It’s hard to believe that I’ve known my son-in-law Travis for twenty years. We met long before he even knew that I had a daughter; let alone that he would one day marry her. He was the (very young) computer consultant that the company that I worked for at the time had hired. Funny thinking back on it now, I couldn’t have imagined then that he would ever be part of our family. Or that I would love and admire him as much as I do.
But that was then…
Today he is a man who deserves to share the life he has made with my beautiful daughter (something that I once thought no one would EVER be worthy to claim). Travis adores my daughter. And he is loving, patient, and kind to his children. His example of faith is a witness to us all. And he has taught Anna and Noah to know and love God. He is always the first person to lend a hand and brings his tireless energy to even the most difficult tasks. Plus he is fun and funny!
Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend.
Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Ruth 1:16
Yesterday our granddaughter Anna brought home a worksheet from Kindergarten. It had a picture of pumpkins and a turkey which she carefully colored and a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ that stated:
Noah is Anna’s 3 year-old little brother. At times he can be a pest. He will sometimes destroy a work of art or un-puzzle a puzzle or disrupt a tea party or throw a baby doll across the room or otherwise torment her. His behavior will likely produce a shrill “Noah!” But Anna loves Noah and Noah loves Anna. And she readily forgives him.
This love that they share is fostered in the love that their parents have for one another. Caring for each other is what my daughter and son-in-law do; it’s what my son and daughter-in-law do; what they model; what they teach. And the lesson is being learned. Loving parents create loving children. And somehow I think that Deb and I started this love fest.
I am thankful, too! Not just for Anna and Noah but for parents that are teaching their children to love one another. Thankful for forgiveness and second chances. Thankful for constant reminders that this life is precious and we are gifts to one another. Thankful that childish squabbles and petty differences can be resolved when we remember that our love for one another triumphs over all. Thankful that anger and resentment will cease when we forgive those who have wronged us (and when we forgive ourselves, too).
I am humbled by the profound and simple love that Anna and Noah share. For me they reflect God’s grace and beauty. To me they are examples of what is to come in heaven.
Love! Joy! Peace!
The challenge for me of course is loving and forgiving my brothers and sisters. Not just my siblings – that’s easy. But this belief in God is troublesome. If we are all God’s children then we are all sisters and brothers. Ugh! That means that I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in my life. Not only that, but I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in all of creation! I suppose I could begin by not referring to them as jerks and losers. And of course I desperately need to receive some love and forgiveness, too.
So this Thanksgiving I will thank God for the honor of witnessing the love between a five year-old sister and her three year-old brother. I’ll try to learn from their beautiful example and attempt to be thankful for EVERYONE. And I will thank God for the forgiveness received when I mostly fail. I suppose I might learn to love someone previously deemed unworthy of my affection. Or better yet I might be loved by someone who finds me unlovable.
I’m happy to take my miracles in small doses…
Several years ago while visiting her mother-in-law in a nursing home my mother-in-law encountered a woman who asked her name. She responded, “My name is Jacqueline; Jacqueline Dobbs.” The inquirer who was clearly suffering from some form of dementia or metal disability replied, “Well that’s an unusual name but it’s very nice to meet you Jacqueline Jacqueline!” And so it went. Every time the woman would encounter my mother-in-law she would greet her as Jacqueline Jacqueline. My mother-in-law found it quite amusing but she was always kind to that stranger and never tried to correct her. She just accepted her as she was.
This week my mother-in-law passed away. I suppose that I’m remembering that story because she too ended her life in a nursing home and was blessed by the kindness of strangers. In the weeks leading to her death she became increasingly weakened by COPD, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. In addition she was struggling with dementia which was likely brought on by her diminished oxygen levels. Her caregivers were gracious, respectful and loving and she in-turn won their hearts. Because of her dementia she sometimes believed that she was visited by television celebrities and was convinced that beautiful lake homes surrounded the nursing facility. Her imaginations were very real to her. And the staff indulged her and just accepted her as she was. When it became clear that she wouldn’t survive, the nursing staff embraced our family with overwhelming love and kindness.
My mother-in-law wasn’t always easy to be around. And I often joked that she had been in a bad mood for nearly 40 years because she was unhappy that Deb had agreed to marry me (she apparently had imagined a better life for her daughter). The truth is, our relationship was pretty tense at times. But life went on and after many years she accepted the fact that I wasn’t going away. We shared the love of the same people and ultimately learned to love one another.
The last several weeks of her life Jackie seemed let go of her anger and disappointment and she and I had the best days of our 38 years together. It was the most beautiful gift that she could have ever given me. I realize now that she did love me and was proud of the life that Deb and I had built. She told me how much she loved our children and especially our grandchildren. She let me know that I was a good husband and father and son-in-law. But the real gift that she gave me was the realization that life is too short to hold on to grudges and resentment. Anger and bitterness only serve to sap the spirit from our lives. Being justified in my outrage is not worth the loss of love that I will be denied by my own stubbornness or self-righteousness.
When things became hopeless and no medical intervention could save her, we prayed for a peaceful passing. God granted her that blessing. Jackie was surrounded by her husband and children and, I believe, the angels. A few weeks before her death she told us that she kept hearing a man’s voice singing one refrain from the hymn Silent Night, “sleep in heavenly peace.” At last she had found that peace. Peace with the world. Peace with God.
My mother-in-law wasn’t always easy to be around but she was capable of tremendous kindness and she loved her family fiercely. And I know that included me.
Our home office is actually a multi-purpose room. It’s truly a third bedroom that was converted into an office and now serves as the toy room, the art supply room, the nursery, the occasional spare bedroom and whenever possible is actually used as an office. I often find my center here. I pray here. I blog here.
I love this room because it is full of reminders of all the love in my life. This room is comfort and joy to me. And even when it’s a little messy – toys or books or art projects strewn about – it is still a place of repose. Sometimes when I’m alone I read the grandkids’ books to myself, like “You Are My Wish” by Maryann Cusimano Love – “I am your soft lap; you are my climb. I am your story; you are my rhyme.” – what poetry! it just tugs at my heart!
Sometimes this room is full of activity with three grandchildren happily playing or creating some new works of art. Sometimes this room is still except for the soft breath sounds of Noah while he is napping in his crib. Sometimes music is playing through the speakers thanks to a handy son-in-law. And sometimes it’s just me clacking away at the keyboard of my computer and then proofreading and deleting (and re-typing and re-reading and deleting again). It truly is a multi-purpose room.
And the love abounds. It’s found in the favorite toys and books. It’s in the little mementos of our travel abroad. It’s in the photos of friends and family. It’s in a note from Deb of little importance (except it’s written in her beautiful penmanship). It’s in the small plaque that reads, “God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You”.
This room will never be featured on HGTV or shown in House Beautiful. It’s cluttered and a bit haphazard. It’s full of Legos and storybooks and baby dolls. It’s relatively small and it lacks any real style. But it’s our room. And it’s our life. And it reflects our love.
They say that home is where the heart is – this room might just be our soul.
I like to think of myself as a ‘Do It Yourself’ kind of guy but the reality is that I’m really more of a ‘Try To Get My Son-in-law To Do It’ kind of guy. Let me explain. My son-in-law Travis is a handy guy. He likes to take on projects and he’s not afraid to tackle any home improvement.
This works out well for me. I have lots of projects that I would like to get done. I’m somewhat aspirational in my approach (“I would like to accomplish this task, but…”). Travis is more concrete in his approach (“I have the tools; when do we start?”).
The Home Depot® loves guys like me. I buy the material and Travis installs it. And if I buy more than I need, I just pile it up in the basement. I know that I can return extra materials later but I almost never do. I keep the stuff for future projects (most of which never happen).
I help with ‘my’ home projects but Travis is the one who does the lion’s share of the work. At times I get to be the superintendent but my wife is ALWAYS quality control. Deb also takes care of any color, design or material selection. I have an idea of what I want and Travis knows how to get it accomplished but Deb has final approval. It’s a pretty tightly run organization.
I know that ‘my’ home projects aren’t really mine but I’m okay with that. And so far Travis keeps coming back for more. And Deb keeps coming up with new ideas.
That’s the beauty of family. We are never alone. We anticipate one another’s needs and provide support (and love) as required. Rarely do we have to ask for help. Help is there.
It’s reassuring to know that I am in this life together with my family and my friends. At times I’ve tried to do it all. To carry it all. Whether it be a home project or an emotional or spiritual burden. When someone else helps with the lifting the burden becomes lighter. And as the burden is divided, the blessings are multiplied. Such is the joy of a life shared.
So I’m a ‘Do It Yourself” guy. It just happens to take a village…
My son-in-law is not a very good singer. No, that’s not quite accurate; he’s a really bad singer. Poor guy couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But you what? He sings. He sings out loud. He sings with his kids. And most importantly, he sings in church. He makes ‘a joyful noise’!
Sing out your love!
Travis is an example of how children learn by modelling their parents’ behaviour. Both of Bess and Travis’s children love music and grandson Noah really loves to sing. He loves to sing in church just like Daddy. In fact, he so loves church singing that while he was in England every time we entered a church or abbey or cathedral Noah would sing Alleluia. Of course at 21 months old his ‘alleluia’ sounds more like al-lay-loo-la. All the more beautiful and endearing! Somehow a baby singing al-lay-loo-la at the top of his lungs has a transformative power. And Noah has brought joy to many with his vocals. Recently at Mass back in the U.S. he asked the song leader (and our good friend Tracy) for “more loo-la; more, more loo-la!” And together she and Noah made ‘a joyful noise’.
So God bless Travis for singing his heart out heedless of being off-key and for remaining confident that God loves all voices; perhaps especially those that struggle with melody, lyrics, tone and rhythm.
Granddaughter Anna likes to say “that’s the way God made me” or “I’m still learning.” Usually she invokes these sentiments when she has failed to meet some challenge or doesn’t want to try to learn something new. Example: “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up all my toys but I’m not as good at that as you are because I’m still learning” or “I can’t reach the pedals very well on my bike because this is way God made me” (meaning short). But Travis doesn’t seem to care if he is singing is off-key and maybe he celebrates his singing because that’s exactly the way God has made him.
Regardless, his example of ‘joyful noise’ has reverberated in our worship and made an impression on my grandchildren that will last their lifetime. And I thank God for his gift to them and to me. I’m not a good singer either (although I’m better than Travis) but I now sing out loudly in church, too. Travis and Noah have taught me how to ‘make a joyful noise’, and let go of my fear of not sounding good enough. I’m still learning to love my own voice (warbles and all) and I’m reminded that it’s okay because this is the way that God has made me.
Today is my son-in-law Travis’s birthday. He’s a gem.
Not only is Travis a good husband and father, but he is a good man. And I love him, too. The way that he adores and treats Bess; the way he loves and protects Anna and Noah; the way he remembers to thank God for his blessings each day; makes me realize that I have the best son-in-law in the world.
Travis is always the first to step up and help out, regardless of the need. He brings tireless energy and fun to even the most mundane tasks. He is selfless and is totally committed to his family (I’m lucky to count myself among them). He is a devoted husband, father, son, and friend. He teaches Anna and Noah each day by his example, and I am thankful for his love, patience, and gentleness toward them.
On the less admirable side: it turns out that Travis and I have a lot in common (which I think is funny; he might find it frightening) – bad puns, lame jokes, (some would say) annoying habits, the ‘need’ to be right about EVERYTHING, attention deficit disorder, laughing too loud at most times, innapropriate (again subjective) comments, and the lack of a brain filter – (it’s okay to think it but you shouldn’t always say it).
Anna, Bess, Travis, and Noah
You are exactly the kind of husband I want for my daughter and you are exactly the kind of father I want for my grandchildren. Plus you are my friend and my son-in-law AND in that order. I can’t imagine life without you and all of the blessings that you have brought to our family.