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Grayson Clamp was born deaf. He’s not anymore. That’s because after three years of experiencing the world in a soundless vacuum, an auditory brainstem implant changed his world. When I first saw his story, I was touched by the boy’s reaction to hearing his father speak for the first time. If you’ve seen the video, you’re probably picturing it now: saucer eyes, a look of wonder, and an instant of simultaneous questioning and recognition, as if his father’s voice had been there all along but it was just now that he really heard it. It’s a priceless moment.
(Check out the clip here)
Years earlier, Len Clamp and his wife adopted Grayson. They chose him, deficiencies and all. So years later when Grayson finally had the ability to hear, Len Clamp’s “parental instinct” led him to spontaneously say, “Daddy loves you.” I wonder how many times he’d vocalized the same words over the first three years of his son’s life. A hundred? A thousand? And if his son had never heard them, I have no doubt that Len would have gone on repeating those words the rest of his life, as a loving father would do.
But in that moment those words gained life. They united a father to his child in a way that only those three words can do.
In John 19:30 Jesus sends the same message using three different words: “It is finished.”On the cross he poured out his spirit so that we might know life. He sent out a call so profound that all his children for ages to come would know He loved them. That He chose them. That he purchased them at a great price.
But just like Len Clamp’s words, Christ’s message is one-sided unless his child reacts. A gift already given must still be claimed. His child must rejoice when he hears his Father’s voice saying, “Daddy loves you.” The good news is that, like Len Clamp, God continues to whisper, to cajole, to beckon. His words are there even when you can’t hear them.
I think of Len’s words, “We chose him, you know? With adoption, you go out and you pick the child. And we picked him.” How profound. How like our Maker, who died for us while we were still sinners, who adopted us before we could hear his voice. He had already claimed us. He wanted us in the family.
Grayson Clamp still has years of therapy ahead of him. He must learn to cognitively process the verbal cues he now hears. He will struggle. He will falter. But even so, Grayson knows one thing. His Daddy loves him, and that’s reason enough to fight on.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been at his beck and call. One of my first memories is of him not wanting the toy he played with and making me get him another. He’s driven me the wrong direction down one-way streets—all in good fun, of course. Still, all these years I’ve grown to like him more and more. It’s odd, because to say he’s selfish and needy and overbearing would be an understatement. He never has enough money, he criticizes my work, and he believes his desires come before all others. It’s like some lopsided symbiotic relationship.
Yet I think more highly of him today than ever because I know he’s a good guy. Deep down, he is. At least that’s what I have to tell myself after pouring this much effort into him. To be honest, I love him more than anyone else in this world. But that’s exactly the problem. I’ve let him rule my free time. I’ve allowed myself to become his slave.
The only thing that’s ever worked, the only thing that’s ever quieted him enough to allow me some peace and quiet, the only thing that puts him in his rightful place….
Is when I stop trying to serve myself and start serving others.
Because I am my own worst enemy: a hard-hearted, self-absorbed, never-satisfied, jealous-of-my-time master. When I serve myself, I lack joy, complain often, and take criticism badly. I become impatient, inflexible, and emotionally inconsistent. I always want more. In my lust for comfort and security, I make an idol of myself.
The reason this relationship won’t work is that I will never be enough for me. I am incomplete. My desires will only grow, my compassion going only as far as my fingertips. In No Man Is an Island Thomas Merton says that “man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother.”
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Only when I see these two as inseparable orders, as one command, can I ever truly be happy. I can’t truly love God without loving my neighbor, I can’t truly love my neighbor without loving myself first, and I can’t truly love myself without loving the one in whose image I was created.
But when I get outside myself to serve others, my world expands. I stop living for me and start living for a creation loved by its Creator exponentially more than I could ever love myself. Merton believes “that the first responsibility of a man of faith is to make his faith really part of his own life, not by rationalizing it but by living it.”
Service gives me a reason to stop thinking about me.
And thank God for that; I’m exhausting.
Goals. Deadlines. A to-do list that has nothing “to-do” with your current project. How many writers haven’t felt the stress these bring?
Some of this conflict is external (family responsibilities, professional expectations, a pack of starving wolves closing in on your writing cave), and aside from not leaving meat outside your writing cave you can’t always control it. But a lot of the stress probably comes from an internal desire to make good on your own drive and motivation. To feel that ever-elusive sense of accomplishment.
My immediate response in these situations is to rush. To pound out the words with a sledgehammer. To FREAK OUT!
Fortunately, when I take time to breathe, I find that the more my characters and their stories roll around in my head, the more my life and the world pushing in on it enhance the complexities of my plot.
Even so-called “simple” stories have complexity at their heart. Take F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, let me give you a quick story synopsis: A poor boy wants a rich girl, so he spends his life accumulating money and status just to find that it’ll never be good enough.
It’s simple. Archetypal. Yet the story takes on new meaning every time I read it because the author let his characters live in his head for years. His story “Winter Dreams” (1922) was a precursor to The Great Gatsby (1925). It also doesn’t hurt that Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby hold autobiographical significance. They come alive because Fitzgerald LIVED them.
If you’ve ever had a story in your head, you know that they never get smaller. They’re like some early-American immigrant family renting space in your attic. Before you know it, they have twelve kids and omnipresent extended family living with them (don’t worry, this isn’t getting racist). You can’t hear every word they say, but they stomp around, talk too loud, and never sleep. They drive you crazy, and sometimes you just want them out. But truth is, if you calm your nerves and listen carefully, you’ll find that the noise they make is from dancing, the loud words are cheers and stories of the old country, and the late nights are because they can’t bear to lose a moment. They can teach you a lot, and if you decide to let them stay, if you nurture them and allow them to take up permanent residence, there’s a good chance that family’s going to be a driving force behind a flowering story. Maybe even one that endures for hundreds of years.
So take a deep breath this Independence Day, and let your stories do the same. Give them time to put down roots so they can be truly free.