It's interesting how life events make you see the world in an entirely different color. For any of you who are parents, you know what I'm talking about. To me it wasn't that long ago that I was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman in college with hardly a care in the world. Recently emancipated from my strict, bubble-like upbringing in Houston, I felt like my legs couldn't carry me fast enough to my dorm room in Northwest Arkansas. It was a place I had never been to or heard of in a world for which I held no fear. Me and my new friends - Wes, Carlos, Jeff and Scott - were on our way. I still remember the first time we got to town and took our first trip to the Wal-Mart there. We parked the truck and while we were walking through the parking lot to the front entrance, I saw something I had never seen before - of all things, a goat tied up by its neck with a rope standing in the bed of a truck. That was the first time I remember thinking, "What, dear Lord, have I gotten myself into this time?"
Sure enough, there were many more adventures to be had over the next several years. Friends came and went...I got married...graduated college...got a real job...and then came the kids. I had imagined in my head countless times what they would look like. I envisioned what it would be like to be a dad, to be able to hoist them up on my shoulders and pretend we were flying in the air as tandem fighter pilots, filling the air with our turns and dives. Truth be told, I felt a little pressure because it seemed universally people thought they were going to be beautiful, just spectacular. I thought, "Well alright Lord, you do your thing...I just want a healthy baby. But while you're at it, just give them a sprinkle of that beauty brush you have in your robe somewhere." For all of that, I was in no way prepared for the miracle of my daughter's birth or the beauty I beheld. I was overwhelmed...could hardly catch my breath save only to heave one sob after another of pure joy. She was more than beautiful...she was perfect. And the more I held her the more I didn't want to ever not hold her.
And if I wasn't prepared for what it was like to hold my daughter for the first time, I wasn't prepared for what it was like to hold my son for the first time. He was even more a miracle than his sister. He was a full two weeks early, born with his umbilical cord around his neck, silent - fighting for air. It was an odd thing to be in a room full of doctors and nurses who were caught between awe and panic - awe at the size of him (11 lbs.+) and at his mother who delivered him naturally and in a heightened sense of urgency to get the boy to take his first breath. They cleaned him then rubbed him until he let out his first cry. I don't remember ever feeling such a sense of relief to hear a baby's cry than at that moment. All I wanted to do was hold him. When I finally did, I marveled at how much he looked like his sister. Beautiful...and BIG...completely filled out with the most beautiful head of hair I'd ever seen...jet black with a silkiness to it that made you forget you were touching hair. He too was perfect...there was not another like him. I was instantly proud and protective...again that mix of feelings that rises up in you without you even realizing it. It was instant and instinctual.
The thing that I made peace with was that there was nothing I had done in my life that even approached the significance of being able to hold my kids in those moments, their first moments, my first moments seeing them wiggle and settle into my arms. What an amazing joy to see them, to feel them for the first time! What I hadn't realized even then was how much my seeing the world had changed because of them. Because of them, I went from a person that didn't have a care or worry in the world to thinking about how I was going to keep them safe from dangers seen and unseen. Because of them, I went from someone who laughed at the silliness of VeggieTales to crying like a buffoon watching Finding Nemo. I knew I was forever changed because of them, sunk like a chest of treasure at the bottom of the sea. The prospect of failing them haunted me...I wished that my flaws and shortcomings would be righted in them, not repeated or magnified. But for all of our efforts as parents, our children are a manifestation of who we are but in different ways. It forces us at times to dig deep and look at ourselves in the mirror. We look for words and ways of communicating what we hope will provide a means of correction. To our horror, we find ourselves at times parroting what we heard our parents say. But we realize in those moments the work it takes to be a parent, the work our parents did to keep us on the right path.
It is with this informed view through which I now see the world. I can't help but get a pit in my stomach when I think about the world as it is with my children in it. I see how the world assigns value (or the lack thereof) to life. It is so easily discarded, tossed aside like a piece of lint. Our world is full of people who have no appreciation for life - who don't understand its value or its inherent wonder. We read stories of people seemingly possessed by evil itself mowing down unsuspecting souls in a spray of bullets in Paris - or San Bernardino - or Sandy Hook - or Charleston - or Chicago - or Oregon - or Nigeria - or Israel. Pick a place - any place - and surely there are stories to tell of those who have done evil against another. It is a function of our fallen nature...this world we live in is sullied by those who take residence in it, fundamentally flawed - a reflection of our condition as human beings.
And for all of this, I still believe that when I look at my children, I see hope. I see in them the potential to change this world. I believe, with all of the evil in this world, that the light in them can stifle the darkness. I don't know if that's crazy or naive...maybe it's a bit of both. Only God knows. But they bear His image - if we can help them see the value of life - EVERY life, they can help their peers see the same thing...and maybe their peers will see and help others they know see that as well. What if? And then...well maybe we can change the world as we know it. Just maybe...
Greater love hath no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends.