“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.”
― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
This past weekend, on a long flight to the east coast, I pulled out my iPad and began to read something I purchased almost a year ago. It was a book comprised of two lectures offered at Harvard University by the recently departed Jean Vanier who founded the L'Arche communities, now numbering 149 throughout the world. L'Arche provides homes and support networks for those with intellectual disabilities, creating community for many who are ostracized by society. What is unique about L'Arche, among many things, is that there is also a focus on how those who are not challenged are changed by living alongside those who are, and how they grow and change while serving others.
I haven't been moved by anything quite as much in a very long time, and found myself highlighting passage after passage of the most beautiful, profound prose filled with wisdom and truths. There in the digital pages of From Brokenness to Community I saw, perhaps for the first time, an understanding of God as I know God to be, and an explanation of how community heals, and how community reveals.
It was, unbeknownst to me prior to reading, a parallel in parts to the life I lead here in my own home.
It speaks to the dream that the kids and I have of the possibility that Buckaroos can be about far more than merely providing pizza and employment, that with care and intentional relationship it might just be about community.
It is already being lived into, in some small way, through Blue Collar Homeschool's Facebook group, where we try our best to be a place where being real is encouraged, and where our weaknesses are not used against one another.
Finishing the short read before landing, I understood that God had led me to these words at this time for a purpose. It was one of those encounters with thoughts and ideas that leave you knowing without question that you are being gently molded and shaped, that you are being prepared for what will come though there may be only a vague sense of what that might be...or no clue at all.
"To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: "You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself."
- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community
I spent time with two different congregations after having read this, preaching at services for one, while their pastor, my dear friend Candi, was present at her other church where she is a part-time pastor. I then joined them later after the service, as they were saying farewell to their retiring and beloved full-time minister after 9 years of walking through life together.
Witnessing the outpouring of affection for their departing pastor, as well as for one another, was like seeing the above quote come to life before me. There were tears, hugs, and much tenderness which reflected the kind of strong yet compassionate example they have had modeled for them for many years. Both congregations have been guided to see, through the attitude of their ministerial leaders, that they are indeed beautiful communities, they are important in their own ways in their corners of the world. They have been helped to see they can be trusted and can trust themselves to make wise decisions and act in faithful ways. Both congregations have moved from brokenness to healthy communities. Both congregations have made enormous efforts to grow, and to do the work they are each called to do.
How can I also not see the parallels in my own personal life, living in this family? As our kids rapidly mature, my job as their mom who loves them with all that I am, is NOT to do things for them, it is NOT to make it all easy simply due to disability or their very difficult past lives. Pity helps no one grow. No, my job is to help them learn to trust themselves, to provide them with opportunities to challenge themselves to do extraordinarily difficult things so their confidence develops. It is to remind them of their own beauty, and to show them their value to the world, even when they doubt they have much to offer due to young age or weakness. My job, if I do it well, is to help them accept their shortcomings but not dwell on them, but instead to clearly see their strengths and view them as hope giving.
But my most important job is to be tender. Oh sure, I can be tough, a taskmaster, and someone who holds firm boundaries. But I have learned through the years that I never, ever have gained anyone's heart by being strong alone. While our kids certainly have needed the security that can come from knowing their parents are solid and capable, that we are no pushovers, the real transformation has come in the moments of deep tenderness and vulnerability...not theirs...mine.
Broken hearts don't mend easily, and they can't be forced into wholeness. It is only through tenderness that we can see healing occur, and that tenderness leaves us open to be hurt. But the brokenness in us all can indeed be put back together. I know, I have seen it first hand. When we believe in grace, when we are strong through faith and can be our truest selves with one another, when we don't "do for" but instead "walk with", extraordinary things can happen.
As Josh's shirt says in the photo above, "Live Generously"...and I would add and urge us all to "Live Tenderly" as well.