valley of vision

I love reading Henri Nouwen's writing. He was a Catholic priest and scholar who taught at Yale, Harvard, and Notre Dame before making a mid-life ministry shift to L’Arche community, a home where developmentally-challenged people can share life with their caregivers.

Nouwen moved to L’Arche to serve people who most of us see only as shadows. He moved there to pour out his life into the invisible. He yielded a safe, cognitive faith to the dangers of flesh, and as a result, the halls of L’Arche served as a spiritual birth canal. What Nouwen learned about beauty and love amid discarded lives was powerful.

Below, he writes about caring for two particular men at L’Arche, John and Adam:

"Yes, John and Adam needed help in their daily tasks, but I, too, was constantly saying, 'Help me, help me.' And when I had the courage to look deeper, to face my emotional neediness, my inability to pray, my impatience and restlessness, my many anxieties and fears, the word 'handicap' started to have a whole new meaning. The fact that my handicaps were less visible than those of Adam and his housemates didn't make them less real... I was going through the deep human struggle to believe in my belovedness even when I had nothing to be proud of... I found myself resisting this 'becoming like Adam'. I did not want to be dependent and weak. I did not want to be so needy. Somewhere though I recognised that Adam's way, the way of radical vulnerability, was also the way of Jesus."

- Henri Nouwen, Adam: God's Beloved

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him." - I Corinthians 1:27-29

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Most of the time, Moses will tell me before he has to go “law-wah.” (I don’t know what this word is supposed to sound like in Chinese, but I know what happens after he grabs the seat of his pants and says it.) This morning, he forgot to tell me first.

It’s been almost a decade since I’ve had a kid in diapers, and wiping poopy butts is not something I have missed. I think I have an overly-developed sense of smell anyway -- I can usually tell you what store a gallon of milk comes from by just smelling the plastic. So, bending over a law-wah-smeared rear end, getting a face full of yesterday’s garden produce literally makes me gag.

Isn’t it Elizabeth Elliot who tells moms to let their countenance reflect God’s affection for their child? Well, I’m sorry, but the only divine lesson Moses got from my face this morning was hidden somewhere in Lamentations. “Woe! Woe!”

Leaving the bathroom, I found graham crackers on the air vents. All the buttons on the dishwasher pushed at once. Little plastic things stuffed into places where little plastic things aren’t supposed to go. Marks from little hands, exploring a big, new world.

I remember raising a toddler the first two times, and how these things brought me to despair. I always felt like there were so many important things I was “supposed” to be doing, but there I was, cleaning up messes with no visible progress. Cute urban girls were changing the world, and I was losing my life, pouring it out into shadows and invisibility.

But one day I shut my eyes and opened them, and two fat little boy feet were suddenly covered in veins and hair, wearing a men’s shoe size 11 1/2. And storybooks were closed. And little plastic things were put where they belonged, and they stayed there, while the investments I made into invisibility (wise and unwise) continued growing on a trajectory. Lost things were resurrected. The shadows became light.

My story is different from Nouwen’s because he wasn’t able to see dramatic physical/mental growth in many people he helped. God had other treasures waiting for him at L'Arche. But still, as I’m revisiting toddler motherhood after a long hiatus, I am grateful for Nouwen’s reflections. His life reinforces something I missed as a young mom, that the grueling, non-glamorous work of service can be a rich, spiritual greenhouse. Helping the vulnerable urges me to consider my own vulnerability.

Because the truth is that I mess all over myself. I put things in the wrong places. I use too much. I drop things. I push too many buttons. I reek. I need a Father to help me. As I serve a child, I am also a child being served. Loved. Beloved. This is humbling, clarifying, purifying. I'm thankful.

“The Valley of Vision” (Puritan prayer)

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold

thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter

thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

Thy life in my death,

that every good work or thought found in me

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

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Welcome to our family’s adoption journey. As you read, you will see us stumble and take wrong paths. You will see our hopes surge and fall. You will see the gaps in our humanity, and how our God realigns us to His purposes over and again. We think the messiness of this process is important. Sometimes walking with God isn’t a neat, linear package that can be summarized in bullet points. More often, life ebbs and flows around our plans, while God works His sovereign wonders from it all. We are learning so much through this journey. And we are super excited about our new son. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you along for the ride.

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