Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nicodemus finally gets it

We drove the thirty hours straight to Florida. Twelve year old David. Twenty year old Alana. Mom and Dad. It was June 2008. It was our last family trip together. We were off to see the Wizard – a crazy Canadian faith healer on a ninety day binge of doing god’s wonders. 
Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.

“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak.

You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”

Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?
The Message: John 3:5

I am Nicodemus. I don’t get it. I don’t get why god would choose to heal our son in Florida instead of Toronto. I don’t get why god would heal him and not all children with Autism? I don’t believe it’s about being good enough to deserve a healing. And I don’t think it’s about just having enough faith.

But still – there is a mystery at work. Friends have been touched and found healing in such experiences. So, I suspend my disbelief and get in the car.

Call it a Leap of Faith.
Call it a Pilgrimage.
Call it a desperate attempt to cure what was ailing at the heart of our family.

Statistics tell us that the birth of a disabled child is a recipe for marriage break-up. But Carol and I already had a couple of strikes against us before David was born.

Right from the start we walked at different speeds. One of us would always need to adjust their gait to accommodate the other.

Going to the Airport Church was one such accommodation. I would go and do my best to suspend judgment, to enter into the spirit of it, to appreciate what god was doing.

But I was mostly sitting on the edge of the pool dangling my feet in those waters. Sometimes I would get in and splash around but always in the shallow end – my toes never leaving the bottom for long.

That’s the way it was with David and swimming lessons. I took him summer after summer to local lakes around Fenelon Falls. Instructors would use all their skill and coaxing to get him to take off through the water. But he would defy all efforts.

David loves the water. He would splash and spin and blow bubbles and do what the instructors wanted – a bit – but just never enough to lift his feet off the bottom and swim.

So it was with all the different therapies we tried with David. We educated ourselves about Autism and tried them out. David would make some progress and we would get excited – and then he would regress – three steps forward – four steps back.  The hopes that our son might escape the clutches of this disorder that bottled up his bright light were dashed again and again.

But hope is a powerful tonic. When your heart is already broken open, the soil is fertile for seeds to take root. When all of your questions fall to the ground unanswered like rain, something green sprouts in those days when the sun comes out.

Something wild. Something beyond. Some thing at work in the world that I can’t explain or even explain away. 

Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life…

When we get to Florida – the healer has run out of steam. He’s taking a break. Story of my life – “You should been here an hour ago. You should have been here last year. You should have been here when…” I’m always missing the wave it seems.

But the circus continues without the big cheese. The focus is on Jesus after all and there’s lots of others ready to take the stage and keep things going. We enter in and swim around. Join in the excitement of this “new thing” that is emerging. The preacher talks about how what is happening here is so much bigger than our small ideas of church and denominations and theologies.

I can dig that. That is a party I can join in. From back in the cheap seats where we’ve parked David’s special stroller, I get into the worship. I raise my hands in a Tai Chi stance and let the waves of electricity flow through my body. There’s a power present that I’m tapping into.

Then there’s a tap on my shoulder. I open my eyes to see a young man with black hair, an olive complexion, a neatly trimmed beard, and bright eyes looking up at me.

“what’s wrong with your son?” he asks. I tell him.
“would you like me to pray for him?” he offers. I look at Carol and she nods. So, with the demeanor of a waiter in a fine restaurant uncorking a bottle – he goes to work.

“I’m Samuel” he tells us. He takes out a small vial of oil, gives me a whiff of it, and then anoints each of us with a small dab on our foreheads. Then he anoints David who’s not sure of this stranger. His parents take hold of his hands and, with our assurance he calms down, and lets Samuel pray over him.

It was short and simple and then he was gone. I loved how it happened. Not up front. Not on display. But Samuel came to us, found us, and offered us the gift with a quiet confidence and humble dignity.

It was only after he left that I made the connection. Carol saw my grin grow and the tears on my cheeks, and gave me a quizzical look.
 “Samuel has just anointed David” I explained. She smiled and nodded.

David didn’t start talking or singing or anything. He didn’t seem any different at all as we headed back to the motel. But we’d had a moment and it had touched us and we held it close in our hearts.


Next morning David and I head off to the motel pool for a splash. David’s in the lead and I’m surprised when he marches right past the shallow end and climbs down into the deep end. Before I have a chance to say anything or jump in – he pushes off from the side and paddles all the way across to the other side.

I’m standing there with my mouth open just watching. He pushes off again from the far side, spins like a dolphin, ducks under and bobs up to the surface with a big smile. He’s floating – relaxed and free and happy.

Something shifted for David that day. From somewhere he’d discovered the trust he needed to let go.

Something shifted for me that day too. From somewhere I discovered the trust I needed to let go of my grip on the pool’s edge, to lift my feet from the bottom and just float.

What happened was not what I expected. Letting go of what I was sure was my true security meant that I was swept out of the four corners of the pool and down river. The four walls that I called home -that held my life together – I thought - was left behind.

There were moments of great elation and freedom. There were moments of panic and pain as I tumbled over rocks and rapids swallowing water and thrashing about. There were friends on the shore who had swam those waters before me. Their calls of encouragement helped as I slowly relaxed and learned to trust that the air in my lungs, the spirit I breathed, was enough to buoy me.

David and I swim most weekends now. There’s no instructor. There’s no number of laps we achieve. We float. We dive. We play. David’s got this style of thrashing about so that newcomers to the pool think he’s drowning. I love watching their faces go from alarm to surprise when David finishes his duck and spin and ends up in a calm float - Nicodemus on his back watching and learning close by.

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