If we knew what God knows and could see what God sees, we would approach each day like a child on Christmas morning, giddy with anticipation. But we don’t know what He knows, and much of the time we see only the challenges and obstacles looming large in the path ahead. Life has taken a turn we didn’t expect, and we’re crushed with disappointment, depression, and fear. Instead of brightly colored gifts under the tree, we’ve found lumps of coal in our stocking. How could this be the plan of a good and loving God?
I’ve never spoken through an interpreter before. But I don’t speak Russian, and these women don’t understand English, so an interpreter was absolutely necessary for communication to take place. And it was also absolutely necessary that the interpreter know both the Lord and the culture.
Dina wanted to come to the conference to translate for me, but she lives in Kyrgyzstan and was having trouble securing her travel documents. We all prayed the door would open, because Dina is native to the culture, a lover of Jesus, and a gifted interpreter. And because we hoped being part of this conference would encourage her own deeply wounded heart.
Two years ago, when her daughter was born, Dina’s joy quickly shattered into despair. Abby had Down Syndrome. If they kept her, their doctor said, their family would be ostracized by society. He recommended they place her in an institution. It would be best for everyone.
And Dina’s heart exploded — love and agony rending it into tiny pieces. She and her husband already had a young son. Now God had given her a daughter — a gift she’d long prayed for. But her precious child was damaged and deficient, born into a culture that would never accept her — a culture that would look with suspicion on her and her parents, wondering who had cursed them or what sin they’d committed to deserve this punishment.
But God had given, and they knew they had no choice but to receive.
Despite the doctor’s warning, they took Abby home.
Abby’s birth plunged Dina and her husband into a season of depression that lasted a whole year. As the time for the conference approached, they were beginning to climb out of that pit — beginning to see God’s hand in their circumstances as they reached out to other families with Downs children. But the wounds were still raw and the future a menacing unknown.
I didn’t know if Dina had worked out her documentation issues until I arrived in Kazakhstan. But there she was with her sweet little Abby. And every time I spoke, before my words reached the women’s ears, they passed through Dina’s fragile heart, washing over still-tender wounds before finding expression on her lips. And the women heard. Heard in their own language from someone who is still learning to walk in their shoes.
And so I spoke, but she told them.
She told them about the upside down kingdom — that if we really want to see and celebrate good and beauty in the most difficult aspects of our lives and our children’s lives, we’re going to have to take a lot of the world’s values and flip them on their heads.
She told them that the world says climb the ladder to success, but true greatness is gained by serving others.
That the world celebrates intellect, physical beauty, and talent, but our character and our hearts matter so much more.
That the world applauds power, strength, and wealth, but what if it’s better to be humble and trusting, like a little child?
That the world says suffering is a curse and a punishment for wrongs done, but what if suffering has purpose? What if it is meant to teach us how to truly love and truly live?
I spoke, and she told them that their children are not a curse. They’re a gift — to them and to society. That they may not always realize it, but their lives and their precious children’s lives are making ripples all the time — showing others how to persevere and overcome obstacles, helping them learn compassion. She told them that all they had to do was watch the volunteers working with their children at camp to see how they teach some of the best lessons, simply by who they are.
I spoke, and she told these wonderful, weary moms that the world may not recognize their greatness and stand up to applaud, but they are brave and beautiful and deserving of much honor for choosing to love and care for their special children.
She told them, and they heard. Their eyes and faces showed that they heard. And that they understood the moment we’re in is really the only one we have. The past is gone. The future is unknown. And if we live regretting the past or fretting about the future, we miss the beauty and gifts we can receive right now. They understood that we can learn to look for the good and beauty in our special children, and we can celebrate them, no matter what other people think or say.
She told them. And she told herself. And as they wiped tears from their eyes, the weight of her own grief rolled off her shoulders and onto grace, swallowed up in eternal purpose.
And then they all celebrated. With pen and paper, they celebrated the beauty they see in their children. They wrote of pure and patient hearts, of willing service, how they love freely and refrain from judgment, how they notice others’ pain and seek to ease it, how they laugh easily and without restraint. They wrote about their gifts and they shared those gifts with each other. And they saw. Many of them for the first time.
I spoke. But she told them. And all the while, this baby. Smiling. Laughing. Sleeping in her mother’s lap. Melting hearts. A picture of grace. A picture of purpose. The thread that bound us all together in our motherhood, our sacrifice, our joy.
The perfect interpreter.
I spoke. But she told them. And He gave the meaning. He, who orders our days and chooses our gifts and does all things well.
And all our lumps of coal — our disappointments, fears, and burdens — ignited with holy fire, lighting our darkness with hope, and filling us with giddy joy.
Just like a child on Christmas morning.
* * *
It’s not too late to donate to this beautiful
and worthy work in Kazakhstan.
Gifts received before September will help
cover summer projects.
Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks to:
Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.
Any amount is greatly appreciated.
Your gifts are tax deductible.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.
(With all my heart.)
photos courtesy Catherine Burns