She stands in the street next to his open car door, flirting with him, delaying his departure. He laughs. She leans in and kisses him and says she knows he needs to go. She will miss him, she says, and touches his shoulder.
Second son Andrew and I look on together as his grandmother finishes settling her husband of 52 years in to the passenger side of the car. She tucks his jacket out of the way and tells him that she will be following behind in another car.
They aren’t often separated these days but are driving home from Nashville to Montgomery in two cars driven by my cousins. They all thought it would be fun to have a girl car and a boy car.
She tells him, teasingly, to behave himself on the ride. He laughs heartily, saying how could she expect that of his nephew and him without the womenfolk to keep them straight. She says goodbye and closes his door for him.
Andrew continues to look on, with a faint smile.
He is 20 years old and home from college.
“That’s what you need to be thinking about,” I say. We make eye contact and he nods in agreement and smiles again. My eyes are misty, and his just might be too.
He is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Life is good at Carolina. Pictures of him with friends glow with youth, beauty and vitality, but he is searching. He has always been a man with a plan.
Years ago I was teaching a Bible lesson to Andrew and his brother Edward. Andrew was 7, Edward was 8, and we read the story from Genesis where the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were very beautiful and took them to be their wives. Edward ventured that perhaps it would work out to be O.K. to marry them because they were very beautiful, and you could always teach your wife to be a follower of God. But Andrew, said, “Oh no Edward, if they are very beautiful they might teach us not to follow God.” Amen.
I have prayed that Andrew will find a wife who will love him like I love his dad. In the general sense, I am completely comfortable with that prayer. But then, I start thinking about specifics and find that I have stumbled upon a valuable perspective. Shall I pray for my son a wife that will treat him day in and day out like I treat his father? That she will love him selflessly like I love his father? That she will respect him, be patient with him, encourage him . . . You get the picture. Convicting indeed! If you want to quickly have an attitude adjustment as a wife, just start considering praying that your son’s wife will treat him like you treat his father.
Perhaps, instead, I should pray for him a wife that will love him like his grandmother loves his grandfather. She has often told me, and more importantly has shown me, that a good marriage consists of falling in love with the same man many times. She first fell in love on Christmas Eve, 1958, with a dashing young Army pilot. Fifty-four Christmas Eve’s later, she is falling in love all over again.
My son has seen good marriages, but the reality is that both he and his future wife will love each other far from perfectly. So I pray, instead, that they both simply know and can share the grace of God.
For it takes grace for love to endure, especially when the race is long and the obstacles considerable.
And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.
My mother is a very hard-working and capable woman. It is not a surprise that she is able to do all that is involved now in taking on ever-increasing responsibilities regarding care for her home and husband. It is not even a surprise that she pours herself out in selfless and sacrificial love.
But, there is something quite surprising unfolding each day in her home, something true and good and beautiful.
You see, my mother is by nature fearful. As a young child during of World War II, she thought the Germans were really flying overhead as her family participated in blackout drills in her small town in south Alabama. As a mother of teenagers she envisioned us lying bleeding in a ditch if we were 15 minutes late arriving home. Volatile stock markets have had her fearing financial doom.
But now, faced with a long good-bye as my father’s memory fades, she is fearless. She is joyful. She is faithful. She has peace that passes understanding.
She lives and loves in the moment, without concern for a dissolving past or an uncertain future. At times my father might be a little confused, perhaps unable to find something. But then she is there, she takes his arm, looks up at him with an adoring smile, and he couldn’t care less that he cannot find his hat. All he knows, at that moment, is that this woman is very pleased with him, and that makes the matter of the hat much less important.
The Kingdom of God is within her for Christ is reigning there.
And she no longer worries about lost hats, fading memories, or really anything else. She has seen Jesus looking at her with complete love and acceptance. And now she is able to give that same love to Dad.
There is grace enough for this moment and for every moment to come.
Thanks be to God.
The title of the essay comes from this popular song from 1911,