Kaleidoscope of Life

David and I just got back from our first vacation since 2011. That year we used our first Southwest points to visit San Diego for our 8th wedding anniversary. This year we used our last Southwest points to fly to a Coldplay concert in Boston, where we lived right after we married.

Ignoring for the moment the most awesome concert I’ve ever attended, this trip “home” was both surreal and affirmative.

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Cambridge is sporting new-to-us dedicated bike lanes (like those coming to on our own Bailey Avenue in the spring) and beautifully renovated housing.

We rode and drove and walked the areas we knew…but most of our favorite businesses have been replaced. Even the Harvard Shirt Shop, that had the cheapest apparel in town, was gone from Harvard Square. As were all of our friends. Sure, there were still thousands of people milling around, but no one we recognized. We don’t know anyone who lives in Cambridge anymore. In short, nothing we loved there was eagerly awaiting our return as we had been eagerly awaiting this trip.

Not only did we notice what was missing from Cambridge, but we found bits and pieces of our new home. There are bright green bike lanes at Central Square (like those CDOT is planning for our city), and the houses surrounding our other-side-of-the-tracks apartment are now up-and-coming (much like our current neighborhood). Riding the T–dark and dusty in the bowels of the city–made us dream about the Chattanooga Light Rail that is a real possibility for clean mass transportation in our city. In all the things we loved about Boston, we saw shades of Chattanooga. It was as if Boston was telling us, “Everything you love about me is coming to your new city. Enjoy it all–minus the inflated housing prices!”

Who doesn’t love subtle confirmation that you are where you’re supposed to be?  After years of feeling displaced, we are so happy to be home. Probably the biggest reason we know this is home is the church we’ve adopted. You don’t officially “join” our church because it is, as our pastor likes to say, “La Familia.” We are family. We serve and love one another and our community because we know God’s love and want the Holy Spirit to work through us. We were never able to find the right church in Denver, and our home church in Murfreesboro has evolved without us. It’s wonderful to visit, but they aren’t our church family anymore. And that’s a good thing!

So back to Coldplay. The primary artwork for this amazing concert series is a kaleidoscope, and it speaks to me. As you turn a kaleidoscope, the view changes but every shiny bit and piece still has its place. That’s kind of how I see our adult life so far. Just when I think we’re perfectly settled, God flips something around to give us a new and more beautiful view of the life He’s created. We love what we’re seeing from Chattanooga, and we are excited to experience His changes that are ahead.

Facing Favoritism

On February 24, 2016, I lost my Granduncle Fred. He was nearly 88 years old, lived more than 500 miles away for my entire life, and saw me twice per year (when I was lucky). Based on those facts alone, you wouldn’t think I’d be close to him. But he was and remains one of my favorite men of all time.

He and my Aunt Dare never had children of their own. For that reason, they were more involved with my father’s family than most aunts and uncles are with their nieces and nephews.

Growing up I took for granted that I had a third set of grandparents. Once I discovered that, like them, my only “children” would be future nieces and nephews and godkids, I finally appreciated all the years of love they’d poured into me.

I think that I was closer to my Uncle Fred than my cousins were. I hazard to think that I was his favorite. He never made differences between us–gifts were always equal, and that’s how a kid knows who loves her best–but I always felt closer to him. Probably because I got to see him every summer, which my cousins did not. Maybe because he expected children to be tiny adults, and I was “born 30” according to everyone who knew me. Since before I was able to sit still insomuch as a church service, he loved to show the same bazillion slides every summer when my parents and I would visit Richmond. I happily listened to his narrations of Bermuda during the Korean War, Aunt Dare’s parents’ store, and Daddy’s gangling childhood. By the time I was 16, I could have done the narrations myself.

I don’t know why some families have favorites while others don’t. Someone once asked my father-in-law, “Anna is your favorite child, isn’t she?” He was mortified by the thought. They equally love their children (and children-in-law, as it turns out). Truly.

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David, Copper, and me on our way to visit Aunt Dare and buy Uncle Fred’s truck over Easter Weekend. I am now the proud driver of his 2000 Ford Ranger–with only 50,000 miles on it!

I grew up with both “sides” of that favoritism coin. On one side, I had a grandmother who had favorites. I knew I wasn’t it because my Christmas gifts were always noticeably cheaper. She also sent something called “birthday dollars” to my cousins that I never received. Granny would send a dollar bill for every year of life in the birthday card. As an adult I found out about them, but I was about 5 years old when my mother found out about them. As she told her own mother what was happening, Grandma was so incensed by the situation that she decided to put 5 dollar bills in my birthday card that next year. Now, I have no doubt that my other cousins on that side also received an extra $5 that year. Because this grandmother made no differences–every Christmas one or two of us would have a couple of quarters taped to the top of our presents because she had accidentally spent just 50 cents more on one grandchild!

So why have these joys and wounds of my childhood been dredged up by Uncle Fred’s death? Because just 3 weeks earlier, I became an aunt with 2 nieces. And I don’t want to have a favorite. (The same goes for my 2 godsons, who are brothers.)

I never thought showing favoritism would be an issue for me because I know how psychologically damaging it is to feel less loved than those around you. I have felt it myself, and I have watched other not-favorites experience it. But I worry that my physical proximity to one niece may mean I am naturally closer to her than I am to her cousin who lives 2 hours away. Will I love one more than the other? No way. But will I know one better than the other? Maybe. And will that make the girls think that I favor one over the other? I fear the answer is yes.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Dare filled a gap for me. There was something intangible about the way they loved me that made me feel better about not being my grandparents’ favorite. I am eternally thankful.

I want to be a gap-filler, too, not a gap-maker. I know we won’t be filling love-gaps for the kiddos because their parents won’t pick favorites. Instead David and I want to be the cool aunt and uncle who take all the kids on adventures and have an awesome play area on “the kids'” as-yet-unfinished third floor of our house. We want to give them things they wouldn’t have otherwise. And we would love nothing more than for all of them to think of us as second parents–as I thought of Uncle Fred as my third grandfather.

Grace, Grace, God’s Grace

How many times do you use the word grace in a day?

I have asked publishing editors to “give me grace” anytime I send them a rough draft that I know still needs work. I think, Just call me “Grace”, every time I slam my shoulder into a door frame or trip over my basset hound. And I’ll guess that a full 80 percent of my friends have used Grace as a middle name for their daughters.

Colloquially grace (when used by just about anyone other than a prima ballerina) has become synonymous with forgiveness and acceptance, but that’s not quite right.

I realized this a few months ago when I was asked to do a theological review of another author’s book. The argument was being made that a certain biblical character was “full of grace” toward another person, but I didn’t see that perspective from the Scripture. For the first time, I did an in-depth study of grace as it appears in the Bible. I learned that grace is an action of God–not of humans.

Jesus personified grace while He was on earth: “At first everyone was deeply impressed with the gracious words that poured from Jesus’ lips. Everyone spoke well of Him and was amazed that He could say these things.” (Luke 4:22)

And because of Him, we have been offered God’s grace: “You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth.” (John 1:17)

Paul has a lot to say about grace, especially in his letter to the Romans. As a former hunter of Jesus-followers who had accepted God’s grace, he knew better than anyone the transforming power of God’s grace.

The only time we are ever told to demonstrate grace to other humans is in Colossians 4:5-6:

Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly (The Voice).

But even here, Paul is telling his readers to use their words to advertise God’s grace, not to exercise their own versions of grace on others.

When we use words incorrectly, we rob them of their meaning. Consider the classic example of this: love. Because we claim to “love” french fries, Coldplay concerts, and Netflix binges, our “loved ones” may sometimes feel more valued than McDonald’s but receive less attention than Stranger Things. The incorrect use of love has changed its meaning and application in society.

We don’t want to similarly water-down the concept of God’s grace by equating it with forgiveness and acceptance, by looking to receive it from others, or by thinking we can extend it ourselves. Grace that reconciles sinners with God is wholly divine.

And that is why Grace is such a great name! We hope that our daughters will fully know God’s grace, and that others will recognize Him in them. Not because we expect them to be the next Misty Copeland.