Orphan?

What image does the word orphan conjure up in your mind? For me, it is the character Oliver Twist as portrayed in the 1968 film “Oliver!”. A young lad, scared and completely alone, relying on the goodwill of others just to survive. Dirty, hungry and without hope he stumbles along.

Most will know how the story progresses; Oliver finds the family that he never had. He experiences unconditional love, and despite a couple of hitches along the way enjoys all the benefits that his new home affords.

According to the definition on dictionary.com, an orphan is “a child who has lost both their parents.” That means that I too am an orphan, although I’d like to think that the similarities between Oliver Twist and myself stop there. I played a very small role in a production of Oliver! as a child, and over the years have loved to watch the film. I was often thankful that I didn’t have to know the loss, abandonment and loneliness that the character did. I did occasionally wonder what it would feel like if both my parents were no longer with us but found that forming anything concrete in my mind was difficult because they were still here, and I simply couldn’t envisage a time when they wouldn’t be.

It isn’t so hard to imagine anymore.

The feeling of loss is very real. Whilst we didn’t talk nearly as much as we should have done, I always knew I was welcomed and loved. I knew I could call, and they would have time for me. I knew that if they didn’t, they would make time. When there were tough decisions to make, wisdom was available for free. I know they prayed my family and I often.

Now all I am left with is the memories of such conversations, love and wisdom. I pray that I have learned the lessons that my parents tried to teach me. I wasn’t an easy pupil at times.

One of the things that I think has made the transition from having two parents to having none significantly easier is that around 36 years ago I was adopted into another family. While I know some have a love hate relationship with social media, I find it can have its uses – recently I saw some posts that I had shared a couple of years ago.

The first was from Henri Nouwen. He wrote “One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are.”

You see, I might be an orphan in the natural world, but in the spiritual world, I have been adopted into a family with a Father who will not die, nor change in His love for me. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:14-17 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

In a way that I don’t fully understand, although I miss the times I spent with mum and dad, and miss the hugs and jokes I shared with them over the years I can take comfort in the fact that they are with ‘my other Father’. There is a further “mystery” to being part of this spiritual family. Not only do I have millions of brothers and sisters, and a Father who loves me, there are some who I would also call my spiritual mothers and fathers. They have a different role to my earthly parents, but are essential in providing the advice, love and hugs that I can’t get from mum and dad.

The second reminder that I received from social media was that given that I am now “In Christ” I have a heavenly position. Once we are comfortable in the knowledge that we are still part of a family, and that we have a Father that loves us, The bible tells us that we have been seated in heavenly places with Christ. (Ephesians 2:6) That is a present tense reality, not just a future hope. That means we can afford to live and view our situation from a position that is above our circumstances. So often when we are in the midst of a situation, it is impossible to fully appreciate all that is going on around us. The view from above allows us to see things that would otherwise be hidden from us. I know that in the past few months, and especially in the past few weeks it has been difficult to see things right in front of me. It has been easy to feel overwhelmed by the emotion and the task in front of me.

When I do feel like things are getting on top of me, I have found it best to stop, reset my thinking, and start to process things from heavens perspective. Whilst this is becoming more natural for me to do, it certainly hasn’t always been so. I have found that I have to take control, and remind myself of where I am, and who I belong to. I’ve heard it said that it is easy to be positive like this when things are going well, but not so easy when things are tough. My experience is that training yourself to look at the good times from heavens perspective makes doing it when hard times occur natural. We don’t just have access to heavens resources at times of difficulty, there are there for us all the time.

I believe that we are only just starting to realise all that God wishes us to experience here on earth. I am convinced that there is more than we currently see, and that part of the reason we don’t is that we so easily forget where we are and who we belong to.

Mum and dad are beginning to experience heaven. They have eternity to discover the “more” that there is. I look forward to experiencing that too – but for now I intend to press into all He has for me here on earth.

I look forward to journeying with you – no longer an orphan, but an adopted son.

Father to son

This picture popped up in my facebook memories the other day. I remember when I first saw it, I was struck not only by the truth depicted, but that I had been the beneficiary of a father giving of himself to complete his son.

When I saw it more recently it evoked similar memories, but also new and exciting ones.

There is no doubt in my mind that my father gave sacrificially of himself to help make and shape me into the man I am today. I think it is quite telling that in the picture, the father is offering part of himself to the son. He isn’t forcing it into him. The experience, wisdom and strength are offered, but it is incumbent on the son to accept that, and to integrate it into his life. Dad offered me lots over his 67 years. To my detriment there were many things that that I didn’t accept, or even notice at the time. As I grew older, I was only too willing to accept the gifts. I only wish I could go back in time and accept those I rejected.

While it is true that my father helped shape me, now that he is gone, if feel there will always be a dad shaped hole in my life. I know that I still need to grow. I still need to accept wisdom and experience from father figures, but no one will be able to fill the hole that is left. If I’m honest, I intend to guard that hole. I really don’t want to forget, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that there is a need for that hole to be filled.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to look to father figures to help me. The truth is that there are other holes to be filled. As a father myself, I try to look to my son and offer him experience, wisdom, strength and love, just as my father offered me. From experience, I know that some he will accept, others, in time he will wish he had. The only reason I have these things to offer is because of my father, but in giving, new holes will appear.

I think the the only thing that I don’t like about the picture is that it seems that in giving to the son, the father becomes less. I don’t think that this is what happens in this process. In a way I don’t fully understand, the father is refilled in the process, so he can continue to give. This is a timely reminder as I consider giving to my own son.

The other way of looking at this picture is to consider the Father giving Himself to His children. You and I are the beneficiaries of this. Without what He offers, we will always have holes in our life as we try and find meaning. The only one who can give that meaning is the one who designed you and gave you life. The Father is able to fill the dad shaped hole in my heart, but as I consider that, I’m not so sure He will. I think over time He will smooth the edges of the hole, to make it less painful as it rubs against other parts of life, but I think He knows that dad was unique, and I need that hole to remember him, to recall the things that made him who he was. I have no doubt that some of the sanding of the edges will hurt a little, but I am also convinced that that pain of smoothing the edges has a purpose and will help me to grow further into the man that both my Heavenly and earthly fathers desire for me to become.