Tag Archives: love

Perfect in Weakness

A few months ago a disabled friend asked me a very deep and personal question about my relationship with my wife, and how we get through our challenges.  I was pretty challenged by her question and it honestly took me months of back-burner reflection to come up with an answer that seemed true and authentic.

Here’s a slightly re-written version of what I sent her today (some names removed, etc…)

—-

Hi my friend,

First, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write back. After reading your questions and thinking about them, I realized that I didn’t have as many answers as I wanted to have for you. Heather and I will be married 18 years this year and most of the decisions we’ve made about our relationship – some of which had to be endured through some great trials – have mostly been made and settled. They do come back up occasionally, but I usually only have to remind her (or her I) what the decision was that we made together previously about such a thing.

Something else happened recently that relates directly to your question. I had a conversation with another amazing friend whom I regard as a sister that made me realize something in words that I had never been able to really articulate before. She is a remarkably insightful friend and she knows me better than I like to pretend that she does.

This sister said to me – something to the effect of – “you NEED to love others, it’s who you are.”

I knew this, but I didn’t quite get it. She’s right. I’m divinely made with a need to love and care for others. Not the same way that doctors care for the body, but in the way that you care for a soul, a heart, and maybe some of the physical needs along the way. Whether I’m involved in working with teenagers (one of my favorite things), taking care of foster kids, taking care of my kids, or taking care of my wife… and again I mean much more than the physical needs… those are the times that I feel useful and fulfilled.

Inversely, if I had nobody to care for – or even worse if I couldn’t be trusted by others to care for adults and children – then I would feel useless and empty. My life would be without meaning.

I didn’t become this person because I wanted to be, this is who I am and who I’ve always been. I find it to be completely unalterable.

Now, there are things that can (and have sometimes) take/n that away from me – my own sinful desires and actions, or the sin of others who the enemy would use to take me away from God’s purpose in my life. Maturing or growing for me has meant learning to identify those things for what they are, and then to employ the strength gained through my Faith to overcome them and get closer to my purpose.

Getting to the specific point of your question: I believe that I am made for Heather – perfectly. She believes that she is made for me perfectly, that we perfectly fulfill one-another’s needs. We believe that God brought us together for his purpose (Love) and that with us together, we are doing his work as he has prepared us from the beginning.

Heather is my sounding board, my confidence, my reassurance, my emotional strength when I doubt myself, and most importantly of all – my love. I am Heather’s strength, her resources, her comfort, her drive to make it through another day, her will to conquer her pain, and her helping hands and feet. I’m a large and strong man, and I am made to take care of more than myself.

All this just to say – we try not to see each-other as the “care-er” and the “care-ee” (your words) because the labels aren’t appropriate. If I’m being fair and honest though (and I am) – during particularly hard times of depression, struggle and pain I might occasionally hear Heather say something like “Why do you even love me? I’m such a burden and I don’t do anything for you.” So I know that she fights some of the same battles that you do. I don’t take these questions personally (anymore) because I know that it’s a reflection of her battle with darkness and not with me. Those are the times that I work hard to remind her of everything that she does do for me and of the fact that I simply Love her, and she can’t take that away from me.  I try to help her remember (and in that help myself to remember) that she doesn’t have to comprehend that I Love her and that I need to Love her, in order to accept it.

One of the experiences that I cling to that is specifically relevant to this is when – in 2009 – Heather was in a coma in ICU for a month and dying. Her outlook wasn’t good and I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t make it. God hadn’t given me any reassurance that she would, the only reassurance I gained through my faith during that time was that God was with me – and that was supposed to be enough. (long story for another time). ANYhoo… the one thing I kept praying for during that time was something like this:

‘God, I just want my wife back so I can talk to her. That’s all I really need is to be able to talk to her. I can do anything else, but I need her so I can talk to her… so she can hear me. God you know that she understands me more than anyone else on this earth. I just want to be able to talk to her.’

What he gave me instead was a much greater blessing, but during that time is when I realized that all I really needed was her heart, ears and mind.

In a very practical and real-world sense (to steal your own words) – I am the one (like your husband) who takes care of many of the physical needs (not all of them, but someday it might be all of them)… but also in a very practical and real-world sense, I wouldn’t be able to do those things without the strength I get from the relationship I have with my amazing wife.

We believe that it is God’s design that our relationship works this way and no other way (at least right now). Most of the time we joyously accept that it’s meant to be this way for all kinds of reasons that we can’t possibly understand. Sometimes – when the pain is very bad – it’s hard to understand. Some days, we just cry together. Then we pick back up, and we move on… and we continue to Love. Neither of us would ever want our Love to be any less significant or amazing than it is. Neither of us knows anyone who Loves one-another as deeply as we believe that we do. Both of us accept that it seems it must be this way in order for it all to “work” the way that it works. Both of us wish there was another way, but would also worry very much about what any “other way” would look like.

Then this comes to mind – not as Heather being my thorn, but that our weaknesses together being our strength together – divinely:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(emphasis added)


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)


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.