This past weekend we drove up, up, up into the northern reaches of the state—my sister, two of my brothers, and I. We were going for some church-y opportunities, but also some marshmallow opportunities and some campfire-songs opportunities. What I’m saying is: it was technically for a religious retreat, but with hearty emphasis on free time and the great outdoors as well.
So, we prayed some and kayaked some and loudly laughed and sang around bonfires. We made new friends, played camp games, and had a really, really good time. We live together, you know, but our schedules are so varied we can each go days without seeing everyone else. Such is life in a large(ish) family, such is life. But! Because of that, once we were all focused and on the same schedule together—there was no stopping us. No stopping at all.
One of the girls from the group said something along the lines of, “When you guys are all together and interacting we’re all just sitting back and watching, all of us confused because your references and gestures, while understood by you, don’t make sense to any of us. But you’re all laughing, so we want to laugh, too.”
My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary yesterday. I thought about that and laughed a little, in my head, because the first thing I thought about was how they tend to fight a lot. Maybe even every day. And my siblings and I can mimic the tones they use when they’re about to bicker again, we tease each other with the trigger-words we know would set them off.
I’m not trying to point out flaws, I’m just being honest about reality.
I remember another thing, too, though. When I was still in middle school, the neighbors a few houses down divorced. Their son was my age, a close friend of my oldest brother and I.
We asked him, “Why are they getting a divorce?” and he shrugged and said, “They’ve been fighting all the time.” Dave and I looked at each other and thought, “Well, we’re screwed.”
So, we brought it up later with our parents, “Are you guys going to get divorced, too?”
There’s a face everyone in my family uses, even me. It involves wrinkling your face in disgust and pulling your head back while looking sideways through squinted eyes. The face means, “Why are you talking that foolishness, gooberface?” Essentially, when asked if they would divorce, my parents pulled the sideways-eyes face. They were like, “Nope. Never. We’re stuck together forever.”
As a kid, that’s some comforting information.
There’s a wiry guy who rides his bike around my office building, around the bus transit center. I’m certain he’s a drug dealer, an older man with an unsettling presence. As I don’t buy drugs or transit through that center, we steer clear of each other, mostly.
Yesterday, though, I was walking to my car and I passed two young men, maybe still in high school (I hope they’re still in high school). He was riding his bike away from them when I passed, and I saw everything I needed to see: dollars being counted, a Ziploc bag being pulled from a hoodie, fingered, exchanged.
I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that there isn’t really a lot I can do in these situations. I can’t call the police, they arrive too late to the scene, and what would I say? “There were two kids in hoodies?” In a half-hour who knows where anyone could be. I guess I could say something to the dealers, but I’ve seen knives fall from pockets before in these groups who congregate in parks, and I feel like safety is a priority for me.
That situation was extra-tragic, though. I’m used to the older man who sits on my church’s steps, his brain destroyed from self-medicating. I’m used to the man whose face is bloated and bruised from drinking and falling and rinse and repeat. I’m used to the man who becomes violent, who throws things in his state of high (I just walk with barriers between us—light poles or on the other side of the street).
But these two, these high schoolers—what about them? Their faces still so young, still clear. Gosh darn it.
I don’t know all the situations. I don’t know all of the stories. But, someone is slowly hooking these young men on things that will destroy them. And they’re so young. Why? What drives someone to that? A love of power? Desperation? A thrill? I sure don’t know.
Juxtaposition will forever fascinate me, I guess, even in this more tragic situation where my fluffy, blessed weekend with my siblings was contrasted so starkly against two kids and a drug deal on a street in Detroit. The drug-dealer-on-the-bike vs. my parents. Again, I don’t know all of the stories, all of the situations, but yesterday I saw a man work to destroy, and, due to unfathomable grace, I’ve had the privilege to live with two imperfect people who fight a lot and miscommunicate a lot, but stick together a dang lot, too.
I thought about that yesterday, this man on a bike who decided to ruin lives, and my parents who decided to bring life. I know there are people who don’t believe in bringing children into a world riddled in pain, but (luckily for me), my parents were not of that persuasion. I know there are people who don’t believe in adding siblings but, luckily for me, I get permanent teammates, blood-linked and strong.
Parenthood astounds me. It’s a mystery to me. It’s a mystery of self-gift every day, and I know I don’t even understand the depths, but I know that my dad has a good job and my mom had a good job and people with good jobs can end up with good houses and vacation homes and exotic trips to faraway beaches and all my parents have is a tiny house full of people and pets and our friends forever rotating through, all hours of the day & night while eating from the snack cupboard my mom keeps full.
Everyone starts out with life ahead of them, and some level of freedom to decide what they’ll do with that freedom, and for whatever reason my parents decided to never sleep soundly through another night and instead have babies, and several babies, one after another, so we all grew up together, close in age and memories. They decided to take us to church and on camping trips so now, older, when the opportunity presents itself, we go to church camp together, benefiting from the generosity of our parents who built a culture of safety and love for us.
My mom who makes dinner for us and for whoever else will stop by, faithfully, every night. This is grace. My father who walks outside, in his shorts and dress socks (why do dads wear that??? why????), when we say, “so my car was making funny noises today.” This is grace.
I know it’s not perfect. I’ve got the script to their arguments memorized by now. But, they try. They sacrifice. We benefit. Do we ever benefit. We benefit from this family, united because two people were like, “we’re making this promise in front of God and His people, and that means something, by golly,” so now we have memories and stories and secret gestures and even enough laughter to share, thanks to this.
They’ll say that their wedding day was a beautiful day—blue sky and perfect weather. Yesterday was just like that, too. With bonus kids and a kid-in-law and a tiny house with a recently flooded basement. 🙂 God has been faithful, just like they have.
Happy anniversary, parental units. Sorry I leave my crap all over your house.