Good Tidings of Great Joy

And so it begins.

Every year, as the days grow short and the nights grow long, as the sun fades and its warmth recedes, a pageant of negativity plays out driven by the faithful of very literal-minded conservative churches: it is the annual denial of Christmas.

Every year, articles will be written, fingers will be pointed, sermons will be preached, tongues will be clucked in abject scorn against those who would add to the plagues written in the book by choosing to honor the birth of the Son of God.

“We don’t know when he was born!”  “It certainly wasn’t in December!” “We weren’t commanded to remember his birth!” “Christmas is just a re-tooled pagan solstice holiday!”

I’ve heard all of the arguments.  And I’ve made most of them myself.

But no more.

While Christians are commanded to remember Jesus’ death with every observance of the Lord’s Supper, we must never forget that there could have been no death without him first being born.  If we are to make so little of Jesus’ birth, why were so many words, both prophetic and reportage, wasted on detailing the circumstance of his nativity?  If there had been no incarnation, there could have been no temptation to experience all things that we mortals contend with.  He could not have been a capable high priest to intercede for us if he didn’t know what we face.  The fact that Jesus became one of us is indeed a most fundamental reason to rejoice.

In fact, there were celebrations at his birth ranging from a multitude of the heavenly host all the way down to a lowly group of shepherds, and all noted by a young mother who treasured all of the things that had transpired in her heart.

Luke 2.8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

10  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

13  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  18  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  19  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

20  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

But there is the issue of not being directly commanded to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  Well, did Jesus celebrate feasts and holy days that were not scripturally authorized?  John 10 says he did.  There, it is noted in verse 22 that Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication, a feast to celebrate the rededication of the Temple following the Maccabees’ defeat of an invading army nearly two centuries before Jesus’ ministry.  That Feast of Dedication is identified with the Jewish festival of Hanukah, which does indeed occur during winter, and because of its more recent commemorative antecedent, logically was not included in the catalog of commanded holy days as written in the Law.

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As I think about Jesus’ earthly beginnings, I often try to imagine what he must have been like as a child.  Haven’t you ever wondered what Jesus must have been like as a baby, as a toddler, as a rough and tumble youngster who was at home with laborers as well as lawyers?  He must have been a handful.

That reminds me of one of the most captivating of modern-era Christmas songs, Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene’s “Mary Did You Know?”  From the first time I heard it—I think it was Kenny Rogers’ and Wynonna Judd’s version, or maybe the great Kathy Mattea’s, I can’t rightly recall—I was completely enthralled by it.  The premise of querying Jesus’ mother in what amounts to a synopsis of his miraculous ministry was nothing short of inspired.  One verse captures the reason for the incarnation in succinct and unmistakable terms:

“Did you know

that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?

This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

I have loved the music of the Christmas season for most of my life, even though I was afraid to admit it for fear of reprisals from the faithful.  Music speaks to our very souls, and the joyfulness of the songs extolling the birth of this humble servant-king cannot be under-estimated.  “Joy to the World.”  “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”  “O, Holy Night.”  “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”  Each one filled with joy, with reverence, with thankfulness for the coming of the Son of God.

While the date in December (or January, by Greek and Eastern Orthodox standards) was dubiously fixed by over-zealous monks seeking practically numerological significance to calendar events, the actual date is of little importance.  That he was born is enough to celebrate.  That he taught peace and forgiveness and mercy and would pay for his revolutionary teachings with his sinless life is reason to rejoice.

The prophet Isaiah said, “9.6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

Of the ancient songs and carols of the season, the hauntingly beautiful “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” may just be my favorite, and it echoes the message of Isaiah.  Some sources place the text’s origin in the 12th century, while others trace hard evidence of the Latin lyrics to 1710.  Whenever it was written, the sentiment is one of anticipation of the coming of Jesus, with the admonition in each stanza to rejoice for the promised liberation, for the comfort of God indeed being with us.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The 19th century English poet, Christina Rossetti, penned a poem that would become the lyrics of another beautiful carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  Yes, I know, Jesus was not likely to have been born in winter, shepherds in the fields and all that.  But perhaps the Bleak Midwinter was the sunless depth of a bleak point in human history, when life and freedom were oppressed by the crushing weight of occupying armies.  When that darkest time had arrived, a beacon of heavenly light emerged promising better life.  Despite Rossetti’s temporal setting in winter, the response of the observer is of much greater importance.  The fourth stanza says,

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

When considering the significance of Jesus’ arrival into the realm of time and space and humanity; when considering his role as teacher of peace and love and restoration; when considering his sacrifice that there might be reconciliation of a fallen creation with its creator, there must be a response. Jesus’ call to his first disciples was, “Follow me.”  And they did.  They gave him their hearts and minds and bodies and their very souls.  Like Rossetti, poor as we humans may be, even giving our hearts, the well of our own love and compassion and reason and will, all that makes us truly us, in exchange for the gift of living water and the bread of life seems so meager, so insubstantial, so insufficient.  But it is an acknowledgment of that wonderful, amazing grace.  And by Heaven’s accounting, it is enough.

Whoever Knows the Right Thing to Do

Another semester has come to a close.

And as usual, I am drained and exhausted beyond measure.  I am exhausted because agonize over whether I was effective in getting my message across.  I agonize over grades, fully realizing that my actions and judgments affect the lives and futures of my students.  I always wonder how students can leave an exam completely oblivious to how they performed on it, and then irately contact me when they think they deserve a higher grade.

Another thing that exhausts me is dealing with those students that choose to engage in academic dishonesty.  I have little sympathy for the ones who engage in egregious infractions of a standard code of academic integrity.  It always feels like a personal affront when people cheat instead of try.  All students enter my class as equals, with my respect for them intact.  I hate that breach of faith that destroys an otherwise decent human interaction.

But something that hurts me worse than all else is something that I learned the last week of classes as I was making my way back to my office after my last lecture on Wednesday afternoon.  I started across the quad, pulled out my phone to check my messages, and was immediately met with the news that a student in another of my classes had completed suicide.

I was devastated.  I almost felt like I would collapse on the sidewalk.  I felt sick.  And helpless.  And I felt like I had failed.

I mean, after all, I’ve been trained in suicide prevention.  I thought after leading sessions on prevention, I would be ready for dealing with suicide, and I was going to be ready to help change the world.  But that just made me cocky and a little too self-assured.  Or deep down, maybe I just thought I’d never need to use it.    

In this case, I saw none of the signs that we are supposed to look for.  This quiet, bright young man apparently quietly suffered with depression.  He was bent on completing the only thing that he thought would end his pain. 

But in his state of confusion, he, like so many others who choose suicide, failed to account for the pain he would leave behind.  I can’t imagine the pain his family is dealing with right now. 

I barely knew the young man, as my only interaction with him was in the classroom.  But I have spent hours wondering what I might have been able to do to help him.  Why didn’t I expend the effort to get to know him? Why didn’t I give the talk I often give about suicide prevention in that class?  Why didn’t I let him know I was there to listen, and that I cared about him and that I wanted him to live?

But I kept my professorial distance.  

And I will forever be haunted by those questions.

I have written on many occasions about the need for learning more about how to help people with suicidal thoughts.  That has not changed.  We still need to know what to look for and be willing to ask the hard questions and reach out to them.  More than ever, I affirm my belief in Donne’s stirring declaration, that “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

I do feel diminished, but resolute that I must be more accessible to those in pain. I must be more empathetic.  I must be more compassionate. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”  This is the goal: to achieve fulfillment as a human being, I must fully become part of humanity.  To take my place in the fullness of the human experience I must help others to achieve all that they can be. 

According to the biblical author, James, who some say was the brother of Jesus himself, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4.17) Therefore, from the position of faith, I must do what I can to help others, I must alleviate suffering, I must be willing to carry a weight.  To do any less is to sin against my own humanity, against all humanity, and by extension, its Creator.

Another semester is done.  But there is so much left to do.  I resolve to leave less unsaid and less good undone.  Life is too short to shy away from uncomfortable situations.  I hope that I will not someday look back on my life with regrets for lost opportunities to make a difference.  I hope that I can say and others can see that I did what I could; not for my own glory, but because of my understanding and acceptance of what it means to be made in the image of God, to show love and grace and mercy.

I must be better.  And while I may not be able to do it all, I know that through a strength born of faith and a fuller resolve to channel Heaven’s grace, I can do more to help others, and do it more effectively.  I know the good I can do.

Now it’s time to get to work.    

News and Blues and Candles Against the Darkness

For several days now, I have just felt depressed when I open my news page: recently, there have been a number of very troubling murders, including some allegedly perpetrated by children.  A pastor’s pregnant wife was murdered in her home, there have been sexual assaults, including teens assaulting toddlers, and now a coordinated terrorist attack killing more than 120 across the city of Paris.

But it isn’t just the violence: it’s the clash of ideologies that wearies me to the very bone.  One group sues to have a nativity scene banned from display on public property because religion offends them, while another bunch of religious crazies gets bent out of shape because Starbucks goes with a red holiday cup.

We have politicians and would-be presidents that gleefully toss around threats of deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants including children who would be uprooted from the only home they have known and sent back to a greater uncertainty, well except for the near certainty of poverty and misery.

We allow ourselves to be blinded by the counterproductive values of those who are driven by greed.  We turn our faces from the uncomfortable reality of suffering and seek our security if not our happiness in a warm gun.  And when violence erupts in a school or church, the immediate call is not for controlling access to guns but rather arming more people to deter (read “preemptively kill”) would-be mass killers.  And we can do all that while quoting scriptures and patting the cover of a dog-eared King James Bible.

We worry so much about rights and not bruising the delicate sensibilities of this special interest group or that special interest group that we forget about responsibilities, and I’m talking about the ones that predate the Constitution and the assembled code of laws accreted since the founding of this country. 

The most fundamental directive of humankind is to love one another.  That love could be manifested in many ways, but none more genuine and foundational than seeing to the needs of the poor, weak, sick and vulnerable. 

I know there is evil in the world.  I’ve been alive since the dark days of the 1960’s.  I remember the body counts from Vietnam on the evening news.  I remember the saber-rattling that preceded the fall of the Soviet Empire.  I remember the first and second Gulf Wars.  And I have watched the rise of radical religious zealots who are bent on establishing an oppressive, blood-soaked global theocracy.

The news disturbs me daily, and far more than it ever lifts me up.  I need good news. I need to know that there is still goodness in this world.  I need to know that there are those who have not given up the fight against darkness, against inhumanity, against suffering.  I need something to rekindle my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Whatever happens in the world, the evil without must not be an excuse for the growth of a malignant evil within.  We must never dim the divine light loaned to humanity in deference to the darkness of hate, greed, selfishness and the shadowy passions that degrade our innate nobility.  We were made for better than what we see in the news.  Like a tiny candle flickering against the night, every small act of kindness strikes a blow against evil.  Never be afraid to join the light and make a difference.  The alternative is darkness. Those are the only two choices.

I choose light.

The Curious Case of Christians and Coffee Cups

The annual festival of offenses has begun.

Every year, someone decides that society has waged a war on Christmas.  It is true that people have moved to a more generic greeting in many cases, from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays.

None of that really bothers me.  What does bother me is that people are giving Jesus a black eye by violating the very principles he taught.  If someone offends you, turn the other cheek.  He would have agreed with the wise man who spoke of gentle answers that turn away wrath.  He would have agreed with his apostle who said as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

When people are spoiling for a fight about something as ridiculous as Starbucks’ choice of holiday paper cups, we have a problem.  One meme I saw said something about people wanting to put Christ back in Christmas, but that they should first pay attention to putting Christ back in Christians.  I usually despise memes.  But that one has a kernel of truth.

A larger issue than disposable drink-ware is a study that came out that, whether accurate or not, has painted children from religious families as less empathetic, less altruistic and more likely to suggest harsher punishments for rule-breaking.  How did we get to a point where cups are more important than teaching our children the most elementary principles of a life of faith?

Why are those who are nominally Christians the ones who are most likely to fight for lower taxes even though it means cutting programs that help the poor?  Why are Christians at the center of the fight for gun rights ostensibly to defend their own lives and the lives of their families and who lead the charge against abortion, but support reducing or eliminating programs that feed children who would otherwise have nothing to eat and put them at risk of dying?

Have we become so legalistic, so fearful of an angry God that we fail to comprehend the true fundamental principle of grace, that as we have received from him, we should share with others?  Have we let the fear of punishment distort the joy in service to the Prince of Peace we can have by serving others?

The Jesus I know had compassion on crowds of hungry people.  He comforted those who were hurting.  He wept with those who mourned.  He even prayed for the forgiveness of the men who nailed him to an undeserved cross.

“But Jesus made a scourge of cords and drove money changers from the Temple.”  He did indeed do that.  But those people had made the courtyard of the holiest house of worship into a profit-seeking market, likely taking advantage of people in the process.

Sometimes, I wonder if Christ ever really was in some people who call themselves Christians.  If we are Christians only because we fear hell, we have missed the point entirely.  To be a follower of Jesus is more than filling a pew and feeding the collection plate and being opposed to practically everything.  It is reflecting his light and his love to a hurting world.  If all people see from us is scorn and outrage and selfish actions, it is no wonder that religion is fading in America.

Until we see Jesus as he truly was—as I believe that he still truly is—we will make little headway in expanding the borders of the Kingdom.  Jesus showed us the way.  He changed hearts one at a time with honesty and kindness and love.  The Prince of Peace stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet.  He reached out with open arms in humble service, not clinched fists lifted in outrage.  Mobilizing a mob—even one on social media—with the fervor of a religious militancy is as far from honoring Jesus as one can go.

So if Starbucks offends you, drink your coffee somewhere else.  Or better yet, have a glass of water and give the price of a latte to someone who has no food.  I’m pretty sure Jesus would be OK with that.

O, To Grace, How Great a Debtor

In 1758, Robert Robinson, a one-time barber’s apprentice turned preacher, wrote the words to a hymn that set me on the brink of tears almost every time I sing it.  His immortal hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” is steeped in personal reflection, from the torment of battling sin to the exultation at the thought of grace; from the sacrifice for atonement, to the need for constant guidance.  There are only a few, perhaps no more than two other hymns that affect me in such a way, because these songs sing my life, my struggles, my hopes and my soul’s deepest desires.

The hymnal I use has only three highly edited verses to this wonderful meditation.  I was surprised to find that Robinson’s original had five verses that focused as much on his own foibles as on the immense goodness of a forgiving God, the counterweight to the burden each must bear.      

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,

Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,

Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,

Till released from flesh and sin,

Yet from what I do inherit,

Here Thy praises I’ll begin;

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Here by Thy great help I’ve come;

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood;

How His kindness yet pursues me

Mortal tongue can never tell,

Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me

I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,

I shall see Thy lovely face;

Clothed then in blood washed linen

How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;

Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,

Take my ransomed soul away;

Send thine angels now to carry

Me to realms of endless day.

What have we missed by allowing such great thoughts to be edited, maybe for nothing more than to fit the space in a hymn book?  In the third stanza of the hymn book used for the past two or three generations by many of the congregations of my tribe, the words have always rung hollow to me, and now I know why:  where the version in Sacred Selections reads, “Never let me wander from thee, Never leave the God I Iove,” Robinson actually wrote of his own weakness.  He wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”  Rather than place the responsibility on God for maintaining the relationship, Robinson recognized he was imperfect, prone to wander.  By freely giving his heart, he would be bound to his God. 

Second, Robinson wrote of his inability to adequately express his wonder and gratitude for the grace he had accepted: “How His kindness yet pursues me, Mortal tongue can never tell. Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me, I cannot proclaim it well.”  He realized after a brief career of what was once called “dissipation” that God had not given up on him, that his kindness pursued him.  The overwhelming realization of that kindness, that wonderful grace, was more than he could truly explain, at least while trapped within the fleshly bonds of mortality.

Finally, perhaps outside of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” Robinson penned the greatest hymn focused on God’s great gift.  From the opening lines, he implores God to give him the ability to sing of his grace.  He says he is daily constrained to be in the debt of grace, and then in the closing stanza, he looks forward to being freed from the constant threat of sinning, to shed his weak flesh and be in God’s presence.  There, he says, “How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.”  The grace that he praised from the first verse, to which he was indebted each and every day, would be the subject of his eternal gratitude and praise.

It is that understanding and elemental appreciation of grace that is so lacking in so many today.  For too many among those with whom I have been associated, grace has become little more than a greeting and benediction in Paul’s letters or smugly considered a byword used by those in other denominations to evade the five steps in the plan of salvation.  And yet, it is so important of a concept that Paul spent a large portion of his letter to the Ephesians explaining just how important grace is to salvation, and that a salvation by works would only lead to boasting.      

Eph 2:1  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

4  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

By grace you have been saved.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  It is the gift of God.  A gift is no gift if it must be earned or bought.  But a gift does require an expression of gratitude, which we can provide in pledging our lives to God’s good purpose: good works.  To helping others.  To righting wrongs. To seeking justice.  To becoming true stewards of a very good creation in need of restoration to its intended state of beauty and equity and perfection.

His children by petition and adoption are allied to that purpose.  We cannot bring back Eden.  But we can model Heaven until all is made new.  That should be worth a few songs of loudest praise.

Message on a T-Shirt

Last Friday, I woke up and decided I was going to dress for comfort—not that I ever dress formally for work anymore. I’m usually a khaki and polo kind of prof. But last Friday, I reached for the jeans and a t-shirt. Not just any tee: if I were to make this a real casual Friday, the shirt needed to say something.

So I reached for the one that advertises the campaign associated with Special Olympics, the one that says “Spread the word to end the word.” The word is “retarded.” Wearing the shirt gave me the opportunity to step up on my trusty soap box and make a few points about being better people. As a biologist, I get little opportunity to officially step outside the neutral observer/pure objectivity box and talk about things that mean a lot to me.

This movement has been around for a few years now, and I really appreciate the message. The idea is to suggest to people that we should eliminate the casual use of the term “retarded” and its cognate forms such as “retard,” with the accent on the first syllable.

I am not the PC police by any means. But the message of showing respect to all people has been slow to encompass those with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays. It is almost as if they remain among the last segments of society that it is acceptable (in some circles) to make fun of.

I know I have written about this issue before on numerous occasions, usually bemoaning the plight of people already burdened with dealing with difficulties that the average person on the street knows nothing about. But today, I am encouraged by the acceptance of that message of tolerance and appreciation among the young people in these classes. So many students in the three classes I shared this message with today nodded in agreement. Some looked a little ashamed when I used the word as many people do without thinking about it, whether as a self-deprecating comment or to chide a friend for some misstep or mistake.

I sincerely believe that most people who use this word casually mean absolutely no harm by it. They do not intend harm toward a person with an intellectual disability. But they fail to think about how that sounds to someone with such a condition.

I admit that there were times in the past when I used the word in unthinking ignorance. I had heard it from others, it seemed to express an idea of deficiency, and I would just blurt it out.

But times change, and people change. Especially when life changes your situation so radically that you never saw it coming.

When you are faced with the reality of being responsible for a child with a disability—in our case an autism spectrum disorder—everything that you had the audacity to hope and plan for is suddenly deflated. Relationships in the family and outside of it are strained. You feel like a victim and you ask that never-ending question, “Why me?”

As I have acknowledged before, I now realize that that question is the wrong one to focus on. I am stressed, as is my wife (and our daughter) in dealing with our son. But self-pity for having a life marked by dealing with unpredictable behaviors and never-ending therapy appointment is pointless and counter-productive. Finding strength and determination to help him overcome what sometimes seems like insurmountable issues is a Herculean task, but one that must never be abandoned if he is to have a decent chance at a future.

Still, there are times when I am angry with God for the hand he has dealt us. I feel isolated and alone and drowning at times, especially when I sense that people think I am shirking my work or church responsibilities for lack of participation or attendance. After a number of incidents at church, I learned that unless or until we have some of these unpredictable behaviors in check, I cannot afford to expose him to too much stimulation. I cannot leave a boy who is big for his age alone with his mother so I can put up a good front and wave the company flag. Thoughts like, “If God wants me to be there every time the doors are open, then why doesn’t he make my son improve at least enough to allow it? Why doesn’t he help him to control his impulses and behaviors so he can at least not be a distraction or worse, a hazard, to everyone else?”

As much as people want to be understanding, they can’t know the stress that is so much a part of my life that I don’t even know what it means to relax anymore. Being constantly wound tight like a coiled spring under pressure, straining to break free—that doesn’t quite do it justice.

But maybe someday. Maybe he will respond better to the medications that are supposed to keep him on a more even keel. Maybe he will benefit from the full spectrum light we shine on him when he wakes up. Maybe he will stop being so contrary in the evenings. Maybe he will reach a point where we can let him outside to play without fear of elopement. Maybe someday, we can take him to a store and actually check out with what we went for, rather than being distracted by watching to make sure he doesn’t run away or lie down in the middle of an aisle in a meltdown. Maybe someday.

Until then, there is the progress being made by the public in their understanding and acceptance. That’s one burden, one stressor that is loosening its grip, even if ever so slightly. But every modicum of relief is welcome. And while we will never know the same normalcy that others take for granted, the brief moments of relief may become more frequent, coalescing into their own modified reflection of the mean experience I would so love to enjoy.

For now, it is what it is, and it is enough.

But in some ways, I suppose we have more than many may have: for all his difficulties, for all his stubborn unwillingness to cooperate at times in even simple tasks like taking a shower or brushing his teeth, there are times when out of the blue, he blurts out, “I love you, daddy.” And he means it. It was on his mind, and while his lack of impulse control may be maddening with respect to any number of daily events, this one is welcome.

“I love you, too, buddy.” And I mean it, too.

Refurbs

I am an electronics addict. Well, “addict” may be too strong of a term.  Maybe “avid enthusiast” would be better, less of a negative connotation.  Anyway, I love to tinker with electronic devices, learn about new products with enhanced capabilities, play with productivity packages…. In short, I am a middle-aged geek.  At one point, the term “geek” was considered to be somewhat derogatory.  However, with the dawn of the realization that tech is cool, being a geek became cool as well.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Electronics can be expensive, and if I paid full price on some items, I would feel a little—well, a lot—guilty.  It turns out that few of these things are actually essential.  Most are luxuries that 99+% of the world can and does do without.  But I tell myself that many of these things will make me more productive.  I’ll get more done by keeping track of things on the go.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

In order to curb my expenditures on my purchases, I often buy refurbished products when they are available.  Some people would have none of this, thinking that a factory refreshed item is really poor quality, or is damaged, or is not up to original equipment standards.  I’m sure that can be the case sometimes.  But with good companies, the factory refurbished products are returned to perfect working order.  In some cases, they get a new shell, repaired internal parts, and are restored to brand new condition, matching the specifications of the items rolling off the assembly line.

In a sense, when we are born, we are in perfect working order, spiritually speaking.  We have no flaws.  But as time goes on, we may start to demonstrate behavior that is different from the original specifications.  It may be that some of our parts have become corrupted, and we are in need of repairs.  What if after some experience of living, we become broken in some way.  What if we begin functioning differently from how we should.  We are no longer operating at peak efficiency, and we are no longer functioning as intended.

But we can be refurbished.  Like the wayward son in Jesus’ story, we may leave the family and seek fulfillment elsewhere.  Like that erring son, we may think that there is a good life to be lived in the wilds of looser society.  In the end, we may find that where we were originally is better than where we may have wandered off to.  Like with that loving father who patiently waited for his son’s return, we can be welcomed back into relationship with our Heavenly Father.  We can be restored to our original specifications.

I like refurbished products.  And I’m certainly glad God is okay with them, too.  He said so in the closing thoughts of the Revelation, when he declared, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  A heaven and earth that are new again, populated by remade people, free from incidental flaws and accidental imperfections.  What was broken will be made whole. What was empty will be filled to overflowing.

Being refurbished is not a bad thing.  I’m glad it was always part of the plan.

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