All Grown Up

My younger begins his high school sophomore year and is old enough for a learner’s permit and soon the inevitable driver’s license. My husband is driving my older son to his college sophomore year today; two nephews are back on this or that campus, and my newly married niece is starting grad school any day now. Four nieces and a couple of nephews are all in relatively new career positions.  There are no children among the generation that follows mine.

Giving children over to their adult lives is one of the blessings of aging. I don’t want my sons or my siblings’ children to stay at home forever frozen in a child’s reality. They aren’t my possessions or extensions of my own life: they are uniquely themselves, with God-given gifts and work of their own. Their eyes will see things mine never will, and their kindness will bless a world that stretches beyond my living years.

Still, it’s an adjustment – a holy privilege that takes me farther down this road of faith and love. I can’t quite see what’s around the corner, but I have faith that God will surprise me when I make the turn. The same goes for the ones whose hands I held until they were ready for me to let go.

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

I will, with God’s help.

(Baptismal promises)

Love and Cherish

A friend of mine was married for many years before her husband wanted a divorce.

“Don’t you love me?” my friend asked.

“Sure, but I want a do-over before it’s too late,” he said.

Her take on the whole thing: we may take for granted someone we love, but not someone we cherish. Somewhere along the way, her ex forgot the worth of all the qualities that were unique to her and all the shared experiences that made their life together precious.

It’s been years since we spoke of it, but I haven’t forgotten it. Cherishing is remembering the holy and unique characters that make up a person. It is seeing in that familiar face the infinite mystery of life, even after years of living together. It’s recognizing that life didn’t have to bring me this family and these friends, and being thankful that it did.

In sickness and in health

In the Name of God, I take you to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Two days after we got back from a family wedding, the hectic pace of the last few weeks caught up with me in the form of a virus. Headache, upset stomach, and a low grade fever put my plans on hold. I only did the bare minimum of work, leaving the rest for later. My husband picked up the slack without complaint, getting meals and making sure everyone got where they needed to be. I don’t think either of us thought much about it – that’s just what we do when one of us is sick. It’s part of being family.

My mother and father accepted sickness as part of married life. When one had the flu, the other shopped and cooked; when one had surgery, the other prayed in the waiting room. Through countless colds and viruses, diabetes, and one cancer each, they honored their marriage vows by caring for each other. This they did until they were parted by death.

It isn’t often I think about the “sickness and health” part of my wedding vows. It’s been a given for my husband and me for almost twenty-three years. But this week, I see it for what it is: an ordinary miracle of love and steadfast support. And I am profoundly grateful.

We Will

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in you power to uphold these two in their marriage?

We Will.

Along with standing as the bride walks down the aisle, this is where the guests at a wedding do more than observe. This vow is made countless times in churches, restaurants, and on beaches every Saturday, but how often do those of us who make this promise give it even a second thought? In the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, at my niece’s wedding, a whole bunch of us were given the chance to take this promise to heart.

Instead of moving right along in the service, the minister had the bride and groom face the gathering of family and friends:

These are the people who will help you grow together. They will be there when you need them, he said. Remember them. They love you.

I don’t think anyone expected such a statement, or the chance to see the bride and groom face to face during the ceremony. We looked into their eyes, accepted the weight of our promise, and the privilege of honoring it. I count it an extraordinary blessing – and considering the number of people who continued to talk about this part of the wedding into the next day, I am only one among many.

Thank you, Grace and Tommy, for the honor of making such a promise. Thank you, Dave, for the blessing of a face-to-face that brought new meaning and strength to this vow.

Promises, Promises

Something new is coming into the world today. In front of family and friends, two people will come together and promise to live a life in common and to walk through this world together. They promise to celebrate their blessings together, share burdens, and each include the other in their plans, dreams, and griefs. Sometimes the sheer magnitude of these promises gets lost in lace, flowers, champagne, and romantic music – all lovely things, but trivial in comparison. The word marriage doesn’t seem nearly big enough to hold such promises, but I guess it does just as well as any other word.

I offered and received those promises almost twenty-three years ago. Through half a dozen moves, graduate school programs, raising children, and doing our best to serve God and neighbor, I’ve had the blessing of a loving companion. It hasn’t always been easy and we haven’t always been our best or kindest, but it has always been a grace and blessing.

For Grace and Tommy, I wish a wonderful wedding and a love rooted in compassion and humor. I have no idea what adventures are in store for them, but I know they will be uniquely their own. Blessings for the journey!

Given and Given Back

Accept these prayers and praises, Father, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship from generation to generation. AMEN.

When my boys were young, even before they could walk, we played a simple game. I would offer a wooden block or soft toy to them. They would take it, hold it for a moment, smile, and then stretch out their hands to offer it back. I would take the toy, smile and say thank you, and begin the game again. After the first couple of handovers, it was hard to tell which part they enjoyed more – the giving or the receiving. The toy itself didn’t really matter that much; it was the accepting and offering that brought them joy.

Sometimes when I pray, it feels like I’m an infant playing this game. I’m given a day and the miracles it holds. I hold it for a moment, then hand it back to the Giver. It’s a delightful game, at least for me and I assume for God – why else would God play? But there is one big difference: whatever I hand over to God in prayer comes back in a different form. The love of God transforms it into something more precious than whatever it was I handed over. Or perhaps it’s only when it’s given back that I see it for what it truly is. Either way, I am made new by what I’ve given and then been given back.

I think that’s one way to understand Church at prayer: a group of God’s beloved receiving Jesus, holding him close, then giving him back.

And this meal we share on Sundays? What a wonderful way to recognize in Jesus the giver, take the gift of life, and offer it back out of love and delight.

Eyes To See

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Lord God of our Mothers; God of Sarah, Leah, and Rebecca; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

[Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer. For full prayer, click “prayer C” above.]

Do I have eyes to see the hand of God at work in the world around me? With everything wrong and negative, everything harmful and hurtful reported with detail and (sometimes) relish, it’s easy to miss the good, gracious, and holy that surround me. If I don’t ask for eyes to see, will I miss it? If I miss it, how many will I encourage to miss it as well?

There’s a difference between knee-jerk optimism and a hope and joy that nourishes the soul. The first is dependent on things going well (or on denying when things aren’t going well), the second is laying claim to the presence of God in this creation, whatever the circumstances. Blessing and grace are everywhere, but they aren’t always immediately obvious and they come in unexpected forms and by unexpected paths. That makes sense, though. God is constant but not predictable: wouldn’t God-given blessings be the same?

When my eyes are open to God’s handiwork, I will find solace for my grief and strength to make of it something good. I will admit my mistakes and seek forgiveness; my life will be renewed so that I don’t make the same hurtful mistakes in the future.

What a marvelous truth, what a gracious life is offered to me and everyone else. How can I be anything but grateful?