For the Broken

*Audrey mugging for the camera, and then spontaneously hugging and kissing “Garage Door Piggy”

My daughter Audrey celebrated her third birthday this weekend.  What started as an idea to have a small little party at the house turned into “Piggypalooza,” an overly-indulgent, pink-tacular porcine blowout attended by forty-five people.

To give you an idea of the space issues we had, you can vacuum every room in our house without having to move the plug to a different outlet.  No lie.  If those forty-five people didn’t know each other before they arrived, they have now shimmied up against each other in ways normally reserved for tandem skydivers.  We all literally rubbed elbows during the piggy storytime, piggy dance-party, no-hands piggy slop eating contest (disgusting, but a big hit), and pig-balloon decorating.

Due to the overcrowded mayhem, we opted to have Audrey unwrap her gifts after everyone had left.  When the dust finally settled, she began combing through her presents.  There were princess outfits, puzzles, games, stuffed animals and sparkly things.  Then she finally opened a rather odd one that we had purchased for her.

A broken, red ukulele.

So why did we buy her a broken ukulele, you ask?

Two months ago, Gabby bravely took both of the kids to a music store owned by a family member.  Turning our kids loose in a place filled with fragile musical instruments is like teaching blindfolded orangutans to play racquetball in a Venetian glass blowing factory.

Not for the faint of heart.

Audrey was showing some interest in music, so we were considering getting her a little something to rival Jake’s tiny guitar.  Before entering the shop, Gabby coached the kids on appropriate behavior.  No screaming.  No running.  No touching things without permission.  Check?

Check.

When they got in the store, Gabby assured Larry and the other employees that she’d keep a close eye on the kids.  Jake politely asked if he could play a tiny red ukulele, and Gabby obliged.  He quickly lost interest and moved to put the ukulele back on the wall hanger.  As he did this, Audrey darted off in another direction toward something loud and enticing, like a bird dog spotting wild game.  When Gabby turned, Jake let go of the instrument, not realizing it wasn’t seated properly on the hook.  It fell to the floor, inheriting a pretty nasty crack in the process.  He knew what he had done and apologized like crazy.

Gabby insisted we pay full price for the item.  She felt terrible, especially after she had promised that the kids would be well-behaved.  But Larry, ever the kind family member, cut us a break and gave us a deal.  Unplanned birthday gift purchase?  Complete!

On the way home, Gabby was re-hashing the experience in her mind.  Jake sat in the back seat, quieter than usual.  He was feeling pretty remorseful for a four-year-old.  Then, Audrey’s  tiny, two-year-old voice cut through the silence.

“Mommy?”

“Yes Audrey.” Gabby answered.

“Can we break a pink one next time?”

I love her little question for two reasons.  First, it shows how her brainlette is starting to put together some pretty complex thoughts.  I know I’m biased, but she may be the smartest kid in the universe.  If they were to measure that sort of thing.

Second, I love the idea that my daughter believes that something holds its value even when it’s broken.

That’s powerful stuff.

It gets me thinking about the service that Gabby and I have done.  How often have we sought to give to others in order to fix what is broken?  When we originally went to Guatemala to serve as missionaries, I had grand ideas that we were going to bring God’s love to a broken place so we could heal wounds, alleviate poverty, and build something sustainable.

We were going to fix Guatemala.

But it wasn’t about that at all.  Though, I must say that there is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to help in places where help is desperately needed.  Those places exist as much in our own neighborhoods as they do in faraway lands.  And there are plenty of them.

The problem arises when the desire to help comes from a place of imbalance and division.  I’ve heard it in my own words at times.  “We went to Guatemala to help ‘those people.’”  Or serving at the soup kitchen.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could provide more opportunity for ‘those people’ so they could get a job and feel a sense of fulfillment.”

Like me.

Do you hear it?  It’s subtle, but my guess is there are times when those I’m serving can hear it loud and clear.  The look of pity on my face.  The sad eyes that say “poor them.”  These unspoken words create so much noise and distraction that it drowns out what they are trying to say to me.  That they have something to offer.  Something to give.  Not based on their potential, but just as they are.  Right here.  Right now.

I’m reminded of an interview I heard some time ago with a man who was injured in an accident.  He was a quadriplegic, who had made the most of circumstance, and was traveling around the country to raise awareness and money for spinal cord injuries.  He was also a deeply spiritual man, so the interviewer asked.

“I imagine your faith has sustained you, with the idea of Heaven being a place where you will be made whole again.  Do you often dream of what Heaven will be like?”

For a moment, there was silence.  As I listened, I imagined the man to be conjuring images of himself running through golden fields, doing the moonwalk, or playing sports.

Then his voice cut through.

“I have a problem with that image if Heaven, and even take offense to it,” he said.  “Many people I talk to speak of Heaven as a place where broken people are fixed.  Even those who are disabled due to injury like I am.”

I, like the interviewer, was stunned.  The man continued.

“In my Heaven, no one needs fixing.  Instead, I see Heaven as a place where it just doesn’t matter  anymore.  I am not treated as some broken person to be pitied, but rather, I am seen as having value just as I am.

That’s what Heaven is to me.”

And such a Heaven is possible here on Earth.  Lord knows there’s plenty of raw material to work with.  Because we’re all here.  Broken.  Different.  Imperfect.

But seeing all that as a gift to be unwrapped and treasured?

That takes fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.  Perhaps the eyes of a child.

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