain during his first few months of life.  Perhaps there was fleeting comfort and joy, I hope.  It was deeply tragic, and there were times when we were not sure how long we could endure it.

For the first few weeks in our family, Hadden was least upset (but never happy) when left him completely undisturbed in a dark room with white noise. My relentlessly empowered wife took him to what seemed like hundreds of doctor and specialist appointments all over town for his myriad of medical complications.  She spent hours on the phone expertly navigating the various child support services systems of our locale. Among many great things, she secured – not one or two – but five different professional therapists to visit him weekly and help us with his needs.

Conversations in Foster placement often turn to permanency expectations and my wife and I had expressed previously that after 7 years of foster care, we had always wanted to adopt (that doesn’t mean that we’re done!).  We had no expectation of adopting Hadden at that time. Just in consideration of those discussions – many doctors and medical experts tried very hard to “break it to us” that he wouldn’t be “normal” at all and might be a very difficult child to have for the rest of his life.  Nobody in our family is “normal”, thank God.

Random and well-intentioned comments often sounded something like “You know, he could wind up as a vegetable”.  Or maybe a little less bleak such as “You guys should know that he’s going to need a lot of help for a long time.”

Many professionals just remained silent on this issue.  We preferred this and often attempted to steer conversations in this way.

One doctor stands sovereign in my memory, except I wish I remembered his name.  He was an older experienced neurosurgeon who visited us at the hospital.  I can’t remember if it was the day we took him home or on a subsequent visit, but for some reason I was along for this particular trip. With a thick German accent and an unusually kind and warm personality he said “You know, these babies… (trailing off for an uncomfortably long time as he tried to decide which English words to use).. their brains at this age are like plastic.  They are mold-able.  They can change.”

At the time I just sort-of smiled at him and nodded.

It took me a few days to realize what he had done and a few weeks and months to experience the fullness of the light that one simple remark had produced.  The doctor had made a deposit in us of Hope.  Then God through his work within my wife and I took hold of that deposit, spread it out, and gave it eternal dividends on our accounts of dedication, patience, persistence, and love.  It was a real gift.  A great, great gift.

Hadden2

Through months upon months of visitations with his sweet but broken mother.  Through endless sleepless nights and hours of tedious days of more and more medical visits, therapy appointments, and just plain hard work and Love.  The vision of Hadden as a permanent part of our life slowly became clearer.  I’m a terrible cynic and my wife and I had been jaded enough by our previous experiences with the social system that we held-down hope for months to a quietly managed simmer. I think that we knew even then though that he should be ours.  I honestly feel as though he was always meant to be a very important part of our family.

As Hadden’s conditions improved and his now inextinguishable joy pushed through his pain, he continued (and continues) to touch many in a special and deep place.  He touched my wife and I in our cynical bruised hearts during one of the hardest spiritual times of our lives and in a way that can only be described as an unmovable Rock of Hope, somehow physically evident in a tiny baby boy.  He touched our older sons to discover a nurturing, protecting, and playful brotherly spirit that they never quite gained simply being with one-another.  He touched our close friends who understood small parts of his story and had/have a cheer-leading front row seat to his obvious transformation.  My wife and I even watched as Hadden touched the hearts of deeply jaded child welfare system workers who came in and out of his life in a unique way.

There’s something special about Hadden’s unique Joy.  My wife once described it out loud as “Every day that Hadden isn’t in pain, is a good day for Hadden.”  I think she’s right, but I think there’s even more to it than that.  I’ve watched as people who don’t even know Hadden and have no idea where he came from find themselves suddenly fully enveloped by this bright glowing aura of Joy that seems to just shine out of his big brown eyes and bright and airy smile.

To say nothing of his physical and developmental advances – Hadden is still technically “behind” but the growth we’ve seen over just the last few weeks has been a real miracle.  His future is bright!

We are so blessed today to welcome Hadden as a legally defined member of the Ott family.  He is my Giggling, Personified, Tangible, Eternal Hope. He is the message of Jesus in the flesh.  In a tiny package, Hadden is the explosive power of non-terminating exponential Joy in spite of the indisputably broken situation that began his life.  What an honor it is that God chose us to care for this miracle and bring him up to be a visible icon for all.

I cannot fathom for a moment why it is that we were chosen, but Wow!  I feel today like we were given a billion dollars to do anything with that we want and it’s completely up to us what we do with it.  It’s totally insane.  It’s a gift of divine Grace.  It’s a tangible fulfillment of Mercy.  It is Giggling Hope.

Hadden and Boys


I don’t mind stealing bread

“I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence

but I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled”

-Hunger Strike, Temple of the Dog (1991)

I heard this song today.  I remembered identifying with the lyrics way back when I was a teenager and heard this song the first time and loved it.  I remembered thinking “yeah, that’s right.”

Then I thought about who I am today, particularly in light of my relationship with Jesus Christ.  What’s different?  Would I mind literally or figuratively stealing “from the mouths of decadence?” (unfortunately, I don’t think I’d mind too much) To feed myself or my family?  Would I feel badly about it?  What about stealing from the poor and powerless? (depending on the situation – I bet I could rationalize this to myself too)

I also thought – what if I’m the mouth of decadence?  Aren’t I?  Who am I to draw the line and say “you’re too wealthy, you’re poor. I’m somewhere between and am therefore, somehow ok”?

By driving around wealthy Boulder, Colorado today in my almost-new, bought on payments, little Honda Hybrid car… aren’t I contributing to the great feeding upon the powerless of the world through consumerism?

This inner dialogue formed a freshly regurgitated debate in my mind that has been continuously unsettled:  Where does (or would) Jesus stand today on western culture social justice issues?  Particularly the very popular humanist perspectives that I see strongly in our  youth and young adults on ideas like:  income equality, health care reform, elective life choices like marriage and birth (or abortion), universal religion, etc…

What about those Christians who would claim that being a good Christian means you work hard and earn what you deserve?  and by inverse implication – if you don’t have anything – you deserved it?  Is this the same as “an honest day’s work”?  Or “go to the ant, you sluggard…” (Prov 6:6)?

Or is this more like “Don’t judge (or condemn)…” (Mat 7:1 and many more)?  Did Jesus only mean – don’t judge another person’s salvation – when he said that?  Which judging or condemning is encouraged by Jesus?

What about “love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31 and others)?  What about “the greatest of these is love” (1Cor13:13)?

Am I asking more questions than providing answers or opinions?  Welcome to my brain.  Now you know why the blog is called “Otter Confusion”.

So where does Jesus stand on social justice in the way that we think about it in America today?  Would he be friendlier with the lazy hippies or the hard-working republicans?  What would he stand for – today – when presented by a modern Pharisee with a social justice “gotcha” question?

More importantly, how should I personally respond to that?  What’s my responsibility as a Christian towards social justice?  Should I just exercise what I believe to be appropriate justice through my own life and choices – prayerfully considered – and faithfully executed (only on the best of days do I actually find myself doing this)?  Or should I stand up for more than that – take to the streets – join the “1% vs 99%” rally?  Or – depending on your perspective on the above questions – an American Republican “tea party” rally?

Or do I just look for more ways to Love others directly – and stay out of the fray?

(in retrospect, this last option seems to have been my unintentional life’s mission since becoming a Christian)

Where do I go from here – particularly on this day of government shutdown – on the brink of collapse of our beautiful nation founded on the principles of Love and Freedom?

Maybe another song, also currently playing on the repeat track in my brain…

“Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a child with no socks or shoes

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you

Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a woman dying from the loss of food

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you”

-Stand Up, Flobots

Or maybe not.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Micah 6:8)