Archive for February, 2013

A Heritage of Steps

February 17, 2013

I have been given the privilege of spending huge quantities of time with my grandson Colt, who is now 19 months old, and learning at an astonishing rate. He is a sponge, absorbing like a sponge and wanting to interact with his environment. We—his aunt (the baby is her brother’s), my wife, and myself—are practically rearing him. That is quite a handful for the 3 of us—my wife and I are in our early 60’s, and our daughter is 34, is unmarried and has no children of her own (yet).

Truth be told, Colt is really my “step-grandson,” or actually the son of my stepson, and his aunt is my stepdaughter. They “married into” our family when I married their mom over 13 years ago. But at this point, I’ve probably had more interaction with them than with my own son and daughter—I was often so busy with work and other things while they were growing up that I missed a lot of interaction with them. Yes, I loved them, and I was a good father, by most standards—not the best, but considering the fathering I had, not bad. I had to learn fathering through on-the-job training, so to speak.

What is interesting to me, though, is that looking back into my more immediate ancestry, I find at least 3 instances of step-fathers entering into the picture in ways that significantly impacted who I am and how I handle life. The first was my own step-father, who had issues with alcoholism and abuse toward his family in ways that created an image of how I did NOT want to be as a father or husband. Indeed, one of the most valuable lessons of wisdom is in learning who we are not, so we can become fully who we are meant to be. So, though I wish the relationship had been better, still I grew from it, and I am thankful for that.

The second “step” was my biological father’s step-father. I knew him as “Paw-Paw.” His name was DB, and he was always distant when my younger sister and I were small, but he changed through an event we were responsible for. Since we stayed on weekends, we asked my grandmother to take us to church, and they eventually took us to a small Baptist church near their home in Belmont NC. Somehow, he got radically saved, and from that moment on, he was a changed man. Before, when my mom had come over, he would literally leave the house until she was gone, and he had little to do with us while we stayed; after this experience, he wanted to interact with us. He wanted to share with us what he was learning—how many verses and chapters there were in the Bible, what the middle verse was, and all the trivia and other things that were impacting him. He died when I was in my early teens, so I never got to know him from an adult perspective, but I still remember the passion he had for his new-found faith.

The third “step” was my great-grandmother’s husband, on the maternal side (my mother’s maternal grandmother). All I know of my great-grandfather was that he seemed to have been a rough man, but the man my GGM married the 2nd go-round was a preacher. She was a member of a small Methodist church in the mountains of Tennessee, in a little town called Maryville, near Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Knoxville. I used to sleep with my GGM when I was a young boy of 4 or 5—she lived in a garage behind her son’s house that had been converted into a one-room home for her. The place was piled high with all sorts of things, the way mountain people store up to help through hard times. I slept in a feather-bed where you would sink into the middle, and I think I remember her praying and sharing her faith with me—but at the very least she lived it out. She was so deeply committed to her faith that she would not even drink root-beer, even though it was non-alcoholic. One other thing I still remember—she brushed her teeth with a twig off a certain type tree that would splinter to make bristles like a toothbrush.

Both husbands were gone by this time, so I never really knew him, but the fact that he was a preacher meant something to me, even then. And I’m sure that his faith was reflected into and added onto her faith. So, in that sense, I shared in his heritage.

I say all this to say that I have come to realize that I have a “step” heritage. Colt to me is the grandson I have not had the opportunity to have. I have 3 granddaughters, the oldest graduating this year [2013] from high school—but I don’t get to spend much time with any of them. But I have not had a grandson—until now. The past few days, I have started taking him down to put him to bed by rocking him while he takes a “bob” (bottle) and twirls the tassels of his “blankie.” He is usually out within a few minutes, and I sit there in amazement and joy, worshiping or praying, and sometimes even teary-eyed. He is such a joy to me, and I am amazed at how I feel toward him. I feel like I’m one of the most blessed men in the world, and I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything.

Scripture says, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3) and “Grandchildren are the crown of old men” (Proverbs 17:6). Our heritage doesn’t always come in ways we expect. I’m glad to have recognized this one in time to enjoy it.

Do you have a heritage that you haven’t recognized yet?

“A Rock Feels No Pain…” BUT

February 3, 2013

I woke early this morning with the final lines of old Simon & Garfunkel song “I Am A Rock” playing in my mind—the part they play slowly at the end: “…and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries”—an appealing thought to many in our society, especially when the pain has been great, and the tears many.

Still, not feeling pain can be a bad thing, as lepers and paralytics know—it can lead to physical damage to body parts that fail to respond to stimuli, and can result in infections, sickness, even gangrene and death. (I know this personally from the death of my first wife, but that’s another story for another time.) And never crying can lead to psychological constipation and emotionally stunted growth, and who knows what else. Pain and trauma internalized can be tragic.

But even more tragic are the things that are missed. A rock never gives birth to a child, an idea, or a business. A rock never experiences the pleasures of life or the blessings that pain can sometimes bring. An island cannot cry tears of joy either. A rock never moves or grows or changes. An island doesn’t multiply, or grow families, or have dinner with anyone.

I don’t want to be a rock, eroding slowly, almost eternally, only becoming sand after eons. Not for me the eternal life of the Cumaean Sybil, who forgot to ask for eternal youth, shriveling up until eventually she was placed into a jar.

I want to live and breathe and laugh and cry. I want to feel pain enough to know what true joy is. And one day I want to die gloriously, even if it’s in my sleep. Meanwhile, I want to know people to the fullest—even those who fail me, intentionally or not.

And if I am not remembered in a hundred years, what I have done that is good will still live on in the lives of those who followed, and those whom they blessed and carried on.

I love stories of people who find encouragement in some of the bleakest circumstances, who take lemons and make lemonade—and then set up a stand and sell it, or even give it away. Aron Ralston, who spent 127 hours with his arm trapped by an 800-pound boulder, and who had to cut it off to escape. The rugby players who endured 72 days in the Andes and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsie, who, in the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, was able to be thankful for fleas—simply because it meant it kept the guards out, and allowed them to pray, and sing, and fellowship, and to be safe for a moment. She died before getting out—but Corrie lived to tell. The stories like those in Ben Sherwood’s book The Survivors’ Club. Victor Frankl’s story in Man’s Search for Meaning. Bill Strickland’s Making the Impossible Possible. The list goes on and on. I love rambling through the archives in the caverns of my mind.

Life is good. All of life. Somehow. Some way. I know there is a lot of bad—but life IS good! And feeling—and feelings—help make it so. I’m not a rock—thankfully. To re-paint Descartes, “I feel, therefore I am.”

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

–James 1:2,12 in THE MESSAGE [Peterson]