This is the last post in a series about family. As a preamble to this post, I want to make it clear that I look at all of my posts as a mere snapshot in time. The words I write today are a reflection of the things I think, feel, believe, and understand today. I totally expect my beliefs and knowledge to develop, change, and mature over time.
“Heather, Heather — here, take Rowan.” I turn around and Anna-Laura is holding her baby out to me. I am confused but more than happy to take her sweet little son into my arms. His inquisitive blue eyes and plump cheeks look all around. I hold him and can’t resist the cuddle as I watch Anna-Laura walk up to the front of church. She’s serving communion — our family meal that we share every week — a reminder of Jesus’s sacrifice and love for each of us.
Last year I served in the nursery. I love, love babies, everything about them. But I struggled with getting to know these families each week and loving on their babies. It was so hard for me because I want what they have. While I can be happy for them and love on their babies, the idea that a husband and another baby may not be part of my story is too hard for me to handle at this stage of my life. So I made the choice to step away from that role. I still love to cuddle the babies at church whenever I get the chance, I just don’t care for them in the nursery. Fortunately I am friends with enough people that I have lots of many wonderful babies to cuddle. Yesterday when Anna-Laura handed me Rowan my desire for a baby was so very strong. And yet, rather than jealousy, I had this overwhelming feeling of protection — like I was holding and cuddling a nephew or cousin — someone I am related to, not a friend’s baby. As I held Rowan, and took communion with him on my hip, I let God’s promises wash over me.
The final form of family I want to write about is the family of Christ. I imagine to my non-Christian friends this will sound trite but, to me it is so very important. Last week Rowan was baptized. It is not a practice I participated in for Hannah but I feel honored to be included in the baptism or dedication of others’ babies. My church is part of a network of churches spread across Eastern Massachusetts. Every year we have a family reunion, if you will. But, we are only one very small branch of the entire family tree. It is a family that I was adopted into and, because of Jesus, will never be expelled from. I have family members all over the world — some of whom have a very different language, culture, or even theology. But, whichever branch we fall on, we are family.
This family though, my Christian family, has walked with me through everything. When I need a shoulder to cry on or support for a move, someone is there. When I want to celebrate my graduation or birthday, I have family. When I am having difficulty releasing my sin and shame, there is inevitably someone there to pour out love on my weary soul. I can cry in church or woop with joy and everything between. I can stand with my hands raised or sit on my chair completely unengaged and, no matter what, I am fully accepted by God and this beautiful family of imperfect sinners. Last week I spent time with another woman and we talked about all we’ve overcome and how God’s love has seen us through some incredible hardship. Last month I spent time sailing with someone that wanted to share his joy of sailing with Hannah. People left and right are willing to answer Hannah’s questions and sometimes they are really deep — like, “is it really possible to love God with all of our hearts?” Pastor Eugene handled that question from my nine-year-old daughter flawlessly.
My church is not just a place, it’s a family where I can grow, learn, and find healing and love that is deeper than anything this world has to offer. It is also a place full of broken people. Just like any family we have our cracks and weaknesses — branches that no longer talk to one another or exclude each other because of minor perceived infractions. We are all called to love — to love each other and the world. But sometimes the very thing we are called to, the very thing we want more than any other, can be the hardest thing to do, feel, and attain. Love is not easy, it is not perfect, but it is beautiful. And the love of God that is reflected among imperfect Christians — broken people that are perfectly my family — is the most glorious experience the world this side of heaven has to offer.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13