Sunday, April 29, 2007

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today . . .

It was twenty years ago today, April 29, 2007, that Teddy came to live with us. We went from no experience with a baby to parents of an active 18-month-old, blonde, curly-haired whirlwind. (To see pictures of Teddy and me at that age is rather disconcerting! We could be twins). I still remember the first time I took him out in the stroller on my day off. We went to the mall, had lunch, went shopping - at which time I glanced at a gift on a counter for Bonnie (it could not have been more than 30 seconds, I swear!), and when I looked down at the stroller, he was gone! Off to find something, somewhere, going on an adventure.

It was the first clue that life would never be the same.

And as most of you know by now, life with Teddy has never been the "same" in so many ways. One of our complaints to God over the years has been that we have never really known what 'normal' families do. While I recognize that every child, every family, every situation is different - we have lived a rather unusual life with Teddy, to say the least.

Multiple visits and stays in the psychiatric wings of Children's Hospital beginning at age 7; at least nine of the last 14 years if not more, having Teddy live in a residential facility, usually entailing a 2-hour drive each way to visit him once a week; his always needing to be sedated for even minor medical procedures; struggles with school systems, mental care systems, medical systems, even having to sue our denominational major medical provider.

And, if all these 'normal' aspects of our rather abnormal life were not enough, Teddy then got to battle Stage 4 germ cell cancer beginning in September 2003, enduring six rounds of chemotherapy (each lasting 5 days) and two major surgeries. Then, we had the experience last year of his being accused of murdering his roommate at a residential facility, a charge which the media continues to bring up every time the facility is mentioned in the paper, even though the charges were dismissed when Teddy was found to be incompetent of standing trial.

So after 20 years, we look back and see years of unbearable heartache and loss. Bonnie and I have both endured what our counselor calls 'chronic grief' knowing that our son would never be the person we hoped he would be, or that he dreamed he would be. He would never go to college, or get married, or have a family, even though he is perhaps the most caring and loving individual I have ever met. We have more gray hair and wrinkles than we ever imagined we would have at our age, and we have not been able to do the things we had talked about or dreamed about for our life together as husband and wife. We have had what I would consider two real vacations in the last 20 years. And we have accumulated a mountain of indebtedness that approaches Mt. Everest.

But we have also had more joy in our life than we ever imagined, all because of this happy, struggling, ever-inquisitive, always-imaginative gift from God. We have met angels that we would have overlooked without Teddy being a part of our lives, especially those folks who will spend their working lives devoted to folks just like him. We have seen God's grace come in the most unexpected moments, and felt God's love embrace us in the most broken people imaginable. We have seen Christ's face every time we look at Teddy, have heard God's voice in every broken word he has struggled to speak; and feel the warm breath of the Spirit every time he kisses us good-bye when we have to leave him at the residential placement.

We have done things we would never have dared, gone places we would never have thought of, met people we would never have wanted to meet all because of Teddy's lived-out belief (which he could never put into words) that everyone is indeed his neighbor, that every moment is a gift from God, that every place is holy ground.

It is because of Teddy that I have a better appreciation of the act of great love and sheer foolhardiness on God's part in adopting each and every one of us as children of the kingdom. It's because of Teddy that I have a clearer view of what it cost Jesus to be willing to become one of those the world would ignore and eventually put away because he was different. It's because of Teddy that I have no doubt whatsoever that the Spirit continues to move and work and be so powerfully and peacefully in our lives.

It was twenty years ago today that Teddy came into our lives.

And despite the wrenching, painful, heart-breaking, rip-the-guts-right-out-of-you times, I would not have missed a moment of the last twenty years.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holy Thursday shock

We're gathering this Holy Thursday, to
remember and to celebrate that sacred meal
which Jesus has given to us. But there is also
something else he gave us that night, according
to John's gospel - a job.

That's why we are doing a foot-washing ritual
as part of our Holy Thursday service. This
will be the first time this has been done in
quite a while, so I am sure there is anxiety
on everyone's part, including mine. Part
of it has to do with the fact we will be asked
to 'expose' a part of our bodies which is
normally not seen in public, except on the
beach or at the pool in the summer.

The other has to do, I think, with the fact
that we are doing something that has no
'reality' in our lives. Oh, we've washed a
baby's feet or our kids' feet when they are
in the bath; we wash the mud of the paws
of our dogs; and, if we are athletic, we
know to take good care of our feet.

In Jesus' day, and in the life of the early church,
people were accustomed to having their feet
washed, on a regular basis. Traveling over
dirt (and dusty) roads; slogging through the
mud in a downpour; using your feet as the
means of getting anywhere back then, meant
that when you arrived at your destination,
you needed to have your feet cleaned. Especially
when you went into another's home, and
particularly when you had come for a meal.
Just as parents' tell their kids, 'Go wash your
hands for supper,' back then it was to make
sure your feet were cleaned before you ate.

Of course, since the job was done by a servant,
folks rarely took note of it being done to them
and for them, by another human being. It was
just a ritual, performed by someone who was
always overlooked, just as the basin of water
and the towel probably were. Just another
part of the background to their lives.

We have those 'backgrounds' around us today.
We have those people who perform a service
for us, and we usually overlook them, don't we?
The housekeeper who comes in and takes care
of the hotel room we live in for a few days.
The custodian who goes through the church
each night, emptying the waste cans, mopping
the floors, cleaning our fingerprints off the
glass doors. The crossing guard who stands out
in every sort of weather, making sure our kids
get to school safely. The garbage collectors
who come by and pick up our trash before
we are even out of bed in the morning.

The disciples were shocked that Jesus would be
willing to do such a menial, degrading, disgusting
task as washing their feet. Just as we would be if
Jesus showed up to make our beds, clean our toilets,
empty our waste cans, dump our garbage.

Just as we would be if Jesus asked us to do
such menial, degrading, disgusting tasks
for someone else.

That's why we need to remember that Holy
Thursday is not just about sharing a sacred meal,
but about becoming a servant.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman