Their son, confirmed by me years ago, is only a few sizes and grades ahead of my eldest.
I can’t say much more than that, pastoral privilege and all.
What I can reveal:
Right after I left that family, I collected my youngest son, Gabriel.
We got in the car. Closed the doors. Buckled our seat belts (‘I beat you Daddy’).
I turned on the ignition. Looked in the rearview mirror at Gabriel behind me; he was wearing my faded UVA hat and smiling.
And I started to cry, suddenly feeling like I’d gotten into my car wearing someone else’s shoes.
Life is so infuriatingly fragile.
This isn’t something my boys have taught me.
My boys have no notion that while God may be good and gracious, life is seldom fair or forgiving.
It’s not a lesson my boys have taught me. It’s more like a lesson my job has taught me, a lesson I wasn’t in a position to learn until I had children. It’s more like now that I have skin in the game my vocation won’t let me forget just how fragile are my boys’ own skin and bones.
They’re here today…(down in the basement playing Legos, actually).
But tomorrow? The day after tomorrow?
I bring my work home with me.
I watch my boy turn his bike out the cul de sac for the first and I close my eyes to wait for the inevitable sound of screeching brakes.
I can’t drive by a car accident without imagining my own impending, parallel nightmare.
Standing in line at a roller coaster with my son, I can’t look at the twists and turns of the track without imagining my boy in the statistical margin for error.
Death is a big part of what I do.
The resurrection proclamation requires the dismal trade to precede it, make sense of it.
If I punched a clock, several many hours of every year would be taken up by people mourning the sudden absence of someone who’d made their life whole.
I bring that absence home with me.
Or rather, like a nurse who comes home wearing a uniform with blood stains on it, that absence follows me home and there it gestates into something else: my own fear of absence.
And while if you caught me in a different mood I might say I’d prefer not to bring this part of my work home with me, it’s more true to admit that this near constant dread of their absence has woken me to something else, their presence in my life.
The sheer- as in flimsy– grace- as in unwarranted gift– of it.
Just like someone who doesn’t realize the pain of unbelief until they begin to believe, the fear of losing my boys calls out the greater joy of having them.
Life is frageelay.
It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.