About the same time we began forming an intentional community our third son was born with some hard of hearing issues. At the cost of $1500 each we got him hearing aids and worked to diligently keep them on him. Funny thing is it’s really REALLY hard to keep hearing aids on a baby. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the main one is that he likes to tear them out of his ears, suck on them for a while, pull them to pieces, and then throw them over his shoulder.
Despite all the glorious but difficult life choices we are making these days, few of these rival losing his very expensive hearing aids. For example, we are playing at the school park and a hearing aid goes missing. We search and search and search. The sun is setting. I can barely see now. I’m devastated and angry. Some children are helping me search. As I’m ready to give up a boy says, “Have you looked near the slide?” I think it’s an odd question, but I’m desperate and verging on despair so I stop what I’m doing and go look there. I bend down ,push some wood chip aside, and there is the hearing aid. I go home, tell Atarah the disturbing and miraculous tale, and thank God for his provision and help.
It isn't long before it happens again. We are in Bend, Oregon with family about ready to head back to KFalls and a hearing aid goes missing. We tear apart my parents emaculate house. Everyone checks their clothes closely. No hearing aid. The children are growing very tired and it's time to go home. We have little choice but to leave without the aid. To say we are pissed is an immense understatement. We feel shame, frustration and helpless in the face of what feels like an impossibly unfair situation.
The next morning just before I call the doc to get a new aid, my dad calls from Portland to say that in the dark this morning he kicked something on the garage floor, bent down to see what it was, and found a hearing aid. Again we are perplexed at the impossibility of the hearing aid being found in Portland, but very thankful and amazed.
One afternoon we also lost a hearing aid in the middle of a huge parking lot. The next morning cursing myself under my breath I hopelessly go to look for it. It was really just a mechanical act. I knew I'd regret not looking, but I thoroughly believed it was lost or smashed to pieces under someone's tire. It was totally my fault this time so I was feeling such shame and loneliness. Under the load of all these trials I saw myself as a hopeless cause.
As I drive to look, in the midst of my self-flagellation, I hear God say "Don't worry, my son. I have everything under control...and I'm smiling." In the midst of my pain I feel his peace cover me. I get there and begin walking toward the spot we had parked the car yesterday. As I'm getting closer I see something in the middle of the road that could possibly be an aid, but, seriously, I shrug it off because it is too much to believe. I get closer and I'm doing double and triple takes, squinting my eyes to see better, shaking my head to make sure I'm not just dreaming that I'm seeing an intact hearing aid. I pick it up and test it. It survived rush hour traffic...in the middle of the parking lot.
I can't shake this feeling that God is trying to speak profoundly. "Don't worry. I see you. In all your difficulty and pain I'm present. And I'm going to prove it to you again and again. I'm smiling."
The next time we lost a hearing aid I was willing to trust and I wasn't disappointed. The sun was setting as I'm searching another park. I give up again in frustration yet I really suspect God will surprise us. On the way home I find the most expensive part of the aid! The next morning we are about to jump in the car to go get the cheaper part and Chris, my eldest son, says "Hey Dad, here's the rest of the hearing aid on the ground."
The message is clear. "Trust me in this radical thing you're doing. You long to see God's Family form, keep believing it will. Love with all your heart. Hold hope tightly. Let your faith soar with the birds. I am here...smiling!"
I'm thankful that God spoke so deeply, because just after this was when we experienced the greatest blow from this experiment that we have had yet. When it came we were crushed and angry. We felt hurt and betrayed. We questioned how it was possible to go forward.
We had created a culture of hospitality in our house that couldn't just end. We genuinely care for the children and people of our neighborhood, but we pulled back to enable us to rest a bit. We circled the wagons and asked questions about what next. Interestingly, we stopped losing the hearing aids. Agonizingly, we began questioning if our search for God's Family might be leading us other places.
About three months later, I have some children in the house and it's a bit wilder than I like, but I know it will end soon enough. After I send everyone home I notice that one of Stephen's hearing aids is missing. No big deal. It had to be in the living room. We searched and searched tearing the place apart. No aid. It seemed impossible that we could lose it in our living room when we had found it in parks, a supermarket parking lot, and somewhere between KFalls and Portland! No big deal. We always find the aids. It's part of the promise. It wasn't long before four weeks had lapsed and it was still missing.
Secretly, I thought it was a sign. "Son, you don’t have to do this anymore. You wanted to be part of God's Family in KFalls, but it didn't work. It's time to let go.” I had come to trust the message of God through these aids so thoroughly I really felt this. After all, finding these aids was causing me to dream of absurd grace for our family and Mills, the kind we are only fleetingly willing to believe in. It is one thing to read God promising faithfulness in the Bible (even to read it again and again and again), but it's totally different when you hold a promise in your hand. Those aids were the pledge of God that I wasn't a fool, dragging my family and our neighbors into the lost cause of deeper hope and love.
Two weeks later, on the day I’m scheduled to pick up the new aid we realize we want something out of a box in the living room. It's full of newspapers we don’t pay much attention to, but that day for some reason we wanted something from it. So just moments before I go to get the new aid I search the box...and inside I find the lost hearing aid.
Today, we are working to practice our faith in very small and unnoticeable ways. We have no buildings, but our house. No banners, just little garden plots. There aren’t many of us, but we do have friends all across the neighborhood, in our city, and other surprising places who we care for and who we can sense care for us.
This is a hard neighborhood to live in. When people can afford another place to live they usually move on. Children frequently ask me, with a look that pleads for stability, "Are you gonna stay?"
As I hold these hearing aids in my hand, the same hearing aids that I've lost and found all over this state(!), I think deeply about what it means to receive a promise from God.
In Christine Pohl's Living into Community she writes that families are created through promises. In our culture this promising often culminates with two people coming together with a new hope that lasting love is possible. "Until death do us part.”
Yet in the New Testament, God as usual is amping it up by forming a new family that we see only shadows of in the nuclear family. God's Family begins with a vow, a promise, from God himself. "I will never leave you and you will see me most clearly in every brother, sister and neighbor who is hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned or lost." It is the banqueting feast where all are welcome as they are and at the head of the table is the Server himself, God our Father. It is the community that holds the pain of its brothers, sisters and neighbors and at its center is the Son bearing and sharing that pain, showing what it means to suffer for love's sake. It is the one place where at the greatest point of our irreconcilable brokenness and failure the absurdity of resurrection breaks forth and draws us towards an impossible joy, a peace that passes all understanding and a hope that never departs.
Lately, I've been feeling so tired and beat. Yet I can't shake this feeling that there is this great and beautiful sunrise that is about to break forth. I look around at my imperfect life and I see sun rays peeking over the roof tops in Mills. God is chasing us all with a vow! ...And He’s smiling!