May your unfailing love be my comfort…(Psalm 119:76)
Last night, they sat in the chair together, a boy and his dad. For years, Kevin’s lap has been the place where Adam finds the most comfort. In his most terrible moments, when he cries so hard he gasps for air, this is the place he remembers how to breathe, wrapped tightly in his father’s arms.
But Adam forgets.
And last night, he whimpered as he settled into the crook of that solid elbow. He shifted uneasily. He wanted to be upstairs. He likes predictable things—numbers; math; calculators; problems he’s solved multiple times, always arriving at the same solution; the Curious George audio book he plays on repeat. He likes to listen to the same few bars of the songs on his Ipod, over and over. He has memorized the time stamp for the phrases he favors, and he plays them like a mix, as though they say something the rest of us can’t hear. Under his breath, he mimics familiar sounds, sensory landmarks that reassure. He finds comfort in things staying the same—the same thing for breakfast everyday, three eggs scrambled, three pieces of toast; the same seat in the van; the same questions, always requiring the same memorized answers.
He could easily get lost forever in his routines, his obsessions, the things he looks to for comfort. If we let him.
Kevin draws Adam away from his room, his numbers, the monotonous narrating of Curious George Rides a Bike, and they sit together in the chair, father and son. Patiently, Kevin reads Adam a Bible story I have written using Boardmaker pictures so that the words take shape. He asks questions at the end, and Adam answers, breathing hard, squirming. Speaking requires such exertion. Then, Kevin asks Adam to say memory verses, holding a spiral bound notebook of neon-colored index cards in one hand, the verses written in ink. Adam pulls the words out as though the phrases weigh too much to lift, as though he has no more energy for the effort. The corners of his mouth draw down involuntarily, even though he tries hard not to cry. Kevin pats his leg with one hand, hugs him tighter, kisses him on the cheek.
“Memory verses, and then done,” Adam pleads, desperate to be lost again in the pursuit of sensory comfort. I know, listening, that sometimes this is me with my Bible, checking off a box instead of enjoying a relationship.
Kevin flips the book closed and runs a finger along the side of our son’s face, making eye contact, love and compassion visible. “What did you do at school today?”
Adam shifts uncomfortably, realizing the interaction unfinished. “Ms. Heidi.”
“No, that’s who you saw at school. I asked ‘What did you do?'”
“No, that’s also who you saw. Adam, what did you do? Did you have a special today?”
“What was your special today?”
“You went to the library?”
“What did you do in the library?”
“Curious George Rides a Bike.”
“Again? Do you look at that every time you go to the library? I know Ms. Heidi wouldn’t let you do that. What else did you do in the library?”
“Did you look at other books?”
“Adam, look at your pajamas! What’s this?” He points at something on Adam’s thigh, his knee, his ankle.
“Does one of those look like Daddy’s truck?”
“Do you like to ride in Daddy’s truck?”
They talk like this for ten minutes, maybe more. Sometimes, Adam gets frustrated, and the words rush out, burning, laced with anger. Sometimes, tears slip down his cheeks. But before the end, before Kevin finally thanks him for talking and lets him leave, Adam grows calm. I watch and listen from the kitchen, drying the dinner dishes. And I marvel at persistant, patient Love, gently wrapping our son in peace, supporting, strengthening him beneath the burden of speech.
Love means we constantly interrupt Adam’s obsessions. In the early days, we learned to place our bodies between him and everything that distracts him from us. We learned that the relationship was worth his tears, and ours. Every day, we force our son to see us, insist that he talk to us, try to show him that love supersedes all else. We teach him, in so many different ways, most of which he resists, that sharing life with us matters more than all the things that threaten to consume him.
And every day, God approaches me in exactly the same way.
So many things I look to repetitively for peace threaten to distract me and keep me away from the Lover of my Soul. I thrive in clean, organized spaces. In some strange way, if things around me are tidy, it feels that my thoughts are less jumbled. If I see no mountains of dirty laundry, maybe my endless “to do” list takes shape as a neat stack instead of a whirlwind full of debris. Warmth; light; the smell of homemade bread baking; a coffee mug, hot, cradled in my palms; affirming words from someone I love; I’ve got my own list of favorite things. And I’ve learned to plan and schedule, because I’m more comfortable with a routine when responsibility feels overwhelming. I keep my free spirit safe for less burdened days. What’s more, I grew up loved with delicious, steamy food. My mom pours out her creativity in the kitchen, wraps up love in ribbons of cinnamon and sugar. So, I know a thing or two about finding comfort in every bite. And I know I could easily lose myself in any one of these things, more, were it not for the way God insists on placing Himself between me and anything, even the good, that distracts me from Relationship with Him.
The Spirit has reminded me lately that God counts my tears, His too, worth the relationship. After all, He gave His own son to die, that I might know the value of my place in His arms. And If I will not seek Him first, He will interrupt my obsessions and make it impossible for me to look away from His face. Patiently, He will tuck me in deep and search out my heart, until I remember.
On Monday, as I stood helping Adam brush his teeth, I heard Riley talking in her room across the hall.
“WhatEVER! I always forget everything!”
I heard frustration, a lie weighing her with defeat. Riley hardly ever forgets. Her memory is one of her greatest strengths.
I dried my hands on a towel and walked across the hall, where I found her sobbing, pulling clothes out of the tote bag she’d packed for Field Day.
“What’s wrong?” I asked tenderly, sad for her frustration.
She explained, turning away, smacking her hands against her legs, turning back to pull more clothes out of her tote bag, that she had thought they needed a change of clothes and a towel for Field Day, since they’d needed those things the last time, in the Spring. “But Zoe says that we won’t do water games this time, and so I don’t need it. Mr. B says we don’t need a change of clothes anymore.”
I put a hand on her back. “It’s okay. Just don’t take a change of clothes this time. No big deal.” Even as I said it, I understood why this mattered to her. She’d remembered to take something she needed, all by herself, and the independence brought her comfort. She relies on her memory. Zoe’s correction undermined her peace.
She looked at me, tears dripping from her chin. “I just…I just think I need a hug from you. I really need to sit in your lap for a few minutes.”
So we sat in the chair together. I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her in tight. And I thought, “Look at how far she’s come.” Instead of turning to a thousand other things, in her need, she turned to me. This little girl, who would walk away from me at three to line up her toys; who never seemed to know if I had left the room, now understands love as her greatest comfort.
She teaches me.
Because I forget.
I forget where to find everything I need, all that I crave. Ruined by the lie that all these other things must be, I do one more thing and one more thing and the same silly things over and over until I spend less and less time living in Holy relationship with YHWH, whose name is the air I breathe. I am blinded, distracted, resisting. In my amnesia, I never can quite find what I’m looking for, the balm for the ache of living.
But this is the truth I know, written and sealed on my soul by the Spirit of the living Lord: I need nothing like I need Him.
So these days, I come home after carpool and leave the house and the dishes and the laundry and every other distraction behind, and I take a walk with God. We talk, this floundering woman and her Dad. I tell Him everything, but mostly, I say, “Thank you.” And sometimes I say nothing. I open up my heart and lay it bare before Him, and I just dwell there, letting Him run a finger down the side of my face. He reminds me how to breathe. Finally I’m coming to see, because He opens my eyes, that He, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), is my place of peace. Nothing.matters.more.
Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:24).