Today is the happy six-year anniversary of my marriage to David — a “youngish” widower raising five great kids. Today is also the one year anniversary of my mother’s near-death, and gradual recovery to something like a stable condition in assisted living.
When I was engaged, a friend suggested that I reconsider the wisdom of marrying because the demands on the “sandwich generation” (those caring both for children and parents) would distract me from my larger cultural calling (the Veritas Forum, in particular). To credit my friend’s foresight, I really didn’t quite grasp what I was signing up for, either in marriage or in parenting. Nor did I request a crash course in the geriatric endocrinology, cardiology, and nephrology that have kept my mom closer to me on this side of heaven over the past year while I was working, and while two of the children were finishing high school, one entering college, one marrying, and another giving birth. Nor, for that matter, do I remember ever signing up for a course in adulthood in any real sense at all.
The truth is that I’m not much of a Giving Tree.
But somehow I’m caught up, entangled, entwined, and fed by the One who is just that. Along the way I laid a few axes to the root, but thankfully the True Vine is and was tenacious enough to eventually bear life in and through me.
The granularity of the given life not only takes our breath away (like off-road-wheelchairing today with my unwitting mom, as we rolled through a field and around the pond by our church), the given life also often feeds my “larger cultural calling.” When David and I moved Michelle into her freshman dorm last week, we were reminded of the hundreds of thousands of students who are so loved by their parents and by God. Yesterday, when, my mom and I comforted a nurse’s aid — a lovely Indian woman who had lost her mother the day before — we were reminded of the pain of orphans, and the deep kindness of those like this woman who care for the elderly. Today when we shared God’s love with Ruth — a partially-blind 96-year old who was upset with herself “for feeling uncheerful today” — we felt something of the love of God for a widow, and the dignity of this woman living so long, and so bravely.
As we hold our grandsons, Nathaniel and Isaac, whether in a diaper meltdown or in a moment of bliss, we know more of God’s unconditional love for us as well. His fatherhood allows us to be children, even as adults. He offers us his strength, his grace under pressure, his resourcefulness. My job is to learn to abide, and to first receive before presuming to give. (God is not the only one who prefers a cheerful giver.)
Eight years ago, I lived alone, in a pine cabin in the woods north of Boston, seven hundred miles from my Ohio home. Had I remained there, apart from some form of real community, I’m guessing my work would have become increasingly unhinged from the framework, and inspiration, of the real questions and longings of the heart . . . the joys and pains of love found and lost, and found again, forever, in Christ. So I offer thanks today, on this anniversary, for the given life. And to the Giver.