Monique and I attended the Lifelight Christian Music Festival with our family this past weekend (Labor Day Weekend). Good music...great weather...sweet memories. I love to go to the festival because of the music. But I think I enjoy Lifelight because my family is there. I had the priviledge of spending about 6 hours in 2 days at Wild Water West with my niece Leah. The water was cool and Leah was a trip. She's a brave little one and we had so much fun together. She wanted me to follow her down the slides, she wanted us to go under water with her, she loved to float, she loved the hotdogs and fries...and I loved all of it! Oh yes...and this one a festival at which I didn't spend even one second in a wheel chair! Halleluja! Praise God!
There are many ways I've enjoyed Lifelight--through pain, through bad weather, through family...however, one reason stands atop the entire list...the reason that keeps me coming back to lifelight. There's always at least one moment where God allows me to climb to the mountaintop and see God there. A friend of myself and Monique, her name is Anne Michelle (AM), spent much of the Lifelight festival with us and our family. Anne Michell "AM", is mostly deaf. I, tell you about her hearing loss because that is one of her characteristics, not because one constantly extracts that particular trait from her being. The deaf community is (or has been) particularly annoyed when their language is exposed or exploited. A lot of us wiggle our hands around, pretending to sign when we have no idea what we're doing. To them it's the same as when we make fun of the Asian language by contorting our faces and saying something weird (choi choi choi) in a what we believe is a chinese or Vietnamese accent etc. The deaf community is often isolated from you, and some of it is by choice. We can't be trusted not to make fun of them.
"AM" may have a few of those annoyances, I don't know. We haven't really had that conversation. It's never been an important thing to note within our friendship. What I do know is that she is an intelligent, patient and wonderful person. She's a teacher in the Des Moines area and a fervent Christian woman. Like anyone, she appreciates someone who can speak to her in a language she can "hear"...sign. Let me say that "AM" likes to simply hang out with her friends. We often spend time with her and talk and walk and laugh. If she didn't understand something she says "What?" and we repeat ourselves...never exploiting her, never unsafely exposing her. Sometimes I make fun and she says "You can't make fun of me, I'm hard of hearing!" and I say back "I'm handicapped too so I can tease you all I want!" to which she replies "Can you take it as well as you dish it?" The answer is yes, of course I can! But, we don't spend a ton of time teasing eachother. They're only moments that we acknowlege our "Specialties" and then we let them go again.
Monique and her have become very good friends and I know that my wife loves her dearly. Well, we both do, but her and Monique's friendship is a most pleasant thing for this husband to watch. Monique and I came home one day to find that "AM" was weeding our garden. She also stops by just to say hello, has gone to different events with us and she enjoys Monique's company after church etc. Most importantly I think that "AM" trusts Monique to keep her friendship safe from exploitation. Monique eagerly seeks to learn signs she doesn't know or doesn't remember. Monique had taken classes in sign years before and uses this skill while singing songs (In Church, at home, in the car...) and sometimes when speaking to "AM". "AM" gives the gift of lip reading to her hearing friends. She gives this gift daily to the world so that she can be part of the world and so the world can be part of her. She can hear words in a quiet environment but in noise like LIFELIGHT, hearing words is nearly impossible. So she reads lips. It's funny actually...reading lips is an asset, a way the hearing get "one-upped". One particular moment the music was so loud I couldn't hear myself think. There was no way two hearing people could engage in a conversation... but I turned to her and said something about the concert knowing that sound didn't matter, and she replied with an answer as if it was quiet as mouse...as if we were having a normal conversation! She spoke more slowly so I could read her lips but it was great. A Helicopter could be hovering 5 feet over your head and we could still talk to eachother. She'll teach you her language if you want to learn it...but if she knows you don't know her language, she doesn't use it around you. In a way, she doesn't expose herself to you until she trusts you with her weaknesses...actually she doesn't expose herself until she knows you can handle her strengths, a super sensitive lip-reading skill, sign language, and sensitive sense of smell and sight and an incredible set of facial expressions.
"AM" and her sister came to Lifelight this weekend. Her sister, of course, can sign and she would flip between sign language and spoken English to say...myself for instance! It's like Monique's mom and dad switching from Dutch to English at the drop of the hat and it's quite amazing to watch. "ASL" (American Sign Language) doesn't follow the typical English sentence structure so bopping from language to language is truly a skill. Monique and the two girls (and I and the family too) enjoyed being with them. Monique, AM, and Hannah would speak in sign to eachother once in awhile...and of course Niekje was learning new signs during their conversations. But God gave Monique a breath of fresh air one evening. Chris Tomlin was on stage and the words to the songs were coming up on the Giant screens. Monique wasn't having a great evening...she didn't feel well, she was a little bit grouchy, she was a little bit angry with me for something I said to her and she was tired...but AM and Hannah stood together and were singing in sign and mouthing the words...well, Hannah was actually also singing outloud. AM was in a safe environment and was enjoying the peace of music in her language. I encouraged Monique to stand with them and sing with them. She refused. I told her that signing always helps her and changes her spirit. She didn't say anything and continued to sit. I didn't touch her, I only sang with Chris, hoping that she would come around...she loves Chris Tomlin. For some reason she stood up. I don't know why to this day. Niekje didn't need to be welcomed into AM and Hannah's presence...she was always welcome there. They began to sign...Monique at first tentative, not wanting to mess up, not wanting to break AM's focus...but it wasn't long until the Holy Spirit was fresh among them. AM feels the beat of a song and, if she is familiar with the music, can follow a song well, even if she's not always looking at the words. God is here right now, and I know that He was amongst us then. It's rare for me to see the Holy Spirit so fresh amongst His people...that's kind of a sad statement, but it's true. However, he was amongst those girls in a way that I won't forget. At that moment, AM didn't have to worry that her language was being misused. She trusted her friend with her language that night, as she always does. And she trusted her friend as they prayed together. That night, 6 eyes were closed, and they sang together "Indescribabe" by Chris Tomlin. Their hands moved in unison...a prayer for the ages. God brought me to the mountaintop so that I could see what it is to be righteous, what it is to be generous, what it is to be completely within the loving touch of God. He taught me one more thing and I'll tell you what it was in a moment. Monique stood with her friend and prayed in a common language with her. Monique was greatly rejuvenated...she trusted her friend with her somewhat gritty disposition and they simply prayed together... God again moved my disposition. But, it was bigger than that...not about me or them or my family...God was and is. It's that simple. I love that such trusting and loving friendships exist still. But, even though God is faithful and just and loving and kind we often don't trust him with our grit. Will not He act faithfully in friendship as Monique and AM have done with eachother? Won't He, in even a much greater way keep you in ways you can't even think to ask or imagine?
The most important lesson for that night was that I discovered it was a privilege for me to present my wife before God knowing that she would find her rest and that God would be faithful in that. She is my body and I present her before you. She is my example of righteousness, of knowledge, of skill, of stamina, of perseverence, of Godliness, of patience, of stalwart attention to ministry, of morality, of generosity...I am humbled by my bride and I intend to keep "my body" pure...we are one and so when I do something harmful, she is harmed. When I say something prideful, she is humiliated...when I do something terrible, she is crushed. I was mean to her that day...not the whole day, just a moment in time, but, she was exposed and exploited and in that, I left her out in the cold...my body naked and exposed. And yet God was willing to show me what it is to protect a friend when He prodded her to stand and pray with her friend in a language they knew together.
That was my Lifelight moment...I hope to stand with my wife in prayer, in scripture and in peace. I hope you won't see me exploit her in front of you like I have in the past. I hope that you won't see me make fun of her in front of you. I hope that you won't see me cause vulnerability within her in front of you. In fact, don't expect it...I mean not to.