Blessings are the name of the game in my world. When I was a child my grandmother used to tell me that, while God was just so good to all people, that He had blessed her more than anybody else. I didn’t understand it so much then, but now, I feel exactly that same way. I can’t fathom how he can be so generous with spiritual blessings of security in Christ, financial peace, health, happiness in family and sisters in the flesh and in the Lord who are constant sources of encouragement and help. He is so good.
Blessings, sometimes though, bring their own bittersweetness. Often, the best things in life signal the passage of time–the forever irretrievability of times that are now blessings of the past.
Gathering with my father’s family this weekend reminded me of some pretty good days of the past that are now only living in the memories of the people who were gathered around that table in Germania Springs Park in Jacksonville, Alabama. There was a day when I was fifteen years old, in that very same park when the very same family gathered. In fact, we looked at pictures of that day as we sat around that table yesterday. My father’s nine living siblings were there in those photos, along with his mother. I was a part of the very youngest generation in those old family pictures
But the grandmother who graced the center of every picture made on that long-ago day has been gone from this life for about 34 years now and my father is the only one remaining of that large group of siblings. My generation is now the “planning” generation and soon, our plans, too, will be interrupted by sickness and death. The park looks very much the same as it did when I was fifteen. There were children throwing footballs and there were chicken casseroles and pecan pies. There were lawn chairs, coolers of Pepsi and Alabama/Auburn smack-talk–just like when I was 15. But I am not 15 and, I am probably in closer proximity to death than I am to 15. Several people were walking with canes yesterday, but not the same ones that carried canes in the old photo. The ones who were walking with canes yesterday were the ones who threw the football at that picnic long ago. The babies in the photos of long ago are now preaching the gospel and raising their own children. What’s sobering is that nothing I have mentioned in this paragraph is even noteworthy to you, because you are living it, too. It’s reality. It’s so good to reunite with family. But reunions are about memories and memories are the universal reminders that life is short and the grass is never really greener. What’s living and green and blossoming and calling to me and you is right now. Photographs capture moments, but only people who work at living in the moment can capture happiness.
My father, by the way, has done a lot of that. He lives simply. He lives in the moment and he is happy. I wish him a Happy Birthday today. But it will be happy, not so much because of the wishes he receives, but more because he’s pretty much just decided he’s going to be happy as he lives out his days in the Lord. Life is not perfect. He misses my mother. He misses ten siblings. He has rheumatism. He can’t hear well and…well, there’s a litany of ailments. But every day, the answer is about the same when I ask him how he’s doing, “I’m doing pretty well, I think. How are you?” Having him is a huge blessing. Having him happy is an even bigger blessing.
But after the reunion I went home. The job I had waiting for me at home was tougher than the planning and execution of the family reunion. My daughter Hannah is moving from Dalton, Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky. She called a few days ago and asked if we could bring her little cherry bed that her dad had built for her on her third Christmas, so she could use it in her new Louisville house. This bed is a sweet little rope bed with a trundle and a cherry trunk that matches. It has sweet little cherry stairs that Hannah climbed up and down when she was too small to get up into and down from the high twin rope bed. One Christmas Eve, 23 years ago, Hannah went to sleep in a baby crib at night and awakened in the morning in her new “big-girl” rope bed. She played fairy games in that bed and snuggled with favorite dolls. She had chickenpox and a bout with pneumonia in that bed. She got under the covers with her flashlight to read in that bed. She pulled out that trundle bed for a gazillion spend-the-night friends through the years. When we moved to Huntsville, she picked out a spot for that bed and then painted that room purple and made a border around the wall of ‘60s and ‘70s album covers. She decorated it with pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant and the Eiffel Tower and metal BeeGees and ‘Family Affair” lunch boxes. She spent some nights in that bed crying over boyfriend squabbles and finally looking at wedding magazines. Then when she got married, she asked if we could leave the room just like she was leaving it for “just a little while, so when I come back I can take a nap in my old room in my old bed.” Who can say “no” to that (especially when you’re an emotional basket case from planning [and paying for] a wedding)?
So, we’ve been really busy for the last 14 months and the room has stayed just as she left it. Until this weekend. I ran in there Saturday night to try and help Glenn load that bed on the trailer….
Could I just tell you that loading Hannah’s “bed” on the trailer was one of the most difficult things I have ever done? That little bed and trunk were so much more that a bed and a trunk. They could not possibly leave without taking bed linens and the linens could not go without the curtains. And when I took the curtains down I discovered several earrings–earrings that were left hanging in the shades from those nights when she fell into bed and just hung her hoop earrings on one of the strips of the Venetian blinds beside her bed. Well, now, what about all of the stuffed animals that live on the bed? They could not just be thrown on the floor. No, they must go, too. And what about the “I Love Lucy” license plate that hung over the bed? And beside the bed, there’s the hope chest with all of the cookbooks from all of the ladies days we have done and the handmade aprons with ladies day themes on them. She really should be using those. And that hope trunk had magnets all over it from all of her mission trips and her travel abroad. Well, you get the picture. One thing lead to another and late in the night last evening I was still watching years of her childhood pass through my kitchen and out to the trailer with each slam of the screen door. Why is this not difficult for her dad? Or is it?
It’s that blessing sting again. She’s right where I’ve prayed for her to be. She’s happily married to a faithful man of God. She is not a little girl anymore and she would be very developmentally delayed if she still played fairies in that bed! That is a time that’s finished and gone. And therein lies the problem.
As I watch the remnants of that world being boxed up and carted away, I know that’s a time passage that I only get to travel once. I loved its discoveries, its innocence, even its challenges. I’m a nurturer on steroids so I loved nursing babies, smocking dresses, Flintstone vitamins, Snoopy band-aids and nap times with baby drool on my pillow. And all of this stuff going out the door is like the gavel coming down. It’s sort of the declaration of the end of an era. The memory handles are going on the trailer, but not without stirring some very warm old memories in me.
But wait. I just worked all this out in my mind a few paragraphs ago. Let me remind myself once more: Memories are bittersweet because they are universal reminders that life is short. They are also universal reminders that the grass is never really greener. What’s real and living and green and calling to me is right now. Only people who live in the moment can capture happiness.
What’s in this moment, for me, is a wonderful dad who’s turning 90 today, What a rare gift! What’s in this moment are a mother-in-law and father-in-law who are healthier and even closer in my heart right now than they were at this time last year. What’s in this moment is a 25-year-old daughter who promised me if I’d load up her bed and bring it to her, she’d one day let me come and watch my grandchild sleeping in it. What’s in this moment is a son who is ABD in pursuit of a degree he wants to use for the glory of God. What’s in this moment is a son-in-law who is moving to a new work for the Lord and is chomping at the bits to get started in it. What’s in this moment is more friends than I thought one person could have. What’s in this moment is a husband in this hotel room with me who is saying, “Turn out the lights and come to bed.” One day I will look back at this golden moment and be glad for the way it was. One day, just remembering it will be bittersweet. So I will live in it now. I will turn out the lights and thank God for the way it is…right now…in this moment.
May your memories be blessed (Proverbs 10:7)