November 15, 2015

The Gift

He had been anticipating this special day for weeks, counting down the hours that had crept painfully slow. There were more presents under the tree than he could even count, and, oh, the thrill . . . many of them had his name on the tags!  And now Christmas Day was here at last!  He could barely contain his excitement!

He opened the first one, ripping into the paper, the bow flying off.  It was a . . . a book?  Well, that wasn’t exactly what he was expecting, but Ok, he thought.  A book is good.  I like to read.  And still, there were many more gifts to open.  One by one, he opened the packages.  A skateboard.  A basketball.  A chess set.  And with each present that he opened, his shoulders stooped just a little bit more, and each “thank you” became less and less enthusiastic.  When the last gift had been opened, he looked around in utter disbelief, threw himself onto the floor in a heap, and wailed, “But I wanted an X-Box!”

Poor kid.  He didn’t get the one gift he had hoped for.  The one he had been envisioning.  And all of the other gifts, by comparison, were inferior.  It wasn’t that he was ungrateful.  He just couldn’t help but feel disappointed and heart-broken.  Let down.  His dreams for the perfect gift had been dashed.

I get it.  I’m just like my foster son on that Christmas morning long ago.  My dreams were so big and my expectations were so high.  I had prayed and hoped and anticipated the gift that the Lord was going to give me.  I just knew that what He gave me would exceed my wildest expectations.1

He gave me a gift, alright.  But it wasn’t the one I was expecting.

It is a gift that was unexpected.

Instead of beautiful, photogenic children with perfect features, the ones He has given me have been marred and disfigured, some born that way, and some who became that way due to tragic circumstances.  One little boy will most likely never be able to hold his head up by himself.  Several of them will most likely never be able to see.  One has deep red scars on his face that will most likely be there for the rest of his life.

I thought I would have affectionate children, ones who would enjoy hugs and cuddles and falling asleep in my arms.  And some of them do.  But other children He gave me are limp or completely stiff, fitting awkwardly in my arms.  Or they don’t like to be touched.  Some have been so badly traumatized that they slap me or grab my hair if I get too close.  They are like feral animals sometimes, combative and kicking and screaming and flailing.  Nearly impossible to love.

I had dreamed of welcoming children who would fit nicely into our family, children who would join us for normal activities like shopping at the mall, going to church, roasting marshmallows in our backyard fire pit, and hiking on the trails near our home.  Maybe even joining us for exotic vacations and foreign mission trips.  

However, many of them not only don’t fit into our family, they are disruptive to our family.  Their needs are so significant, so pervasive, that they need 24-hour care.  It is difficult to leave the house without all of the medical equipment and emergency supplies.  Instead of a mother who enjoys going on fun outings with her children, I am a mother faced with a difficult decision every day:  do I load everything up into the car to run my quick errands around town, or is it better to just stay home, hour after hour, day after day.  No end in sight.

This?  This was not the gift I wanted.  But . . .

It is a gift that is good. 

Good?  How can this be good?  My days are consumed with scheduling medical appointments, attending developmental evaluations, making phone calls, sending e-mail updates, refilling prescriptions, ordering medical supplies, and being interrupted hundreds of times throughout the day without ever finishing one task.  My home is filled with nurses and therapists and case managers and care coordinators and social workers, all asking questions and pushing forms into my hands to sign. 

Meanwhile, these poor children just cry and scream, and I don’t often know what they want.  They vomit on my carpet.  They break things in a fit of rage.  They have seizures and stop breathing and need my immediate, undivided attention. 

And meanwhile, the mess and chaos of a neglected home drives me crazy, and when one of my other children talks to me, sometimes my mind is so preoccupied with the urgent matter at hand, or I am so utterly exhausted, that I can barely comprehend what they are saying.  And this is a gift that is good?

It must be good, because it is from my Father - my Heavenly Father, who only gives His children good gifts.2  Good and perfect gifts.3  Gifts from  His own hand.

This is a good gift, but perhaps my definition of good is different than His.  My definition of good is easy and enjoyable and fun.  Things that bring me pleasure.  Things I can do well.  His definition of good is things that bring Him glory.

When I am doing tasks that use my natural abilities, tasks that I am comfortable doing, when I feel competent and confident and capable, I am tempted to become prideful.  I think that I have something to offer God.  I am tempted to think, Of course God loves me.  I love me too!

And so He gives me the gift of impossible.  I find myself in situations where I am incompetent, unconfident, and incapable.  Completely overwhelmed and out of my league.  I am reminded at every moment that I have nothing to offer God.  That if there is anything good in me, anything worthy, anything beautiful, it is only what He has put there.  I am reminded at every moment that I am an empty vessel in desperate need of being filled with His grace.  And anything that reminds me of His amazing grace has got to be good.

It is a gift that is eternal. 

Eternal?  How can this be eternal?  What is the value in cleaning up someone else’s feces and calculating calories for a feeding tube and suctioning the secretions out of a trach?  Where is the purpose in the mountains of unwashed dishes in the sink and the mountains of dirty laundry in the baskets and the mountains of spilled Cheerios on the floor and the mountains of unopened mail on my desk?  How can I find meaning in singing to a child who will never hear me?  In rocking a child who will never smile.  In loving a child who will never love me, and after he leaves, will never remember me?

Those specific tasks may be mundane and menial and monotonous.  But when they are done with love, when they are done in Jesus’ name, they are pleasing to Him.  Every act of love towards one of these little ones will be rewarded.4

The everyday tasks that are done over and over again may not be fun.  They may not be my choice for how I spend my time.  But this is what God is asking me to do, at least for this season of my life, and so I will do it.  Obedience, even when I don’t understand why, is the best way to show love for Him.5

But really, it’s not about my obedience or the tasks that I do.  It’s about what He has done for me.  I am unlovely and difficult and sometimes impossible, and yet He chose me to be His child anyway. I will never come close to loving Him fully or even well, and yet He loves me anyway.  It wasn’t fun or enjoyable or easy to die – to sacrifice everything for me, and yet He did it anyway. 

And so every time I love, expecting nothing in return, I am imitating Him.  Every time I humbly serve without complaining, I am becoming more like Him.  And every time I find joy in obedience, enduring the impossible without losing heart, my faith is strengthened.  I am, in a tiny way, a picture of what He has done for me.6

Love, obedience, humility, faith, endurance – these traits I am learning through the gift He has given me.  These traits are pleasing to the Lord.  And anything that is pleasing to the Lord is eternal.

It is a gift that I needed.

Necessary?  How can this be necessary?  The child who doesn’t sleep for more than 30 minute at a time.  The one who screams incessantly and bangs his head on the floor.  I am almost paralyzed with exhaustion and so weary that my bones hurt.  Fatigue seems stronger than faith.  Is this really necessary?

It is necessary.  This may not be the gift I had hoped for, but He knew it was exactly the gift I needed.  How else can my faith grow except through difficulties?  How would I have known what it means to persevere, if I never had to continue on, far beyond my ability to continue?   What other means could God use to mature me, ensuring that I would be complete, not lacking anything?7  It was this.  This gift.  These are the children He knew I needed.  The ones who would help refine me.

It is a gift that I never imagined.

Here is what I have discovered.  In the darkness, in the unbearable loneliness and emptiness and the burden of the impossible, here is the most amazing truth.  It’s not so much that these children are the gift.  It’s not the circumstances or the lessons or even His grace that are the gifts.  HE is the gift.  He Himself is with me when I cannot take one more step.  When I cannot continue one more day.  When I cannot see one good thing in all of the mess.  He reminds me in countless ways:

I am your shield, your very great reward.  (Genesis 15:1)

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go . . . I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Genesis 28:15)

My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. (Exodus 33:14)

HE is the gift.  His very presence right here with me and in me.  When all else is emptied and I have absolutely nothing left, I find that He is enough.  He is everything I need.

It wasn’t the gift I was expecting.  And countless times, I must admit, I have been disappointed and heart-broken that He did not give me what I asked for.  I look around in utter disbelief, throw myself onto the proverbial floor in a heap, and wail, this isn’t what I wanted!  

He is, after all, doing exceeding abundantly above all that I ask or think.  He has, in His great wisdom and love, given me something even better.  He has given me Himself.  Could there possibly be a more perfect gift?

1.             Now to Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think . . . – Ephesians 3:20
2.             If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! – Matthew 7:11
3.             Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17
4.             And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. – Matthew 10:42
5.             If you love Me, you will obey what I command. – John 14:15
6.             Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross . . . consider Him who endured . . . so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3

7.             Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4

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