Last Sunday my daughter, Megan, and I went snowboarding. After the third run, I started to tell her about a funeral I had attended a couple of weeks earlier.
About two months ago I was speaking at church when I ran into an old friend I had not seen for many years. Fred and I go way back. Before departing, we promised each other we would get together soon.
Early in January I received a call from the pastor at whose church I had met Fred.
“Shahrokh jan, do you remember the man who had come to see you when you spoke at our church?”
“You mean Fred? Of course! Why?”
“Well, on New Year’s Eve day his wife took him to the emergency room because he had been having a headache and as they were sitting in the waiting room he passed out and the doctors were not able to revive him. He died of a brain aneurysm.”
Soon after, I received a call from a staff pastor of one of the largest megachurches in Southern California where Fred had been attending for the last eight years. The family had asked if I would share a few things about him at his memorial, which was held at his church.
The memorial was just wonderful. Fred had made a lasting impression on all the several hundred people who were present that day. After the pastor spoke for a few minutes he invited his wife and children to say a few words about their father and husband. One of his daughters said:
“I was on my way to San Francisco when I heard my dad had passed away, so I hauled ass to get here.”
There were one or two chuckles, but, for the most part, not knowing how to react, everyone kept very quite. I leaned over and told the stranger sitting next to me:
“I bet this is the first time the word ass has been mentioned from the pulpit of this church.” He didn’t even crack a smile.
After the family was done sharing, it was my turn. In the few minutes I spoke, I simply shared the following true story with the people:
As I stood in the checkout line at Sam’s Club, I noticed the lady in front of me who was paying for her groceries. Her husband was patiently waiting with their cart full of items. In between them was whom I assumed to be their son. The boy had Down Syndrome. I couldn’t tell how old he was. You know, it is not easy to guess the age of a person with Down Syndrome. They all look much younger than their age. Anyway, from his facial hair I assumed he was in his 20’s.
The boy was about 5 feet tall. It was obvious that he was wearing a diaper, which meant he could not control his bowels. He was quite bowlegged and could only take short steps when walking. He was not able to raise his arms any higher than his shoulders and on top of all that he could not talk. He had a small device placed in his throat. The little gismo enable him to make “ooh, ooh” sounds when he needed to get his dad’s attention. I spent a few minutes watching the interaction between the father and the son when it suddenly hit me like a runaway bullet train in Tokyo.
The crowd around him fascinated the boy. Drooling non-stop, every once in a while he would turn around, look at his father and say, “Ooh”. The father patiently would take out his handkerchief, wipe the boy’s face, pat him on the shoulder and invite him to look at more people. The process was repeated several times. Although, for all practical purposes, the young man had nothing of any significance to offer his dad (that his dad was in need of) each time he turned to his father, yet the father patiently attended to his son’s “oohing” call for help.
As I watched them, I realized that the most talented, the most educated, the most athletic, the most accomplished, the most successful, the best looking, and even the most spiritual of us are nothing but a bunch of retards in God’s eyes. And even though, for all practical purposes, we have nothing that He is in need of, every time we turn to him and say, “Ooh,” He is there to receive us with open arms, wipe our drooling faces, pat us on the shoulder, and give us hope to go on with life.
And then I ended by saying,
“Fred was one of those retards, but having become one with Christ, today he is no longer drooling since his face was once and for eternity wiped with the blood of the lamb.”
Before I could finish my last sentence, I received a standing ovation, which thoroughly surprised me. But I still had one more thing to say.
“Ladies and gentlemen, wanting to be politically correct, I really struggled whether I should use the word “retard” or not, but if she—pointing to Fred’s daughter—can ‘haul ass,’ I can say retard,” which got me another ovation.
As I was sharing the story with Megan, she said,
“Dad, I had never heard you tell the story of the Down Syndrome boy till a few months ago when I came to listen to you at Charles’ church. That story changed my life.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Last week as I was driving home, the image of that story flashed in my mind—and it hit me. Everything has set me up for success. I have two of the most amazing parents; I have had the best upbringing; I have been given the best opportunities in life; and I still have managed to screw it up. I have never had a doubt that God loves me, and I have been taught since childhood that, “There is nothing I could do to make God love me less.” While I believed that, I also believed that there were things that I could do to make God love me more. I had an epiphany in the car that night. Even if that boy had his life “more together” and had learned to wipe the drool off his own face, and that was one less burden that he placed on his father, his father would not love him any more. Even if I spent the entirety of my energy perfecting a flawed area of my life, and I could package my life up in a prettier fashion, God could not love me any more.
That boy had NOTHING to offer his father. He was a burden on his father; he was nothing for his father to take pride in; he was never going to be able to take care of his father; he was never going to be able to carry on their legacy; his father would most likely have to out live his son. And this is how it is with me. God is not better off having me on His team. I have nothing to offer God that He does not already have. I constantly walk in the wrong direction, and stumble back to God for Him to wipe the drool off my face and point me yet again in the right direction. But He is crazy in love with me. And there is nothing that I could do to change that.”
I am so glad the area was too noisy and my Ninja mask had my whole face covered so no one could see or hear me cry out loud on top of the mountain.