It was Sunday—the Lord’s Day—and Mother’s Day. As we sat in the restaurant waiting for our dinner to be served, I glanced across the room and was captivated by a rather beautiful sight: A father and mother sitting at a table with five pretty daughters ranging in age from (maybe) twelve to nineteen years old.
They were smiling, laughing and talking. The girls were dressed nicely and it appeared the family had just come from church. The polite manners of the girls were genuine and unrehearsed. Mom was being honored on this special day and dad was enjoying his legacy of love in a scene that rivaled a Norman Rockwell painting.
And then there was our table. It was a more abstract piece of art.
Jake was sweating profusely from his typical restaurant anxiety fever. We rarely take him out to eat, but it was Mother’s Day, and this was all my wife had wanted—dinner with her family.
My son was displaying the full array of an outburst that sometimes comes with his autism: rocking and twitching and making loud noises, a precursor to pandemonium.
We were all sitting on pins and needles trying to keep him calm and busy before the food arrived, praying the fight or flight didn’t arrive first. At one point Jake picked up his fork, stood up and silently threatened to throw it across the room. We all avoided eye contact. He eventually sat back down.
It must have been quite a spectacle to see an entire family studying their menus while one lone member stood erect threatening the entire restaurant with a pronged eating utensil.
Jake’s brothers looked tired. Partly from learning the hard lessons of becoming men living on their own and partly because they each spend about forty-five hours a week taking care of their brother.
Noah and Aaron are floating somewhere between puberty and manhood, sporting the disheveled look of greasy hair, mismatched clothes and spotty beards of hopeful masculinity.
These brothers came from hard times. Adopted at ages four and two, they had been abused nearly to the point of death. They carry no memory of that time; only scars.
Our lone daughter, Hope, was sitting pretty doing a crossword puzzle on the kid’s menu, blocking out the Jake-noise with her typical busy-ness. She is the resilient one. “A rose in a thorn bush” I joke with her. An “old soul” as her mom says.
You would never know Hope was anything but her mother’s daughter. Their personalities are a miraculous match. But her slanted eyes, olive skin, and straight-raven-black hair profiles her as a daughter of adoption.
She doesn’t look like us and she’s beginning to feel “different”. Even the kids at her school ask questions. Just this year she was treated very badly by some second grade girls because of her race. Showing the true ignorance of racism, they told her she wasn’t invited to a certain party because she was black. I suppose one of the children heard this from one of their parents. Racist are rarely intellects. The treatment didn’t last but a couple of days. The pain lasted longer.
Mom holds us all together. She’s the gospel glue of our fracture-prone family. I know on the Day God judges and rewards, she will have the most crowns to throw at Jesus’ feet.
As I glance her way, I notice the lassitude in her eyes hidden behind her durable smile. Kim is thankful that her family is together around a dinner table, like days gone by—too soon gone.
She worries about me. I worry about her. We are both very tired.
I want her to be honored on this day. She deserves it. Twenty-one years as a mom, four adopted children, one severely disabled son, a Neonatal Nurse for twenty-five years who has loved, cared for and mothered hundreds, if not thousands, of sick babies and then handed them over to other waiting arms. She is a hero of mine. I want to give her more than she has been given in this complicated life.
We eat quickly savoring the silence with spotty conversation.
When dinner is over, Jake stands to his feet and announces to the entire restaurant that he has to go to the bathroom.
He makes this announcement by pointing hard to his crotch in a very proud manner as if to say, “Hey everyone in this eating establishment! I have to go pee! This is a big deal because I just started peeing in a bathroom on my own a couple years ago! I’m going to go pee now, and my dad is going to take me! Everyone please look at me while I point to my crotch! This is where I pee!”
I am sometimes glad my son is non-verbal.
We walk to the bathroom hand in hand, and the closer he gets the more delighted he becomes, pointing to his crotch and laughing loudly and proudly. The patrons try hard not to stare. Sometimes a multitude of quick glances can be just as painful as one long judging look.
We march past the table where the Norman Rockwell family is seated and I try hard to hurry my son safely past the pretty daughters and proud parents. He manages to get in at least one solid crotch point in their direction before I can redirect.
The Rockwells are gracious and smile.
After what seems like a good quarter mile parade, we finally made it to the bathroom door. Jake made it to the bathroom stall, pulled down his pants and proceeded to pee all down the front of his underwear.
He began to sweat again with anxiety and the proud pointing turned to incessant whining. The whining quickly built to a loud crescendo scream over soiled pants. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a young man exiting the neighboring stall. After doing one quick pause-look, he made a hasty retreat towards the exit. He had a certain expression on his face. I’ve seen that look many times before. It’s that “should I help, call the police, or just run for it?” kind of look.
He did the right thing and just ran for it.
I cleaned my son, washed our hands and exited the men’s room as my family was leaving the restaurant. We hugged on the sidewalk and the man-boys went their separate way in the big red truck.
On the drive home my mind meditated on the Rockwell family. In the quietness of the car ride, I secretly coveted their table: the cleanliness and manners; the conversation and contentment; the order and organization; the honor and pride. Just once I would like to sit through a meal like that with my entire family.
I hid away in the closet of my sin for most of the evening, grumbling and mumbling in my pity party for one. God covered me with his grace and waited patiently for me to come to my senses. He has a way of sanctifying us in our sulking.
It took nearly sixteen hours, mainly because He is in no hurry to satisfy the pouting of sinners, I suppose. But the next morning God spoke plainly and clearly to my displaced heart.
“I am a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows. I set the lonely in families.” He said lovingly but sternly, pointing to His word in Psalm 68.
And there it was.
“I make families.”
They don’t just happen. There are no accidents. Each tribe is intricately designed for a specific purpose—namely to magnify God for all to see and behold His goodness, mercy and love. Some are pretty, some are painful, but all are remarkably, wonderfully and beautifully made.
I made your family. They were fatherless, and I became their Father. They were helpless and I became their Defender—orphans in need of rescue, a husband and wife with empty arms. I filled those arms purposefully, personally and providentially.
God in His sovereignty builds families. They are His work, His masterpiece, for His glory and our highest good. God makes a place for the destitute. He fathers them, defends them, rescues them—and He gives them to us for a family. What a lovely, messy, wonderful, disorganized, beautiful, loud, perfect group we are!
This is my family. It is indeed a perfect family.