Monday, October 22, 2012

The blessings of generational love

Psalm 145:3-7 (NIV)

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
   his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
   they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty —
   and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works —
   and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
   and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
As noted earlier, I dug through an awful lot of family photos in late summer trying to find good pictures of my grandmother for a memorial slideshow. I noticed a lot of common themes sorting through more than 40 years of snapshots, and one of my favorites is how many times both sets of my grandparents were at our house together.

My mom’s parents lived in Connecticut, and later Florida, my entire life. They’d come to Illinois once or twice a year and we’d go see them each Christmas, with a few exceptions. My dad’s folks lived a three-hour drive away in Western Illinois. And judging by my mom’s photo records, darn near every time her parents were in town, my dad’s parents made a day trip to visit.

My grandmothers at our dining room table, August 1993.
I don’t recall thinking much of this when I was a kid, other than I enjoyed all of my grandparents so I never minded seeing them all together. My dad’s parents especially could get along with just about anyone, including complete strangers, so it made sense they could become good friends with my mom’s parents, despite their many differences in terms of upbringing, career and familial mobility. But still, like many things I did not fully grasp until I was older, I realize now it must have been a significant blessing for each of my parents to have welcoming in-laws who also were genuinely friends with each other.

All of this came to mind Sunday night at our house. Kristie’s mom decided to drive out by herself to see us Sunday morning — a pretty major accomplishment for someone who is highly uncomfortable on the highways east of Rockford — and spend the night. My parents were free for dinner, so I invited them to come up. It was a bit more work than getting takeout on my mother-in-law’s nickel, but it’s always nice to have the feeling of a real family dinner. Thanks to wonderful weather I was able to fire up the grill and enjoy what probably is our last taste of summer.

My kids see my parents at least once a week during our Monday night bell choir rehearsal at church. We almost always run into Pops and K on Sunday morning after worship as well. Sometimes that’s it for a week, but it seems there’s always a few more occasions, everything from me bringing a boy or two to work if Kristie has an appointment during the day to something like Saturday, when we left them there for about seven hours so we could spend the afternoon in Chicago.

We see Kristie’s family several times a year. We tend to make most of our trips their direction during the summer and around holidays, but it’s nice to be close enough we never have to miss anything like graduations or milestone birthdays. As I’ve written about before, Jack and Max have started to spend some alone time out there, which is something I thoroughly enjoyed doing as a child with my dad’s parents, and it adds a unique dimension to that relationship, because they’re never really going to spend a week in the summer at my parents’ house.

All of that is more or less a setup to describe a special moment from Sunday night. Charlie was done with his bath and getting ready for me to take him up to bed. I brought him into the kitchen to say goodnight to How. Though he’d been a bit chilly when she first arrived, he spent much of the afternoon by her side and was fully warmed up by the evening, to the point where he was willing to give her hugs and his version of kisses before bed. Then my mom came over, and he more or less basked in their affection and would have done so for as long as I let him.

To be able to hold him as he exuded such pure joy — seemingly displaying an awareness of just how loved he truly is — was an absolute blessing. It was one of several signs over the weekend of how much he’s expanded his circle of trust beyond just his parents. At church Sunday morning I carried him down the steps into our Social Hall during coffee hour. As usual, the room was fairly crowded. As I approached the center (following Max toward the snack table), Charlie spied my parents in the corner, made his noise that passes for “Pops” and wiggled to get down. I set him down, mostly curious to see what would happen. He promptly walked right over (almost jogged, actually), oblivious to all the strange adults surrounding his path, and the next thing I knew he was up in K’s arms.

He also shared some wonderfully tender moments with How in our backyard Sunday. Kristie was out shopping, and Jack and Max were jumpingoff our playset into a pile of leaves. Charlie wanted in on the action, so How helped him up and down the Little Tikes slide. She also held him as he watched Max fling himself into the leaves with reckless abandon, giggling gleefully with every leap. To think how recently it was that neither grandmother could peel him away from a parent without a food-based bribe, it was amazing to see him spend virtually the entire weekend soaking up the grandparent love.

How and Charlie share a backyard laugh Sunday.
All along I told the grandmothers (and also myself) Charlie would come alone, would love them as deeply as the older two, and the first months would be but a bump in the road. We all instinctively knew it to be true, and even though we’ve seen these relationships develop with Jack and Max, it’s somehow still wonderful to witness it happen a third time. To paraphrase something a Facebook friend wrote earlier today about her children and their grandparents: The kids are so lucky to have them and I know they cherish every minute they get to spend with any of their grandchildren. Grandparents and grandchildren are the ultimate blessing.

Seeing these relationships blossom truly is a blessing. In part it makes me sad to no longer have any of my grandparents in my life, but it also helps me fully appreciate the wonderful relationships we did have in all our years together. To be able to have all my grandparents see me graduate high school — and to have a great-grandmother alive until I was 15 — was incredibly special. Not unique, but special to me nonetheless. The overlapping of generations stirs emotions in me I’ve never been able to fully define, and I hope one day to see the next generation come along and continue growing the circle. As we all band together, centered around God, we truly are blessed.

A prayer for October 22:

Lord, tonight I pray in happiness. I am looking past the challenges of daily life and choose instead to simply thank you for your goodness. You created the Earth for us to live in and care for, and you gave us families for companionship, protection, nurturing and love. We miss dearly those who have gone on before us, but rest in the knowledge we all will be together one day in the full presence of your glory. Your grace is the most amazing gift of all. Amen.

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