Monday, May 16, 2005

It's All About Who?

My son was about seven when he and I went to shop at Target (hey -- only the best for us). In the checkout line a lady looked at me and asked me where I got the shirt I was wearing. I told her I got it from a youth rally I had spoken at... and she cut me off. "I was talking about him," she said, pointing to Duncan. Duncan told her about his shirt and then we walked out to the car. On the way, my little guy said, "You know, dad, sometimes it isn't about you."

Good thing to remember. This week has been a roller coaster ride as I spoke at two different treatment centers for the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled, one in Toledo and one southeast of Canton, Ohio. I was there to encourage the workers and get their morale up. When I arrived, I was given a grand tour and treated like a king... but I couldn't help but notice that those who were lauding me were better people than I will ever be. Let me explain.

In Toledo, the Sunshine Children's Home was started by a family who had five MRDD children of their own. Their family gave them some land outside of the city so that they would raise their children away from the city; so they wouldn't embarass the rest of the family. Rather than become bitter, this family placed signs on roads around the area saying that they would take any unwanted child. People took them up on it and they would find babies left on their doorstep or on a counter in their kitchen. Years later, as they aged, the Mennonites came in to keep their work alive. They are still a huge part of the funding and oversight of the home that now serves 76 residents and many more on a day care basis. The servers, nurses, administrators, and aides were happy in their work and the smiles of caregivers and patients alike were so genuine they jarred me.

Two days later I was speaking at St. John's Villa, a larger treatment facility for children and adults with MRDD. It is run by nuns of the Order of Saint Francis and I am here to tell you that his spirit is still alive and well in them. The facility was spotless, the children and adults were smiling, busy, working, laughing, making things and -- yes -- finding meaning and place. The people glowed with purpose and kindness. I was humbled and -- in an odd way -- ashamed to be in their presence. Here I am, a man with a lovely wife and two incredible, healthy kids. I am blessed to be the preaching minister for the largest church of Christ in the north and people pay me to come and talk to them about a wide variety of subjects. And yet... here are people who work 24/7 for pitiful wages, working with people who will never, ever get better. There are no goals they can realistically set for the kids. They are there not for glory, money, or even professional advancement. They are there out of love.

So I gave my talks, but part of me was screaming inside my head that I should shut up and just follow them around instead. Here are people glowing with the love that Christ told us about, that John declared was the mark of the true disciple of Christ in First John, and who took seriously Christ's admonition to care for the weak, fallen, poor, and needy. And they did it with a joy and peace that is still resonating in me days later.

These are people who get it: it isn't about us. We are a part of the journey, but we are not its point.

The most worshipped God I know is the god in the mirror. We spend our money on him, our time on him, and want to make him happy and comfortable. Even in our worship we want to please that god that stared back at us as we shaved that morning. If something upsets us we act as if the True God was offended for... He would have to be offended if we were, right? Somehow we have bought into the idea that this life, this world, and this church are about us. And yet, God -- remember God? -- doesn't act like that even though it really is all about Him! Instead, He stoops to conquer us with love. He gets on the floor with us even though -- like those lovely little souls in St. John's Villa and Sunshine Children's Home -- we have no real hope of getting much better. He feeds us, cares for us, showers us with rain and sunshine and, more than this, loves us deeply just because we exist.

My son was right. It isn't about me. I will only have value in this life to the extent that I reflect Christ in all I do and say. "Dear Lord, let me this day begin to fade away. May each day of the rest of my life find me looking less like me and more like Jesus. Make me as wise as a serpent, as harmless as a dove. And make me invisible. Let no one see me, but only You."


At 5/16/2005 11:30:00 AM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Thank you.

And, I join you in that prayer.

Amen . . .

At 5/16/2005 02:29:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Or as our spiritual forbear said . . .

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

At 5/16/2005 04:09:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

Patrick, isn't it so true than when think we are going to serve....God turns it around and we end up being the ones served.
A topsy-turvy upside world in the Kingdom, huh?

Your post touched my heart, and I am sure many others. That is why I am addicted to heart needs to be touched.

PLEASE keep sharing these personal stories with us! You have a gift of story telling. Just like that guy from Nazareth.

Your brother and friend,

At 5/16/2005 06:24:00 PM , Blogger JP said...

Yes, thank you Patrick for a wonderful post. It answers the age old statement "You say you love Jesus but SHOW me you love Him" This reminds of one the best Christian thinkers of the 20th century.....Henri Nouwen. A man who gave up everything to work for the mentally challenged.

At 5/17/2005 11:42:00 AM , Blogger Laurie said...

Hi there Patrick, Be Blessed today. Coming from the other side as a worker for 18 years in the business of mentally retarded and developmentally disabled, I found it so amazing that people thought I was special for being able to do the work. I never felt it was "special, but that it was rewarding and fun work and that they were just people much like me. There were no persons I worked with who could not do at least one task better than I could. In a sense, I believe that everyone who doesn't get a chance to work with this group, has truly missed something. Thanks for your wonderful article.

At 5/20/2005 09:55:00 PM , Blogger Billy Haynes said...
Very comforting to feel that there is hope for those of us with limited worth.


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