Monday, July 03, 2006

Honor Your Father and Mother

These are my parents.

They just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Last weekend, my sister and I worked to bring about a gathering of friends and family, who, across the years, have been a part of their lives.

It was a good day, a very good day.

I was in the rare position of telling my parents that Jerri Ann and I were in charge - just sit back and enjoy the day. One part of me thought that was pretty cool, but the other part had me thinking, "holy crap, I better make this thing come off without a hitch.

"Without a hitch is pretty much what happened. And it's not that my sister and I did something exceptional - we did put in some effort, but when people gather -- people who've been a part of your life for all of your life - the sacred character of community is revealed once again.

We saw friends from other chapters of our lives that only such gatherings prompt the opportunity to reconnect. Most of those we saw were among those we had not seen, gathered in such number, since Jimmy died.

To come together a little over two years later, and laugh - surely is a sign that one of grace's characteristics is such that we can laugh well even after knowing such heart wrenching pain. Pain isn't forgotten, it's never even completely gone, but grace in community is the "balm in Gilead" to make the wounded whole. It can even make the wounded laugh.

Laugh we did.

Here's a bit of my parents story: Mom and Dad were children when they married - he, 18, she 16. I can't even fathom that now, especially with a son about to be 14.

They eloped - ran to Corinth, Mississippi, which, apparently, is what a number of young couples did in those days. But they never had a party, a celebration, a reception. Jerri Ann and I wanted to be sure that this would be the party they never had.

The church was beautiful. The food was perfect. The flowers and cake were elegant. I've never seen them so surprised, content, and thankful to my sister and me. But their thankfulness was not what I was looking for it. What I wanted more than anything else was for them to be happy. I did what I did because they are my parents. There is not one thing I could do or give them that would approach the thankfulness that I should be showing them (although grandchildren might be the exception).

The morning of the reception, Dad asked me if I'd lead them in a covenant renewal service. How do you say no to that? Turnabout's fair play, I guess. He married Kristy and me, so why not return the favor? The day of the reception, I asked my folks if the lore of our family was true. They told me it was, and I asked for permission to tell the story to my congregation, which I did. I share it here now.

Upon their return to Paducah, now husband and wife - you could imagine the response from their respective parents. It was not unanimously celebrated. But it was what it was.

My Granddaddy, Dad's dad, was an archetypal figure for me. He was strong, smart, wise, worked hard, could fix anything, and got me everything I asked for. I loved him deeply and still miss the chance for my wife and children to have known him, except for this - there's a good bit of Cecil in Jerry. I see it more and more.

When mom and dad got to their house, he took my mother, sat her in his lap, and, after making it clear that this was not what he would have preferred to have happened, said, "what's done is done, you are one of us now, you're a Jeffords." And he became the primary father figure for her for the remainder of his days.

The other thing he said, in a "prove me wrong," kinda way - was this, "I'll give you a year."

Last week, as Mom and Dad went out to eat for the anniversary dinner, mom looked up to the skies and said, in a "oh yes I'll prove you wrong" kinda way" - "Cecil, we've made it 50, how about that?"

Last weekend taught me several things. The power of mutual love and commitment shared across the expanse of one's life deserves to be honored, celebrated, remembered. It is a beacon for those of us who follow. Such a celebration does not ignore the fact that not all of those days were easy, and some may have been intolerable, but endurance through the difficulties matters. Sometimes the "worse" part of "for better or worse" can be pretty rough.

When I struggle with what a crappy parent I've been, and self-mutilate my spirit because of it, I think of my parents talking about how poorly they made judgments about their children and I think, "no, you all did just fine."

But the lesson I take from my folks during this special time is that the awareness of missteps in parenting and relationships, as opposed to blindly assuming one’s always correct, is another characteristic of grace – it gives any relationship an opportunity for a course correction.

And if they are my example, maybe I'm doing o.k., too.

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