10 August 2008

A Question About Laughter


Recent experiences from being a child of a mentally ill parent cause my mind to remember a lesson well-learned about 20 years ago...

I saw him again. He always looked different from everyone else. Because he was. One time he came to Sunday service in nothing but a rain coat and rain boots, declaring to us that he was dressed up for Halloween as a flasher. His demonstration revealed that he, gratefully, had worn swim trunks under the coat. But with Vaughan, you just never knew what to expect. I never knew what had happened for him to lose all soundness of mind and slip from humanity into insanity, but, really, it didn't matter. At first, I admired how the elders took turns driving him from the local long-term residential mental hospital to our little chapel each Sunday. They faithfully went. And he faithfully came. But it all grew into so much more...

I could not tell what he was “getting” from church because he really did not make much sense at all. But our church faithfully loved him as best we could. During conversational prayers when congregants would pray out loud during the service, he would ask God to forgive him for his many abortions and things like that.

But somehow it was not just Vaughan who was different. We became somewhat different. Because of him. His impossible abortion confessions weren’t funny, to us. We knew that he was seeking God in the way he could and the Lord would certainly honor that and could reveal Himself to him, even in his mentally disordered state. He did some pretty crazy things, but his presence stretched us in ways to love with Christ's love that likely nothing else would.

Well, years later, he left the mental hospital for a half-way house in another state. Praise God that he had made some good progress! Some of the disordered pieces of his mind were healed. Vaughan left our spiritual family when he moved away and we thought that we would never see him again, except hopefully in Heaven. But then Vaughan surprised us yet again.

We received a letter from him. In his own unique way, his words conveyed his thanks for letting him come to church and he said that he was working very hard to get better so he could fulfill his life long dream. Like an excited child who asks you to close your eyes for the big surprise he has for you, he said that his greatest dream of his life was…to return to our church and be our janitor. That was the most amazing thing he could think of to do with his life.

What real affection and appreciation for us shone from his letter. When my pastor read it to us out loud during a sermon, there were a number of chuckles in the room. My pastor stopped and said something like,

“Wait. Did you hear that? Really hear that? It’s not funny. It shows that God had touched his heart in a real way through us. It shows a beautiful humility and child-likeness. Did you hear that?”

Silence chased chuckles away. Suddenly, we realized what we had to learn from this man and what a tremendous gift he had given us. The one who seemed to have so little to give. So little even of his own to keep for himself. Had given so much more than we could have given to each other.

There are things he did that I could share with others in a light-hearted joking fashion and we would have a good laugh. But I would never do that. Because of his letter and my pastor’s gentle rebuke. I would never wish to demean him by laughing at his problem, which is really laughing at him. And at the pain of the people who might be out there somewhere calling him son, or brother, or husband, or father, or...I have now even more respect than pity for him. I have been humbled by him, have learned from him, and am encouraged by him. He is a precious man, made in God’s image in whom He is working, despite his problems, problems that are overwhelming…well, just like me. Just like all of us. None of us are without hope.

One could not know Vaughan...and not be different. If one were paying attention to the gift wrapped up in the unique package of his life. If one were seeking to have the eyes, hands and ears of Jesus.

Next time something seems funny to you...stop. Is it funny? Or is it at someone's expense? Or...could it be the very words of God spoken to you?


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