Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unexpected God

The big event this past week was a visit to Camp Cairn where David is scheduled to spend a week starting Sunday.

We were greeted by Rebecca, the “Integration Coordinator”. She was very friendly and welcoming and professional. As she tried to engage David, he traveled right past her, and every other Counsellor who tried to engage him on the way, to the big dining hall surrounded by trees where an evening singsong was in progress. He plunked himself down on the wood floor outside the door and listened in.

We met the camp cook. She was about the same age as Rebecca (in fact I didn’t see anyone older than our daughter Alana). The cook said she was up for taking on David’s special menu. No gluten, no dairy, no processed foods, everything measured out according to carbs per serving. If you’ve ever eaten camp food, you’ll know what a huge thing this is.

Finding a camp for David was no small task. Reach for the Rainbow is an Ontario matching service for camps willing to take kids with special needs. They came up with a number of options. But the Diabetes camp said they couldn’t handle the Autism. The Autism camp said they couldn’t handle the Diabetes. The YMCA camp said “well, okay, I guess….” But the Presbyterian Camp Cairn said “we’d love to have him.”

Carol spent a month filling out their questionnaire. It turned into a 25 page manual about David-care that just touches the surface – doesn’t cover all the unpredictable twists and surprises he throws at you daily.

We managed to get David up and overland to visit a sleeping cabin, which he warmed to, and then down to the dock on a beautiful small Muskoka Lake. He walked directly down to the very end of the long L shaped dock and plunked down there while his mom chatted with his one-on-one Counsellor Joe “Polo” on the shore.

When it was time to go, David just ignored my requests/demands/bribes. Instead of getting into a wrestling match at the end of the dock (which I’m sure would have been very amusing for the bystanders on the shore) I called Polo over to test his chops out on David. I stepped back as Polo went and sat down with David and started chatting softly to him. David responded by putting his running shoes in the water and kicking up a storm.

Polo didn’t panic, just laughed and got him to stop and then got him on his feet. Very good work. Before we got off the dock, David went to climb into the little motorboat tied up near the shore. Again Polo calmly told David “no, we’re not going in the boat now.” So David grabbed a paddle and winged it. As Polo calmly chased after it, David stood with a grin on his cute little face and headed for shore. His grin was saying “I’m gonna have some fun with this guy.”

David’s been training us for over twelve years now. Over this period we’ve achieved the status of “battle-scarred amateurs”. Letting David loose on these twenty-something, warm and eager, camp Counsellors is like putting fresh recruits into the hands of a drill sergeant at basic training. They’ll never be same again I’m sure.

So what’s the theological significance of all this?
The Spiritual discipline of “Letting go” comes to mind.
It’s not so hard for me. As the dad I’m all about pushing him out of the nest and testing his wings.

In the Hollywood version of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel (which truly earns the name – novel) “Slaughterhouse Five”, there’s a scene where four year old Billy Pilgrim is swept up in the arms of his big daddy. In the company of a bunch of good old boys at the spa, his dad tosses him into the deep end of the pool for the ol’ “sink or swim” ritual. The camera follows Billy sinking - arms and legs trailing his butt to the bottom.

David is hardly so placidly willing to accept whatever fate sends his way. But he does have a knack for dodging all expectations. He’s a chip off the old block that way. If there’s an expectation to be met, he’ll do his best to either disappoint or go in an unexpected direction.

Isn’t that a Godly trait?

While we love to sing about how dependable and steadfast our Maker is, I don’t remember too many lyrics that talk about how God continually fails to meet our expectations.

You might say that God is unpredictable. I wouldn’t. I would say that life is unpredictable. Which is what makes life both so fun and terrifying – kind of like going to camp for the first time. You’re pretty sure you’re gonna have some fun along the way - but you’re really not sure that you’re prepared for what’s around the next corner.

What can we depend on God to do when trouble comes? Will God send us a hero to dive into the pool after us? Maybe. Will God give us – at the last second always – the superhuman will to save ourselves? Maybe. Will God defy natural law and make the water disappear – or make us into a fish for a moment or two? Maybe. Or will fate, nature, evil, or human stupidity have it’s way with us?

A good friend of mine is in the Intensive Care Unit of the Lindsay Hospital right now. His pancreas is severely damaged. Diabetes has ravaged his body for years. Infections attack his extremitites. Last weekend his lungs filled with fluid, his kidneys shut down and his bowels stopped moving. The doctors told his wife to call in the family.

She not only called in the family, she called in the extended family. She called in the Jesus people they know who love to pray. When Carol and I showed up at the hospital, the room was full of prayer warriors. We took a turn on the front lines and stepped back when fresh recruits arrived.

A week later he’s still alive. Is it the expertise of the doctors and nurses that’s keeping him here? Definitely. Is it his superhuman will to live and love and endure some more? Definitely. Is it the thousands of prayers holding his soul to the earth like Lilliputian threads holding Gulliver to the ground? Definitely. Is it God’s will that he live or die?

God is life. God is the river of love moving through all of life. God is the opposite of death. God cannot be about death. God invites, implores, begs, entices, pulls, pushes, whispers and shouts us into more of what life has to offer.

“Will everything turn out okay God?”
“Depends what you mean by okay Al.”
“Well – y’know - like I want it to be – easy and safe and, and, and – uh - normal.”
“I’m not really into normal Al.”
“So, how will I know what to expect – what to depend on?”
“Expect only the unexpected. Depend only on me.”

How can I let go and let God when there’s all kinds of crap loose in this world? There’s hungry animals out there in the woods. There’s hurricanes and deep cold lakes. There’s unseeable deadly microbes and circumstances and accidents. There’s human nature - driven by hungers and appetites as wild as any beast in the jungle.

We sing “This is my Father’s world” and “He’s got the whole world in His hands”. But this world is pretty much the same as when God first went to work on it – it’s bloody chaotic.

As the old story – the first story – goes. Into the chaos comes life. Creative, powerful, vulnerable, subtle and eternally persistent. The Maker moves within this natural, good and evil, unpredictable universe. So how about a song that goes like this?

God is in the chaos
Unpredictable and unexpected
Turning normal into not
Redeeming freezing into hot

Never hope for what has been
Because what was - is gone
Keep your eyes on what’s at hand
Cause that’s where Jesus hides

Whatever will be – might be
Whatever must be – just ain’t
The only rule is loving-on
Moving in the Spirit’s wake

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