In June, I found myself on the shores of a river in Ukraine after a baptism service. It was beautiful. I was there visiting the boy who is now my son, and I had connected with friends who work at the orphanage where my son lived. They had invited me to this baptism service to meet some of the people who volunteer to work with the boys in the orphanage.
After the service, the pastor–who is my age and has a remarkable story–told me how much he respected me for adopting my son, then he asked me a question that left me speechless: “but, practically, how will you do it?”
My son Slavik is blind, non-verbal, he has institutional autism, and though he is 14 years old, his body is about the size of a 7 year old. When my wife and I learned about Slavik a year ago, our hearts were stirred and we wanted to help give a family to this boy who spent all of his days in an isolation hall with nothing to do except waiting for the next meal. There is no interaction, no time outside, no play, and no hugs or comfort. There are only days upon days of nothingness in a place with men and boys who find unhealthy ways to escape from their environment. There was much we didn’t know about Slavik’s life, but we did know that if he could come to our home, he could sit at our table to wait for the next meal. He could go outside and play. He could have an unending stream of hugs. And maybe in time, God would create new channels into his heart through which love and grace could flow.
The adoption process took me to Ukraine on three different trips over the summer, and on the final trip, I had Slavik with me for two weeks as we navigated Ukraine together. I was in a foreign country and it was nothing like home. He was in his home country, but everything was foreign to him. New spaces were stressful to him. He removed clothing or reached out to pinch and scratch me. He often yelled out, from excitement or fear, which woke the neighbors on our early morning walks. Our final appointment at the U.S. Embassy was to get his fingerprints. I was so proud we navigated the many lines and waiting periods while keeping Slavik calm. While we were in the small booth working on fingerprints, Slavik had enough. He shifted his weight quickly, sending me to the floor with a busted lip. In the few seconds it took to regain my composure, Slavik managed to take off all his clothes. The embassy worker looked shocked–apparently busted lips and getting naked are rarities in the fingerprinting department.
In the midst of these crazy happenings, I emailed my wife to let her know how different our lives were going to look with Slavik. I felt a bit overwhelmed. She reminded me of a scene from The Silver Chair when Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum are in a moment of crisis and must decide what to do. they have been given four signs by Aslan to help them complete their task. One of the signs is that the prince (the one they are seeking to save) will ask them to do something in the name of Aslan. The problem comes when the person who asks them to do something in the name of Aslan is a crazy knight who is tied to a chair and seems likely to kill them if they untie him.
“Oh, what are we to do?” Said Jill.
It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Could Aslan really have meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? Could it be a mere accident? But then, supposing this was the real sign? They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.
“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.
“Do you mean you think everything will come right if we untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell [Jill] Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
The point C.S. Lewis makes is that whatever the nature of what’s before us, we are called to obey. Some days that obedience may look costly. It may be difficult. It may not be glamorous. Many days, it may seem ordinary and painstakingly monotonous. More than likely, the obedience we are called to has a bit of each of these everyday.
So to the pastor’s question–“practically, how will you do it?” “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We do it one day at a time, one hour at a time, walking in obedience to what God has revealed. We can trust that God prepared this work in advance, and no matter the cost we walk it out one day at a time.