Sunday, March 24, 2013

Another happy birthday

1 Timothy 6:12-16 (NIV)

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time — God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
It’s not every day you get to celebrate someone’s 90th birthday, so it was pretty special to be at Kristie’s grandparents’ house for the annual Palm Sunday gathering today. And while the traditional egg hunt was forced into the basement on account of persistent snowfall, that disappointment was, for me, offset by the chance to honor Kristie’s grandfather, who turned 90 earlier this month.

The (90th!) birthday boy gets ready to blow out the candles.
Kristie’s aunt ordered a cake for the occasion, and the local bakery was able to screen print two old pictures onto the frosting. One was a baby picture, likely from his baptism. The other was him pictured proudly standing with his 1941 Chevrolet (bought used in 1942, I learned), the latter of which inspired at least two different nostalgic conversations this afternoon.

I’ve only known the guy since sometime after I met Kristie in 1998, so I’m not exactly in the best position to craft a lifetime tribute. But I have a great deal of respect for his service in World War II and I’ve always admired his devotion to his family. But my favorite thing about having Clarence Workman in my life (or, more accurately, me having the privilege of being in his life) has been listening to him pray at the start of family dinners.

The family is fairly structured. We get together every year on Palm Sunday, Father’s Day and Christmas dinner. Not everyone can make it to each event (we live the farthest away by a fair amount) and there have been other celebrations on and off the schedule throughout the years. But when we are there, I can always count on a great prayer from Grandpa.

My dad’s dad prayed before family meals, but it was always the exact same Catholic table grace, and it seemed he was always attempting to set a new North American record between “Bless” and “Amen.” It was special and touching in its own right. And to be fair, Kristie’s grandfather’s grace is more or less a textbook affair as well. Maybe it’s the predictability, the familiarity, that makes me feel so good.

For one thing, each prayer is heavy with use of “Thee,” “Thy” and “Thou” in reference to God. I’m sure there’s a linguistic term for using those pronouns, but I simply appreciate it because it reminds me of his age (specifically everything he’s lived through) and his reverence for God. I also like his go-to phrases: “Forgive us our sins, which are many” and “bless us that we might be a blessing to others.”

The former I appreciate because it’s raw truth not always included in prayers when families gather for happy occasions. But we need forgiveness from God every day, even on Christmas. Maybe especially on Christmas. And the latter I cherish because it speaks to one of the main reasons for us all being here in the first place — to live in gratitude for God’s love and set about making the world better for all of creation.

I can’t claim to know everything about a person I’ve known for about a dozen years. I don’t get a lot of stories about what he was like as a young man or a father of young children. Most of what I know is what I’ve heard from Kristie, and she only accounts for about a third of her grandfather’s life. But still, there are quite a few qualities I admire in the man, traits for me to emulate and habits I’d love to see my children inherit.

Of course, the same was true for my grandparents as well. And my aunts, uncles, dear friends, great teachers, church leaders — all throughout my life there have been role models around every corner. None of them were perfect. Most far from it. But how foolish would it be for me to refuse to take bits and pieces from each and weave them into myself? I’ll always be my own person, shaped by my own choices and experiences, but I certainly owe a significant part of my personality to the many positive influences of people I’ve been blessed to encounter over the years.

From some folks I take something specific — maybe a guiding quote or a certain priority. From others it can be a general attitude or approach to life. In many cases the “it” that became part of me happened long ago, before I knew what was happening. I’m honored when people can see in me traces of someone whom we both loved dearly. And I hope I’m doing the same for my kids, exhibiting some characteristic they either appreciate or will just assume naturally and that it helps one day make them the kind of adult I’m aiming to become.

I’ve been working on this project each day for 11 months now, so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that I find great comfort in thinking about family ties, the linking of generations and the simple pleasures of just being together. And since today was a day to more or less bask in those emotions, I’ll be going to sleep with a smile in my heart. And since we opted to stay with Kristie’s parents an extra night so we can get our van worked on Monday morning, I’ll also be going to sleep with a toddler in my arms. Which is pretty much exactly how a day like this should end. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A prayer for March 24:

Lord, tonight I am thankful for the wonderful examples set by so many special people I’ve been blessed to encounter. Please give me the strength to follow in their footsteps — steps walking along the path you set for all of us. Help me both a follower of you and a leader for my children. Bless all of those in our family, those we see often and those we rarely get to be with in person, that we may in turn be a blessing to those around us and a light of your love in this world. Forgive us our sins, which are many, and help us live fully in response to your grace. Amen.

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