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For the most significant times of one’s life there are no manuals, no instruction books, no life-event equivalent of TripAdvisor to help you make good choices and know what to expect. Oh, you can buy What to Expect When You Are Expecting and follow its commentary on what each month of a pregnancy may look and feel like (and such a book is handy when something unexpected happens and you want to make sure it’s still in the normal range before making a panicked call to the OB-GYN). But such a book cannot possibly tell you what to expect when you take your first child home from the hospital. I remember setting the car carrier holding our two-day old child on the kitchen table the day my wife and I brought our daughter home. We closed the door behind us and realized it was just the two of us to care for this infant. There was no one else in the house but Hans the dog. “Who thought we were ready for this and sent us home?” I remember we asked each other.
I thought of all this again when that same child got engaged to be married last month. Lord willing, 53 weeks from about the time I am writing this blog post, we will be celebrating our first child’s marriage. I have no idea what that will feel like. A week before he popped the question, the man in question came over to ask our permission. As I closed the door after he left and started to cry I thought, “So this is what it feels like to know your baby is going to get married . . .” You can’t know what that feels like ahead of time. No one can tell you. There are no tutorials or virtual reality simulations to get you prepared. Life happens and you experience it.
It was the same on the first day of school, the first overnight sleepover away from home, the first graduation, the first time you watched the kid drive down the road without Mom or Dad in the passenger seat. When I first became a member of the Perspectives Board of Editors sixteen years ago, most of my colleagues were 15-20 years ahead of me as parents. While my kids were in pre-school and third grade, I listened to others talking about becoming empty-nesters or getting ready for that first kid’s wedding and I could not even dimly begin to imagine what that would feel like. But now . . . well now I know a lot more. In some ways life gets you ready for all that step by step. You move through various stages and things keep getting more dramatic, like when the child goes overseas for a month and that helps get you ready for the following year when she goes overseas for a semester. As you experience these things, they don’t end up being quite as mind-blowing as you once thought they might be because previous things got you ready.
But then, as you can see from the photo accompanying this blog, I have been mindful of the Steve Martin movie Father of the Bride and especially the scene where the young woman tells her father she is getting married but the father flashes back to when she was 5-years-old and we see that little tyke breaking the news to her Daddy. Time does compress on you now and then and the years do fly by. I sometimes get a little melancholy when I realize that I just cannot quite remember what all the average day was like when my two kids were 10 and 6 or 12 and 8. You watch a bit of old video footage and realize how completely you had forgotten what their little voices sounded like back then, what it was like to have the child come up to your waist instead of–as my son now does–stare down at you from about 4 or 5 inches over your own head.
This is all normal and to be expected and all. But lately I have taken some comfort in the idea of God as the Great Remembrancer, as the One who tenderly takes up into himself our every moment and preserves them for us somehow. Our times are in God’s hands, as the psalmist puts it, but not just in the sense of God’s caring for us at each moment but taking up our every moment as somehow significant. I believe that’s true and I hope it’s true at the same time. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop once in a while and look around, you might just miss it.” But, alas, we don’t always stop as much as we should. We do miss things. But God does not and if our lives matter to God as Scripture says they do, then I take comfort in knowing that my story is not lost. It’s there, it’s retrievable somehow. It matters.
Thanks be to God.