Tonia's transparency and truth-seeking have challenged and blessed me again and again as she has put pieces of her beautiful heart into words at Study in Brown. I have shared with her my soul-wrestling over this desire to spur others on to care for the orphan, yet understanding fully that I have not had a hard path to walk in this. I am honored that she has written something for me to share with you, a perspective that will illuminate this journey with a different and radiant light.
a song almost heard
written by Tonia Peckover at Study in Brown
It had been a few years since we’d seen each other and we laughed and smiled over the changes, exclaimed over the now-tall young men and women we’d once held as babes in each others’ arms. I lamented the rushing years and the grey in my hair. She told of the new business, a trip to the Grand Canyon, a son in college. “And how’s Bryan doing?” I asked, looking around for the boy I’d seen only in Christmas pictures, his blond hair and impish smile making him an uncanny fit with his adoptive family. My own adopted son, born with the same drug and alcohol-affects as Bryan, stood tall in the background, hands shoved deep in his pockets, grinning quietly at the flow of memories and old jokes that was running between the gathered kids. My friend’s eyes grew pained and her face changed. “He’s not…here…anymore,” she whispered.
Sadness crept through my body as I waited for her explanation. “People don’t know,” she said. “They don’t know what it’s like.” I nodded quietly and listened as her story unfolded, a familiar tragedy of behavioral issues, fear, and anguish that led to a desperate decision to salvage the family by sending Bryan to live elsewhere. “We failed,” she said, a plea for understanding lying naked in the words.
I understood too well. As young couples we’d shared our dreams about living the gospel through adoption. These friends had rejoiced when we’d brought our son home and stood with us when the first shockwaves of reality hit. Eventually they’d moved away, begun their own adoption, and our family had continued the wild careen down the road called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders. I knew what my friend was talking about. The landscape of our family history is littered with shattered expectations, lies, abuses, humiliations, therapists, hospitals, social workers, and painful acceptance. When my husband and I took our measure against the happy, easy families around us we too felt like failures.
I went home that day aching with the reality of undeserved pain. I used to think that suffering came to other people – fiery preachers in strange lands, broken old sinners with ancient debts to pay - not to people who opened their hearts to the orphan. The stories swirled in my mind of families who’d dared to love the least of these and been worn down by the ceaseless, thankless reality of disability and brokenness. It was tempting to be angry at the unfairness - and yet I’d learned through my own trials that there was another way to understand the suffering.
You see, each of us had wanted to live the gospel…and God had answered our prayers.
The gospel life is an invitation to come and die. It is first of all a story of brokenness. Before the beautiful redemption there is misunderstanding, rejection, loneliness, disappointment, frustration, and betrayal leading to a painful, bloody death. There is sorrow, burial and mourning. Yet somehow, though we prayed to be like Christ, we were surprised when the pain came to us. We were surprised when the gospel story was repeated in our homes, in our hearts, in the children we thought to rescue.
When we look at scripture we see that even the apostles had to learn this truth. Beaten, arrested, thrown in prison, their dreams of greatness crushed, their reputations tarnished, their missions disrupted, they opened their mouths and sang in praise. Eventually they understood that of all people they were blessed…for they had been counted worthy to suffer with Christ.
What my friend needed to know is that her troubles are not the marks of failure, but of Christ-following. Christ’s love leads us into places that no one else wants to go, where the stench and the mess and the heartache push out the well-dressed and the well-behaved. She and her family have been invited into the mysterious blessing: to suffer with the reality of sin just as Christ suffered. To those on the outside it carries the taint of scandal - because this kind of love suffers alongside the liar, the abuser, the thief on the cross. It brings the foul-mouthed, rule-breaking, rage-riddled, impulse-driven, broken-hearted, least of these, right into our homes. This love works and tries and believes when everyone else has given up and slipped back into something more comfortable. It aches and bleeds, it is misunderstood and rejected and lonely.
And if we will surrender to it, this love teaches us to sing and to rejoice as the blessed of God.
A few days after the talk with my friend I stood silently in our living room as my husband shook hands with a policeman. “Thanks for coming,” he said as he quietly showed the officer out. Our teenage son, sprawled in a chair in the living room, managed a disinterested look which only made me feel more tense. He wasn’t in trouble this time, only a witness, but his wrong place, wrong time, wrong friends choices were an embarrassment to me anyway. Once the patrol car was safely down the driveway I felt the exhaustion come like a wave.
I fought the temptation to tell my son how I felt about his choices, to punish him with my anger and frustration, but I was silent. In a rare moment of clarity I felt my gaze go beyond the moment, beyond the disappointment of right now to a wider view. There in front of me sat a boy who carried his birth mother’s sins in his brain and body. I could see the future stretching out before us and all the labels he would likely wear: throwaway kid, failure, loser, screw-up. It pierced me through. And while I was looking at that future I could see another reality, higher and truer. There, I could see that the boy in front of me unknowingly bore the gospel of a suffering Savior into our home, daily allowing us to become acquainted with His grief. For just a moment I could see God’s purpose shaping us, His compassion inviting us to come learn to love like the crucified God. It was only a moment, enough vision to lend grace as I bent down and kissed my son’s head, told him to go on up to bed, but it lingers as blessing, snatches of a song almost heard and understood, drifting in front of me and pulling me onward.
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” Phil. 1:27-29