One by one, each of my three sons leaned in and bent over her with tenderness. They clutched her bruised and tattered hand into their hand. They did not let the slew of IV’s and cords stamped into her hand present the barrier which I thought it might. Either way, there was no other choice, it was the only operational hand she had at the time, even in its punctured state. They leaned over her surgically repaired shoulder and wrapped their other arm around her neck with the greatest of ease, careful not to bring any further tension to the black and blue bruises already present all over her body. For someone so frail, it was quite the hug.
I stood back and marveled at the exchange between my three sons and their vulnerable grandmother, who is also my mother. The thought immediately came into my mind, there was a time when she was taking them on picnics, walking them through malls, and playing with them on playgrounds. She was the strong one and they were the vulnerable. It wasn’t that long ago. Time and circumstances can change ever so quickly. We should not be so quick to move them along, and remain in them as long as we can, particularly when they are pleasant.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was pleasantly surprised by each of my son’s ability to cast their love onto their grandmother the way they did. I could sense a genuine posture of care permeating from their posture that wasn’t simply “going through the motions.” They made her feel loved and valued. They gathered around her and prayed for her. Their care for her was deeply rooted and authentic. As we walked out of the rehab center, I realized the primary reason they responded the way that they did was because of the condition of their hearts, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God.
Honestly, it was a part of my sons that I knew existed, but had never seen it manifest itself in such a way. Maybe this is part of the benefit of trauma and crisis. It forces us to stop obsessing about ourselves long enough to allow our vulnerability and true beauty to be shared with others. This was the moment provided to myself and my boys by the trauma and stress we were currently experiencing with my mom. The Scriptures say of these moments in 2 Cor. 4:7, “We have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile jars of clay containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” It is in some of life’s most profound moments of weakness and vulnerability that God is seen most visibly. I saw God in my boy’s expression of love and my mom’s face that night. It was clear to me that God’s power was on display through them.
Even still, I could not brush by the fact that they were better than advertised in this moment. Where did they learn this and from where did it come? To be clear, when I picked them up from basketball practice that day, I did not give them a choice in the matter. We were going to see “Nana.” But they didn’t resist either. They welcomed the task. Yes, they’ve been taught the importance of family. They’ve been taught to pray and to hug, even when they didn’t want to do it. They’ve been taught the value of taking care of each other and not always putting yourself first. I’ve even taken them on a few hospital visits with me before.
But honestly, from my part, there was no discussion about how they should act once we get inside her room. I’ve never read any books with chapters in them that explained, “This is how your teenage children must act toward their grandmother when she’s in the middle of her own trauma, in the middle of a rehab center, in the middle of a pandemic.” In fact, I’ve probably done more to show my boys how to respond to certain situations on a basketball court or in self-defense than I have to show them how to be compassionate toward aging and frail grandparents. I don’t remember giving bed-time or one-on-one teaching lessons on this subject matter, by either myself or my wife. In fact, if I’m honest, I may have done more in life in teaching them what not to do, than what to do. But in this moment, they responded in ways that were better than I have ever done or remember teaching.
I would love to say there was a plan that built to this divine moment between my mother and my sons in the middle of a rehab center in Monroe, NC, but there wasn’t. But through that moment that lifted us out of the ordinary for a brief stretch of time, I have learned a few things about the ordinary.
Whether it’s work, coaching, parenting, being married, or any other situation, the reality is that some days it just seems intolerable to keep showing up for the ordinary, mundane tasks that characterize our lives. At times, in the grind, it feels like we just keep showing up for a life we didn’t sign up for. We don’t have to feel guilty for such things, they are hardwired into the broken, human condition. Those feelings and emotions have their place and their value, but we are not defined purely by our feelings and emotions.
The truth of who we are is defined by choosing to show up for the mundane, even when it’s not always captivating and desirable. Not just once or twice, but over and over again, day after day, and giving it every ounce of our passion and effort. In that choice, we discover the miracle of the mundane and how it builds, defines, and redefines every moment of life. In that choice, we discover that what we once thought to be boring and meaningless is actually the gateway to freedom. The freedom to find the beauty in the mundane, and to finding meaning and purpose in most of the ordinary things we take for granted. That freedom gives us the permission to live our lives with purpose, even as fractured as they may be, because God is not going to waste one single piece of it in His story for us. This freedom reminds me that I don’t have to sustain all the pieces of this wonderfully complex life God gave to me, but it gives me the passion to still show up for it each and every day.
Even though I was so proud and thankful, the truth is that my wife and I didn’t do anything to prepare our boys for the way they responded to my frail mom that night from her wheelchair. We just keep showing up. We’ve shown up for every diaper change, every stain, every spill, every game, every laundry cleaning, every meal, every challenge, every mundane moment. Perhaps it’s true, the greatest sermons and truths are caught and not taught.