This weekend I visited my family with my three youngest. Early Thanksgiving celebrations were underway so we made the 3 hour journey to stay the night with my mom and dad. We had a lovely visit, reconnected with extended family, and enjoyed great food. But for me, something about this trip was different.
For most of the family, it was their first time meeting baby John. John’s entry into our family was unexpected. Unlike our other three children, we didn’t discuss or plan or decide to have another baby. There was no fanfare, no hoopla, no great exclamations. Just a positive pregnancy test and the acknowledgement that the remainder of my year would be solely focused on this new little one. My plans were about to be upended.
This weekend, I watched my grandmother snuggle our precious boy, her 5th great-grandchild. I listened as my parents laughed at the stories of my 4-year-old. We took pictures of great-grandfathers with their great-grandsons and marveled at how big the older ones have gotten. And strangely, it was all new.
Maybe it’s the unexpectedness of John’s arrival. Maybe it’s the knowledge that four women very near to me have lost six pregnancies in the last year. Maybe it’s the wisdom of motherhood at 38. But I saw with fresh eyes the joy of family, not just for me and my house, but for our entire clan.
In a new way, I saw how my little man is a gift not just to me, but to an entire family and to the world at large. Like a huge stone dropped into a glassy pond, waves of joy radiate outward until no one is left untouched. And our lives, our simple feed-the-kids, fold-the-clothes, earn-a-living lives bring joy and value far beyond our home just because they exist.
At the same time this awareness percolates into my consciousness, I’m mindful of the losses. Families celebrate holidays without sons, husbands, and fathers. Empty arms long to hold sweet-smelling, milky-mouthed infants. Former husbands and wives negotiate the loneliness and complexity of life apart. Parents worry over teens that are off track. Cancer threatens.
For a moment, I question my right to this joy. What right do I have to unabashed joy in the midst of all of this suffering?
It’s a trick question that comes from a faulty assumption. In truth, I don’t have a right to joy, not more than anyone else. I have not earned rewards while others have earned suffering. The joy of our lives today is a gift. It’s a gift to be received with open arms and without reservation. It is a deposit and a sacred trust.
Lord willing, we have many days ahead of us. Some will be like these, overflowing with celebration and joy. Others will be dark and difficult. We cannot know when the tides will turn and when the bright skies will turn gray. It is not for us to know or even consider. What we must do now is live and love each day, embrace what is given us, and trust the Giver who does all things well.