lenten journal: family matters


    I broke my promise, or at least my practice.

    I missed writing the last two days, even though my commitment was to write everyday during Lent. The combination of the move, trying to get the phone company to get wifi hooked up at our new home, work, and sheer exhaustion conspired to the point that I chose to sleep rather than write. It was a semi-conscious choice (because I was semi-conscious when I made it), but a choice nonetheless. Therefore, this season, I will also learn something about forgiveness. The point of my writing practice during Lent over the years has been to give me a sense of focus in working to intentionally live these days and to give me a sense of connection, which is why I write publicly. Missing two days doesn’t change either of those things, in the larger picture. Easter will still come.

    The best part of the last two days was sharing it with our nephew, Tim, who came to visit. He is sophomore at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago, a wonderful musician, and all around great guy. He and some of his friends were coming to North Carolina to hang out and do some hiking and he took time away from them to come see us when he realized he was going to be close by. As far as I’m concerned, his visit was an incredible gift.

    Because our families have never lived close to each other, Ginger and I have not gotten to be around Tim and his older brother Ben very much over the years. We have a good connection with them, but we haven’t been around each other to really get to know one another. Having him for a couple of days (he got to spend the first night with us in our new home) gave us time to relax and talk and move beyond the what-have-you-been-up-to-and-what-is-your-major kind of conversation. Tim and I also had a chance to spend a couple of hours, our two MacBooks connected by fire wire, swapping music files and sharing our favorites. I came away with about forty new CDs worth of tunes and came pretty close to doing the same for him.

    Age is a funny thing. I’m about thirty years older than he is and yet that distance wasn’t part of the mix this weekend. I didn’t have to try and be twenty, neither did I feel compelled to take the I-remember-what-it-was-like-to-be- your-age approach. We laughed and talked and listened as ourselves talking to one another. There are things he knows about I want to learn and, I suppose, the reverse is also true. I knew him when he was a kid. It’s much more fun to let him grow up.

    I was talking to someone the other day who is about eighty and preparing for surgery. She likes her doctor and she said, “You know how old he is? He’s forty-two,” in a tone that made it sound as if he was going to have to wash the sand from the sandbox off of his hands before he started operating. I wanted to say, “When you were forty-two, you didn’t think of yourself as a kid or as inexperienced. Why not think of him that way as well?” That doctor has probably spent half of his four decades honing his craft. He’s not a novice. She’s missing the chance to see him by keeping him a kid.

    I think that’s part of the reason Jesus didn’t hang around Nazareth much. When he went back they kept saying things like, “Isn’t that the carpenter’s kid?” and “Hasn’t he turned into a handsome lad?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” He took his disciples and his miracles and went elsewhere.

    I think we all want to feel as though we get credit for who we are, no matter the age. I know I think that’s true for everyone (though I’m pretty sure it’s not, at least at the intensity with which I feel it) because the lesson I internalized early in life was that love was earned, which means I’ve spent a lot of years trying to be enough to deserve to be loved. Staying a kid – or being treated as though you’re still a kid – doesn’t let me be enough. I, like Paul, want credit for putting away childish things.

    Like Lazarus coming out of the tomb still bound up by the grave clothes, though I know how deeply and unconditionally I am loved by God and by Ginger (I’ll start with those two), I stumble around still tied up because I don’t know how to loosen and lose all that keeps me from being fully alive and aware that I am so loved.

    The working motto of the UCC is, “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” The way I hear those words is, “When you come to church, you be you and will be who we are and move on from there.” Last night, I drove Tim down to meet his friends. As I drove back, listening to some of the music we had shared, I prayed when his friends asked how the time was one of the ways he would answer was that he felt like he could be himself and that we were ourselves around him. I wanted him to feel the way my Aunt Pegi made me feel every time I was around her.

    Over the years, one of the things I’ve become aware of by watching families around me is that family doesn’t come easy for me, and I think I have a lot to do with why it doesn’t, much of which is connected to the whole love is earned thing. In a song I’ve mentioned before, Cliff Eberhardt’s “The Long Road,” he sings

    there are the ones you call family
    there are the ones you hold close in your heart
    there are the ones who see the danger in you
    and don’t understand

    The song came around as I drove home last night after meeting Tim’s friends and I was thankful because I had been with him, my family, and it was good. He made me feel loved and understood; I hope I did the same for him.



    1. lovely post, Milton. It seems as if you are pretty good at being with your family of friends. Relatives are harder, as you said. For me, because of the expectations that we will think alike and the fear of lost connection when we really, really don’t. I just had the vision of a cosmic game of scissors, paper, rock, with love, fear, anger. Always, always play love.

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