Story is the shape of culture. Culture is the emotion of community. Community is the birthplace of individuality. Individuality is the acceptance and rejection of the stories we are given. The stories we are given are the shape of our emotion. Emotion is the raw material of life. Life is the intersection of story, culture, community, individuality, and emotion.
Soil only bears the fruit of the seeds that have been sown.
Faith and reason are not opposed. Faith is the context in which reason is capable of operating. Faith is more a lens handed down than it is a decision we can make. This is not to say that the faith which is given to make me what I am is determinant of of who I will always be; nor is it to say that there is an I who exists apart from the stories that have written me. The point is simply to say that the agency capable of reason is neither separable from nor determined by the lens of faith that is already given.
Perhaps the main reason so many modern Christians fall away from the church is because they have fallen out of love with God. The radical emphasis on knowledge is a manifestation of our gnostic tendencies to seek out information about God rather than to experience and share the pervasive love of God. As in any relationship, love does not deepen by finding out any amount of information. Love only develops as trust deepens and emotional intimacy grows.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
God is making all things new! There is no season of life, no experience, no event, no challenge we could face where God is not by our side, working to renew, sustain, and transform our lives and relationships into something beautiful. Revelation might very well be the most misused and misunderstood book of the bible, but if there is one consistent theme throughout, it would be this – God is making all things new. And no matter what we see around us, no matter what tomorrow brings, no matter how helpless or hopeless we might feel at any given moment; God is making all things new. God’s love cannot fail and never ends. These words are trustworthy and true.
Most of the popular stories and retellings about Revelation are fantastical portraits of the end times. They tell stories of war and tragedy and rapture and disease and dramatic events all leading up to God’s triumphal victory. I can’t do justice in a single sermon to all that’s going on in Revelation and I can’t break down all the many problems with how the message is so often portrayed. For today, I will simply challenge you to hear the words of Revelation 21 as a clear reminder of the point that runs throughout the pages of scripture; the point that is made with laser focus as Revelation ends. No matter what we face in every season of life, God is at work; God is faithful; God will be faithful to the end, making all things new. God’s love cannot end and never fails.
I’m not going to argue at all about what Revelation tells us to think about the end times. The more important point is not to get excited about what may or may not happen at an undetermined time in the future. The far more significant message is one of hope for the present moment. The far more significant message is to be overwhelmed by the presence, the faithfulness, the love of God that cannot end and never fails. Because we are invited to love as God first loved us. And to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do. A little over 4 years ago Sallie and I started to experience the true risk of love in a profoundly new way.
I don’t really know why, but for the first 6 or so years of our marriage we didn’t think kids would be in our future. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the idea of kids or being around them…we simply didn’t see parenting as a part of our future. We figured we would be a different kind of mother and father to all the kids in our lives. I’m sure plenty of you know that there is something beautifully simple about getting to be the cool aunt or uncle. You get to play and have fun and spoil the kids with gifts and with love; and when something goes wrong you get to hand the kid back to mom and dad. We knew we’d at least play that role in our churches and families.
I’ll never forget the moment a little over 4 years ago when everything changed. There was no discussion, no grand plan or carefully reasoned argument that changed things. Shortly after our third niece was born, Sallie and I were simply sitting alone, and without any build up or lead in Sallie looked at me and said, “I think we should have a baby.” And I said, “Me too.” And that was pretty much it. We went from contentment with our life to the pursuit of parenthood in about 5 seconds.
In a very real way, the decision to try and get pregnant was the beginning of loving our unborn child. And to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do. For us, it hasn’t been an easy journey. We knew there were some potential medical hurdles that we might face. Sallie was diagnosed with PCOS or Polycystic ovarian syndrome. Plenty of women with PCOS get pregnant, but it is often a difficult journey to do so.
For the first 8 months or so, our doctor recommended a focus on getting healthy to give ourselves the best possible shot. So we did. For the next 8 months or so we started trying on our own just to see if there was any chance that it might happen easily and naturally. It did not. After that, it was on to the fertility specialist. There was still no reason why we couldn’t get pregnant, but the doctor told us it was best for us to go straight to the specialist given the PCOS diagnosis.
We each did some tests to be sure nothing else was wrong and then came about 5 months of working with the fertility doctor. We had at least weekly appointments for much of that time. When I say we, of course, I almost exclusively mean Sallie. I didn’t actually do anything more than drive and support her throughout the process. They monitored everything and prescribed medication and did everything possible to help us conceive in the old fashioned way. Still nothing happened.
Along the way, every failed pregnancy test hurt just a little bit more. It reminded us that we still had that much longer to wait to meet this child. Our child. The child who didn’t even exist, but was already loved more than words could express. Every time we tried and every moment we failed made us realize that we loved our unborn child just a little bit more. And to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do.
About 2 and a half years ago, we got the worst call we’ve ever received from a doctor. We had just finished our final monitored cycle and we were still…not…pregnant. There was no reason why we couldn’t get pregnant, but it hadn’t worked. IVF was the next and only real option with the fertility specialist. By this point we were so crushed by the endless cycles of hope and disappointment that we needed a few weeks to decide what to do next. We didn’t and still don’t have any problem with or objection to IVF, we just had to decide what was right for us.
It was at a gathering of clergy spouses where Sallie had another moment of clarity that changed everything for us. We had talked from the time we were dating about the possibility of one day fostering or adopting a child. We have always felt it is our calling to be a mother to the motherless and a father to the fatherless. We still don’t know exactly what that will mean for our future, but that’s always at the very least meant that we are more than capable of welcoming and loving a child who does not share our DNA.
The clergy spouses prayed with Sallie for peace and for strength to figure out what came next. I was waiting in the car to drive her home when their meeting finished and as soon as she got in, Sallie looked at me just the way she had 2 years before and said, “I think we should adopt.” And in that moment I had the exact same sense of peace and resolve that I’d had 2 years before. I said, “Me too.” Our love for our unborn child simply shifted from a biological child to one that will join our family through adoption instead.
Without skipping a beat, our love for the child who did not even exist, grew that much more. And to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do. If you’ve never adopted a child, the most important thing you probably need to know is that the process is one big roller coaster ride of emotion, excitement, and waiting. We did our initial application in the Summer of 2016 and were placed on a wait list. Our agency tries not to keep too many prospective parents on the list of those ready to adopt.
Once you get off the initial wait list, the vetting process is extensive and the cost is enormous, so we appreciated their reasoning even though we hated waiting. We were told to anticipate a full year or two at that stage, but in the spring of 2017 we got the call to move forward. I won’t bore you with all the details, but just a few months and a few hundred questions about everything we’ve ever done and everyone we’ve ever met and everything we’ve ever thought about parenting later, we were approved.
Generally, the way our adoption agency works, you provide a basic profile sheet. You then get a call when a mother is shown profiles around her third trimester and she decides she wants to meet and learn more about you. It is, however, possible to get a call that a baby has already been born and is in need of a home. So we were both on the edge of our seat, ready to go at a moment’s notice, and also trying to prepare to wait for what might feel like an eternity. Every day and week and month that passed brought with it the feeling that we still had no idea who this child would be, but we loved him all the more. And to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do.
A little over two months ago, we finally got the call we were waiting for. It was a Monday when we found out a mother had entered the program and was ready to look at profiles. The agency was supposed to meet with her Friday, so we were preparing to find out something in a week or so. Thursday morning I found out the meeting was cancelled, but they were emailing profiles. Thursday at 4:45, I got a call that mom liked our profile and wanted to meet us on Saturday for a meal in San Antonio. So we dropped all our plans and wound up meeting for lunch. About 15 minutes after lunch we found out she picked us and that in as little as 8 weeks we might bring a baby home.
It only took 6 days to go from wondering if anything was ever really going to happen to being chosen for adoption. Talk about a whirlwind of a week. Just over 4 years after realizing that we wanted a child; after 4 years of our love growing for this unknown child who didn’t yet exist…we finally knew he was on the way. To say we already loved him doesn’t even begin to express what was growing inside of us. And to love is most risky thing we can possibly do.
On October 19th at 9:01pm, Hutchinson Kyle was born. 7lbs. 21inches. There is a fear in plenty of people considering adoption that they will struggle to attach to the child in the way they would to a biological child. In the process of learning about adoption, we were reassured along the way that we would fall in love with our child over time. Many new parents can relate no matter how their baby was added to the family. Several have told me it was just a few hours after arriving home that they looked at their child and thought “OK, kid, it’s been fun. Where are you parents? When are they coming to pick you up?” The process of a child expressing a need and us being able to meet that need is at the heart of how attachment happens and love grows. Feeding, clothing, holding, changing, loving.
I don’t know if it was just the path we took to finally meet Hutch, but we didn’t have the problem we were warned about. We were warned to expect that we might not feel the love on day one. That is totally normal. We were completely unprepared for how it actually felt to hold Hutch for the first time. Sallie would tell you she felt it in her body the moment she held him in her arms. Every ounce of love that had been building in our hearts hit us like a ton of bricks. No words could possibly express what it was like to finally hold our child in our arms.
That is the moment in my life that more than anything else expresses what it means to say that God makes all things new. All the hope and disappointment, all the effort and the failure, all the ups and downs, all the doctors and the paperwork later – all of it led to this moment. I could say that it was all part of some divine plan. I could pretend like the path didn’t really hurt because of how it turned out. But doing so would be running from the truth.
God does not ask us to put on a brave face or to hide from the trials we encounter. God invites us to experience real, authentic, risky love. God invites us to love in the way God first loved us. Instead of ruling from a distance or orchestrating some grand plan in the background, God came and lived by our side. God chose to experience all that makes us human. God gave His very life to make all things new. God loved us with abandon. And to love is most risky thing we can possibly do.
We got to spend most of that first Saturday taking turns holding Hutch at the hospital. It was an experience we’ll never forget. But now we’re back to the waiting game again. I won’t go into specifics, but the legal situation means that we have to wait at least 31 days before we know if we’ll actually get to bring Hutch home. There is a chance, that day may never come. Throughout the process of adoption, we’ve always known that nothing is final until it’s final. That is part of the roller coaster. We told ourselves we would not get too attached before we had assurance. That goal ended the second we held Hutch in our arms.
In reality, no matter what we tell ourselves about what love is or how it works, to love is the most risky thing we can possibly do. To love is to open ourselves up to the possibility of loss. To truly love is to give up control of all that we are and trust in the hope of our future. On this All Saints Day, we celebrate the lives of all the people who took the risk to love us and make us what we are. We remember those whom we have dared to love and lost. The hope we have in this celebration of their lives is that they each now rest in the arms of the Lord; the one who makes all things new. They are now seated at the great banquet table of grace and love. At the table of grace we find the abundance of God’s love that cannot end and never fails.
At the table of grace, we find a tangible, concrete reminder that there is nothing we can face that God has not already faced before. In every season of life, in every joy and challenge, no matter what tomorrow brings; God is with us, we are never alone. In the face of every long wait and every challenge, is the assurance that God’s love remains steadfast. God took the risk to love us with abandon. And God invites us to love one another in the way that God first loved us.
I can say with absolute assurance that if something happens and we never get to bring Hutch home, it will crush us more than anything we’ve faced thus far. I could try to sugar coat it, but I’d be flat out lying. The hope we hold on to is that God does not plan for our pain or desire to test us. But God does make all things new. If the worst happens, God will be by our side. God’s love cannot end and will never fail. And we will still be invited to risk loving others in the way God first loved us; to risk loving in the way we have been loved by the saints who have gone before us; to risk loving in the way that makes all things new.
When it comes to building a life, emotion is the raw material, knowledge is the blueprint, the will is the act of building. Consciousness is the glue that binds emotion, knowledge, and will.
Truth is only truth inside the story in which it is told.
The best way I can articulate what I mean by that is through a previous post on story and truth.
This idea may be too academic to seem super helpful, but I would argue that it is the essential factor in understanding how we arrived in the chaotic, partisan, broken place where we are as Americans (and United Methodists).
The core problem with partisan brokenness is not really that people believe a different set of facts or that anyone just needs to be convinced about the specific details of what “really happened” in any given moment. The problem is that many of us think that we’re taking part in very different stories. If the story you tell about how things should be has no room for the existence of those different than you, it will, unchallenged and from a position of power, always lead to the overt harm of everyone deemed not “normal.”
To make the jump from one story to another takes far more than pointing out an inconsistent detail or two. It takes the radical experience of being accepted into the life and story of another; a story with enough room for one more; an acceptance that may cause change but never requires it; an experience of already being enough to be worthy of taking part. As long as we focus on proving our point rather than creating the space for acceptance, we’ll simply keep assuming the story that we tell ourselves is the only one that matters.