Saturday, May 12, 2012

An example to follow

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.
When you think about your parents, and what it was like when you were growing up, what stands out to you? Do you remember hearing them talk about work? Do you recall how often you had dinner together as a family? Do you focus on big family vacations, or are you memories more tied to everyday rituals like the bedtime routine, or whose job it was to clear the dishes from the table?

Do you keep score of how things were different for you as compared to your siblings? Did your little brother routinely get to bend certain rules that were never even close to optional for you? Maybe you were the oldest and therefore never had to wear hand-me-downs — maybe you were the one who got to go on special shopping trips to buy an eight-grade graduation suit that had to last through a few more kids.

Do you remember what your parents said, or are you more inclined to remember what they did?

My grandmother died early in my freshman year of college. She’d been sick for a while so her actual death came as no surprise, but she was so relatively young — the first of my grandparents to die by roughly eight years — I wasn’t able to pre-mourn, if that makes any sense. Logically I knew she wasn’t going to get any better, but I guess I hadn’t been able to let go until I had no choice. Plus, I was freshly 18 and had just started college hundreds of miles from home. I had plenty of stuff going on in my head as it was. So when it came time for the family to gather I was ripe for all sorts of emotional adventures.

I can still picture us all sitting in a room at my aunt and uncle’s house being led through what I guess you would call a family grief session. Really we all were just kind of talking about her, telling stories, listening, laughing, crying. And while very little of what was said there stuck with me specifically, the emotional evolution I went through during that time, and the entire weekend, played an incredibly significant role in shaping the adult I chose to become.

What I remember most fondly is the stories my mom and her siblings told of their childhoods from the 1950s to the early 1980s. It was not the first time I had heard of their youth, but it seems to me now, nearly 15 years later, that it was the first time I ever heard real talk about the daily goings on of their family. Sure there was talk of vacations or moving, the type of red-letter-day tales I already knew well. But it was the revelation of how the seemingly mundane, the nuts and bolts of parent-child relations and siblings and growing up together, wove together to form a picture of the way they all knew, differently for each child but also collectively, how much their mother loved them, how much she loved their father and also what made her tick. Her values, her fears, her quirks, her essence.

I learned that day how much my grandmother had influenced my life; concurrently realizing I never had a good chance to explain it to her and express my gratitude. I also distinctly remember that weekend being a turning point for me in that I came to understand the importance of my family, but also the strong need to have my own family some day, to love my wife (whom I would not meet for almost a year) always and to have kids, good kids, and to have that be what matters most.

This message was reinforced for me about four years later when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of my other set of grandparents. By that time Kristie and I were engaged and all I could think about was the hope that half a century later we’d be in the same position, able to look back on a life well lived and family well loved. They were the model I wanted to imitate.

No family is perfect, and ours is no exception. I don’t want to chalk up the pros and the cons here, but I must in honesty acknowledge it takes a lot of hard work to have good times to remember and to develop the perspective to accept the difficulties and grow.

Remembering the lessons of those who came before, whose stories all weave together and flicker in the eyes of my three little boys, is what instills in me the desire to walk a path my children will be proud to follow. I am blessed beyond words to have the perfect partner to walk beside me, and await anxiously the journey ahead.

A prayer for May 12:

Lord, I thank you for the good examples we have in life. From the teachings of Jesus and the words of scripture to the leaders of our church and our brothers and sisters in Christ to the family members who shape and mold us on a daily basis, we are lucky to have so many offered as models for us to imitate. I pray for the wisdom to learn the lessons provided me, the diligence to continually seeks your voice as I go along the journey of life and the strength to pay this forward by being for my own children what so many others have been for me. Amen.

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