I have this theory about becoming elderly. That in the end of one’s life, all the pretenses dissolve and the world is left with the truest form of what a person has been creating with all his time and effort. Like alcohol or narcotics, old age is an un-inhibitor. It leaves us to ourselves – to our demons, to our healing, to whatever has made it down to our deepest depths and stuck there. One day the world around me will see what I have done with all my years and what is most important to me. They will see the heart I have cultivated over a lifetime.
I decide every day what kind of heart that will be, what I’ll be left with when my mind is not so sharp, when my hands are tired. If I neglect to form with intention I will be left with something meaningless. Or I can allow shame to whittle it away, leave me weak and unsure. I can let fear keep me from ever forming it at all or anger cause me to hack away the best parts.
But I can let love guide me, too, and form something worth sharing, worth showing off. I can form with integrity and vision, gather skill as I learn how to handle my particular lump of material.
Whatever fuels me, the work happens in tiny increments. When coffee isn’t made in the morning and the kids have gotten an early start on their whining quota and the head is aching a little from some genius’ bright idea to change the damn clocks because he clearly didn’t have children – those are the moments I have to decide what I’m creating. I made a few sloppy strikes today.
This is me trying to smooth those out a bit. This is my grace – that I’m still learning even while I’m tasked with showing my favorite people in the whole world how to be human, how to form a heart.
Because while I’m doing this thing in front of these guys, I’m also giving them the tools to form who they’re going to be and I don’t want to give them shotty tools. I saw my quick temper in that sweet little brown-eyed boy and realized it’s my responsibility to help him deal with what I contributed to his DNA (so sorry, darling, that one’s mine). Gabe and I are the closest thing they’ve got to an Owner’s Manual for their emotions and tendencies and the worldview we will unavoidably hand down to them despite our best efforts.
So there has to be a lot of grace… Because I do fail a lot, but I’m still at it. I’m still picking up the labor every day and trying to do just a little bit better than the day before. I’m still here, still in. My children will learn a lot from how I treat them when they screw up, but they will probably learn more from how I treat myself when I screw up. And how I treat the people I hurt when I screw up. So we do lots of apologies around here – I do lots of apologies – and I try to be real with myself about what kind of heart I’m creating.
And I’m not doing this alone – there is an endless chain of mercies and respites and all the good and perfect gifts coming from a God conspiring to my benefit. There is the miracle of family – including the ones who choose to be – who do not leave even when there is nothing to say, who talk me off ledges or dangle their feet along with me. There are the many varied ways my children take my heart into their hands and leave their impressions like master sculptors. There is the man. Oh, I love the man.
But ultimately, it’s mine. I hope I stick around long enough to show my handiwork, but more than that, I hope that by the time I get there I have made it a good one.