My world shakes. Literally.
I was born with a neurological defect that causes my eyes to rapidly shake back and forth – all of the time.
From what I understand, doctors believe that this strange shaking is the result of trauma to my brain during birth. To the best of their knowledge, the culprit is a simple medical device known as “forceps.” When I explain to people what forceps are, I usually (and somewhat humorously) describe them simply as “baby tongs.” Google “birthing forceps” and you’ll know what I mean.
As the first kid in a family of nine, my parents had cautiously chosen a hospital and doctor that specifically publicized their policy against the use of forceps in delivery. But amidst the chaos of birthing a child with a cranium as large as mine, the thing they had tried to avoid happened anyway.
My little brain knocked against my skull with more intensity than it was prepared for, thus damaging my brain in such a way that it now sends continuous impulses that make my eyes shake back and forth constantly.
Growing up, I noticed that there were curious properties to this deficiency. For instance, my eyes would shake dramatically worse if I was dizzy, nervous, or tired. As I entered my rebellious years, I realized that my eyes were a built-in lie detector, so I would always look to the ground when offering my best fabrication.
One day, after articulating what I thought was one of my better lies, my mother demanded that I look at her as I answered. Of course, my eyes were doing the Shakira something fierce and I was immediately sent to my room.
Before that incident, I hadn’t really grasped that I was different in any way.
Once I made the connection, however, the floodgates of struggle flung wide open. Friends made comments, some even asking me to look away because my eyes frightened them – a reality that still makes eye contact difficult. I developed a deep spirit of bitterness toward my circumstances, the doctors, my parents, and even God. We never spoke of it in our house due to the great pain my parents felt, but nevertheless, I slowly closed myself off from loved ones – unaware of the prison my unforgiveness was locking me in.
Fast forward to the summer of 2006, when I was given an amazing opportunity to serve an internship in northern India. During those 12 weeks, I visited a small village on the Nepali border where my friend’s parents ran a ministry called Mahima Niwas (House of Glory) – a project that houses and cares for 26 poverty-stricken young girls from all areas of northern India and Nepal.
While there I spent a lot of time loving on the girls from this shelter. Each day they would line up in their matching blue uniforms and march single-file to our yard. Once they crossed the garden threshold they would sprint to us, giggling and laughing, and we would scoop them up and spend the afternoon singing, dancing, and teaching them the Bible.
On my very first day, a flock of these adorable girls ran to me and began pantomiming the universal sign that we all know means, “Spin me.” Unable to deny their adorable request, I spun a few of them. And then a few more. And then a few more. Eventually I collapsed on the ground, not simply from exhaustion, but because my eyes were now shaking so rapidly and with such force that I could no longer stand.
As I fell to my knees, two of the girls saw my eyes, gasped in shock, and ran off. My heart immediately broke at the thought that my shaking eyes had struck fear in the hearts of these hurting orphan girls I wanted so desperately to care for. As despair and anger rose up within me, I noticed that the two girls had returned and were dragging a third girl toward me.
“Well that’s just cruel,” I thought. “Now they’re forcing little Nepali orphan girls to come see this American freak show.”
They hauled this poor girl in my direction and it was clear that she did not want to go with them. Despite my discouragement and resistance, they plopped the exhausted child in front of me. I started to offer an apology, but as I looked at her, I saw something that I wasn’t expecting:
Her eyes were shaking.
Instantly her countenance changed from fear to joy and she leapt into my arms. As she hugged me I felt my heart soften. Suddenly my bitterness, while still very real, lost its power. The anger I had grasped with white knuckles passed through my fingers like grains of sand.
Little Vipna never left my side after that. For the rest of my time there, she insisted on holding my hand every moment we were together.
Weeks later I received a message from the missionary family I stayed with:
“Brother Ian, you cannot understand the profound impact your few short days with us had, especially with Vipna. Before your visit she was always quiet and reserved, spending most of her time off playing by herself away from the other girls. We want you to know that now, she hurries to be at the front of the line, smiles constantly, and, walking with her head held high says over and over again, ‘My eyes are like Uncle Ian’s eyes.’”
I spent the rest of my time in India contemplating that pivotal moment. My years of heartache seemed more than worth it for the opportunity to show an orphan girl that she was not alone. God had not abandoned her, or me. He loves us more than either of us could understand.
Maybe that’s the point. When Christ surmounted death, it wasn’t just so that we could celebrate some ambiguous paradise in the future. It was a declaration that He has made freedom available to us now.
This doesn’t make our struggles and pain irrelevant.
In fact, I would argue that the “life abundant” Jesus spoke of in John 10 not only means the joy and pleasure of salvation, but that we must also enter more deeply into the agony and heartache of humanity. As our hearts align more intimately with the Father’s, we must know that while his joy becomes our song, his heartache also becomes our lament.
Our weaknesses are not only conquered, but redeemed. Our pain is not only to be overcome, but used to point to the One who has saved us – even if only to a small orphan girl with a broken heart.