Revelation 4:1-3 (NIV)We saw a rainbow this afternoon. It was not the strongest I’ve ever witnessed, but for a good while you could see the entire arc from one end to the other. It happened to be hanging above a beautiful little lake in a wonderfully landscaped yard complete with a waterfall bubbling into a pond with real frogs inside. Suffice it to say our children were enthralled.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this might have been the first rainbow Jack had ever seen. Certainly it’s true for Charlie, and I don’t ever recall sharing the experience with Max, either. Jack is eight years old now, so it seems unlikely he’s never seen a rainbow before today. But to my memory he’s never seemed to care.
The occasion was a gathering at the home of one of our church’s pastors, a large collection of couples with young children who might want to get involved in some sort of small group during the next few months. Two of the other couples from our own small group were present, in part because we fit the demographic, in part because we might be able to get involved with a new group without leaving our original collection and in part because it takes very little prodding to get any of us to open up about the incredible benefits we reap from being involved with these people.
We first started meeting in the fall of 2009. There are four charter member couples, though nine or ten have come in and out over the last three years. Of all of those folks, if I am counting properly, there have been five babies born in just the last three years, and 15 children total. Our kids don’t have cousins, but I feel so blessed to have all of these other little people (and their parents!) in our lives — it’s groups like this that give credence to the adage friends are the family you choose.
I don’t know as if there’s any one story that explains why these people are so valuable to us, as a couple, as parents, as Christians — everything. Kristie has a good way of putting it when she expresses how good she feels knowing there are so many people who know us well enough and care about us enough that if anything serious should ever happen, they would immediately spring into action to create a safety net. When practical, we’ve listed each other as emergency contacts on our kids’ school paperwork. When we’re at church on Sunday, it’s not unusual for one of the younger kids to end up in my arms, or for an older one to tug on my pant leg and say, “Um, do you know where my mom is?”
When we moved away from Kristie’s hometown, off on our own for real for the first time, we didn’t know anyone. For all practical purposes, we had no neighbors. I made great, lifelong friends at the newspaper, but they were not family types with young children. We tried various churches with varying degrees of success, but we spent most of our time isolated or traveling to her parents’ house or mine.
When we moved here, close to my hometown, we quickly became involved in the church of my youth, where my parents have been members for three decades. And there were lots of folks there we knew well because they have been family friends for years and years. But they were all a generation removed. So while it is incredibly comforting to have so many experienced parents and grandparents keeping watch over our kids as they tear through the halls and go through Sunday school programs, it wasn’t until we found this small group that we actually made friends — our own friends who know us first and my parents second. Friends who use our Christmas cards to teach their kids how to say our boys’ names. Friends who loan us DVD players so we can drive to North Carolina for Thanksgiving with minimal tantrums. Friends who let us be open and honest and happy and sad and know what we like and what makes us worry and congratulate us when things go well and pray for us when the road is rough.
When we saw the rainbow tonight, I mentioned we should tell the other people in the house. Jack seized the opportunity. Emboldened with a task, he shed off the insecurities of being in a new place and the confusion of people who knew him well but whose names he never learned or could not recall and retrieved a few other adults to the porch to show off the majestic sight. Unprompted by me, they thanked him for sharing the rainbow with them. They said how glad they were he invited them to look. And his face, as it does in these moments, could not entirely mask his pride at having carried out such a thoughtful, mature task.
At the time, I was filled with some sort of emotion I can’t quite describe. It happens when I see something in my child that only very close family might detect, one of those indefinable, well, things that make Jack Jack, or make Max Max. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how there are these other people now, these other parents and a growing number of friends who genuinely know and love and understand our boys, not because they have to but because they want to, and how fulfilling it is to be able to, in a way, share my kids with them.
Obviously there remains something special between me and Kristie and our boys, and no one aside from the five of us will ever be able to replicate that kind of closeness. But having that inner circle, and watching it grow, is so unbelievably comforting it’s difficult for me to find the right words to fully explain. And while I would not take anything away from people who have close friends entirely outside a church or religious setting, I know for us these connections are as strong as they’ve become because they are built around our shared faith.
When I write, as I do often, about God as a source of comfort and strength, I am considering relationships like this in that sentiment. Our family and these friends are, for us, an extension of God’s love for all people. I can say “God will provide” because God already has. I see and experience God’s love with them and through them. When there are struggles, we go to them as a part of going to God. They’re just regular people, but we have found each other and, at least for me, it has become a source of inexplicable strength and community. Again, this is a difficult concept for me to illustrate with words; I can only hope other folks who have a similar experience will understand my intent.
I know what we’re supposed to think of when we see rainbows, and that’s always in the back of my mind. But from here on out, rainbows are going to also remind me of the way God is present for us in the people he allows and encourages us to be with in fellowship. And I’m also going to remember that look on Jack’s face, because it got right to the essence of what makes him so perfectly special to me.
A prayer for August 26:
Lord, you are worthy to have glory and honor and power. You created all things through your will. I continue to try to learn how I may live in tribute, how I might discern your will and be worthy of your majesty. I am so grateful for the wonderful family and friends you have placed in my life, that there are so many people who care about me and especially my family. I pray that I might give to these people what they have given to me, and I know I can do so because you will provide the strength and wisdom to make it possible. Thank you for this embodiment of your love. Amen.