My grandson was born about 7 months ago. He is perfect: all ten toes and fingers. A delightful personality. Curious about his world. Surrounded – enveloped – by a family that has embraced his uniqueness, loved him fiercely, insisted on the very best care available. Recently, our precious, perfect baby had his fourth surgery to correct a serious birth defect. Unfortunately, there were complications, and he endured yet another surgery, with the promise of more to come.
There are many lessons a new parent learns in this situation, valuable lessons that last a lifetime. I know. I too gave birth to such a perfect baby . . . Thirty-five years ago, we were fighting for his life. On the outside he looked fine, but inside his new little body things were terribly wrong. We, too, were blessed with excellent medical care and a loving family and community who pulled us through. For the most part, now, I watch my adult son with admiration for who he has become, grateful that he has embraced life with passion and compassion. I don’t dwell on the difficulties surrounding his early years . . . but the lessons I learned have been woven into my psyche, influencing much of who I am today.
First lesson: Life is a gift. The line between life and death is fine indeed, and we have very little control over it. Don’t take it for granted. Ever!
Second lesson: Children are a gift, not a possession. These precious babies don’t belong to us, but to God. They reside in our homes for a few brief years, and in our hearts for a lifetime, but they are not ours to control. It’s a heavy responsibility, raising one of God’s gifts – one of the most profound, exasperating, joyous, humbling jobs anyone can ever be given. But it is a temporary assignment – at least the “hands on” part. At some point, you have to turn them loose, trusting that the wings you gave them will carry them safely into adulthood. And also trusting that the roots you built for them will become a solid foundation as they build their own reality, apart from you.
Third lesson: Sweat the small stuff, even though you never lose sight of the big stuff. Children notice the little things. They remember the details that we adults often skim over: Days that begin with a simple hug. An impromptu trip to the zoo. Approving eye contact at the end of a school concert. A bowl of chicken noodle soup or baked custard to ease the discomfort of a cold. That favorite shirt, clean and ready for the next special event. A weekly pause for ice cream on the way home from school. A favorite toy or blanket, safely stowed in the car at the beginning of a trip. Love is in the details – all those little things parents know and do that communicate that child’s importance – that say, “I love you.” Kids know. . .
Fourth lesson: Forgiveness is real. Life is not perfect! But grace and mercy are! I remember telling my son that he did not come with an instruction manual! There were times when I honestly did not know what was the best thing to do, times when my best guess was most likely quite wrong, times when I simply blew it with my children. There were times when I had to apologize to my boys, acknowledging that the real reason I was upset actually had very little to do with them.
Understanding life’s imperfections, embracing the unpredictable nuances, helps me understand Who God is. God is bigger than our mistakes, greater than our short-sightedness, master of our childishness. Redemption, to me, means bringing good from bad, making lemonade out of life’s lemons, moving on with the confidence that children are resilient, and God’s love is constant.
There is really no such thing as “perfection” as Webster defines it. The illusion that God rewards good behavior with a “perfect” life is just that – an illusion. Rather, God’s love flows around and through us, forgiving us when we are less than we were created to be, working creatively to show us how to live. God’s mindful Presence helps me fill in the gaps, knowing that I am loved in spite of, not because of. Perfection, for me, is all about embracing the day, walking in God’s Presence, confident that whatever happens, Someone far greater than I am is ultimately in control.
And so, we as a family embrace this new little one with joy and pride and anticipation. His body, we trust, will be put in proper working order, and we will move on from here, ever so grateful for the skilled medical professionals who served as modern day miracle workers. I watch my son and daughter-in-law with gratitude for their attention to the details, for their determination to take care of this precious gift, and for sharing him with all of us. I trust that they, too will discover that God is good. All the time. Even in the midst of the roller coaster craziness that is part and parcel of current events.