Sunday, April 3, 2016

Facing Favoritism

With Aunt Dare and Uncle Fred before our wedding.
On February 24, 2016, I lost my Granduncle Fred. He was nearly 88 years old, lived more than 500 miles away for my entire life, and saw me twice per year (when I was lucky). Based on those facts alone, you wouldn't think I'd be close to him. But he was and remains one of my favorite men of all time.

He and my Aunt Dare never had children of their own. For that reason, they were more involved with my father's family than most aunts and uncles are with their nieces and nephews.

Growing up I took for granted that I had a third set of grandparents. Once I discovered that, like them, my only "children" would be future nieces and nephews and godkids, I finally appreciated all the years of love they'd poured into me.

I think that I was closer to my Uncle Fred than my cousins were. I hazard to think that I was his favorite. He never made differences between us--gifts were always equal, and that's how a kid knows who loves her best--but I always felt closer to him. Probably because I got to see him every summer, which my cousins did not. Maybe because he expected children to be tiny adults, and I was "born 30" according to everyone who knew me. Since before I was able to sit still insomuch as a church service, he loved to show the same bazillion slides every summer when my parents and I would visit Richmond. I happily listened to his narrations of Bermuda during the Korean War, Aunt Dare's parents' store, and Daddy's gangling childhood. By the time I was 16, I could have done the narrations myself!
David, Copper, and me on our way to visit Aunt Dare and buy
Uncle Fred's truck over Easter Weekend. I am now the proud
driver of his 2000 Ford Ranger--with only 50,000 miles on it!

I don't know why some families have favorites while others don't. Someone once asked my father-in-law, "Anna is your favorite child, isn't she?" He was mortified by the thought. They equally love their children (and children-in-law, as it turns out). Truly.

I grew up with both "sides" of that favoritism coin. On one side, I had a grandmother who had favorites. I knew I wasn't it because my Christmas gifts were always noticeably cheaper. She also sent something called "birthday dollars" to my cousins that I never received. Granny would send a dollar bill for every year of life in the birthday card. As an adult I found out about them, but I was about 5 years old when my mother found out about them. As she told her own mother what was happening, Grandma was so incensed by the situation that she decided to put 5 dollar bills in my birthday card that next year. Now, I have no doubt that my other cousins on that side also received an extra $5 that year. Because this grandmother made no differences--every Christmas one or two of us would have a couple of quarters taped to the top of our presents because she had accidentally spent just 50 cents more on one grandchild!

So why have these joys and wounds of my childhood been dredged up by Uncle Fred's death? Because just 3 weeks earlier, I became an aunt with 2 nieces. And I don't want to have a favorite. (The same goes for my 2 godsons, who are brothers.)

I never thought showing favoritism would be an issue for me because I know how psychologically damaging it is to feel less loved than those around you. I have felt it myself, and I have watched other not-favorites experience it. But I worry that my physical proximity to one niece may mean I am naturally closer to her than I am to her cousin who lives 2 hours away. Will I love one more than the other? No way. But will I know one better than the other? Maybe. And will that make the girls think that I favor one over the other? I fear the answer is yes.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Dare filled a gap for me. There was something intangible about the way they loved me that made me feel better about not being my grandparents' favorite. I am eternally thankful.

I want to be a gap-filler, too, not a gap-maker. I know we won't be filling love-gaps for the kiddos because their parents won't pick favorites. Instead David and I want to be the cool aunt and uncle who take all the kids on adventures and have an awesome play area on "the kids'" as-yet-unfinished third floor of our house. We want to give them things they wouldn't have otherwise. And we would love nothing more than for all of them to think of us as second parents--as I thought of Uncle Fred as my third grandfather.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Grace, Grace, God's Grace

How many times do you hear or use the word grace in a day?

I have asked publishing editors to "give me grace" anytime I send them a rough draft that I know still needs work.  I think, Just call me "Grace", every time I slam my shoulder into a door frame or trip over my basset hound. And I'll guess that a full 80 percent of my friends have used Grace as a middle name for their daughters.

Colloquially grace (when used by just about anyone other than a prima ballerina) has become synonymous with forgiveness and acceptance, but that's not quite right.

I realized this a few months ago when I was asked to do a theological review of another author's book. The argument was being made that a certain biblical character was "full of grace" toward another person, but I didn't see that perspective from the Scripture. For the first time, I did an in-depth study of grace as it appears in the Bible. I learned that grace is an action of God--not of humans.

Jesus personified grace while He was on earth: "At first everyone was deeply impressed with the gracious words that poured from Jesus’ lips. Everyone spoke well of Him and was amazed that He could say these things." (Luke 4:22)

And because of Him, we have been offered God's grace: "You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth." (John 1:17)

Paul has a lot to say about grace, especially in his letter to the Romans. As a former hunter of Jesus-followers who accepted God's grace, he knew better than anyone the transforming power of God's grace.

The only time we are ever told to demonstrate grace to other humans is in Colossians 4:5-6: 
Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly (The Voice). 
But even here, Paul is telling his readers to use their words to advertise God's grace, not to exercise their own versions of grace on others. 

When we use words incorrectly, we rob them of their meaning. Consider the classic example of this: love. Because we claim to "love" french fries, Coldplay concerts, and Netflix binges, our "loved ones" may sometimes feel more valued than McDonald's but receive less attention than Stranger Things. The incorrect use of love has changed its meaning and application in society.

We don't want to similarly water-down the concept of God's grace by equating it with forgiveness and acceptance, by looking to receive it from others, or by thinking we can extend it ourselves. Grace that reconciles sinners with God is wholly divine.

And that is why Grace is such a great name! We hope that our daughters will fully know God's grace, and that others will recognize Him in them. Not because we expect them to be the next Misty Copeland.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year, New Format

Hi Readers!

You might notice that the Healthy and Hopeful website has a slightly different look. That is because I have spent the last few months changing CMS platforms. This won't change anything for you, except that all of your comments on my previous posts could not be retained, and I lost my email distribution list in the process.

If you would still like to receive Healthy and Hopeful posts in your inbox, please re-subscribe in the box to the right.

Happy New Year!