"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)
"Temptation is a suggested short cut to the realization of the highest at which I am --- not towards what I understand as evil, but towards what I understand as good." Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost For His Highest. "Temptation is something that completely baffles me for a while; I do not know whether the thing is right or wrong. Temptation yielded to is lust deified, and is a proof that it was timidity that prevented the sin before. Temptation is not something we may escape, it is essential to the full-orbed life of a man…….God does not save us from temptations; He succours us in the midst of them."
One might wonder why the race Paul speaks of in Hebrews and the explanation of Temptation by Chambers would be put together in today's blog that I write. I would wonder to, if I was still amazed how God draws my attention to various things to get a point across that I've yet to grasp.
George, of Worthy News Ministry in Israel, sent the devo for the Hebrews verse today. "I bet you're tired today. You are done…..overworked, overstressed, overwhelmed." He concludes his devo. "But be encouraged! Just when you think you can't run any further, you can! C'mon! Press through and press on for the great prize! God is with us, strengthening our feeble knees and moving us in the right direction!!"
I have become so tired of the stresses that living in this world surely bears upon each one of us, and the additional stresses that come from being a single parent, and the additional stresses of being a parent of a special needs child. It is amazing to me how dimly even the church family views a single parent, especially of the male persuasion, and the unique position they find themselves in, either by design, by life or the surrendering of another to the temptations of sin. There isn't a ministry in the whole body of the church that has addresses the single parent father. And, if they do not have 'everything organized', they are overlooked and isolated from the body. Often they are the silent ones who glide through the church experience in silence…..never letting anyone know of their situation because of the stigma attached to single fatherhood. Add to that a special needs child and the simplified expectation of fellowship becomes a complicated dance….
The burden got heavier last night as I sat outside…my son came up to me and asked, "Dad, can I talk to you?"
My son has transferred into the Plymouth-Canton School district and is going to school with his cousin at Central. Not even a week later, last night, my son sat down and cried his hurting heart out because of the bullies who have classified him as different and begun to verbally abuse him. Even the 'friend' he had made rejected him and doesn't talk to him anymore. My son, the most compassionate and caring person in the world, is isolated because of his disability. He wants to quit, he doesn't want to go to school anymore and doesn't want to face the bullies who have hurt him so much. And I couldn't help him…..couldn't protect him from this, even though I know the pain he feels and the hurt confusion as to why there are those who reject that which could be the best thing they've experienced – a compassionate friend.
All I could tell him is something that, at the time, seems so inadequate for his pain. "You are MY son. I love you. It doesn't matter what others say or do, you are my BELOVED son, with whom I am very proud." I told him I won't let him give up on himself by tucking his tail between his legs and whimpering out of the room. I told him, "You are MY son and are strong. You will walk out of that room (we are in the process of transferring him to a better suited environment for his learning, ironically) with your head held high and smile at your tormentors when you leave."
We prayed, that God would show my son the strength and love he has been given, that God would move in the bully's life and show him compassion and that the transfer we will be investigating today will happen quickly. And comfort returned, for the time, to my son's face and his heart. I had taken it upon my own.
Later, as I finished the email to his teachers, vice-principal and principal, I sat there weary. It will only get worse, I know, as the compulsion of the world to categorize and despise my son because of his cognitive impairment, to keep that compassionate and loving heart open…..wounded at it is prone to be….and his eyes on the prize to which he surrendered himself willingly to so many easters ago. With everything else that has happened; having to move to Canton, stay with family, and the burdens of financial problems that seem to never end….this.
I wish that I could find the parents of this bully, sit them down and slap some sense into them. As much as I can't take credit for my son's loving nature, he has learn some of the compassion and caring from me, just like the bully has learned to treat others that are different from him as a verbal punching bag from his. They are always watching, always drawing their clues on behavior accepted and unaccepted. Possibly, the parents would be surprised to hear their little boy is being cruel and would find reason to doubt that it is learned behavior…..as they shun a wheel chaired quad, shunt slanted eyes away from the Down's child or ridicule the handicapped grandmother. It doesn't make it any easier that physically, there is no sign of my son's situation….only when he speaks and other small behavioral things; the way he runs, his memory….
Added to that is the fact he is a Christian; not some run-of-the-mill, momentary attempt, but a living breathing and loving member of the body of Christ. Persecution is coming, even within the body, because of what he has been taught, what he believes.
Sometimes this race seems to stretch so long, so far and the rockiness of the path twists ankles, stubs toes and wounds the feet. Surely, under all this, it is okay to stop running, stop striving for that elusive prize (at those times so it seems) that lies forever over that last hilltop, that last mountain rise…surely the temptation to walk is understandable and acceptable. Surely it was never meant to be so hard.
As I was driving to work this morning, a memory bubbled up from my mind…..Father Ronald Corl. I met the Father when we lived in Detroit, on Hazelton that butts up to the entrance at the St. Paul Monastery where he had just become the Rector. The fence that surrounds the property now was put there in large part to us kids of the neighborhood who would play on the grounds, much to Brother Pat (the head groundskeeper)'s dismay and it was one day while we were playing that we crossed the path of Father Ron, who was just moving in to assume his new duties.
He taught me a love for reading, the walls of his room where covered with books and books…..He taught me acceptance and even was teaching me to be a catholic. I helped him with baptisms, weddings, and other Roman Catholic traditions. But, it was one day as we were running in Hines Park (another thing he taught me, and my older brother Larry) and it came to the point where Larry and I usually stopped, walking to cool down, and where Father Ron kept on running. That day, I didn't stop and kept on running….every muscle in my body wanted to stop, every fiber of my being cried out with the unaccustomed pain….but I refused to stop, I was mad that day…either at my brother or at Father Ron….I don't remember now….and I fed that anger into the pain…pushing my body harder….
It was years later that I would realize what Father Ron saw that day as he ran beside me……a determination to not quit…..that he said he prayed my faith would one day realize. I was told this as I was going into my senior year at Leesburg High. Father Ron and I lost touch when we moved from Hazelton and stayed in contact infrequently until I moved to Florida…..he had been transferred to Orlando some year prior. We met and that was when he told me that; it had stayed with him so many years that impression. He would die from cancer well before that prayer could be realized.
But it wasn't the impression that hit me today, it was that moment in time; as my body was screaming stop and my mind refused to listen….that plateau….where my body surrendered itself to the control of the mind and I pushed past that limit….one I thought I couldn't pass.
And God spoke as that memory arose….."Jim, my dear child….you are MY son…why do you want to give up, tuck your tail between your legs and whimper out of the church? You are so much more than the perception they have of you, you are MY son and beloved….if you go, you will go as My child, your head held high and a compassionate smile on your face for those who persecute you….those who reject you….those who refuse to believe that I have empowered you to speak My word."
The heart God has given me is prone to be hurt, leaving it out on my sleeve as I do fully exposed to the elements of the human condition of self-(whatever). There will be those who are intimidated by my heart…who are scared, jealous or spiteful because I chose to live in the assurance of the finish line. The temptation is and always will be to reach that limit, and to stop running, stop trying and stop hurting. If I surrender to it…if I don't refuse to allow its control, I will, as Chambers says "deify the lust" the temptation holds for the sake of self-protection, only to find that I have become exposed to the sin of selfishness. The road that leads down is self-fulfilling and deadly, for it will choke off the life that I seek to save.
As George relates in his devo, the Athenians in 490 B.C. defeated the Persians under King Darius 1 on the plains near Marathon. The runner, carrying the victorious news to the Greek people ran 26 miles full out, holding nothing back, and when he had delivered the good news, he died. There was times, as any marathon runner since can attest to, when the strength of your training, the preparation of your body and the level of your skill will be reached…..they will plateau. It is those who push through, who look at that plateau and press on, enduring through that limit to reach for the victory prize, that achieve new levels of strength, preparation and skill. We don't compete as the physical athletes do for a prize of trophies or medals, endorsement deals and wealth. We reach for the uncorruptible crown.
It is in that moment of plateauing, where we can't simply go on….the darkness is too deep, the pain to hard to endure and then end not in sight…..that God shows us the joy we have awaiting for us, the strength He's given us to endure and the peace to go the distance, any distance, full out with nothing reserved.
As George is fond of ending his devos with, "There is much work to be done!"
As my son struggles in this situation at school, with those who would bully and persecute him for his special needs, I can run along side him…..pushing him to overcome that plateau where he would give up and endure to reach the end of the race we both run. I can only do it, though, if I run with him….giving him my experience and love to push past it, to endure it and to be totally surrendered to the end.
As my Father in Heaven has taught me so well this past year……..whispering encouragement and love, demanding my best as He shows me I can reach beyond my imposed limits to reach new levels of faith, belief, love, understanding and compassion. He doesn't carry me, He runs alongside me……"I've run this race before, Jim, and I finished…..You are of My blood, you are of My spirit and you are My creation…..keep on…keep on"
As with my son, those who watch this drama with the bully take place will witness his strength, his compassion and his resolve to stand….maybe they will stand in their time too, maybe they will think twice about being a bully. Either way, he will stand.
As with me, my life stands as a testimony to God's grace, mercy and strength….His provision, His love and His desire for me. Maybe they will realize His love and be saved, maybe they will listen to the next Christian who comes to speak with them…..but they will hear.
As for me and my house, we will run the race fully until it is done with the news of the victory that Christ secured for us over our rightful punishment of sin.
Until we achieve the crown.