“And do you have everything you’re going to need today?”
Last September, my middle child started high school, and his big sister decided he was going to be organized. She was going to make sure of it. Every morning last year, she ran through a checklist with him, making sure he had his lunch – check; his keys – check; his bicycle lock – check; a pen that worked – check; his class notebooks – check; right down to his marbles, invariably lost! so we’d all laugh and then two of them would head out together to face the day.
Now, a new September, and if last year taught us anything, we know how hard it is to make a list. Anything might happen. We don’t know what’s ahead. All plans can suddenly change. We’ve had to learn and relearn what it means to walk by faith and not by sight in these changing days.
My niece lived that lesson with grace this summer. She and her fiancé had made long-range plans to get married in the fall of 2023, but when his grandmother received a sudden late-stage cancer diagnosis, they changed the date. Everything could be rearranged. It was people that mattered most of all. I was disappointed that no airline could fly us home from Wales to be there in time, but no worries, my sister said. They’d livestream it. We could be there from our living room. Check.
So, family gathered for the first time in too many months, and everyone pitched in to make their day perfect. The groom’s mother made the cake, and his father prepared a tent in the garden. My sister prepared a room where the bride and her friends could get ready before the ceremony, and she decided to fill it with memories of those who couldn’t be there. Old family photographs, gifts and furniture passed down from grandmothers and great-grandmothers. And from me, a square glass vase and a paper globe. Not objects of great value, but I was so glad to see them there in that room. The paper globe had been a Christmas present years ago, and I’d used the vase as a table centrepiece at my own wedding. Placed on the windowsill of her dressing room, both looked fragile and hopeful like symbols of place and care.
If I could add anything to my niece’s new beginning, that is what I would choose to give her. The knowledge that love is the place where she has now pledged to live and to build, and that love needs careful, caring hands. I don’t know if that is everything that she might need for the days ahead, but I can hope it is a good start.
And, as a postscript, if I could slip one book into her hands, it would be Walter Wangerin’s wise book about marriage, As for Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last. Wangerin was a faith-filled storyteller and by setting his own marriage, for good and for ill, before his readers, he created space where other couples could see how marriages work over years together. When Wangerin died last month, Phillip Yancy reflected on his life and work for Christianity Today and remembered him as one who paid attention. This faithful work was a gift to him as a writer and a practise his readers might learn to emulate that will helps us all as we build our stories, day by day.