I wrote this from the hospital, where on Friday night my wife delivered our baby daughter Vale (Valerie) Elizabeth Rhea. Everyone is healthy; cuteness is off the scale.
This delivery and recovery have been so easy that I’ve had more time to think than when we were in hospital with Gwyn and Max. (And because she isn’t fully awake, I’m better rested than usual too). This season of work has had random fixings stewing in the gumbo pot, and three thoughts in particular have been impressed on my mind:
1. We co-write our children’s stories.
If our lives are a play, our parents write Act I. (And, to press the metaphor, give very strong character notes for the rest). I’ve been studying family systems theory, which says we cannot really understand someone until we know who they were in their families of origin. The story we give our children of who we are and who they are – both what we tell them, and also how we treat them – shapes them into adulthood.
Accepting that reality feels heavy, and I think it’s supposed to. With Vale, I now have three little dramas that my words and my actions will shape. I will become part of the self-definition of my children.
For one, this drives me to my knees. I have fantastic parents, who made my early story a great one, and that is a gift that feels more valuable the older I get. But wielding a pen in three new stories is a responsibility of eternal significance, and I want to drink deeply of God’s power and wisdom so I can give them the best story I know how to write.
With that in mind, I’ve also consecrated each of my children with a promise or an image from the Bible that I feel like God wants to make real for them. I take it from the parent-child blessings in the early stories of the Bible, which again reflect that idea that we shape our children’s stories, even in mysterious ways. These passages influence how I pray for my children and what I think they’ll grow up to be like; time will tell how the themes are stitched through.
2. Presence matters.
“Presence” means way more than “being physically there” or “being physically not there.”
One of the most meaningful “factors” in all three of Allison’s births has been Jennie Rader. We met Jennie when we hired her to be doula for Gwyn, but she’s become a friend to our family and to Allison in particular, and it’s hard to imagine having another baby without her there.
Beyond Jennie’s training (years as an OB nurse) and expertise, she brings something into the labor and delivery room that only the washy word “presence” describes well. Her years of training, her who-knows-how-many sessions as a doula, and her Christian hope and charity have given her a something that we can feel when she’s there with us, and even our medical staff pick up.
Several things I’ve been reading reflect this idea that a lot of how we perceive others happens on an intuitive, sub-rational level. All the words to describe it are spooky, but when it comes to our actual relationships with people, we perceive in them a shape that can be calming or exciting, peaceful or uncomfortable. And if that includes conscious actions like words and gestures, it also seems to go beyond it.
We’re watching through Band of Brothers for the who-knows-what time, and you can see presence in action in leaders like Winters and Lipton. Competence is part of why they’re respected by the men; but as both the miniseries and the interviews with the soldiers shows, great leaders have much more than just competence.
My wife has an incredible life-giving presence, which I can see the power of in the relationships she has with women in our church community. It’s grown over time – she definitely had it when I first met her, but maturing has made it even richer and sweeter.
3. People take priority.
I wrote about this when my son Max was born, but each new child impresses it on me again. I make things, I like to make things, I want to make things that endure: but my children will outlast them all. The Babylonian peasants gabbing about the Enuma Elish 4,000 years ago will outlive it, no matter how many times it gets reprinted. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. – from “The Weight of Glory”
I’ve read somewhere that creators can view their works like their children; but in this hospital, I’m reminded that these lives are the most enduring works my name will ever be on. They do and always will deserve the best time I have to give.