Friday, October 12, 2012

These are the days of Ever After

Life has perfect moments. Maybe you've forgotten? Take a moment and remember. If you stand on the edge of the cliff of all your experiences... you know you can remember some moments when life seemed simply perfect. Go back to those places and relive how you felt... can't you hear the sounds, breath deeply and smell the air, remember the swell of the emotion? Yes... you have had moments of perfection in your life.

How is it that we lose the magic of these days? You remember who you were with, and how you were aware of the tick tick of the clock. This snap-shot of time t holds your memory... and you wonder where it went. I am here to challenge you to the simple awareness that it has never left you. It has become a part of you. Rather than remember how it was... you now need to remember who it shaped you to become.

These moments are no mere happenstance. They exist to remind us daily of who we are, from where we have come, who we are to be, and who we belong too. These are the experiences that forever shape our being... our very core... yes, even our soul. These moments that your heart clings to... they are important to you because they define you.

These are the vulnerable pieces of your days that you let your guard down and faced the naked truth of who you are. What are your reactions to what you see? Like it or hate it... you are the sum of your experiences. And so... you are left with choices. What do you become from this point moving forward?

I can share with you a few perfect moments of my life:

When on a dare I made a phone call to a girl my senior year of high school and started a nervous conversation that had me taking deep breaths to keep from freaking out... and led to a first date at TGI Friday's on the river. I hung up the phone after she said "yes" with my heart pounding, my palms sweating, equally excited, terrified, and stunned! 

Or when I later took that girl to my high school prom in my dad's restored, immaculate, and non-operational air-conditioned 1977 Pontiac Grange Prix and stepped into the Manchester ballroom with my first date on my arm as every head turned in shock to see that Chad P. Shepherd was capable of getting a date!

And even later when we took late campus walks in the blustery evenings of fall, hand in hand and whispered about the limitless future that stretched ahead of us. Our limitations and fears would be born away with the gusts of leaves as our minds soared to talk of dreams of living, and seeing the world, and maybe someday adopting.

I remember that night that I picked her up in a navy blue stretch limo and we slid smoothly down the highway to the revolving restaurant overlooking Covington and Cincinnati as I proposed to this girl when our view was perfectly silhouetted by the scape of Cincinnati and the harp held us with sounds of the masters. I remember her eyes as the sparkled as she calmed my terror with the simplest word spoken again, "yes."

Our first apartment, our first dinner, our first pet, our first Christmas Tree, and 5 years into our marriage the birth of Caleb. I was so petrified and terrified and nervous and convinced that I would be a disaster of a father. I was so young, I was so incapable, so unworthy. And yet... he was so perfect. I pressed him against my chest in the quiet darkness that night and knew that all was well.

I remember sitting in the quiet of his room as the lullabies played and the crib lights danced on the ceiling. I would silently smile as tears rolled down my face. I had so many unanswered questions... I doubted who I was, the job I was working, my place in the world... and yet I knew that this quiet moment was magic and fairy tale perfect. I held to that moment and even now I can smell the baby lotion and feel the warmth blowing up from the register with a gentle air that rocket the mobile above his sleeping form. This girl that I had asked out on my first date, she had helped me paint giraffes and elephants on his walls. 

Years later we sat in a cold orphanage in Orekhovo-zuevo Russia and received our baby daughter, Aleksandra bundled up in a snow-suit with double hats. We held her tightly to our chests as we cried tears of unbelievable relief that this life had granted us this moment. This infant... abandoned in a critical care orphanage had found a home with us and rekindled hope for us all. Our little Zaychik as the head nurse called her... our little bunny.

And then the miracle repeated again as we sat in the state ministry in Beijing and were handed another small bundled baby girl... our "crazy and dangerous" Sterling. We lived in two weeks of bliss as we carried her up and down the streets of Beijing and navigated the socialist red tape required to land wheels down in Chicago and sign the papers for her to become not only our daughter, but also a U.S. Citizen.

But perfection also surrounds us in everyday... even now during these transitional days while we live with my parents... we are sharing some incredible evenings playing, laughing, and loving together as we all soak in every moment. And the wonder of life finds us in simple everyday gestures, such as in that moment that Sterling leans her head onto mine and says, "Dah-dad." Or Aleksandra snuggles up beside me and shows me her drawing of me and her fussing back and forth (she once drew me being eaten by a tiger). Or watching Caleb gently guide Sterling off a chair  and then read to her when he doesn't know anyone is watching. Or even simply coming home at the end of the day and seeing that the girl that once made me so nervous... is still willing to look up at me with those sparkling eyes and even now say, "yes."

These are the days of Ever After. I am aware of it intensely. I am not foolish. I know that tough times may come. I know this because every single one of those magic times listed above came alongside moments of difficulty, impossible odds, foolish decisions, personal failures, disappointment, and darkness. But... which part of the story do you remember from the fairy tale? The heat of the dragon's breath, or the thrill of the victory? We would not savor the happiness so much if we did not have the struggle to find it. I thank God for the struggles.

And now we are missionaries to Guatemala. And this also gives us magical moments, hand in hand with some sorrows, some fears, and some harsh realities.

I met with my Mammaw and Pop today. They are the most cherished people in the world to me. I know them intensely, and they know every fiber of my being. We prayed together and we talked of the years gone by. They told me of their parents, of raising their children, of seeing their friends pass away... and then my Pop leaned close, grabbed my hand with surprising strength, and stared deep into me with his cloudy and somehow glistening eyes as he told me, 

"When you leave for Guatemala it will be the last time we see each other. I am old, I am not long for this world. I will die while you are gone." 

For the briefest of moments I thought I might be strong and so I opened my mouth to speak, only to find that my lungs exploded, forcing air from my mouth in gasps and water from my eyes as I could only whisper... "We will all unite at the throne of God and sing together again." I told him that I wanted him to know that he and Mammaw go with us, because the good and the God that was in their lives had been poured into mine, and that where I go, and what I do... is just an extension of what they have given to me.

Do you know the treasure you have at your fingertips? Open your eyes and see the blessings that God has placed before you. Recognize them and then know that all that He has to give you is even far greater. All of these moments in our lives that make our souls sing... are simply brief reflections of His face in a mirror that is mostly clouded over. 

There is more to this life than living and dying. 
Embrace it. Find your truth. 

Know where you've come from.
Know who you are.
Know where you are going.
Know whose you are.
Live it daily... life isn't to be achieved, it is simply to be pursued.  

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 
let us lay aside every weight, 
and the sin which so easily ensnares us, 
and let us run with endurance 
the race that is set before us... 
~Hebrews, Chapter 1

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