In community, we are learning interdependence, allowing independence to reveal the beauty of each individual and allowing dependence which does not produce shame or despair in the dependent, or a sense of superiority in the one depended upon.
I expected to be writing more often than this by now. In the culture of the moment, it seems that everything is public, but I keep finding things that I want to say that I cannot share with the world. Things about my past that I cannot share because they are still too raw within me, and I cannot trust that I will say them with balanced wisdom. Things about my present that I am realizing are not yet mine to speak, because they are experiences shared with people with whom I am still building trust, or because I do not yet know how to speak about these moments and people without being trite. So, I’m not writing much.
The old saw from the lips of uncountable teachers is that they teach because it is in teaching that they learn – one of those humble-brag things we say to make it clear that we’re just like everyone else (but maybe just a little more intentional about it). The truth in the aphorism is that for the teacher willing to learn, there are usually opportunities in abundance. Learn about the topics we teach, but also humility, and humanity, and endurance, and patience, and kindness, and turning the other cheek, and forgiveness, and attentiveness to small victories, and the art of properly setting and managing expectations, and how there is no end to learning even when we think we have finally come to the end. And learning about ourselves.
As a teacher, I am still in the stage of learning far more than I am teaching. I’m not putting myself down, either. In the early days of a new setting, there is so much to learn about the context of one’s teaching. Every environment is unique, as is every learner. There is so much to take in, but even as that is happening we must begin to teach, out of the poverty of our immense limits. Everyone must always start, somewhere.
Some of you have known this was coming for a while, but now we are ready to talk about details: I have resigned as the Pastor of St. Paul Evangelical United Church of Christ, and in mid-September, Christy and I will be moving our family to Cupertino, California, where we will be serving as the lead staff in a community home for three developmentally-disabled adults.
Our work will be part of an approach called the Family Teaching Model, which supports disabled adults seeking independence and community. These are individuals who have previously lived in a state institution, and now are being given the opportunity to live in local communities. Our work as a Family Teaching Couple will be to aid these individuals, and to welcome them into our family. We are excited about this model because it treats the men and women who are a part of it with dignity and respect. We believe that people with disabilities or impairments still deserve to seek the kind of life that they want to live, and the FTM does that. It’s not a new model; an organization in Kansas has been leading with this model since 1977, and is being used in a few other places. We believe that it is both a great approach to the need of supporting disabled adults, and we believe it is a way in which we can make an impact in the lives of others.
As I’ve been reflecting on the decision to make this change, I’ve been thinking a lot about Willie French. Willie was a man who was a part of St. Paul Church for several years before he passed away in late 2010. Willie found us because of his own initiative – he wanted to be a part of a church, and so he pushed his support staff (and former support staff who were still in touch with him) to help make it happen. They did, and so Willie became a part of the St. Paul family. When he decided that St. Paul was a place he wanted to be, Willie asked for people who would be willing to give him a ride to or from church. I thought that was such a beautiful, humble and yet bold way of behaving. He didn’t really know us yet, but he was willing to tell us how he needed our help. And several people stepped up and got him to and from church – although he would also walk the 2-plus miles to church if he didn’t have a ride! The people who got to know Willie welcomed him and became friends with him, which was especially beautiful to me because I knew that in previous settings Willie had been made to feel like a problem, like a hinderance or an embarrassment. Willie knew that he had limitations, but he was not embarrassed. People who took the time to get to know Willie were blessed by him. I was one of those people.
I believe that serving the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven includes making sure people like Willie French, or my son Zach, or our new friends in Cupertino, are part of the community. 1 Corinthians 12:20-26 tells us that the people who seem to be “weak” (to some) are in fact essential to our well-being as a people, because of how they teach us to be together. In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that those who serve others in need – be it the need for food or drink, a place to call home or a cloak to wear or someone to call a friend – are those who are doing the work of the Kingdom on earth.
That’s what I want to do – the work of the Kingdom. I want to inherit the Kingdom! I want to learn the lessons that the least of these have to teach me! I want to teach my sons the values of the Kingdom. So, my friend Willie, my son Zachary, many more friends we have made along the way in recent years (especially my JAF Maranatha friends!) and my King Jesus inspire me to go make a new community. All of us will be grateful for your prayers.
It’s 12:40 on Thursday morning, and I’m sitting in ER room 13. It’s as dark in here as I’ve ever seen an ER room, and that’s good, because my son Zach doesn’t like any light when he’s sleeping. To avoid embarrassing any of the principals in this story, I’m not telling you why he’s here. It’s one of those pedestrian things that happens with kids, and after several overnight checks he will go home no worse for wear. But for now, we are here.
As Zach sleeps on his twin bed (even lightly snoring now), I am reminded the extraordinary privilege behind being a caregiver. Just before he drifted off, Zach and I had an exchange that went like this:
Zach: Go home.
Me: Not yet. Let’s stay here for a while and sleep. We can go home later.
Zach: Go home. He stretches this out, getting his money’s worth out of every letter – the guttural entry of the H, an O that modulates and bends in the middle, an M that leaves the word practically suspended in air, an open-mouthed “mmmma”.
Me: no, let’s go to sleep here.
This goes on for a while.
Eventually I convey to him that we are going to stay for a while, and I’ll be with him the whole time, and this is enough to let him drift off to rest. When we sleep, we are totally vulnerable, and going to sleep in a strange place requires either total exhaustion or a special sort of trust. He accepts that I will be here, that nothing will happen without me. He does not like the blood pressure cuff tonight, but if I put it on him, he accepts it, and locks eyes on me as the machine does its work.
For someone to allow us to be their caregiver, they cede incredible trust to us. I should be thankful every time someone trusts me enough to care for them. Parents, adult children, relatives and friends, remember that when someone allows you to protect them, that they have paid you an enormous compliment, and that you are entering into something holy with them. You are like God to them in their greatest vulnerability, and they trust you enough to put their life in your hands.
Never grow bored with the beautiful opportunity God has put into our hands.
Just about to go to the closing ceremonies for our first week of Joni and Friends Family Retreat. It was a beautiful week. Praise. Laughter. Joy. The Church being the Church. I look forward to this all year. Being with these great families lifts my spirits, and reminds me how awesome God is.