Behold your son: Walter Wittwer [Retrieve Lament]

(You can read all of this week's stories of lament here.)

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament I'll be sharing here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing now through Holy Saturday. Their lives walk the path of celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. Today's guest, Walter, and his wife, Karen, have become dear to Brian and me since our move to Connecticut almost two years ago. Walter's love for God and for people makes me glad to be a Christian. 

Would you read Walter's story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

    In Memory of My Mother, 1969  by Minas Avetisyan (image of the artist's parents at the foot of the cross) ( Source )

 

In Memory of My Mother, 1969 by Minas Avetisyan (image of the artist's parents at the foot of the cross) (Source)

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
— John 19:26-27 (ESV)

A father's blessing

by Walter Wittwer

 

I have often lamented never receiving my father’s blessing. He was not the blessing type, yet he had a son who coveted a blessing from dad.

Not always. There was a time I did not know what a blessing was, never mind a father’s blessing. And even if I knew about it, I would not have wanted one from my father. I did not like him, and I felt he did not like me. In fact, I came to hate him.

When I understood blessings and curses, that they were, what they were, I believed I had been cursed, but never blessed. I had always lived with an empty ache and filled it with alcohol and drugs and sex and shame and arrogance and anything, but like a bucket full of holes, I remained empty, and the emptiness seemed to get bigger. I felt cursed, not blessed.

I met Jesus along my way and saw that He was blessed by His Father. I saw Abraham and Isaac and Jacob bless their children, not always well, but a blessing just the same. A blessing seemed to speak connection.

I have often felt adopted, but not in the good way of being chosen, but in the bad way of being left. Left and a burden, not living up to my potential, or someone’s potential. A disappointment. I was to be the golden boy, the boy of promise, the boy sent to college to become something. But not becoming whatever it was I was to become.

As conscientious objector my father disowned me. I was an idiot for not pursuing engineering. When I foolishly asked why dad never said anything nice about me, he said, “There isn’t anything nice to say about you!”

I worked hard. I always performed. I tried and tried, juggling, dancing, aching for approval, from anyone and everyone. I thought if I get enough love from others, I would be filled and could rest from achieving. But other’s praise never filled me for long. The holes in my bucket kept me empty.

When I became a Christian, I received my heavenly Father’s blessing and thought that now I could rest. But strangely, I could not. I transferred my driven-ness to showing Him that I was worth something. I struggle accepting God’s blessing when I can’t get my father’s. I don’t know why. I know my father never got a blessing from his father so what would he know about giving his son a blessing? And that saddens me as well.

There is something about generational blessing that I think is important. It is a way of passing on something mystical, a deep calling another deep, a spiritual DNA of sorts. I believe all parents should bless their children and, at the proper time, all children should bless their parents. I took it upon myself to bless him whenever I saw him. I secretly hoped that he would bless me in return. And perhaps he has. As I write this, I wonder if perhaps he has. Blessings have a way of boomeranging.

And now he is dead. He left a few days ago. He did once say he loved me. That will have to suffice. The holes in my bucket still leak but repairs are underway.

The question is will I ever not lament? How do I not lament my childhood’s lack of fatherly affection? No memory of throwing a baseball around on a summer evening or a football on an autumn Saturday. My father worked hard to provide the basics, so he was usually busy. Perhaps that was why he was also usually angry. I have forgiven him for the missing time together and the anger, but that doesn’t change the lament of my child-memory.

And like father, like son, I mourn my own lack of availability to my siblings. I was the older brother, but I was too cool to hang out with my little brother and my sister was, well, a girl. I cannot regain the status of the good older brother. This is sad and will always be sad.

Forgiveness does not change the lament. The past cannot be relived. Forgiven sins are still sins committed. Even if totally erased, the gaps are left as reminders. It is hard to live in chronological time.

I try to do better now, with my kids, with my wife, with those around me. But I am not perfect. Each day brings new laments: I should have done this, I shouldn’t have done that, I wish I had said this and not that. Do laments ever end?

Jesus lamented. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mat.23:37) Perhaps lamenting is both human and godly?

I do not mean here to live in the past. It has become as much imagination as is the future. In fact, being present in each moment, as God is (after all, His Name is I AM), leaves the least room for new lamentations to be caused by me.

But lamentations will always be because they are at the foot of the cross. This is where I lay them, and this is where I find them. At the foot of the cross is where they will always be because that’s why Jesus died. In His forgiveness, in His redemption, in the salvation His cross bought me, I am shed of my self, I am relieved of my heart of stone and given a heart of flesh, and it is in this heart that I lament.

He knows the tears I’ve cried for the lack of positive childhood memories, for the shame I carried and caused, for the days lost to alcohol and drugs. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Ps.56:8)

So, I will never not lament, but that’s ok. That’s as it should be. The paradox is that, even though at the foot of the cross I find my laments, it is there that I also find my greatest joy. I can’t explain it. It is a mystery. And I’m starting to think that mysteries are always true.


Walter Wittwer.JPG

Immigrant at 5, alcoholic and drug abuser at 13, atheist at 19, clean and sober at 31, married at 33, father at 35 and 37, divorced at 41, happily remarried at 46, and orphaned at 67. Vocationally involved with people with developmental disabilities, and avocationally with prisoners and post abortive men. My life has turned into a miracle still happening and my relationship with God continues to grow in intimacy.

Walter lives in Norwalk, CT with his wife, Karen, and his Airedale Terrier, Rosy. You can read about his journey as a chaplain, prison minister, reader of good books, and writer of poetry at his blog ChainsGone.com


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent.
Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.
That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(You can read all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here.)

What's one of the most lavish meals you've ever experienced?

An amazing breakfast - smoked salmon and eggs on Irish toast with freshly-squeezed orange juice and homemade scones - at our splurge hotel in Ireland (Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co. Waterford)

An amazing breakfast - smoked salmon and eggs on Irish toast with freshly-squeezed orange juice and homemade scones - at our splurge hotel in Ireland (Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co. Waterford)

I'm thinking about feasting this week.  You too?  Probably the fall, and the anticipation for festive get-togethers around the calendar corner.  

I'm thinking about feasting because in a few days I have an essay going out into the world at one of my favorite sites.  A place that values feasting and hospitality and the sacramental life.  (I can't wait to share the story of me and my new curmudgeon monk friend in a couple of days!)

I'm thinking about feasting because I stumbled on a gorgeous television series that makes a cinematic artform out of food preparation.  I have never (and maybe will never this side of Heaven) be able to afford the lavishness of the feasts these genius chefs create.  For now, I'm completely satisfied to imagine the taste and smell through the skillfully directed camera lens.

Chef's Table reminds me of another favorite reality foodie show our friends Shaun and Katie introduced to us last year.  I'm not a foodie and have barely ever travelled out of the U.S. and still found myself weeping during some of these food and culture stories.  Also: Phil Rosenthal is a precious man, don't you think?

The conversations about feasting always remind me of my favorite foodie movie of all time.  You want to talk about the reality of the Gospel found in food?  Watch this movie and give thanks.

I was talking with a dear new friend yesterday, and told her my conversation starter for the week.  She told me a sweet, sweet story of a meal she and her husband enjoyed with friends in a fabulous NYC restaurant just before having children.  She joked that sometimes we get a bit super spiritual answering these sorts of questions.  When I asked if she'd reply with her story when I posted the question on the Facebook page, she teased that she'd probably give the "spiritual" answer which, obviously, involves the Eucharist.  I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

Fair enough:  let's keep clear that our so-called spiritual and secular lives are a seamless garment. After all, that's the whole point behind the term "sacramental life".  Ordinary, visible things making plain the invisible graces carrying us through the present world.  

Which reminds me of something my friend Laurel commented on the Facebook page yesterday.  She mentioned some good feasting memories that were a lot about the quality of the food.  Then she mentioned a memory where the food was only a side dish to the unforgettable scenery.

 I have some great memories like that, as well.  And I've added a whole new cache of memory from our trip to Ireland this past summer.  And they don't replace some of the simpler meal memories of eating pondside with my family at my grandparents' little cottage. Or the time, mid-July, Brian and I grilled steaks for a dozen family members while we all floated on a motorized raft across an Adirondack lake. Or the time my friends feasted with both food and art for my 38th birthday.  

Feasting of any sort is pure gift, don't you think?

 What memories do you have of the best-tasting meals of your life?  

I'm listening.

If you could talk to the world right now

Photo taken by  Christine Smith  at Laity Lodge a few years back.

Photo taken by Christine Smith at Laity Lodge a few years back.

I've had more opportunities to stand in front of a microphone than most. With all the opportunities, I'm not sure I've ever done it especially well.  I far prefer to share a give-and-take conversation or in printed words we exchange back and forth.  Still, there are times I've been invited to speak:  everything from sales training sessions to church group testimonies to that time I was a television news anchorwoman in fifth grade.  (It's true. I promise.)

The question I'm asking this week could be read a couple of different ways.  On any given day, we each have topics churning around in our brain.  Like: I'm wondering if anyone else watched old episodes of the West Wing last night instead of the first presidential debate?  I have some opinions on that subject, for damn sure.

I'm also pondering and praying on many thoughts about how we in the Church address race issues in the United States.  I occasionally blurt stuff out on social media on this subject, and continue to be humbled by my lack of understanding on the complexities of the subject.

I'd like to shout a few lines of glee out into the world about watching autumn in New England unfold bit by bit each day.  And that I have a fat, ripe spaghetti squash sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting for me to skillfully address it with a fresh tomato sauce.  

This week's conversation prompt could be answered by any of these subjects.  And each day my social media archive reminds me a whole plethora of topics I've needed to get off my chest to whomever is listening on the other side of my keyboard.  Millions of you are doing the same.

I'd rather talk this week, though, about the essence of your message into the world.  If you could sum up what most interests you, what subject you value the most to speak into the world, what would that sound like?  What words would you choose?  If some cosmic microphone rose up from the floor right in front of you this moment, and you knew you had the world's attention, what would you want to say?  (Let's pretend you'd be perfectly eloquent and not terrified at all for this scenario, ok?)

If the words had to be uniquely  yours, what ones would you choose?  Now, I feel rather strongly that I'd be compelled to include a few lines of poetry.  I guess that's allowed for this little hypothetical scenario.  But the bulk of the words, the tone, the subject, the motivation and meaning must come from you.  

What would you say?

Here's how I answered the question on the Facebook post this morning:

I would try to say concisely that we are all recipients of the good gift of life, but that we spoil the gift when we consume it solely for our own purposes and ideals. That we need each other collectively to live from our truest selves (which I believe we can only finally discover through the lens of a redeeming Christ as sent by our Creator God). Every single failure, oppressive system, offense, handicap, shortcoming, flaw and frailty that stops us from accessing the good gift of our own true selves for the sake of living a life for others can be transformed into a Spirit-energized force for good.

Maybe your words would be more topical?  Maybe you've walked through life with a gigantic Issue affecting everything you do or experience; an issue that you wish the world understood through your viewpoint?  That would be good for us to hear.  Or maybe, like me, it's a collection of things summed up under a specific category of experience?  Maybe you'd add a few jokes or a multi-media presentation?

What would you want us to understand better because we listened to your words?  

I'm listening.


15-minutes-to-address-the-world.png

Retrieve Lament: a mourning story from Nancy Linenschmidt

Each year during Holy Week, I ask friends to share a mourning story from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. My friend Nancy tells our first story this year. We've gone to church together for almost 5 years, but it wasn't until we were on a ministry retreat a few weeks ago, that I heard about Nancy's friend Liz.  I knew this story belonged in our blog series this year. May we all receive the ministry of Liz's suffering grace.

“You have cancer,” my friend Liz was told by her physician in October 1996.

 The suspicious lump was indeed malignant, and suddenly Liz found herself thrust into the dreaded world of the cancer patient.  A world of anxiety, uncertainty and fear.  A world of hospitals, surgeries and chemotherapy.  A world of waiting, wondering and wigs.  My independent, vibrant, elementary school art teacher friend who was following hard after Jesus was embarking on what would become a seventeen month journey of both sorrow and joy, of pain and pleasure, of fear and peace.

I, too, was beginning a journey to a place I’d never been before.  It was a journey alongside my friend into the unknown world of the terminal cancer supporter.  It was a journey that raised fear in my heart.  It was a journey that was full of tears and treasures, of both heartache and hope.

UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS

Liz was hospitalized in November 1997 to have lung surgery.  The prolonged radiation treatments had caused fluid to build up on her lung, and surgery was indicated to correct the problem.  She was hospitalized in the medical complex where I worked at the time, so I took advantage of my lunch breaks to visit Liz and her Mom while they were there. I’ll never forget visiting her in the Intensive Care Unit the day after her surgery.  “It’s the right thing to do, probably more for her Mom than for Liz,” I convinced myself.  “But don’t wear her out by staying more than a few minutes.”  I found Liz sitting in a surgical chair at the bedside, groggy from the anesthesia and in pain from the surgical wound and the chest tube in her side. She smiled warmly at me when I entered, her smile crooked from the dry mucous membranes. She reached out her weak hand, tender from the IV taped to it, to hold mine and look me in the eye. We chatted and even laughed.  During the few minutes I was there, she drifted in and out of the conversation. As I left, she smiled again, thanked me for coming, and said with all sincerity as she often did, “God bless you.”

Those few minutes are still so vivid in my mind.  They were remarkable minutes.  I had gone into that room with hopes of being a source of encouragement and love.  Yet, I left as the one who had been loved and encouraged.  Amazing.  Amazing love.  “How can it be that my heart feels lifted?” I asked myself. Because I saw the love of God in a new way through my suffering friend.

Some few weeks later in Liz’s home, another unexpected blessing occurred.  Her condition had worsened, and desiring to minister to her, our singles pastor called together a group of friends to meet at Liz’s home and pray for her.  

After the dozen of us gathered, Neil led us in a time of worship, using a Psalm to focus our attention on the attributes of God – His love, His presence and His goodness.  Since not everyone knew Liz well, she recalled the recent events surrounding her treatment, her condition and her hospitalization.  She then gave what I have come to call her “soliloquy of grace.” She said that over the 13 months since her diagnosis, she had never felt alone.  She felt loved in a deeper way than she had ever experienced before.  Ever, in her whole life.  

She recalled the countless expressions of love she had received – cards, letters, telephone calls, meals, a maid service, people showing up to plant pansies in her yard, to put a fresh coat of paint on her white picket fence, to decorate her house for Christmas, the student who had given her a lamb beanie baby, symbolizing her favorite passage of Scripture, the 23rd Psalm.  She spoke of feeling “fortified” (she often used that word) by all the prayers.  And then she dropped the golden nugget.  She said, “On the outside my body is deteriorating, but on the inside my spirit is blooming.” (2 Cor 4:16) Neil ended the evening by leading us in a time of prayer for Liz.  Among other things, we prayed for her healing.

That evening is still so vivid in my mind. It was a remarkable evening.  I had gone into her home with hopes of being a source of encouragement and love.  Yet, I left as the one who had been loved and encouraged. Amazing.  Amazing love.  “How can it be that my heart feels lifted?” I asked myself. Because I saw the goodness of God in a new way through my suffering friend.

WHAT ABOUT DEATH?

As I saw how peaceful and joyful Liz remained despite the hardships associated with her illness and its treatment, I began to wonder, “Is she in denial about the seriousness of her condition, or is it that she is experiencing God’s grace in a way that I just can’t appreciate?” One Friday after work in February 1998, I arranged with Liz to stop by for a visit.  The first hour we caught up on life in general. It had been some time since we’d been together one-on-one.

Then the subject changed to more serious matters.  We began to discuss the question: We are all praying that God will heal her.  That is our heart’s desire.  But suppose the Lord doesn’t intervene and heal her as we have asked Him to, but rather allows her to continue on this course?  What is she feeling about that?  She openly and willingly verbalized two thoughts.  First, she made it clear that healing was still the desire of her heart. There was so much more she wanted to do. Then she said that although she is not afraid of death, she had two fears about it.  She wondered if it would be painful; she wanted it to come quickly. And she was concerned about the hardship it would be on her family – her elderly parents, her sister, three brothers, nieces and nephews.  Through tears, she said again that she felt so loved. As I was leaving, I expressed concern for keeping her for so long. She smiled and said that it felt good to talk about it.

That Friday afternoon visit with Liz is still so vivid in my mind.  It was a remarkable afternoon. I had gone to her home with hopes of being a source of encouragement and love.  Yet, I left as the one who had been loved and encouraged.  Yes, I left as the one who had been loved and encouraged. 

Amazing.  Amazing love.  “How can it be that my heart feels lifted?” I asked myself. I saw the goodness of God in a new way through my suffering friend.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. (

2 Corinthians 12:9)

A VALUE IN SUFFERING

In January 1998 some of Liz’s teacher friends came up with the idea of developing a community-wide event to show their appreciation and support for Liz. The Liz Beighley

Art Run was born.  Since Liz taught art, and the race was scheduled to occur during Youth Art Month, the run became part of the annual Art Festival. The idea grew, and soon it was a full-fledged race with brochures, T-shirts, race awards, corporate sponsors, and a web site.  It involved students, teachers, parents, community members and friends. 

As race day approached, Liz’s condition continued to deteriorate. Her participation became doubtful. She died peacefully on Monday, March 2, just 5 days before the race. Out of town family and friends gathered for the funeral on Friday, March 4, and many stayed over for race day.

Those planning the event had hoped for 500 to 1000 participants. Over 1600 people turned out to show support for Liz and her family. Along the 3-mile race route, people had decorated their mailboxes with pink balloons and put signs of support in their yards. Neighbors sat out in their yards together and watched the people run by. I heard colleagues speak of the courage and faith Liz exhibited, of her loving spirit that reaches out to all with whom she comes in contact. They spoke of her dependence on God to carry her through each day, and how her strength, faith and testimony are so real and have touched the lives of so many people. 

There was value in Liz’s suffering.

Her suffering:

Brought glory to God,That the works of God might be displayed;
Gave evidence of her faith in God;
Showed the love and compassion of God;
Promoted ministry within the body;
Helped us realize our dependence on God.

This is really a story of how a dying friend ministered to me.

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Nancy is a retired healthcare professional (nurse), Stephen minister, friend, wife, sister, aunt, outdoor enthusiast and daughter of her Lord Jesus Christ.

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I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days. Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that Christ suffers until the end of the world. As we welcome each other's stories, we welcome the Suffering Servant himself.

......

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here)

Retrieve Lament: Paul Van Allen (Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.)

"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent.  
Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.  
That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted." 

             -- Ranier Maria Rilke, from Requiem For A Friend

Each year during Holy Week I ask friends to share a "mourning story" from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. Each story reflects on one phrase of Jesus' dying words. We have only just begun to know the Van Allen family.  I'm so glad that we entered each other's lives in time to wait for Henri together.  May his brave life remind us all that in the "wild uncontrollable adventure of being born", what have any of us to but to commit ourselves into the hands of often hard to see -- but never distant -- Father.



Waiting for Henri

I find Jesus very easy to follow in theory.  Its when he wants to go somewhere specific that I start having problems.

December 2nd, 5am: I’m inexplicably unable to sleep and find myself reading The Road to Daybreak by Henri Nouwen.  He talks of God’s call on him to leave the intellectually stimulating environment as a professor at Harvard Divinity School to go and live in a community of disabled people.  He describes himself as going “kicking and screaming.”  The coffee and the unusual silence of our house help the words slow down a little.
December 2nd, 4pm:  We receive a phone call from the birthing center saying that the genetic test results for our expectant baby boy just came in and we needed to “come in immediately” to talk about the results.  We knew immediately that this means Downs Syndrome.
We have two beautiful daughters Ava (7) and Layla (6).  Layla came into the world without any observable trauma and yet an MRI when she was three showed damage on both sides of her brain.  She is considered intellectually disabled and speech impaired.  Her disability meant the end of our life in China, our home for the previous 11 years.  The cost and the blessing of Layla frame the news we receive.
In the movie The Green Berets John Wayne is a seasoned Colonel leading missions in the Vietnam war.  In a scene boarding an airplane preparing for a parachute mission John Wayne comments “Colonel Kai you haven’t said a word all night.”  “You know why?” interjects a third officer.  “He’s never jumped before.”   “Oh, first one’s easy” John Wayne responds.   “Its the second one that’s hard to get ‘em to make.”
This is our second jump.  Our minds are a rush of resetting expectations.  The amount of diapers we will need to buy probably just tripled.  The decimal point on medical bills moves to the right.  I see a fork stuck in the hope that we will ever return to our globe trotting international life.
December 2nd, 8pm  we have tickets to Handel’s Messiah.  We keep our babysitting and our plans to go.  The tenor sings “Comfort ye my people…prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  This is getting a little too real.    I feel my soul kicking and screaming.   I sense that this is one of those points where my expectations that Jesus follow me are exposed and He puts the original offer back on the table.  “Follow me,” I hear Him say.
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March 31, 15 days before Henri's arrival
Waves of apprehension and anticipation are swelling each day closer to your arrival (scheduled for April 15th!).  As I take time in the early mornings to consider your coming I can’t help but wonder if I’m ready to welcome you with grace.  C.S. Lewis talked about the stresses in our lives that turn the lights on in our basements and expose the rats of sin…our grossest moments.  I’m looking forward to meeting you Henri but wondering if I’m ready to meet myself in the context of your needs and a deprivation of sleep.
I wonder too what you are getting yourself into.  In God’s mysterious and inexplicable ways he has taken mine and your mother’s broken DNA and woven in an extra copy of the 23rd chromosome into you.  The grief that that news brought us has been gradually replaced with expectation of blessing.  The stories that surround different boys, girls, men, and women with Down Syndrome that have come our way since your diagnosis have been consistently stories of childlike and irreplaceable joy.  Life has its costs and its benefits and the thing about believing in God is that we look with faith for surpassing blessing.  Life is not a zero sum game for those who love God.
Our life before kids and for a few years after your sisters came was marked by adventure and global travel.  That phase of life seems to have come to a screeching halt, and yet as I wait for you I sense an adventure coming much greater than the mountain roads of the Karakoram or island hopping in Indonesia.  G.K. Chesterton called out the shallow sentiment of the adventurer who elevated tiger hunting in India which was a chosen and somewhat controlled adventure to the wild uncontrollable adventure of being born:
“There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”
Henri, I can’t wait for you to be born and to share life with you.  I hope you will learn to like baseball and Chinese food.  I’d warn you about your crazy sisters and the love they are getting ready to smother you with but you’ll figure it all out in time.  When we pass the peace in church my favorite part is reaching down to your mother’s tummy and saying “Peace of Christ” to you.   You are most welcome to our family be it fairy-tale or misadventure. There is a Storyteller at work who is hard to see but who does not stand at a distance.  
Peace of Christ to you, Henri.


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Paul Van Allen and his wife Lisa live in an uncool neighborhood in Austin, Texas where they are waiting for Henri along with Ava (7) and Layla (6). They moved home from Asia in 2012 after their younger daughter was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Paul studied theology, speaks Mandarin, loves Texas skies, Austin cuisine, and his local Anglican church. he is tinkering with a new blog at www.hardbreakfast.com


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Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.