April 23, 2012
“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…. Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.”
-Frederick Buechner, Now and Then
To my first grandson on the day of his birth:
Welcome to this world, to your particular journey in it, to life and everything that means.
Welcome to my heart and to our family—unconventional though it is.
On this, your very first day of existence, I have some things that I’d like to share with you. Things I’ve learned, or haven’t. Things that I hope, maybe, will make your journey a little more joyous, a little more grounded in who you are and who you will become. Don’t listen to me just because I’m your grandma, your Mémé, but listen to me nonetheless.
First, make mistakes. Make as many mistakes as you possibly can, and make them boldly. Splash, crash, fall, fail, and flummox your way through life. Don’t be afraid to do the opposite of what you think you’re supposed to do. I was often afraid to do this, and for a time it made my life very small. Live big, dear Luke.
I encourage you to make your life one of great courage. This, my boy, goes hand in hand with making bold and beautiful mistakes. Take your heart in your hand and leap out into what you long to do, no matter how frightening it may feel or how little you think it is worth or what other people say.
Along with the courage and the mistakes, I encourage you to forgive as quickly and as flagrantly as you possibly can. This will be difficult. You will want to hold grudges and keep records and nurture resentments. You will want to, and that will be the easier path presented to you. Resist this. Be foolish in your forgiveness. Let go of each slight, each hurt as quickly as you can. Forgive so readily that people think you unwise. Forgive in a way that makes people wonder what you know—because in learning to forgive quickly and well, you will know a deep secret that I cannot even put into words. Please, too, forgive me the things I do to you—because I will hurt you, I know. I will never do it willingly, I promise you, but I will do it.
Don’t let your circumstances dictate the size of your dreams. You haven’t been born into great wealth or remarkable heritage or noticeable greatness. You won’t know this for some time, but when it begins to seep into your consciousness, notice and dismiss it. Dream grandly, even if it seems impossible. If you want to earn a million dollars or become an astronaut or write the great American novel, dream it and begin. Allowing the availability of your practical resources to determine the path of your life will only lead to frustration and regret. Whatever it is that you secretly dream of doing—go for it.
Hand in hand with that is this: don’t let yourself be defined by anything outside of yourself. You may hear one day that Monday’s child is fair of face, or that you’re a Taurus, or that St. George’s day was your birthday and you must follow in his footsteps, or that you were born in a time of great societal change. None of those things will tell you who you are. For a time they will seem like supports, rails that you can lay your hand on as you descend into the depths of knowing yourself, but they cannot teach you about that beautiful, secret place inside of you that contains your truest self. Explore that place alone, without aid of “should”s or exterior definitions. Trust the fact that you can begin the journey of knowing yourself from a place of vulnerability and openness.
Your family is both boring and completely unconventional. This is something else that you won’t be aware of for some time. Once you are, don’t be embarrassed. The fact that you have four sets of grandparents is only evidence that your family walked a difficult road and overcame the hardship. The petty differences and pains were all laid aside on the day of your birth, and we welcomed you with joy, tears, love and gratitude. We may not always be able to hold that openness, but we love you. Let the contours of your family teach you the expansiveness of love—that families and the belovedness that comes with them are tied not necessarily by biology but by belonging. You belong to us, and we to you. Let that shape you for generosity.
I’m sorry, but we’ll also mess you up. I know that of myself in particular. Today, I’m 35 years old—young to be a grandmother. When you are 35, you will be uncertain of many things. You will have journeyed, perhaps, through a few careers. You will have had your heart broken at least once, and you will wonder if you are truly a grown up. I write to you today not knowing if I am, but I have come to believe that I am on the right path, whether I will ever grow up or not. When you come to be aware of just how silly your young Mémé was in her ideas of passing along something important to you, think of me with fondness. I will try, am trying, have tried as best I can to love you well. Once you’ve worked through this in therapy, look on the family that screwed up several key elements of your development with grace—as we have learned to look on our families the same way.
I hope that I will love you well, but I do not promise that I can make that happen every moment of every day. You are my very first grandchild, and though we are bound not by blood but by law, your arrival in the world has changed me irrevocably. Today, I learned the urgency of prayer—I prayed for your arrival, and I prayed over you as I held you in my arms, not more than an hour into this world. I prayed for your protection and life, that you would know blessedness, that you would know God.
Speaking of God, I highly recommend that you get to know Him. Your parents and grandparents will teach you about Him, I have no doubt. You will learn songs about Him and stories and probably read the Bible a fair bit, or have it read to you. These are all very good things, important things. But I implore you, from the deepest parts of my soul and as strongly as I can say it: Get to know Him yourself. Ask questions. Be unafraid to poke holes in the basic assumptions that your family makes about who God is. Insist that people tell you the truth about their experiences of God, and then go out and invite those experiences yourself.
Here’s what I will tell you about Him, on this, the day of your birth: He is not safe, but he is good. There is an author, named C. S. Lewis, whose writings you may read one day, and he said that first. But I say it from my experience as well. The God that I have met in Jesus is beautiful, loving, generous and good. He is also confusing, frustrating, wild and at times disappointing. He slips away from easy answers and definitions of Himself and He is found in lots of places—only some of those are churches. You will find Him on mountaintops and in the small bean seed you plant in a paper cup to see something grow for the first time. You will find Him in the animals that are part of the loving family that surrounds you, and you will find Him, hauntingly, in the deaths and departures of those you love. You will find Him in beauty and art, and you will find Him, surprisingly, in places of deep barrenness and loneliness—places that tell you that you have been forgotten, abandoned. There you will find Him, also.
So, seek. Seek bravely and with a demand to know life to its fullness. The God that whispered you into existence in your mother’s womb may one day seem silly or fictional to you—you may reject Him altogether—but do not make the mistake of dismissing Him before you have sought Him. That is the mistake of prideful people who are doomed to a tower of their own arrogance. Be humble and look, even if you think you will never find answers. I believe that one day you will, and I have wagered my life on it. That may not be enough for you one day, but it was enough for me, and I am your Mémé.
Love. Like your mistakes and your forgiveness, offer your love easily and without reserve. Don’t censor what you love—whether that’s mountain biking or knitting or poetry or the way that the light falls on a summer evening, love it with all that is in you. Holding back love is not something that brings love to you—it pushes it away. Love even when you are not loved back, because to love is perhaps the greatest thing you will do in this world. Love regardless of risk or object or fear. Love because love is what will make you fully who you were meant to be.
There are many more things that I wish to tell you, things that I wish I had done differently or want to do more of. There are things I would like you to avoid, and ways that I wish you would go. But more important than that is for you to find your own way in the world—to live, to try, to fail. More important than that is for you to know that you are deeply loved, deeply treasured, by so many people.
Luke Howard Meston, you are loved. You are a deep gift, to me and to this world. You are a man marked for a purpose and you are needed, deeply, by all of us who love and cherish you—but those things are unimportant next to the truth of your belovedness. You are perfect just as you are, this day, and always. I will endeavor to tell you that as often as I can. You are, my grandson, a treasure beyond anything I could imagine, and I love you.
– Matthew 6:33