Saturday, January 14, 2017

When Kids Talk with their Eyes

"I wish I could have a whole conversation with him about these things, see what he thinks about them."
"Well Dad, take him to dinner. If you offer Chipotle he won't turn you down, and you'll have his undivided attention over a grilled chicken burrito."
"He has time for that? Dinner? Ok if he misses time with you all?"
"Um... yes!"

And so they did. Last week Dad texted Branson for a Wednesday night Chipotle date, sent him a copy of the article he wanted to discuss, and asked Bran to read it before they met. I hadn't read the article, didn't know what was on Dad's heart. I didn't need to. As far as I was concerned, it was between him and Bran. All I heard from my end was, "Cappy wants to take me to dinner," and off they went.

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield describes bringing a young orphan into their home. This little boy, "J," had been horrifically abused by his own family, rejected by multiple foster families, and was labeled mute and mentally retarded.

As Rosaria prayed with her children and prepared them for J's arrival, she confessed her fear about communicating with this child who could not talk. Her young son, Knox gave her that look and said, "Mom, kids talk with their eyes. We will understand him."

The Butterfields spent a week embracing this little guy, welcoming them into their home, dressing him in clean clothes and shoes that were not two sizes too small, drawing him into homeschool lessons around a sunny table, and allowing him to relax and engage in a warm family. Within just a couple of days J demonstrated his bright mind and began to talk.  Rosaria writes,
Jesus is the word made flesh. We take the role of words for granted, we for whom literacy is as common as dirt. I don't think we "taught" J how to talk that week... I think what really happened is that God sanctified and then answered our prayers. We prayed that J would talk, but God taught us to listen and respond to a scared boy who at first talked with his eyes. Then, I think when we learned to listen, it became safe for J to talk. That is, I believe, the bottom line of the Christian life.
When Branson walked in the door from Chipotle after his couple of hours with my dad, the rest of us were shuffling around the kitchen eating our dinner.
"How'd it go?" I asked.
Bran's bright eyes shone with invigoration, "Cappy and I think alike. We're going to write a book."
"Wow ~ what'd y'all talk about?" I knew it was a ridiculous question, a poor assumption that Branson could actually relay their discussion as our kitchen buzzed with plates and forks clinking, ESPN filling the background, and our kids needling each other with complaints of smacking and taking too much food.
But even so, Bran pulled out his phone and checked his notes for accuracy, "A person is about as happy as they decide to be."

Well, that's interesting, considering my primary prayers for this kid have been wrapped around contentment.

A couple of days later as I got to catch up with Dad, he said he started their dinner conversation with one idea of how things would go, but after asking Bran some questions and getting a feel for how he was doing, it went in quite a different direction. Instead of lecturing and teaching, Dad asked and listened. He took the time to let Bran relax and engage. And even though Dad was able to share some of the article and challenge Bran a bit, what Dad seemed to enjoy most was how much he learned from his teenage grandson. Listening and collaborating and learning.

"Ton, I saw his eyes take it in. All that I was trying to communicate. He got it."

Whether it's 8-year-old "J" surfacing from turbulence and neglect, or 16-year-old Branson figuring out where he fits, at times each of us are without words, needing to be heard and listened to when we talk with our eyes.

I can't replicate Dad's conversation with Bran. It's a role that only Cappy could fill. I see Papa doing something similar as he takes our boys fishing and to the movies, engaging in a way that allows them to relax and engage. I've seen our Young Life leaders and church youth leaders and friends do the same ~ building relationships with our kids that allow them to relax and engage and speak with their eyes when they need to. 

As Rosaria said, "This, I believe, is the bottom line of the Christian life."
I could not agree more.

Bran and Cappy, circa 2006