Commission to Remain

To be human is to belong—to each other and to our Father.

I had just woken up from a nap. Much needed that morning, after running my first 10-mile race in freezing temperatures.

I was still exhausted, but restored and clear-eyed, the tension in my muscles having been soothed by the warmth and give of my bed.

A missed call from my sister?

 

My family doesn’t do small talk, and we certainly don’t “catch up” over the phone. When they call, I’m expecting something short, transactional—a question about a recipe, what to get someone for her birthday, whether I remember the name of that neighbor who lived next door years ago.

I didn’t hesitate to call her back. She probably wants a second opinion on paint colors for their new house.

“Hey, um … Don’t freak out, OK?” she began tenderly when she answered my call.

Uh oh.

“Mom and I just got back from taking Dad to the emergency room. He’s fine, but he passed out at church and hit his head on …”

I found it difficult to focus on her voice. Questions, thoughts, memories competed for my attention.

I found it difficult to focus on her voice. Questions, thoughts, memories competed for my attention.

Is he OK? I mean, I know he’s OK, but will he be all right?

“Tests … didn’t find anything … ,” Laura was saying, but my mind continued to move erratically.

I couldn’t help but remember those perfectly browned grilled cheeses he flipped in the skillet every Saturday at noon. We still laugh about that time he forgot to add water to a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

I thought runners were immune to these health problems. How did this happen?

“… Concerned about heart rate …”

What about all those days he drove me across town for my oboe lesson—in thunderstorms or clear skies, with or without dinner, exhausted or not? And how many times had I found his face nestled in the audience of my concerts and performances, next to my mother’s?

The medical report was over—she had told me everything that she, or anyone for that matter, knew.

“… at home.”

It was at this point I noticed I was crying. I hadn’t given myself permission to cry, yet the tears rolled, strong and sure, one at a time, a comfortable andante.

Laura and I held our respective ends of the phone in silence. The medical report was over—she had told me everything that she, or anyone for that matter, knew. She sat peacefully, patiently on the other end of the phone—the haven of an older sister—as my thoughts began to spread and slow.

After a few minutes she asked, “Are you OK? They’re all right, Kay. You don’t need to go home.”

“Yeah. All right.” I believed her.

We said goodbye, and I leaned my back against the unwelcoming bars of my iron headboard, my bed just a mattress in a different city than my parents.

I often forget that Jesus had parents, too. Being the son of a man falls in the shadows of being the Son of God, but Jesus was organically tied to His parents, just as we are. We see this balancing of allegiances in the ordinariness of His first miracle. Of all the spectacular, redemptive transformations He could—and would—enact, He chose to announce His glory and power and set the tone of His ministry by turning water into wine. At a wedding. Because His mother suggested it.

Jesus was organically tied to His parents, just as we are.

Jesus shared our confusion. At Mary’s request, He responded, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). Why is the wine My concern? I know My purpose, My mission on earth, and this is not it, Mom. And yet, just a couple of verses later, Jesus transforms the water into wine, and the wedding festivities continue.

Perhaps Jesus remembered Mary’s attentive care when He had been sick, or her patience for His dogged volition.

Perhaps Jesus reflected on Mary’s humanity and obedience to her divine mission, and His own—for He belonged to her just as much as she belonged to Him. God appointed Me to be her son, Jesus must have thought. And He instructed the servants to fill the jars with water (John 2:7).

Jesus belonged to Mary just as much as she belonged to Him.

Sitting on my mattress, I knew. No logic justified driving to my parents’ house that night—what did they need from me? And what could I even offer? Yet I was sure of going. I told my mom, knowing my dad would have tried to intercept and insist the trip wasn’t necessary or worth the drive. Then I cancelled plans with a friend, packed my bag, and savored the middle lane of the interstate all the way home.

My late and unanticipated arrival didn’t stop Dad and me from catching up in our typical fashion—with the sounds of football coming from the TV in the background, snacks close at hand, and earnest laughter.

Later I lay down in my old bedroom, and with my eyes open to the dark, I wondered if I had done anything to help at all. We barely discussed his morning at the hospital.

Could relationship look more like being present than doing?

Sitting with one parent who’s watching the other on a hospital bed. Listening to the silence with a sibling. Resting on the couch with family after a day that drained and shook them. Staying for the usual Sunday lunch following church. Remaining more than moving.

Suddenly I felt free to love my dad without looking for the fruit; to love him without reason.

One year prior I had completed training on how to sit with people “in crisis,” which could include anything from moving to a new city to grieving someone’s death. The course equipped us with an army of tools and techniques, but all were at the mercy of the principle that we can’t heal people; God does that. We were taught to value process, not results, and to be a consistent, dependable presence for people whose lives are anything but.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this ministry had infiltrated my closest relationships. Suddenly I felt free to love my dad without looking for the fruit; to love him with my company, not my service; to love him without reason.

It’s no secret that God wants His people to love and serve one another, but when we wonder exactly how that should be manifest in our daily lives, we end up approaching His plans as we would a hazy corn maze—strategically, tentatively, anxiously. Instead I think He might urge His people to ask, To whom do I belong? Maybe our mission doesn’t look like ‘steps of obedience’ up a staircase that takes us closer to the Father. Maybe it looks more like a web of our most meaningful relationships multiplying as the ties grow tighter, stronger.

One thing I know for certain is that when Jesus performed His first miracle, what mattered to Him more than the wine or the glory was His relationship with Mary. And what mattered that night with my dad was simply being there with him. When it comes to divinely appointed relationships, our time doesn’t have to amount to what we’d expect; Jesus gives us permission to needlessly honor those to whom we uniquely, faithfully belong.

 

Illustration by Jeff Gregory

Related Topics:  Love

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