Monday, June 8, 2015

Showing Up

"Family is the natural school of love."

John Paul II

My first memory of it is in the kitchen of my grandfather's house, before he married again and sold it to my uncle, so I must have been young - under ten, at least. I was small and my Aunt Helen showed me how to devein a shrimp right there at the sink, the sun streaming in and the dull roar of our oversized family conversations pouring through the doorway. My indoctrination to a club I've belonged to ever since. My arrival, in a way, to womanhood. On that day I held a knife and I wasn't just one of the kids anymore. My place in the family changed and I felt it - the shift, the responsibility. The unmistakable feeling that something important had just transpired.

It's been twenty odd years and Grandpa has been gone more than a decade. The house was sold to my uncle, and then to the couple that became the parents to my son's best friend - because that's how life goes. I walk past that kitchen window with my seventh baby in a sling and my toddlers in the wagon and although the paint is different and the kitchen has been redone - it is written in me like a part of my dna.

The voices of my aunts float over my head as a young teen making buttercream frosting in my aunt's kitchen, frosting the cupcakes Uncle Jim always pretends to complain about because he hates coconut, even though it's one of Aunt Beth's go-to recipes for a shower. In the heat and bustle and importance of being a part of making something happen, I find a place. I feel grown, necessary. Needed. None of my Aunts on this side of the family are my blood relatives. They are all married in, not that you could tell. Family is forged in the commitment to do life together, however it presents itself. In joy and grief and every day in between. We show up for each other. It's what we do, in my family. My Mom tells me - this is how we love.  "You can't have a party if no one comes."

The years slip on by and we shower every blushing cousin bride, each expectant mother glowing with pride, each awkwardly grinning graduate with all our love, acceptance, celebration. This is what we do. We leave no marriage unacknowledged, even the elopements. No baby un-feted, even the unanticipated ones. Life events are marked and marveled over. I grow up with a tribe of fierce and faithful women showing me that the point of all life is the giving away of all love, no matter the cost, no matter the time, no matter the place. We know what we are about. I was grown, trained up, apprenticed and graduated in the fine and fast disappearing art of service as love. And I learned it all from women with brains like steel traps and hearts like never ending chasms of good will.

I'm thirty one and sway with my baby sleeping on my chest. My Aunt Jane is talking to me about breastfeeding and I'm hanging on every word because it's gold. I sought her out because I'm old enough to recognize wisdom when I hear it. My girls have been here nearly every day this week, helping with gardening and sweeping porches, preparing for just this - another family baby shower. Another baby on the way. When you believe that each life is God-breathed and planned from the beginning of time, there is no such thing as "another" baby. A new one, a different one, one of us. One of ours. He or she holds the same importance as the most important of us, even while still snuggled up deep inside Mama.

We all assemble and it feels like home. My daughters with eyes and ears wide open, standing up straight almost like they know that this is where it happens. Where womanhood is forged and is so much more than any biology book says. This is where we learn that the language of love is the serving of one another - and joy is the unintended result of that gift.

"Love...binds them all together in perfect unity."

Colossions 3:14

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