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

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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)


Grace in a pressure can

I have a really hard time with entitled people.

C.S. Lewis wrote about Pride/Conceit – saying “There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are  more unconscious of in ourselves.  And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

Maybe I have a new – old problem.  Maybe.

On my flight home from DC yesterday I really saw a wide range of humanity.  There were all kinds of people, very interesting.  I had a lovely conversation with the lesbian couple that I sat next to and generally I don’t talk to anyone on airplanes – I’m a real headphones on, eyes closed, don’t bug me kinda guy.  They were just amusing, clever and outgoing people.

Our flight was late due to thunderstorms and so people were tired, hot, and a little frustrated.  The air was rough and every seat full. There were 3 or so small children on our long flight continuously crying – parents feverishly walking up and down the aisles when the seat-belt light wasn’t on, just hoping nobody would look at them (man I have so been there).  Then there was this one guy…

This one guy. I still can’t figure out exactly what his deal was… I had plenty of time on the airplane to really try to think through his motivations and understand how much pain he must have been in to act the way he acted. This guy came as close as anybody can come that I’ve ever seen to getting arrested when he steps off the plane. He wanted a different seat, on a full flight, on a Frontier flight where there are no ‘better seats’ and everyone pays about the same amount. He stood in the aisle and demanded it from a flight attended and easily stole 45 minutes of her time – refusing to sit down even when the seat-belt lights were on and arguing with her about how he needed a different seat. I really don’t know what was wrong with him. I think that people can’t act like that if they’re being rational and so the only explanations for irrational behavior I can come up with are substance abuse, pain, and mental disease.

The guy wasn’t really the “show” though. He was just a part of the show. The thing that I found MOST impressive – the show – was the flight attendant and how she handled him. He was so… unmanageable. I wasn’t in a ‘love everyone’ good christian mode… I was glaring hard at him from behind his head just waiting for my chance to tackle him.  I honestly hoped he would turn his eyes and see me. I wanted a piece of his face and I was going to jump up and get it first the moment he assaulted the flight attendant.  I was so offended by his attitude that I couldn’t see his humanity until quite some time after it all settled down.  The fight I imagined never happened, because of how she so impressively handled him.

She was Grace in a pressure can – both literally and figuratively.  She had so much patience for this guy.  She just stood there and endured his ranting and waited for a chance to calmly, warmly, and lovingly explain the truth of the situation to him over and over.  I watched as she appealed to his humanity and his rationality with her eyes, smile and genuine temperament.  I listened as she patiently explained over and over that there wasn’t anything she or anyone on the flight could do to help him.  I fully expected her to make up some kind of lie to pacify him like… promise him a free ticket when he calls customer service after the flight or something.  She didn’t.  She stuck to the truth, she explained that he has a right to choose whether he wants to fly on an airplane or not but that when you make that choice, you have to stick to the rules.

I saw a little piece of God yesterday in this woman whose name I didn’t even manage to get.  About an hour after the event I managed to steal her ear for just a moment while she walked by my row.  I said to her “You are amazing!!”.  She smiled and said “I just told him the truth.  That’s all I can do.”  I died a little.  I left that encounter embarrassed about who I am and who I am not.

Dear God – as me and my family continue to endure trials of your difficult people – of which I certainly am one – between blessings and joy – please oh God teach me more about how to share “Truth in Love” and not compromise anything along the way.


Mustang Love

I met tonight with a student of mine from our previous church.  I slipped him in at the last minute between my guy’s small group and bed time with my family.  I’ve managed to still maintain relationships with a select couple of amazing young men despite my neglect of those relationships.  God is good and he gives me purpose right when I need it most.

The student’s name isn’t Mike, but tonight we’ll call him Big Chill Mike.

When BC Mike rolled-up in his older v8 Mustang, I could immediately hear from within my house that it sounded different – he’s added a lot to it.  I haven’t seen him in quite a few months.  Mike came in and we sat down and talked about the complete disaster that has become his life over the last 30 days.  Mike’s never had a settled home life, but this situation is really messed-up… this isn’t Mike’s blog so we’ll skip on the details.  This blog is about me.  I tried to help BC Mike as much as I could – mostly listening – offering suggestions and ideas where it seemed reasonable.  Some situations just don’t have a good answer, you know?

Towards the end of my conversation with Mike he suggested to me what I had been hoping, “Hey, let’s go for a ride!”.

I eagerly accepted – knowing that I was probably in for a ‘show’.  Mike is one of the most chill young men I know – amazingly emotionally wise and level-headed… but he’s also a 100% full testosterone, muscular, attractive, natural athlete.  I knew he’d want to show-off his car and his driving skills to me but I wasn’t sure it would be quite this intense.

As we hit the road and I grabbed the roof of the car with my hand out the open window – we immediately slammed into speed before my heart could catch-up with my eyes.  I was enjoying the ride… a little scared, but knowing that my young pilot was capable and knowing that my life is ultimately in God’s hands.  I could have asked him to slow down or turn around at that point, but I didn’t.  When Mike turned onto the interstate highway I began to wonder if I should have.  As we flew down the interstate exceeding speeds that I will not put into writing, taking hard turns and changing lanes…. well at that moment I didn’t realize anything other than a pure and rich combination of joy, fear, anxiety, elation, and the sweaty hard grip of my hand on that roof/door-frame.  I was completely out of control, in a situation that could easily cause me instant death, and I was somehow mostly ok with trusting an emotionally troubled 17-year-old with my life.  As my multiple auto crash memories filled my frontal lobes and eventually overcame my sensory overload – I did eventually ask him to slow down, but not after quite a lengthily rush.  I think he was waiting for me to beg for it.

When I returned home and settled-down for yet another difficult urgent conversation with our relator about our difficult home buying process, It was then that I realized that the ride had been a metaphor as well as an experience.

My family’s life right now is not unlike that ride in the Mustang.  Our lives are moving through a hundred juggling balls – all of them flying at light speed.  Things are coming at us and going past us so quickly, the turns are so hard, the highs so high, and the lows (particularly quite recently for me) … so low.  Our life isn’t being driven by me, as badly as I try to make it…. and frankly, just like the Mustang, my sloppy nerd reflexes couldn’t handle it at this speed anyway.  I’d wreck for sure.

Through a series of circumstances that are entirely out of our control – our family is facing:

*  Home buying, packing, purging and moving in a very compressed schedule with difficult sellers and a highly imperfect process (I know this is a blessing, but we definitely didn’t ask for it this way… it’s scary… and we’re very unsure and have no resources to do it correctly).

* Parental rights termination (hopefully very soon) and adoption process beginning for the wonderfully sweet and broken Foster baby that we’ve had over a year now.

* Mourning the temporary and possibly permanent involuntary loss of a very significant relationship to our entire family.

* A multi-month ongoing battle for the life and livelihood of my mother-in-law.

* and more…

and all of it is happening, right now, in warp speed, without a breath of air, without a seat for rest, without a drink of fresh water.  So who’s driving?

For the last few weeks we’ve received – not a small – but an intensely growing significant number of LARGE blessings right exactly when we seem to need them most.

It’s like that perplexing Grace puzzle I’ve written about before – it’s clearly meant to get my attention about who’s really driving and just how much He loves me… except ugh… this is scary… it’s uncomfortable… it’s exciting… it’s filled with anxiety… it hurts… and God won’t you please just tell me where the road leads and if we even make it?!

So it’s like the ride with my young friend – fear, exhilaration, anxiety, and intense floods of every emotion – only God doesn’t listen when you ask him to slow down a little.  He keeps going.

So many people have done so much for us already.  Thank you – all of you who know who you are.  Most of all – Thank you God again for loving me when I clearly don’t deserve it – truly in spite of who I am.  I don’t comprehend your brand of Love God, but I believe that’s the point of it.

I realize this is possibly the most grammatically poor and disorganized post I’ve ever written here.  This is where I am right now and where my brain is.  God wants me here and I trust Him.  Sleep deprived, worried, sweaty palmed and holding on with all my life for the next big thing.


Salty Bread

As a child or an adult – try to remember what it felt like the last time you’d been away from someone you really love for any considerable amount of time. I don’t mean just a day or even just a couple days… but weeks… maybe even months or years. How does it feel? What’s going through your mind as the day draws closer that you would get to be in the company of that person again? Do you play over and over again in your mind how you will run to him/her? How you will embrace them and feel their warmth and strength? When the time finally comes, can you stand to wait at all?

embrace

The church I attend is not really a very conservative or liturgical assembly. If I had to find an incomplete labeling paradigm I might call us progressive and even perhaps moderate if not occasionally liberal non-denominational quasi-evangelical protestants. We have rock ‘n roll worship, we drink coffee in the sanctuary, we have stage lights, computers and projectors, and some of us (like me) wear t-shirts and shorts to church services.

One of the more unique things we do as a church is we take communion every week. At my last church (a similar style of church) we took communion once every 3 months… maybe… if it fit into the preaching schedule. You’ll find that latter kind of pattern to be the more common one in this style of church.

At first it seemed really weird that we did it weekly and it took some getting used to. Then after some time I started to really appreciate it. Taking symbolic communion every week gives me an opportunity to remember more often exactly what it all really means. I don’t take it for granted and I don’t get robotic about it. God allows every week to be a new experience and I consider that alone to be a gift of His Grace in itself.

So here’s the confession. I RUSH into communion. Sometimes we take it together as a congregation and sometimes we take it on our own time. In either case, if there was a race to get the bread into your mouth – I’d win it every time. Irreverent, right? I’ve been contemplating within myself for weeks now why it is I seem to do this. Sometimes I wonder if someone is watching me shove that salty grape-juice soggy bread into my mouth and quietly judging my haste.

I really do eat it like a gluttonous child getting a candy bar for the first time in a week.

It’s the funniest thing. I know that the bread isn’t magical. I don’t go for magic bread or magic water, that’s not in my personal book of theology. I know it’s just a reminder of what happened, who I really am and who my God really is…. but I just can’t wait to get there. I can’t wait to get back into that place where I feel like I belong, in my father’s house. Maybe it has something to do with this?

Romans 5:6-8 (ESV): 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In my heart, I know that Christ RUSHED into forgiving me. He RUSHED to my rescue, while I still didn’t know or want him, while I was still a sinner, while I was still an Atheist, while I still HATED every idea of him… He came anyway, he RUSHED to my salvation. With divine Love and great urgency, God RUSHED to take me home.

So it is while I’m still quite sure of my unworthiness, while I’m still unsettled in my state of readiness – that I rush into worship through communion – that I rush into his arms. I want to be there before I’ve had a chance to convince myself that I’ve paid enough reverence or enough prayer or enough quiet to be there. I want to rush there while my mind is still scattered, while my heart is still dirty, and while my hands are still busy.

That’s when he loved me first. While I was still broken. So that’s how I want to come to him every week, while I know that I’m still broken…. RUSHING into his love.


Suing for Divine Intervention

For the past several years I’ve participated in a great message board with some online friends that I’ve made over the years.  This board is available to the public but it’s kind-of tucked away in a quiet little corner of the internet, way down in Australia.  Some of my friends on this board live in Australia (of course) but many are scattered around the globe.  All of them speak English either as a first or second language and live in relatively first-world free nations (many also in the U.S.).

I’m really the only Christian on that board that I know of.  The other active board members seem to represent what is actually a really healthy cross-section of the young (under 40) first world.  We used to have a devout Catholic friend, but he’s been busy lately and not around.  Some of the discussions on there can be downright nasty in terms of their content, stuff that makes me uncomfortable.  Most of them are amazing talks about “isn’t this cool” or “doesn’t that suck” or “how do you guys process this?”.

What I love the most about this message board is that it’s just bleeding with authenticity and mutual respect.  If you come in and present a well thought out argument about almost anything, you’ll get a lively and respectful discussion or debate about it.  You won’t get posts filled with personal insults or “you are wrong you stupid head!”.  I’ve tried my hardest to live up to that standard of communication on that system although sometimes I fail.

Some of the the theological thought experiments that I’ve participated in on that system have really caused me to grow and changed my own mind about some things.  I think I will start to share some of my own responses here to those concepts just to expand the audience a little and share more about my thoughts with whatever audience it is that seems to enjoy reading this narcissistic blog about ME.

—- introduction complete —-

A friend today posted an article about a real court case happening right now in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil.  (the link is a Google Translate copy of the article)

A quote from the article (translated into English):

In Fortaleza, Ceará, owner Tarcília Bezerra built an expansion of its cabaret, whose activities were in constant growth after the creation of unemployment insurance for fishermen and various other types of bags.

In response, the Church Universal site launched a strong campaign to block the expansion, with prayer sessions in his church in the morning, afternoon and evening.

The expansion and renovation work progressed rapidly until a week before reopening when lightning struck the cabaret burning electrical installations and causing a fire that destroyed the roof and much of the construction.

After the destruction of the cabaret, the pastor and the church believers began to brag about “the great power of prayer.”

So Tarcília sued the church, the pastor and all the congregation, on the grounds that they “were responsible for the end of your building and your business” using divine intervention, direct or indirect, and the actions or means. “

In its response to the lawsuit, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection with the end of the building.

The judge to whom the case was referred to the author read the complaint and the answer of the defendants and to the oral opening, said:

– “I do not know how I’m going to decide this case, but one thing is evident in the records. Here we have an owner of a cabaret that firmly believes in the power of prayer and an entire church declaring that prayers are worthless “.

After I remarked that this makes absolutely no sense to me, my friend then challenged me as a Christian with this very good question

“what would you do if someone tried to sue you over some action that you believed was accomplished through your prayer?”

This was my response:

I’ve never considered prayer as a liability.

See the problem is this:  God doesn’t answer to me.  He does what he wants.  I try to pray/petition as little as possible because I seldom feel worthy to ask for anything specific… instead I’ll ask for things like “God’s will in this matter” and “peace and strength to endure for the people involved”.  That’s typically the kind of prayer I make in times of hardship.  I don’t like the idea of suggesting to God what he should do.

The funny part about that is – there IS allowance in the Bible for us to challenge God and in times of PERSONAL crisis, I have done that and seen results.  Even still, I have to think that even my part in petitioning had to be a part of his plan to teach me dependence and build my faith and if my request hadn’t been in accordance with that overall plan, then it certainly wouldn’t have been “granted”.  Relevant example – would God have saved my wife’s life miraculously (it really was a miracle) had I and others not prayed directly for healing?  I can’t really guess, because that’s not what happened.

but to be liable?

when I pray to God – I’m not hiring a hitman who’ll do my bidding in exchange for a favor.  I am no less a favored child of God than any other human and so I haven’t EARNED POINTS with him for good deeds or obedience or whatever that I can cash in for certain requests at my personal whim… and THANK GOD it doesn’t work that way.  I’m asking God… like hey dude… this sucks… if you can do something about it, would you?  If you won’t, will help me understand why not?  I think that’s almost verbatim what I prayed every night while my wife was in a coma.

So am I responsible for God’s actions?  Never.

Can a court hold me personally responsible through circumstantial cause and effect relationships?  I suppose they could try.  I’d try the argument I just gave above, but they might not buy it… they might blame me.

If they blamed me for God’s actions and I was punished, I’d file that under ‘persecution’ and you can bet I’d be praying about that too… in the same way… like hey dude… this sucks, I’m taking this rap for you… will you help me out?  and if not, will you help me understand why not?

The bible also has examples of people literally taking the rap for believing in God (boiled in oil, hung on an upside-down crucifix).  They didn’t escape their death… but then again… we really like martyrdom in ancient philosophies, don’t we?

—–

What do you think?


car crucifix crisis

So… it’s been QUITE a while since I’ve written anything here.  Sorry about that (if you were actually checking back).  It’s funny, my site stats show that people actually read here sometimes.

It would be easier to start my introductions over than it would to tell you everything that’s happened.  So just a brief personal life synopsis of what I’m doing now – before I take you to the subject that I really wanted to write about today.

We have found home at a new church, it’s wonderful.. it’s everything we needed it to be and so much more.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.  God’s providence is all over that situation.  We’re suffering through difficulty over everything that happened after my last post with the church where I was saved.  We are healing.

We’ve had a wonderful new foster son for about 9 months now, he turned 1 in February.  We hope to keep him.  Our family is up to 7 – my wife and I, our now 19-year-old “son”, his wonderful 18-year-old girlfriend who we are now calling our daughter, our 9-year-old son, 7-year-old son, and our foster son.

I’m still meeting with a small number of students who simply won’t leave me alone.  I love them though, and they give me purpose and keep me reminded of my calling.  I’m slowly allowing myself to serve in small ways at our new church.  It’s hard.

There’s something more significant than all this though that inspired me to write today.  It’s the little plastic cross hanging on a rope attached to the rear-view mirror in my car.  I commute 40+ minutes each way to work every day and I look at it a lot.

actually hanging in my actual car ;)

the actual cross – actually hanging in my actual car 😉

Yes, that darn little cross.  It’s a crisis for me because I hate it, but I can’t get rid of it.  It drives me insane, but I need it to be there.  I don’t want anything to do with it, but I can’t take it down.  Why does such a little thing have so much power over me?  There’s a back story here.

My 19-year-old “son” took his first ever trip on an airplane to see his distant family in California when he had only been living with us a short time.  He bought this for me when he was there.  He meant it as a necklace, but I don’t wear necklaces much and I hated the idea of wearing a cross around my neck – so instead I hung it in my car out of Love for him.

For a few weeks I really liked it.  It was a significant statement about my early growing relationship with him that he would think of me in that way.

Then after a while it started to grate on me.  I began to dislike it.  I thought it felt too much like I was being a “showy” Christian instead of an authentic one.  I felt like I didn’t want people to look at me like one of those Christians who puts fish on his car and crosses around his neck but his life isn’t really different.  After a few more months, I felt like the obligatory statute of limitations on gifts given in love by your children had run out and I could safely take it down.  I removed it from my rear-view and tucked it deeply into some dark crevice of non-use in my dirty disorganized car.

I felt fine about that for a while… perhaps a tinge of guilt every now and then, but for the most part I was liberated from the symbol’s burden.  Then my son borrowed my car for something, which he does every so often because I have a small SUV and it can carry more things than his little Civic.  He returned my car to me cleaned and filled with gas… and with that damn crucifix hanging again from my rear-view mirror… and not a single word was discussed between us about it… and there it has remained for many more months to this very day.  I took the photo to the left just yesterday as I was thinking about writing this.  I’ve never told him before writing this how I felt about it.

It still bothers me.  It bothers me a lot.  Every time I try to pin down why it really bothers me though, all I get are these empty excuses.  I know they’re excuses, I know I’m missing the point of why it bothers me.  I keep thinking things like:

* He put it there to remind me to drive nicer because he knows my driving history (hint: it’s bad).  What really torques me is that it works.  I feel AWFUL when I cut someone off or do something illegal and I imagine that people in other cars can see the cross and think that I claim to be a Christian.

* Maybe it bothers me too because I don’t want people to know that I claim to be a Christian – I want them to figure it out on their own based on my actions…. yeah right, who am I kidding?… I’m not that good.  Maybe it reminds me that I’m not that good.

* Maybe it bothers me because when I’m in the drive-through I worry that I’m being judged by the kid in the window as “one of those Christians”… or by the people in the car next to me at the stop light when my non-christian music is too loud… or by the person riding with me in my car who doesn’t know me that well.

* Or many many more reasons I’ve prepared over many days and weeks.

Today this little plastic cross shook me to my core.  I pulled up to a stop light… and there was this kid… he was just a kid…maybe 19?  Maybe 16?  He was standing in the cold, in the mud, holding a cardboard sign.  He looked right at me… he totally saw the cross… and me… and my face… and I looked deep into his eyes.  I didn’t have any money to give him… and I hurt for him… and I hurt for me that I couldn’t find the compassion to stop.  I never give money to homeless people, I always justify it by thinking about all the charitable organizations in town that help homeless people and swear to contribute to one of them instead.  Only I don’t.  I don’t contribute to those organizations.  And he stood there looking through me… and I know he saw my cross…. and he was just a kid… and I was – indeed – one of “those” Christians.

—-

I’m not really sure any of that, or the 100 other excuses I’ve made for myself over the last couple years for hating my rear-view hanging crucifix – are valid at all… or partially valid.

What I do know is this: The cross is offensive to my pride.

It looks at me and it says – ‘You needed this.  I sent my son to be tortured and DIE for you because that’s what you needed.  You’re not good enough for this but you got it anyway.  Remember that I love you.’

It’s so freaking offensive to my grown-man pride.  It runs interference through my mind every time I get into my car.  It destroys my narrow-minded conceptions of everything.  The crucifix is the most frustrating thing in my car and often one of the more frustrating things of my daily life…. and yet…. I cannot remove it.  I just – can’t.