January 10, 2016

Family Picture

The fact that we are taking our family’s Christmas picture two days after Christmas and sending out a letter in mid-January is evidence of the insanity that sometimes defines our family.  Always running late, frequently missing important deadlines, doing the best we can to keep up with the daily demands of each individual that lives under our roof.

After corralling everyone onto the front porch, rearranging a mis-buttoned shirt here, straightening some flyaway hair there, and adjusting the settings on the camera, we are finally ready.  Smile, everyone!  The picture, after all of the fuss, actually turns out pretty nice.  The image is exactly what we hope to portray:  a beautiful, “perfect” family.  Loving, kind, affectionate, calm, peaceful.  Joy on every face.

The picture does not, however, depict the whole story.  The story of what our family is really like behind the lens:  constant messes, frequent drama, occasional yelling, people running here and there, sibling rivalry erupting at the most inopportune times, tantrums from the little ones (and sometimes the big ones too!), the perpetual struggle for patience, the inevitable exhaustion. 

The picture also doesn’t reveal the whole story in all of its beauty.  The remarkable truth that underlying all of the noise and chaos, there is a sense of design and purpose.  We see glimpses of compassion, hope, sacrifice, friendship, and true, unconditional love.  There is the expanding and maturing and the building of inner character that happen in sudden, unexpected ways, so imperceptible in their growth that, if we are not purposefully looking for them, we may miss them altogether.

There is the Papa, strong and responsible, working hard to provide for the needs of his family.  He often travels the globe, speaking at conferences and meeting with clients, sleeping in impersonal hotel rooms in strange countries, navigating cities where he doesn’t speak the language.  He arrives home at the end of the week after a grueling 24-hour flight, weary and jet-lagged, dreaming of a hot meal and a warm shower and his own comfortable bed.  And yet, before he enjoys any of those blissful indulgences, he sets his bags down and kisses his wife, patiently listening while she describes the minutiae of her long days spent on the home front.  He reads a Bible story to the little ones before tucking them into their beds.  He offers his technical expertise to the teenager in the kitchen who is trying to design a website, or to his parents on the other side of the country whose printer inexplicably stopped working.  Every day, he is growing in selflessness.   Setting aside his own agenda so that he can give and serve and support the many people who depend on him.

There is the Mama, with her easy smile and, naturally, her hair pulled back into a hair band because that’s the best she can do in the morning when little ones are screaming for their breakfast.  What the picture doesn’t show, what she is reluctant to admit, is that even after all these years, she is still learning to set aside the chore lists with its check-marks, tangible proof of her accomplishments that day, and instead, to do the more difficult task of building relationships.  Giving her full attention to the one who needs to talk.  Letting the laundry remain unfolded and the dishes unwashed and the e-mails unread, and simply opening her arms to the one in front of her.  Deep inside, she knows that the constant training and instruction and nurturing that each child requires, all of it completely invisible to anyone else, will some day be worth it.  Even in the hidden, unseen places, there is yet joy.  Joy in surrendering to the One who sees. The One who knows.  The One who has a purpose and is writing a beautiful story that is still unfolding.  She is so incredibly grateful and humbled that the Lord would choose her, as inadequate and unqualified as she is, to be the Mama to all these amazing children.

Conspicuously absent from our family picture is the oldest, the 19-year old who is on a quest to find Truth, struggling to understand the meaning of it all, and attempting to discover where he fits into the big picture.  And yet, in spite of the challenges before him and inside his heart, he is starting to identify his gifts and abilities, recognizing for the first time that he is talented and smart and capable and creative.  He is earning A’s and B’s in his college courses, designing amazing computer games with intricate story lines and detailed graphics, and connecting with other students on campus with similar interests.  His is a balancing act, a constant tension between youthful pleasures and adult responsibilities.   We are so thankful that the One who began a good work in Him has promised that He will be faithful to complete it.

There is the 17-year old who, less than a year ago, was struggling with serious health issues, barely able to get out of bed each day.  Today she is vibrant and active, living each day to it’s fullest.  She is a passionate photographer with a keen eye for details, and is praying about how she might use this skill to bring glory to the One who has gifted her.  (To see her amazing photography, visit her website at www.myisolife.com.)  She has long struggled with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, and yet with her first job as a lifeguard, she is quickly gaining a reputation for being solid and reliable.  When a co-worker calls out sick or simply doesn’t show up, she is the one they call to fill in.  When she isn’t at work, she can usually be found spending time with her boyfriend – hunting, fishing, building a tree stand, canoeing on the lake, taking pictures – and loving every minute of it.  She is well on her way to being the competent, independent young lady we have always known she would become.

The other 17-year old in our family has a natural way with children, especially the ones like our foster children – the ones who need extra care and tenderness and understanding.  She is sweet and kind, and she thoroughly enjoys her job as a nanny for our dear friends who have 7 children.  But don’t let that gentle exterior fool you.  Inside, she is a fierce warrior . . . literally!  She has reached the second level of Krav Maga, the self-defense system used by the Israeli military, and is looking forward to a week-end of “Winter’s War,” where she will have the opportunity to test her skills in a Survivor-like setting.  Every day she is growing in courage and confidence, becoming a young woman with a strong and dauntless spirit.

The youngest will be 7 years old in a few short weeks.  How can he be 7 already?!  That spark in his eyes is a tell-tale sign of his curiosity and precocious personality.  However, what the picture doesn’t reveal is that this has been a difficult year for him, his fragile body fighting off persistent infections, his health requiring that he endure frequent blood draws – a fate worse than death!  Despite numerous changes to his medication and high doses of steroids for the past few months, his liver numbers are a concern for his transplant doctors.  And on top of everything else, he is lonely.  He no longer goes to school or church or dance class because he keeps getting sick.  He literally cries himself to sleep sometimes, wondering why he doesn’t have any friends.  Nevertheless . . . through all of this we have seen amazing growth in his character and maturity.  There is peace in the assurance that God has a plan for his life.  He certainly hasn’t brought him this far and enabled him to overcome so many obstacles to abandon him now!

The front door is the perfect backdrop for our family picture, as it represents the many children who have entered our home, finding here a safe and loving refuge.  (If you look closely in the window, you will see the silhouette of our current foster child, a 2-year old who was quite disappointed that we were not including him in our photo.  And sitting behind the Mama, completely hidden from view, is the 1-year old sweetheart with whom we are whole-heartedly smitten.  Due to confidentiality laws, we are not allowed to post pictures of them.)  As long as the Lord enables us to continue, our front door will remain open, ready to welcome these precious ones with a warm bed, nutritious food, and most importantly, the love of God.

Our family picture is just that . . . a picture of a real family with real struggles and real joys.  It is a picture of disagreements and forgiveness.  Mistakes and apologies.  Fears and hopes.  Tears and laughter.  Regrets from yesterday and dreams for tomorrow. 

It is a perfect picture of God’s unwavering mercy that He lavishes upon us when we fail.  It is a picture of His endless patience and gentleness as He continues the never-ending task of conforming us into the image of His son.

Ours is a picture of unconditional acceptance and belonging.  It is a picture of unlimited grace. 

It is a picture of love.

1 comment:

  1. God bless this beautiful family. This is a very touching blog and may the lord give you all the strength to continue this blessed journey. Blessed in every way.
    The Chakra family.