• Dana L. Butler

Becoming the Beloved {on church, parenthood, and longing}

Special needs parenting hurts deep.

I wrote it on my Facebook wall the other day, because sometimes I’ve just gotta say it out loud. It’s real, and it’s gut-wrenching.

Extra real, in particular, over the last week or so of my life.

Ever walking the line of handling with care which details I share, I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty in this space and just say yet again that the joy and fulfillment of day-to-day living with my two beautiful kiddos, each with multiple diagnoses, can be punctuated by a heck of a lot of exhaustion and grief.

Especially when their behavior challenges impact even non-family-members in big ways. Eeep.

But — we had our lovely former housemate from Kansas City in town for just over a week, and the time with her filled our hearts. And fall is officially upon us, bringing sweater weather, fires in the fireplace, pumpkin-oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies, chai lattes, and crockpot cookin’.

The trees are glowing, and the color’ll be gone in a blink. So I’m slowing down, soaking up every glimpse of their neon glory.

And y’all, there’s church. I’ve been slow to say much here about our still-relatively-new church fam, mostly because my heart’s still grieved over the depth of loss associated with our departure from our former church just over 6 months ago.

But the honest-to-goodness truth is that our church has been the sweetest, most healing gift to my heart in these last months.

Maybe someday I’ll find a way to say some of it here — to list the thousand nuanced ways this place and these people have already been balm to my soul and renewed life to my family. So much of it runs too deep, feels too between-me-and-Jesus to share yet.

I’ll whisper this bit now, though: just that singing and playing a little on the worship team, after so many months away from leading or contributing in a corporate worship setting at all, is the most extravagant gift to me, and Jesus is so kind to me in the midst of it– I just… I lack words.

As I worship, he is simultaneously taking me apart inside, and breathing new life into my heart with poignancy I completely did not expect, and I’m awed by the Father’s kindness and the relentlessness of his pursuit.

Both his pursuit of my heart in the way he has loved my family so extravagantly through our church family, and in the ways he weaves himself in and through all these circumstances — the beauty of burning Autumn candles and leaves; the trauma and grief of dysregulated child-hearts and developmental disabilities; and the monotony of crumbs and laundry and icky, little-kid bathroom floors.

He seeks trust, friendship, communion down to our deepest places in it all.

All of it. Not a single moment left uninhabited, unanimated by him. Not one circumstance that isn’t bursting with potential for holy encounter, if we’ve eyes to see and a heart to receive the gift of Christ formed more deeply inside us, the gift of intimacy with him that comes in that process.

If only we can trust our Father’s heart, settle into the exact life he’s gifted us, sink deeper into him in the midst of it, truly be with him in it.

Lockstep. Dependent companionship.

The pain of my children’s struggles has brought me to my knees lately, has rendered me in and out of tears some days, and I am not an easy crier.

Like I said, it is real, profound pain, y’all. Yet my Father is trustworthy, and it’s this stuff that keeps me acutely in touch with my need, my longing for him.

Because while this journey with him is by no stretch of the imagination safe, he is wholly beautiful, and the way he gives himself in and through all of it is good, and the way he is shaping and forming my insides in the midst of the pain — with increased longing and the capacity to intimately know and hold more of himself — it is more than worth it.

I ran across this quote the other day by Henri Nouwen — an author whose works have been formative for me for many years, but if I’d read these words from him before, they’d never sunk in so profoundly:

“Becoming the beloved means letting the truth of our belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.”

I’m desperate to live into this purpose. To invest so much of myself and my soul’s resources in being made whole in the Father’s love, that the extravagance and thoroughness of his delight and adoration permeate every fiber of who I am, transforming every action, word, thought, and motive.

That everything I am and do springs from this sole, essential identity: I am my Father’s beloved child.

And the unfathomable kindness of God is that he is forever and ever working all. things. for my ultimate good, which is that to my very core I come to know myself as his own.

So every circumstance — the big and the small; the beautiful, the mundane, the gut-wrenchingly painful — he weaves together for the purpose of further captivating my heart with his fierce love.

Not a single moment uninhabited by him.

Not one circumstance that isn’t bursting with potential for holy encounter. Not even one, you guys.

How I long to have eyes to see and heart to respond to him in it all.

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