We piled into the small suv with my brother, Luke, and sister-in-law, Miranda. The “in-law” part feels artificial when you really are family. We pointed the car east, to Aggieland, for a rendezvous with my other brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Megan, and my parents. The Saturday afternoon laid open before us, like an unfurling map, winding our way through conversation, high and low, blind to our surroundings. A few conversational lulls afforded my the opportunity to rehearse my speech. I really wanted these words to count, to land in the heart.
We all converged, from the east and the west, at Madden’s casual gourmet. Open wooden rafters, well-worn wood plank floors, and twenty foot ceilings. Ben, Megan, Mom, and Dad were already there, at the table, waiting for us. After a barrage of hugs and smiles we all sat down to celebrate my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. Conversation zipped along the runway and we were off, traveling the airways of children, parenting, theology, church, and marriage.
We paused in the gaiety to reflect on the grace flowing from my parents’ four decade commitment. Parental marriages carry incalculable influence. I knew it was impossible to estimate the impact of their mutual, spilling over love, but I had to get some of it out. Growing up, you have no idea how much your parent’s relationship affects you. You take it for granted. Occasionally you will compare or contrast it to others, but very often it is simply the water you swim in. You take in the good and the bad and just keep swimming. Upon reflection, I knew there were things I needed to surface with them.
First, thank you for your fidelity and friendship for forty years. We have watched your marital love and commitment strengthen, through thick and thin, and we have benefited. I have carried the example right into my own marriage. My wife is my best friend. My parents love life. They enjoy European culture, love struggling souls through deep brokenness, and give from a place of generous, mutual love. This love has been tested. We watched them fight as we grew. It wasn’t a plastic marriage with flaws hidden, it was real, deep, and always moving towards the Redeemer. Many people can’t look to their parents as an example of fidelity and friendship, but I can, and I am grateful.
Second, thank you for loving the church as a family when the church was hard to love. Growing up we had some weird and good church experiences, but one thing that is fixed in my memory is that church went beyond the walls, walked beyond the Sunday service, and ate leisurely together. Looking back, I realize that I have a foundation for church as a family from my parents pursuit of people outside of programs, events, groups, and services. They loved their friends. We would drive out into the country and enjoy home-cooking, run the rural fields, go fishing, all on a Sunday afternoon, with the church, with people who were utterly changed by Jesus. My parents could have understandably turned their backs on “the church”; they were hurt, snubbed, misunderstood, but deep down they knew that is all part of being an imperfect family, and that the galvanizing element isn’t mutual love but a singular love, the outpouring of the life and grace of Christ.
Third, thank you for praying this for each of your children for years and years:
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)
Man, did I test that prayer request. We all did in our own ways–struggles with greed, skepticism, and sex. The deceitful siren call wooed us more than once, and I walked pretty far from the truth, from enjoying the love and grace of my Savior more than any other love or grace in this world. But they prayed me through. My parents plead with God that their son would leave the pig sty and come home, and they were there, every single time, running to meet me in the street, arms wide open. I dirtied their clothes in my embrace, and they didn’t even care. They were just happy their lost son had come home, that God the Father had answered their prayer, their son, now a very imperfect but committed disciple, is walking the truth, the truth of the gospel of God’s marvelous grace.
Thank you Mom and Dad, for praying us all into the truth, into Christ. We love you. We carry an intuitive inheritance of marital friendship, fidelity, and more than I realized, a model for loving the church as a family. There are more riches here than we will ever know. We stand on a heap of refined gold, may we follow your generous gift, may each of our children walk in the truth, may the graces cascade even more, from the Father, Son, and Spirit, through our marriages, onto our children, through the church, and out into the world.