Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A crown for the aged

Proverbs 17:6 (NIV)

Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
   and parents are the pride of their children.
One of the first things I learned as a new parent was the joy of watching our family members interact with the baby. I gained an almost immediate appreciation for the presents of aunts, uncles and grandparents in my life, especially those who never let physical distance get in the way of making sure I knew they cared for me. Unlike Kristie, I did not grow up with extended family in my daily life — I didn’t even have a cousin until after my 10th birthday — yet I never doubted the notion of “family” went far beyond my parents and siblings.

(This, of course, should not discount the notion of dear friends who are as emotionally close, if not closer, than blood relatives. Having such people in your life is an absolute blessing, and my cup runneth over in this regard.)

Still, having Jack delivered perspective nothing else could provide. Naturally this understanding deepened as Jack grew (and as Max and Charlie arrived on the scene) and actual relationships began to form. As the babies developed their own personality, so did our relatives grow in their roles as grandparents, aunts and uncles. And as I watched that evolution on all fronts, I could not help but consider the way my own relationships with extended families developed over the years.

I don’t feel as if my extended family relationships or somehow unique or more special than anyone else’s; the nature of this observation is more about how my parents might have felt watching as their parents and siblings became involved in my life in differing degrees. It is one thing to have family members who support your role as a parent (by baby sitting or encouraging your parenting choices and so on) and something altogether different to begin to sense how important your children have become to their extended family. There is a great difference between “That’s my brother’s kid” and “this is my nephew.”

Grandparents, specifically, have been on my mind lately for reasons alluded to Sunday. With no idea what I would write about tonight, this verse jumped off the screen — “children’s children are a crown to the aged” is a beautiful image. And so naturally I have been thinking about my own grandparents (and Kristie’s), but more so of my children and their grandparents. One of the leading reasons we felt starting a family so early in our marriage was right was how it would give our kids the best opportunity to get to really know their grandparents — and that choice has been vindicated time and time again.

Clearly, I have no idea what it is like to find out you will be a grandparent. I assume the excitement is tempered, or at least tinted, with the unavoidable truth of being moved into a new phase of your life. Unlike going to college or getting married or becoming a parent, you generally have no choice on this front, just a few trimesters to adjust to the coming reality. I’m not complaining about anything I experienced, I just know how I felt when I turned 30 and I can only imagine what it must take to adjust to the news of a new generation about to hit the scene.

One of the unsung wonderful things about moving close to home (and also being connected to seemingly everyone via social media) is the chance to see how my parents’ friends welcome their roles as grandparents. Some are regular care providers, others have to fly across the country just to welcome a new baby, some are trying to learn how to best support their kids, some are always armed with a new photo or anecdote. Some have watched for years as their peers became grandparents and wondered if they’d ever have the chance. Some have so many grandkids I wonder if they have to take out a second mortgage just for Christmas and birthday presents.

There is not much I enjoy more than secretly listening as my parents (or Kristie’s) tell someone a happy story about one of our kids, especially when such a tale illustrates how much they really know the boys. A grandparent bragging is to be expected — you’d be shocked if it didn’t happen — but to hear someone talk about what their grandkids mean to them, how having these little ones around has changed they way they live or think, well, it kind of defies description. I always knew being a parent would change me forever. I did not presume my kids would also have the power to change so many others.

I’m guessing there aren’t too many people reading this who are not parents, but for anyone who is, I urge you to think deeply about the role your grandparents played in your life. Believe me when I say they loved you deeply from the moment you were born and only continued to grow in that love every day since. They see bits of themselves in you, and they also see the result of their own jobs as parents. You may feel as if you no longer have that much in common with them, especially if they do not live close and have no concept of your job or where you live or who your friends are or what you value. But in reality, they are one of the few people on the planet who know you so intimately and love you so intently as to be thinking of you and your well being far more often, probably, than you think of them and theirs.

Of course, there is the good chance you may not be as lucky as Kristie and I were to have all four grandparents attend our high school graduations. We had six of eight at our wedding. I know plenty of people — some in my own family — who never knew their grandparents in any meaningful way. It absolutely breaks my heart. I am ever thankful my kids are not in that boat, and realize how lucky they are.

Children’s children are a crown — kind of like when you get a checker to the end of the board and it is made a king — capable now of so much more, elevated beyond all the others on the board. Grandparents are like royalty that way, and I am ever blessed to have so many good ones in my life. I wish the same for everyone.

A prayer for May 30:

Lord, I thank you for grandparents. I am so blessed to have been so loved by so many, and equally blessed to see my children growing up in the same manner. Please help me to continue to connect with the grandparents in my life and to empower me to let them all know how important they are to me and my sons. I thank you also for the lives of those grandparents no longer with us, and pray for the strength to live a life worthy of the examples they set and the wisdom to pass on the lessons I learned at their feet. Amen.

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