Sunday, September 15, 2013

Syria: A Father Reunited with His Son whom He Thought was Dead.

father kiss

 The Prodigal Son is said to be the Greatest Parable ever told.  Some would say that everything that we need to know about God is found in this parable.

Scripture scholar Joachim Jeremias states in The Parables of Jesus (New York, 1963), it “might more correctly be called the parable of the Father’s Love…”, for it is a powerful and unforgettable depiction of God’s love and mercy.

Much has been written about it and much could be said about it, but for this reflection I would like to focus on three simple actions of the Father.

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

The Father running to his son, The Father embracing his son, and The Father kissing his son.

For Each of these I'm going going to use a small modern story to help bring it to life.

"He ran to his son" 

(I was able to find the actual story online... here is an abridged version).

I was two years shy of becoming a mother when I learned my greatest lesson about parenting. This information was not gleaned from a New York Times bestseller, a renowned pediatrician, or an experienced parent. It came from a 10-year-old boy born to a drug-addicted mother, with an Individualized Education Plan thicker than an encyclopedia—a boy with permanent scars along the side of his left arm from a beating with an extension cord when he was three.

Kyle taught me the one and only thing I really needed to know about loving a child through the challenges of life.

This is my story …

It had been a difficult move. I left my family and friends and the beloved mid-western state where I’d lived most of my life. My new home was thousands of miles away from anything I knew. It was hot—all the time. There were no seasons and teaching jobs were hard to come by. Having seven years experience as a behavior specialist, I was up for a challenge. I would accept any job if it meant I could do what I was born to do—teach.

I accepted a teaching position in a classroom for children with an array of educational diagnoses. They were students with severe learning and behavioral difficulties who’d been shuffled from school to school. So far, no program in the district was able to meet their challenging needs.

The first few months of school were difficult. It was not unusual for me to cry as I made my 45-minute commute to the inner city. It required a deep breath to even open the classroom door, but I came back every day praying this would be the day—a breakthrough to one broken soul.

On this particular morning, I was excited. The other lead teacher and I had spent weeks teaching the children appropriate behavior for public outings. We would be going putt-putting and out to lunch. Miraculously, most of the children in class earned this privilege—only a few had not. Alternative arrangements were made for those students while we took the field trip.

Kyle was one of the students who had not earned the field trip, and he was determined to make that disappointment be known.

In the corridor between classrooms, he began screaming, cursing, spitting, and swinging at anything within striking distance. Once his outburst subsided, he did what he’d done at all his other schools, at home, even once at a juvenile detention center when he was angry—he ran.

The crowd of onlookers that congregated during the spectacle watched in disbelief as Kyle ran straight into the heavy morning traffic in front of the school.

I heard someone shout, “Call the police.”

Based on the information in Kyle’s file, I knew the officers would locate him and place him on a 5150 hold for a psychiatric evaluation.

But I could not just stand there. So I ran after him.

Kyle was at least a foot taller than me. And he was fast. His older brothers were track stars at the nearby high school. But I had worn running shoes for the field trip, and I could run long distances without tiring. I would at least be able to keep in him my sight and know he was alive.

With the agility of a professional athlete, Kyle dodged the moving vehicles in his path. After several blocks of running directly into on-coming traffic, he slowed his pace. Although it was still morning, the tropical sun was bearing down on the black tarmac baking anyone crazy enough to be running full speed on it.

Kyle took a sharp left and began walking through a dilapidated strip mall. Standing next to a trash compactor, he bent over with his hands on his knees. He was heaving to catch his breath. That is when he saw me. I must have looked ridiculous—the front of my lightweight blouse soaked with sweat, my once-styled hair now plastered to the side of my beet-red face. He stood up abruptly like a frightened animal that thought it was alone suddenly discovering he’d been spotted.

But it was not a look of fear.

I saw his body relax. He did not attempt to run again. Kyle stood and watched me approach. My exhaustion caused me to slow to a walk.

Kyle remained still.

I had no idea what I was going to say or what I was going to do, but I kept walking closer.

We locked eyes, and I willed every ounce of compassion and understanding in my heart toward his own.

He opened his mouth to speak when a police car pulled up, abruptly filling the space between Kyle and me. The principal of the school and an officer got out. They spoke calmly to Kyle who went willingly into the back of the vehicle. I did not come close enough to hear their words, but I didn’t take my eyes off Kyle’s face. His eyes never left mine … even as they drove away.

It was days before Kyle would be allowed to return to school. I shared my disappointment regarding the turn of events with Kyle’s speech therapist who was familiar with Kyle’s past history and family situation.

She placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “No one ever ran after him before, Rachel. No one. They just let him go.”

Kyle eventually came back to school. I quickly noticed that when he had a choice of which teacher to work with or which teacher to accompany him to special classes, he chose me. As weeks passed, he was glued to my side, complying with instructions, attempting to do his work, and once in awhile even smiling. For a child with severe attachment issues, it was quite amazing that he was developing a bond with me.

One day on the way to art class, Kyle unexpectedly grasped my hand. It was unusual for a boy his age and size to hold his teacher’s hand, but I knew I must act like it was the most normal thing in the world.

And then he leaned in and quietly said something I will never forget.

“I love you, Miss Stafford,” he whispered. And then, “I never told anyone that before.”

Part of me wanted to ask, “Why me?”

But instead I simply relished the moment—an unimaginable breakthrough from the child whose file bore the words: “Unable to express love or maintain a loving relationship with another human being.”

Besides, I knew the turning point. Things changed the day he ran, and I ran after him.

This is an image of the Father's love.  You have a God who will run after you.  God will not wait for you to get back to Him, but from the moment you turn to Him, the moment you call for Him, the moment you desire to move towards Him, God runs to you!  

Hopefully you have someone in your life that you know would run after you if you ran away.  God puts people into our lives to help us to see that we are worth running after.  Who are the people in your life that you know would run to you?

Embraced Him

The Father embraces His Son.  There's something about a warm embrace that can make you feel loved, accepted, and calm.  

There's kind of a protocol between guys, a certain way that a hug is acceptable.  I all it the "Guy Hug".  It begins with some kind greeting like "Hey Man What's Up?"  There's a handshake with the right hand and then you have to figure out if the guy is a close friend or not.  If so you put your left hand up  and if he freaks out you just pat his shoulder.  If he reciprocates you kind of do a shoulder bump and reach your left arm around without really touching him and pat him on the back two or three times.  You want to make sure that you do this in a way that it makes some kind of patting, thudding or thumping noise.  Then you quickly back away and transition into some kind of "Hey good to see you" line.  Pay attention because if you don't follow this protocol exactly it can become real awkward real quick.  Follow this link for more directions!  

I remember when I first came to St. Joseph I knew of the pastor but we didn't really know each other as good priest friends.  As I walked into the lobby area I saw his portrait on the wall and as with most portraits he looked very serious.  When Fr. Martello came out to greet me I offered him a handshake but instead of shaking mine he put up his arms and gave me a big bear hug and said: "Welcome."  I remember feeling very welcome, at home, and had a sense of "this is going to be a good assignment." 

I've witnessed this in others too.  Bishop Roger, when he celebrates Confirmation at the parishes, takes a moment with everyone that comes up to him lays hands on their head, anoints them, and hugs them.  Now I have to say it's so great to watch because these are usually high school teenagers.  Often times they are trying to look cool in front of everyone, they may have an attitude, some of them aren't even sure they want to be there or may not want to be confirmed in the first place.  They often come up with very tough looks and an attitude of hardness but it is amazing because he will just grab them by the shoulders, pull them close, and give them this big bear hug.  But something happens in that moment because everyone of those teens walks away beaming with a big smile on their face.  What's behind that smile?  I think it is because they had an experience of being hugged, loved, accepted and blessed by their Bishop.  They had a glimpse of God the Father hugging them.  And the response is joy, peace, goodness, and love.  (Notice that these are the "Fruits of the Holy Spirit."

When was the last time someone really gave you a hug.  When was the last time you embraced someone in a way that brought a feeling of joy, peace, goodness and love?  Hopefully we have all experienced this sense of being welcomed by someone because it is a glimpse of how the Father desires to embrace and hold us.

You are loved by the Father in this way and He longs to hold you in His Embrace.

Kissed Him

If you haven't seen the video of the Father reunited with his son you can watch it here.

Here is the story from the Washington Post.

The videos out of Syria over the past two years of war have been so horrific, and so numerous, that Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned them multiple times in making his implicit case for likely U.S.-led military strikes against Syria. They've been an important tool for documenting the conflict as well as communicating, through individual stories and moments, the human toll of the war.

So it’s a relief and a delight to see this video, apparently from the southwestern Syrian town of Zamalka, that was posted online Monday by Syrian activists. The footage purports to show a father reuniting with his young son, who he thought had been killed, as thousands of Syrian children have been, in a recent attack by regime forces.

The man who first appears when the video opens isn't the father – he’s someone else, perhaps another relative. It’s not until a minute in that the boy’s father appears, his face twisted in joy, running out of the house to see his son.

Even if you don’t speak a word of Arabic, the family’s body language says everything. There is a lot of crying and hugging and grateful recitations of the Takbir (“Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!”). If you can hold it together through all seven minutes, you’re stronger than I am. But this video provides a welcome, if all too rare, moment of solace and joy in a war that has had precious little of either.

The most powerful part is when the Father just keeps holding his sons head, pets his hair, and kisses him over and over again.  The family and friends keep kissing the boy and the father and each other.  There is such uncontrolled joy at this father having his son back... His son who he thought was dead is now alive.

This really is a modern day vision of the Prodigal Son.  This is the way that God runs to us, embraces us and kisses us when we turn to Him.

Hopefully you experience God the Father as this warm, affectionate, and loving personal presence in your life.  If you don't consider spending some time in prayer today.  Make a Holy Hour and ask Jesus to allow you to have this felt experience with His Father.  Pray with Luke Chapter 15 and try to imagine God, The Father, Running to you, Embracing you, and Kissing you.

Once we have experienced God in this way we will always want to stay in that embrace.  We will always know that we are beloved sons and daughters.  We will come to this realization that God loves us, delights in us, takes great joy in us and expresses it to us.

Once we have experienced this we will become the Father's love in our world.  You will run to those who have run away.  You will embrace those who feel so broken and alone.  You will kiss those have have been lost and help them see their dignity.  You will bring people to the love of the Father and see the fruit of joy, peace, happiness and love radiate from them.

This truly is the greatest parable ever told because it reveals to us that God runs to us, embraces us, and kisses us.  The result is a life of joy, peace, happiness and love.   

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