Last Sunday, as I was changing Jake’s clothes, (after a gallant but failed attempt to get him to the bathroom on time) I slid his leg braces off his crooked feet and stared for a while at the devices that are supposed to help him walk.
“AFOs”: ankle-foot-orthotic. I hate them. He hates them. But like his thick glasses and his Springboard communication device, they have become so much a part of his life and body, he cannot do without them.
I glanced up in time to watch Jake wrestle his coat off and then his shirt. He grunted and fought with his sleeves in a noble battle, nearly toppling over from unbalanced determination. As he struggled to free himself from his outer garment, I sensed his irritation, which only amplified my own desperation to care for this broken boy.
My face seems to be scarred these days with the dried and salty tear tracks of weary frustration. I cry more than people know—more than a man likes to admit. Still I fight to keep composure, “No more tears. Someday, no more tears.” I quietly remind myself.
In the midst of the wreckage, like so many times before, my mind is carried to a sheltering place of wonderful assurance and future grace. I have it memorized:
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
What does this promise mean to a desperate dad and his disabled son?
In my most vivid, imaginative and reoccurring dreams—it looks something like this:
I’m walking with Jesus through a wheat field (I’m not sure why I always envision a wheat field, it just seems right … and biblical).
The sun is shining brighter than I have ever seen it shine—at least it looks like the sun, only more brilliant, loving and personal. It penetrates everything with a powerful presence. The sky is electric blue decorated with sparse, white-cotton clouds. The temperature is mild and the wind is gently blowing a hint of honeysuckle into my nose, reminding me of childhood summers when life was new and worries few.
Jesus is silent as He walks, and He’s smiling. He is setting the pace and occasionally turning his head to look at me. His hands are held out just below waist level as he lets them glide gently over the heads of wheat. It’s as if he has a certain purpose in mind, a surprise of some sort. His smile grows wider and warmer as we get closer to our destination.
I want to look around and take in the scenery—I’m certain it’s breathtaking, but His face is all I can focus on at the moment. I cannot take my eyes off Him. He is inviting, comforting, safe and filled with so much joy! I am completely satisfied and without fear in His presence.
I have a strong desire to take His hand like a little child and never let go, but all my faculties are so captivated by His presence that none of my voluntary senses will respond. I can only look on Him and enjoy—and yet that is enough.
The beauty of the azure-blue sky outlines His face and the brilliance of the Great Light behind Him nearly blinds my peripheral vision as it breaks through His thick, dark hair.
Suddenly He stops, closes His eyes and slightly nods His head as if answering a silent whisper. Turning towards me, He places one hand on my shoulder and with the other He touches His finger to my chin and physically, but gently, turns the gaze of my face forward to a lone figure walking from the edge of the wheat field.
The unfocused silhouette begins to move towards us. His shoulders are broad and his gate is smooth, like a warrior running into battle. For just a moment I wonder if we are in danger, but then I remember I am with Jesus.
As the figure gets closer, the first facial feature I can make out is a smile, warm and inviting—beaming with joy. He slows to a gallop just short of reaching us; then walks, and then stops. There is a familiarity in his presence.
The wind blows through the wheat field as Jesus softly laughs and affectionately nudges my shoulder.
I walk towards the lone figure, and the mysterious character places his hands on his hips, throws back his head, and laughs.
The closer I get, the more I begin to understand.
“Dad, it’s me!” The man proclaims with a strong baritone voice.
I begin to move with urgency towards him, running hard and then falling like a child into his arms. A long embrace is mixed with rejoicing, then weeping, then astonishment and joy.
Gripping him with a father’s love, I kiss his chiseled cheek and bury my face into his neck. He smells like the field—earthy, strong, clean and sweet.
“ Jacob! My son!”
Grasping his shoulders, I gaze on his face.
“Look at you son! Look at you!”
We stare at each other for a second and I step back, scanning him from head to toe and taking in his sharp demeanor. His hair is thick and glowing auburn like the peak foliage of a sugar maple in fall. His eyes are glistening hazel, clear and focused. With no thick, smudgy glasses to hinder his view, he returns a sharp and steady gaze.
“Look…at…you!” I repeat in complete wonder.
He smiles with uncontainable elation and raises his arms, turning 360 degrees for a full inspection.
“You should see how fast I can run! You want to race me?”
“I…I don’t think I can run right now, son.” I respond, stunned with complete awe.
“Come on dad! Let’s go, on three!” He playfully challenges as he runs in circles around Jesus and me, darting straight and cutting on a dime from side to side.
“You always did like to run.” I reply, my mind blinking back to crooked legs, plastic braces and clumsy feet. Oh how I hated those braces.
“Yeah, but now I don’t fall—ever!” He smiles as he leaps through the air. “I can run like the wind!”
He finally comes to an abrupt stop and faces me, placing both hands on my shoulders, forcing my full attention. His smiling demeanor turns dead serious,
“And wait till you hear me sing!”
The volume of his voice decreases as he closes his eyes, “I have all these songs in my head.”
His elation returns as the volume increases with the speed of his excited tone, “Remember that song you used to sing to me when you brushed my teeth? By the way, LOOK at my TEETH!” He smiles his familiar, contagious smile and opens his mouth wide for inspection.
“And that song mom used to sing when she put me to bed. And that song you sang when you woke me up and every time you washed my hair? That really helped me get through my bath time, by the way. I always wanted to tell you that, but…well you know.”
“And all those songs we sang in church…I know them ALL!”
He is talking so fast, so eager and so clear, like he has been waiting to talk all his life. I could barely keep up with all he was saying and found myself joyfully adrift with the simple tone of his voice and the beautiful inflection of his words.
Suddenly and spontaneously he stops talking, looks skyward, and begins to sing,
“Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me.”
His voice is smooth and beautiful, deep and articulate. It grows bolder with anticipation and excitement as his eyes move from the sky, back to me, and then to Jesus.
He points to the Savior as his focus grows intent.
“My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.
No tongue can bid me thence depart.”
Jesus smiles in reply to the satisfaction of his worship.
“Show him your hands Jesus! Show him your hands!” Jake excitedly concludes his hymn of praise just as abruptly as it began.
“I learned a new song too! Wait till you hear it, dad.”
“I cannot wait to hear it, son.”
We talk and sing throughout the day—a day that never ends—as we stroll and run without tiring under the brilliant blue sky. We talk about the years of his disability, the suffering, confusion and pain. We talk about the things he missed, and the things I missed—the hurt and the frustration, the laughter and the joy. There is forgiveness in his tone and grace in his words—so much grace. He is so excited to tell me everything, and I am so ready to listen.
Jesus is between us, in our midst. He puts His arm around Jake and reaches over and wipes my cheek with the sleeve of his garment.
“No more tears,” He gently commands. “Today, no more tears.”
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1