we had traveled for christmas. every holiday, a road trip, in the early days of our marriage. this time we landed with his family.
the not mine. the other way of doing christmas, of doing family.
in keeping with a rocky courtship, we’d made rocky ties to each other’s families of origin. my anxiety grew as we turned onto the streets he knew as a boy and when we pulled into his parent’s driveway, i was prepared for the worst.
faith defined us and the definition was sketchy. joshua and i met soon after i came to know jesus and he was ambivalent, antagonistic – i wasn’t in the church and he didn’t want to go. we fought all the time and we broke up a few times and always for the same reason – jesus. we were kingdoms in conflict and neither of us had much ability to sway the other to our side.
until one night.
after joshua slow made his way to the edge of the river and we were baptized on the shores of detroit, i became what many christians become in the beginning – black or white. unable to color outside of the lines. true or false. every hint of grey a threat.
there were lots of hints of grey in his family of origin.
so when we pulled our bags out of the trunk and walked up the steps to his mom and dad’s house, i was defensive before the first hug. i was ready to be insulted, to be misunderstood. i was ready to be wrong. and i didn’t like it.
i wanted total acceptance. i wanted love unconditional. i wanted no challenge. exactly what they wanted from me. exactly what neither one of us could do.
so one night his mother, my mother in-law, brought out her guitar. joshua can hear a song and pick up a guitar and play it, he can sit down at the piano and figure it out. it’s one of the reasons i chose him. he’s gifted. and i was about to see that gifts have an origin, that gifts are handed down.
his mother sat on the carpet and began to play a song from their shared history, a song about faith. her voice was clear and her heart was true. i sat on the couch frozen as i watched her son sing along.
i suddenly knew nothing.
when i realized i was going to cry, i got up quick and left the room. from the kitchen i wiped at my eyes and listened to the beautiful music that i could not make. the very real faith that i had not given any credit. i listened to them and felt like an outsider, eavesdropping on a private concert.
but i wasn’t.
this was my family now, too.
i came back into the room and i listened as they sang through the heart songs of their past and i sat quiet. i learned a little about grey and about black and white.
i also learned that gifts were my new family’s love language.
if acceptance could be wrapped in beautiful paper and tied with handmade bows, then i was accepted. if unconditional love could be a pile of presents at my feet when i still had two in my hands, then i was loved, unconditionally.
so it’s christmas eve and my fingers are stained red from the cherries to make her a crumble. my son he sits in the dining room composing his first song and trying it out on the piano from time to time.
we become one.
the son of god came to take away our sins, not our minds. i am the way, the truth and life – no one comes to the father except through me. both are true. with god many things are true at the same time. i gained more than i knew when i said, i do. all these years later i can see that as i wash the red off in the running water and as i hear father and son talking the language of gifts handed down from my mother in-law at the piano.
repost from the archives