I have been thinking about this for some years now, but for certain reasons rhyming with prudence have been putting it off. It has been my practice to publicly register my itemized thanksgiving to God on Thanksgiving Day, and I certainly have had no shortage of material. God is greatly to be praised — “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits” (Ps. 68:19). My dear mother once said that she sometimes felt like “God’s pet” — and this from a woman whose life was filled with many trials and challenges. At the same time, she knew something about how much gratitude we all owe to God for all His blessings. Even the trials are presents — sometimes the wrapping is harder to get off, but at the center of everything is gift.
What I have been putting off is expressing my gratitude for my kids and their spouses. Part of this is because of their differences in life-pacing. I was waiting for them to all get up on the stage — I wanted them to congregate and assemble up there, and give them a few minutes to joke around for a bit. This is because I wanted to say something about them all, and wanted to do it all at once. Secondly, because of the nature of some of the, um, spleen that has been directed at our clan from time to time, I wanted the foundational accomplishments to be settled and in the bank before talking about them much. One of my family members could carve a cure for cancer out of a bar of soap, and we would have intoleristas on the horn to members of the Nobel committee urging them to think twice before granting any kind of prestigious honor to such a racist. If asked for evidence of the racism (not that this is really required anymore), they would point out, somewhat urgently, that said person, related to me, if given a choice between female African-American Secretaries of State named Rice, this miscreant would prefer the darker one named Condoleezza instead of the lighter one named Susan. The definitions of racism are admittedly hard to follow because they are constantly shifting nowadays, and I wandered off the point anyhow.
So let me briefly defend what I am about to do first. “A wise son maketh a glad father: But a foolish man despiseth his mother” (Prov. 15:20). When God has made us glad, we have a foundational duty to say so, and to say why. Fear of pulling a humblebrag can make us be silent when we should be a lot noisier. Many a Christian has been frightened away from a duty because of his awareness of how it might be misconstrued. But I would rather be appropriately grateful than to merely look like I am being appropriately humble.
Humility is supposed to come first. “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility” (Prov. 15:33). But that said, the honor is supposed to follow, and invisible honor is not honor at all. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:10). If we are supposed to honor all men, honoring what is honorable, how much more should we honor our children?
Having said this, Nancy and I know, deep in our bones, that we are rejoicing in grace — sheer unadulterated gift. When we ask one another, “What did we do to deserve this?” we know that the answer is nothing. All of it — not just our salvation — is by grace through faith, and even that faith is a gift lest anyone humblebrag (Eph. 2:8-9). But God does not just give salvation, and then sputter to a stop. We are God’s craftsmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, prepared beforehand for us to do — and all that is a gift. Those good works prepared for us run spang out to the end of lives. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord, and that even includes everything that is taking its last breath.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, 2012, I want to honor my children and the remarkable people they married — not to mention the teeming and talented horde they have engendered. But I’ll give the grandkids a few more years to get some points on the scoreboard before I start going on about them. You have fair warning.
Our oldest daughter Bekah is married to Ben Merkle. They have five children — Knox, Jemima, Belphoebe, Hero, and Judah. Ben just finished his D.Phil. from Christ Church at Oxford. As I put it in a toast at our celebration of this just the other night, he is an “understated overachiever.” While working on an Oxford doctorate, he also wrote a biography of King Alfred on the side. Bekah is a clothing designer, a first rate lit teacher, a hilarious writer, and a fantastic dessert cook. When they moved to England for Ben’s studies, Bekah stepped into that new role with might be called a graduate level aplomb, with a Dorothy Parker-like “what fresh hell is this?” gleam in her eye. If Bekah ever goes aaaaa!, it is only because it is so much fun, and makes for a fantastic story afterward, which she can then tell with wry understatement (blended adroitly withh overstatement) that leaves her readers wheezing.
Our son Nate is married to Heather. They have five children — Rory, Lucia, Ameera, Seamus, and Marisol. He is a best-selling author with Random House — he has six books with them, and three or four more on the way. His second non-fiction book, Death by Living, is due out this May with Thomas Nelson. I just finished reading it in manuscript last night — a glorious set of stories about numerous trips. When Nate was three-years-old, we all went to hear my dad talk about an around-the-world mission trip he had taken. When it was over, Nate said, “When I grow up, I am going to be like grandpa and tell everybody about my trip.” And that is exactly what he is doing, down to the present. Quintillian says somewhere that a son is one person a man take joy in being surpassed by, and Nate has given me great joy in that department. His books have been lapping mine for some years now — and he got published well over a decade before I did. His mother gave him the Father Brown stories once, which he read, and then, while sitting on his hands in our living room, proceeded to solve the centuries’ old mystery of the Shroud of Turin. Nate stole Heather from the ocean, where she was an accomplished and sponsored surfer. Before Nate found her, Nancy had once told me she wanted Nate to marry someone he had to stand up straight for — and that is exactly what he did. She is well-read, well-educated, and highly intelligent. She is currently working through (for some reason) a dense history of the church in Russia. She shines as a motivator, both of her husband and of her children. Once her kids are all in school, she is the kind of person we wouldn’t be surprised to find out has become the mayor or something. A very fine cook, she also makes Thanksgiving jello with port, which I understand she is bringing over later.
Our daughter Rachel is married to Luke Jankovic. They have six children — Evangeline, Daphne, Chloe and Titus, Blaire, and Shadrach. Luke married Rachel while he was still a student at New St. Andrews. They started having kids pronto like good Christians, opened a household goods and floral shop on Main St., and Luke finished his degree while supporting the family by painting houses. I sometimes think there must be steam turbines involved. When they had the twins, they closed the shop to keep their priorities right side up, and when Luke graduated, he was recruited by a local economic modeling firm, where he has become a top salesman — which given the success of the company, is saying something. Rachel is a painter, a great cook, a manic knitter, and in conversation is every bit as funny as her sister. On top of that, Rachel has written a couple of outstanding books — Loving the Little Years and Fit to Burst — filled with earthy spirituality, the kind of wisdom that has peanut butter on it.
All six of them, our kids and their spouses, are characterized by certain remarkable shared traits. First, they laugh all the time — not out of scorn, not from malice, and not like crackling thorns under a pot. Joy is their natural turn of mind, and laughter is their native language. Second, they all work hard, they work like nobody’s business. That by itself would be a gradgrind affair, but combine it with the first trait, and it is one of the most attractive things in the world. A Puritan workshop has sawdust all over the floor, and laughter everywhere else. And third, the men are all as masculine as it gets and they are all devoted to their wives and fully engaged as fathers. When they sit down at our house, kids frequently crawl all over them, like ants on sugar. As my father has cautioned, watching all this, great care must be taken because “too much loving makes little girls ugly.” “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers” (Prov. 17:6). Some months ago, Marisol was standing on the hearth (she is two), and she had a serious case of the cutes going down. My father, sitting across the room, exclaimed at her . . . “Have you no conscience?!” Apparently not.
Of course, I would be remiss if I said all this without standing up to honor their mother — the hidden spring who makes it all go. As I write this, she is preparing two turkeys, along with the fixings, leaving room for the imported fixings, having set a glorious table — and is also finishing up another book this weekend (her fifth). In a family filled with glorified work, she has set the standard. And she’s good-looking.
Not that she would put it like this, but Nancy reminds of that lady in the Maria Muldaur song —
I got a twenty dollar gold piece says
There ain’t nothin’ I can’t do
I can make a dress out of a feed bag
And I can make a man out of you.
Well, I think I should sign off now. I have been immeasurably blessed, and have written just enough to qualify as a helpless gesture in the direction of those blessings. So that’s it. And I have to go peel some potatoes.