Since Grandma Lila has first lived with us, I've become aware of a unique quirk of her philosophy and belief that I don't think I've ever encountered quite so strongly before. She is very deeply aware of the difference between those of her blood and "everyone else" who isn't.
To her, while a person may be very fond of adopted children or in-laws, they exist on a slightly removed plane from those of her blood. It's such a basic understanding that even as she's gradually forgetting so many things that used to be second-nature to her, she remembers this. There are those who are blood-related to her and those who aren't; and those who aren't blood can never be family. Not really.
It took me a long time to put my finger on why this was disturbing to me. There was the obvious reason that I wasn't blood and Grandma just doesn't quite believe I'm a member of her family. I was not, am not, and probably will never be a granddaughter in her mind. This is partly due to the difficulty of not being able to remember who I actually am. But it's partly because I'm not blood and that's that.
There was more to it, though. I've finally realized what it is: I believe in adoption. I believe there is something much greater and stronger than simple relationship through blood, as powerful as that is.
I believe it's possible to become family with people I wasn't born blood-related to. I deeply believe that although I wasn't born one of God's Chosen People, I can be adopted into God's family as seamlessly as if I really was blood of their blood. Without this belief, this hope, it would be a pretty depressing thing to read the Bible. I would always be cut off from really being able to take part in God's promises to those he calls "my people". This doesn't mean I think I'm actually a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because I've just decided I am - it means that I believe I've been grafted in to the family of his promise "you will be my people and I will be your God" just like any person who has faith in him.
Adoption is a thing that if done correctly is an amazing outgrowth of love. Love creating a family that isn't bound together by blood at all - a family that didn't have to be one, but chose to be one. The love of a parent for a natural-born child is a pretty spectacular thing; but true love of adopted family is extraordinary. Even supernatural. You're biologically geared to love flesh of your flesh. Not so much someone who doesn't originally belong to you at all. The bindings this kind of love can create can often be stronger than the love of a biological relative, though: that's been proved over and over. Ask military men about the bond between people in combat situations, for example. As Proverbs says, "There is a friend who is closer than a brother"; and Jesus, "Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his friends."
Marriage is a kind of adoption: a decision to become one person and to have lives bound together that otherwise would be totally separate, a decision that another person's family is going to become yours and your children will be part of them as well as part of the family you grew up.
If those who weren't family can't actually fully become family, then there's not much point to a marriage, in my mind. My family would always be closer than the husband I live with and I would always want to be with them rather than here. How terrible would it be if Ben and his family could never measure up to my family in my mind, so I always held them a little further away than my family? I bet you've seen that happen in some marriages before. It's devastating to everyone involved.
But God created marriage to be good. He said it was good for a man and woman to leave their parents and "cleave" to each other. To stick to each other, to become true family as if bound by the closest ties blood could create. He's enabled us to love those who were never born of our blood just as tightly and completely as if we had always been together.
I know he's done it because he made us to be like him. And God himself tells us the spirit is stronger than the flesh. Love is stronger than blood, not contingent on it.
It's come to my attention that, though we were very good at getting word out with Abigail, we have not really made it as well known that we are expecting again.
So here is the announcement.
I am expecting our second child, due on the Fourth of July.
As our friend Emily says, apparently we favor having babies during extreme weather months. Ben says it's because we wanted fireworks for this one. I personally think it's much better management to have babies when it's warm - no snowsuits, much reduced chance of getting sick, and it's easy to put the babies in the stroller and go for a walk when they get sad.
It's taken me probably the whole five months to really believe we're really having another baby. (It probably helps to believe with this one because he/she's quite a mover compared to Abigail - he's been really busy since about 13 weeks and I didn't feel Abigail at all until almost 20.)
Part of it is that in some part of my mind I just always expect to follow in my mom's footsteps and she not only went three years before having her first baby but never had any children closer together than about 27 months. So the idea of having two children 17 months apart is fascinating and mind-boggling to me. I've just never lived with it. And people thought Elizabeth and I were twins when we were over two years apart.
It's new territory to me, almost even newer than being Mom in the first place.
This pregnancy has been in some ways very much like Abigail's and in other ways totally different. I've felt much the same, though demands on me physically are higher this time, just starting with having a very active 8-months-and-onward Abigail to take care of. I had no idea how much time I had when I was expecting Abigail! Yes, I was taking care of Grandma; but Grandma doesn't need constant attention, so even though there a few times she called Mom and told her "everyone left me and there's no one here" when I was taking a nap, I could ultimately still go take one when I couldn't keep my eyes open. This time I had to basically force myself to sleep in during the morning as long as Abigail would sleep even though I would normally want to get up and do things; if I didn't, there was no time for a nap and I would end up pretty exhausted.
Of course, I think I also felt worse with Abigail than I did this time, looking back. I certainly gained a lot more weight. One side-effect of nursing one baby while expecting another is that I'm gaining a normal amount this time rather than fifteen pounds the minute I was expecting and then going up from there. Okay...maybe that's a little vain, but losing weight is a lot of work and it'll be nice to handle a normal five or ten pounds instead of twenty.
It's really funny to look back at this time last year and think Abigail was just a few weeks old and this baby is already almost big enough to survive on his/her own. It was even funnier on Christmas when I teased Ben that we haven't celebrated a Christmas since we were married that I wasn't expecting.
Back when we first got married, I had no idea what our situation regarding children would be. I was actually a bit afraid that I was getting old enough that having at least the first baby might be a little difficult. Losing Joshua didn't help my confidence level on this. To be honest, I had to spend a lot of time NOT thinking about how we might start losing one after another. I had no clue how helpless it would make me feel to be just expecting and have this tiny, fragile little person I was carrying around who I couldn't see or touch or check on to see if he or she was doing okay. Having Abigail be so strong and healthy definitely dispelled a lot of that uneasiness, but not all of it. I still spent every day for the first three months this time saying, "Ah, another day the baby is still with us." I certainly don't take that miracle for granted. I also certainly have no concern now that we're going to be taking the route of wondering if and when we'll ever have children.
So that's the (belated) news from our house. We keep telling Abigail about how there's going to be a new baby and how she's going to be walking and talking more by the time the baby gets here and how she's going to be a very good big sister. And she looks at us with this blank look like, "What on earth are you talking about?"
Ah, my little twin who doesn't know she's a twin yet...
I've been trying for a week to think of how to write this blog post.
A week ago yesterday, we buried one of the most wonderful men I've ever known.
I've struggled to try to explain what his life has meant to mine since the moment I realized he was gone, early in the morning on the day Abigail was coming into the world just a year ago. The impact he had was so enormous that in trying to play the "what if we had never met" scenario I'm not sure I can even comprehend what my life would be if he had never come into it. It's almost like trying to imagine what would've happened if one of your parents had never been born. You simply wouldn't exist, that's what. In a way, without this man, I wouldn't exist.
I know. It sounds melodramatic and ridiculous and might even sound like hero-worship. It's not. God used this man in a way men very rarely allow themselves to be used and the results have been - and will continue to be - tremendous.
Joe was not a very imposing man. In many ways, he would seem at first glance very average. But he wasn't because he believed a very simple concept about himself and about God: he believed - still DOES, since God is not a God of the dead but the living - that God created him in God's image. It wasn't that he thought he himself was so great, but he believed in a great God. He believed more that God was greater than anyone else I've ever met. He believed God was so great that God created all things to be good and therefore all things had the potential to be good. They were made to be good, redeemed to be brought back to good, and therefore could be good.
Stop and think about that a moment.
A lot of people will say that God created everything.
Fewer but still quite a few will say that God is good.
Even fewer will say that God made things - including us - to BE good.
And out of all those, very few at all actually believe any of it.
You can tell by the fruit their life bears. If a tree says it's an apple tree and bears oranges, you can't believe a word the tree said about it's identity. With humans, their beliefs dictate what kind of tree they are and what kind of fruit they bear. You can say all day long that you're a hippie and a free spirit, but if you voluntarily wear a suit and tie to work every day, cut your hair short, believe in keeping all the laws you encounter, and love authority and structure...no one can or should believe that you really believe what you're saying you believe. If you say you believe in a God who created all things good and say you serve him but have all the same troubles and problems as people who don't, then you don't either.
When Joe said he didn't believe in Terrible Twos because his beloved children were created by God to be good and Terrible Twos sounded like nothing God would look at and say "it is very good"...his children were delightful two-year-olds and just kept on getting better with age. Not only that, but his grandchildren were (and are) wonderful two-year-olds too. This was often the first thing that attracted other people to him: his children. His wonderful, happy, blunt, imaginative, humorous, creative, industrious, obedient children. Then teens. Then young adults. Then married with their own children. He understood and valued love and marriage and fatherhood like no other (he was asked to leave a very conservative church because they said he "valued fatherhood too much") because he believed whole-heartedly that God made all those things good and God himself was the original after whom husbands and fathers were modeled. He held himself to those standards not as a rigid authoritarian but as an enthusiastic, gentle and joy-filled leader; and it was impossible to talk to him without getting at least a sense of this.
To him, God is a person, a father, a leader, a Creator who - even though he is so much greater and more than we can even imagine - still wants to live in our homes with us and interact with us as a father does with his children. God is wonderful and he was interested in a wonderful God. And he made the same wonderful God attractive to other people when they kept coming to him over and over and saying, "Tell us how you're doing what you're doing!"
Peter advises his readers in 1 Peter 3:
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
Joe was the best evangelist I've ever met, not so much because of what he said as how he lived. His life brought God glory because when other people looked at him and wanted to know how to have what he had, the answer was he had what God is always ready to give. He really possessed the peace that passes understanding and the joy that only God can give; and it was very, very, very attractive to anyone who really had a chance to see it. People would think, "Boy, if this is what the God you serve can do...tell me about your God!"
My parents were like that. They first began really talking with him when they were 24 and I was about 6 weeks old. He was only a little older than Ben is now, but there was something about him and the God he loved that was so attractive that they were drawn to what he had. And when he began describing the things he'd learned about God that had brought him to where he was, they listened. They were already afraid to put me in school because of things they were hearing from the teenagers they were teaching at church. They looked at Joe and realized he'd done the unthinkable: he'd been afraid too, so he'd simply removed his children from school. Who does that?
Well, he had and it was clearly working. Because he believed God gave children to their parents and they were therefore fully equipped to raise those children to be the kind of men and women God was looking for. If school got in the way, then school had to go and it would be a good thing that it was gone.
I'm not sure my parents would've ever had the courage to take me and my siblings out of school without being able to see positive proof that it could be done and it could work really well. So without Joe, I would probably have gone to school.
That would already make me a totally different me.
When my sister was born and died around the time I was four, much of my parents' ability to weather that kind of storm - one that tears apart a sickening majority of marriages - came from reliance on the God they'd come to know so much better through Joe. It also came from his encouragement, advice and example. Without him, there is every possibility my parents would not have had the faith and fortitude to bring their marriage through Elaina's life and death. This would have made for a drastically different me. I would have been one of three children from a broken family, educated in the public school system and bounced between my parents' households.
And it only goes on from there. My peaceful growing-up years that left me with a profound trust of my parents and love for my siblings. My understanding of how to see a good man that meant I found Ben so wonderful. My view of marriage and children and family which means Abigail exists and Grandma Lila doesn't live in assisted living. My belief in a God so wonderful that I can be at peace with my baby dying because I believe God is good and does not do anything evil. That same belief which leads Ben and I to do things even other Christians think odd simply because we believe God has always worked for the good of his people. All this came because God sent my family a very good teacher. And that teacher was Joe.
I was talking to Ben about this last week. He looked at me soberly and said, "Joe saved your life."
He did. And my life is what it is because God decided to save it; and he used Joe to suggest and model the things first my parents and then I needed to know about God and God's ways so that my life could be saved. Not saved just in the sense that I can hopefully go to Heaven instead of Hell when I die someday: saved right now so that Ben and I and our children can live in God's Kingdom during our lives too.
In a way, this post has been about Joe, but ultimately it's really about God. I've had occasion to reflect on these things, on what my life is and what it would've been without God's intervention, because Joe was able for the first time to stand face-to-face with God sometime in the morning of Ben and Abigail's birthday, January 28th, 2014. It wasn't the easiest funeral to go to because we were feeling the hole left behind when a good man isn't around to see and talk to anymore. But it was the best funeral I've ever gone to because I have never been as certain with anyone else as I was with him that he is delighted to be finally in the presence of the God he spent his whole life loving so faithfully and completely. It was a good day. And his children and those who loved him were singing while the dirt was put into the grave.
God is good. He is very good. Joe's life was a good gift to us. And I'm overwhelmingly grateful for the life I have because of his.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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