Monday, March 31, 2008

Plans vs. Purpose

Last Friday, I experienced one of those moments...those heart-pounding, knee-weakening, God-cheering parental moments. Moments when all the stars have seemingly aligned and instead of, "I'm hungry," "Make her stop looking at me!" or, "Why do I have to do THAT?," flowing from the mouths of babes, a child speaks profound wisdom, and our jaws fall agape. For those of you who are parents currently up to your elbows in bottles, braces or college tuition bills, here is an uplifting story:

A week-long Easter vacation provided my husband and I much-needed time to soak in all the wonders (and funny quirks) of our children without the world breathing down on us, sucking away our patience. With a nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, I would describe us oftentimes as deer-in-the-headlights parents. I imagine we aren't the only ones who have had the idealistic bubble of parenthood burst at the first sign of a wailing baby or a sink full of dirty bottles. After nine years, we have certainly and willingly adapted, but there are times when we still feel like an inexperienced soccer goalie, desperately defending our territory instead of the confident coach on the sidelines calling the shots. This is especially true with our son, Ricky. Sure, Lily has her share of estrogen-induced melodrama. Still vivid is the time she refused to even consider our wishes for her to join the local Brownie troop. "MOM!" she reasoned. "I hate brown, and you know I don't wear vests!" Score: Lily 1, Parents 0.

With Ricky, however, we truly never know what player will hit the field each day. He has struggled with social and academic issues for years, yet his emotional awareness about life is stunning at times. Our vacation week provided a unique opportunity to sit back, observe and reflect on the recent culmination of a six-month process of psychological, physical and intelligence testing in which Ricky was involved, at our request.
"Sometimes, it's tough being bright," commented the school psychologist at the final meeting, just days before we left for vacation. She pointed out what we already knew: Ricky is not a middle-of-the-road kid. He is a boy of extremes. Superior language development battles against excruciatingly slow math comprehension skills. Highly developed intuition clashes with frustrating sensory processing and attention deficit issues. Extreme sensitivity for animals and the environment competes with Ricky's desire to be a rough and tumble boy like his buddies. Basically, our nine-year-old is busy battling the heartbreak of, "I'm different," at a time when he so desperately wants to be the same. An out-of-town vacation was exactly what we needed to regroup and reunify the "home team."

A new player was introduced over vacation in the form of a massage therapist my mother-in-law recommended for Ricky, citing the benefits of gentle-touch therapy for kids with sensory and attention deficit disorders. Every day of vacation, Ricky lay on the warm, padded table wrapped in flannel sheets while Marty worked her magic, gaining quite a rapport with our socially awkward son. While the physical benefits were probable, Ricky's positive interaction with Marty was more intriguing. The impact of those daily "huddles" wasn't fully realized, however, until my Mommy radar picked up faint whimpers coming from the back seat as we traveled home from the final appointment. Ricky was crying.

"What is it, buddy?" I asked, sensing the answer.

"Will I see Marty tomorrow?" he weakly managed.

"No, sweetheart, that was the last appointment." His whimpers intensified, and he hid is face from all of us.

"Maybe you can write her a note," I offered, sliding in the seat next to him. "You know, honey, all of those "testing" people kept saying how good you are with language. Why don't you write down what you're going to miss about Marty, and we'll go back to say goodbye one more time, okay?"

I wasn't sure whether he was motivated by writing down his thoughts or by the prospect of seeing Marty again, but Ricky went to work, filling up the inside of a blank thank-you card.
Though he wouldn't let any of us see it beforehand, Marty tearfully shared the note's contents:

Things I like about Marty:

1. She is very relaxing.

2. She is easy to talk to.

3. She is the only one outside of my family that cares about me so much.

4. I am not afraid to be myself with her.

Thank you for all that you have done for me this week.

Love, Ricky

That precious note spoke volumes about my son and taught us more about raising him that any other experience could have.

My son is an amazing gift entrusted to me by my heavenly Father, just as He has entrusted you with your own children, grandchildren, cousins, neices or nephews. Though many moments have been filled with the frustration of trying to guide my son through the awkwardness of growing up, I am thankful to God for the glimpse He gave me last Friday into Ricky's potential. Ricky genuinely loves people, and best of all, he is gifted at expressing it. At nine years old, he has surpassed most 39-year-olds in the area of emotional attachment and genuine expression.

I believe God granted this moment for my husband and I to take action, the subtle action of folding up our outstretched arms of defense and removing ourselves as Ricky's overprotective goalies. We must reclaim our proper place as coaches on the sidelines of his life, trusting the guidance from above. Doing so is excruciatingly difficult, but I know it is best. Marty's note was God's way of giving us a view of the big picture of His plans for Ricky's entire life, not just the awkward school years.

As parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents, we draw up amazing game plans for our little ones. However, while molding them into what we think is best while protecting them from what we believe is the worst, we can lose vision, experience frustration and even become overzealous controllers of the game. The task is magnified when children are born with physical, intellectual or emotional challenges.
Raising Ricky and Lily has humbled us in so many ways. Their defeats as well as their victories continue to bring us to tears. Our peace in this process comes from God's little reminders (like Ricky's incredible "moment" last week) and His angels in the form of supportive friends, teachers and family members. The ultimate reminders about navigating our relationships with loved ones can always be found in His word, as we are reminded, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 21:19

Friends, may you be blessed with God's sweet moments, and may we all find the proper balance between our plans and His ultimate purpose.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


He was going to be a tailor. It was decided. Santiago’s first fifteen years included a three-hour shoeless walk to school alongside six sisters and four brothers. He was born into a humble Christian family, but with a chronic empty stomach, Santiago found little solace in God. Now, at twenty-three, he found himself alone in a rented room above the shop. Yes. Becoming a tailor was the answer. He’d worked in the tailor’s shop miles from his poor barrio two years now, sweeping scraps and running errands for the old man. After sending money home, he earned enough for the room and a bed, plus a few meals a week. One more year and the boss promised to teach him the trade, maybe let him take over the shop eventually. All it’d take is a little more hard work and loyalty…a dream for a young Dominican boy like Santiago.

Sleep should’ve come easily, then, but he found himself annoyed by the quiet. Santiago slept folded up on the edge of the bed, barely disturbing the covers. He still couldn’t get used to having a bed to himself and fell asleep thinking about his siblings back home.

A hellacious banging soon rocketed the thin man to the floor. “Who’s there?” Santiago shouted hoarsely in the direction of his door, catching a glimpse of the moonlit clock on the wall. Three AM. “What do you want?” Santiago sang out again, fear beginning to well up in him. The door swung open, sending Santiago scrambling out of the way of a monster. The large, sweaty man loomed over Santiago, yielding shiny silver scissors above his head. Santiago froze.

“Our Father, which art in Heaven,” was all the young man’s lips could manage. “Hallowed be Thy name…” The Lord’s Prayer spilled slowly at first, gaining speed as Santiago’s fear turned to hopeless resolve. “Thy Kingdom come…” He was no match for this man. “Thy will be done…” Santiago closed his eyes and awaited the piercing blows.

“…Deliver us from evil,” he continued, unnerved again at an eerie silence. “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power,” Was the man still there? “and the glory, forever and ever.” With a weak, “Amen,” Santiago willed his eyes open again. Blinking, he faced not a drunken murderer, but the most astounding of beings. Before him stood Jesus.

Silver coins replaced the scissors in His left hand, and he held them before Santiago, “Is it going to be what YOU want, Santiago?” With His right hand, He motioned to the heavens. “Or is it going to be what I want?”

“Oh, Jesus, I want what YOU want!” Santiago desperately replied.

Jesus gently lifted the young tailor from the floor, inviting him to stand beside him. The vision of a pulpit emerged. Jesus motioned Santiago to read from the Holy scriptures upon it. In obedience, Santiago began reading from Ezekiel, The Valley of the Dry Bones...

"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

I said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.’
Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones and say to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, Son of man, and say to it, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army…” Ezekiel 37

“But, Jesus, what does it mean?” asked Santiago sheepishly turning to Jesus.

“Tell My church to prepare, Santiago. For, I will return,” whispered Jesus as He faded from sight.

Santiago fell to his knees, crying out, repeating, “Yes, Jesus, I want what You want…I want what You want…”
Today, Pastor Santiago Ramón of La Romana, Dominican Republic, is a veritable dynamo, indeed preparing a vast army for Christ. Leading a large congregation with a focus on street evangelism, “Santiago’s” visions for Christ’s lost people have been continually fulfilled. His feats include several contemporary Christian music CDs produced in the Dominican Republic in which he innovatively combines emotion, a Latin beat, and genuine Christ-praise in songs like La Gloria de Dios (The Glory of God), and not ironically, Preparate, Cristo Viene (Prepare! Christ Comes). Currently, Santiago’s vision has gone global as American mission work teams join him several times a year in La Romana in order to help build a hospital, a school and a seminary on forty acres that once lay fallow, a trash dump for the poor barrios that surround it.
As a short-term missioner, it was there on the forty acres where I met Santiago for the first time. His successes were not what imprinted his image into my brain, compelling me to sit at his feet listening, to buy his CDs or to return again to mix concreta with other Americans and Dominicans in the sweltering heat. No, Santiago’s true gift to others lay in his presence, in his resolve, in his passion for his Jesus.

I asked Santiago once what kept that fire inside of him going. He proceeded to tell me the story of a young man who once wished to be a tailor. And with every moment of the story, Santiago breathed life into my dry bones.