On Saturday evening I went to a concert where the musicians performed John Rutter’s Requiem. Before the concert began, the conductor played a video in which Rutter explained where his inspiration came from to write this famous work. Apparently, he wrote this hauntingly beautiful music as a means to honor his father who had just died. The concert brought me to tears. I was reminded why I hardly ever go to music concerts. Beauty always makes me cry.
Today I got to meet my family for lunch. My parents just moved to Greenville (where I’ve lived the last six years) from Pennsylvania. I have to say I think I have the most beautiful family in the whole world. Let me share with you their story.
My parents were married at a young age. My mom was nineteen and just ending her sophomore year in college. I do not doubt that they were mature for their ages; neither had had particularly “easy” growing-up years. My mom had been in several relationships, and my dad’s first fiancé dumped him. (Plus, I just think of myself at nineteen, and I know I wasn’t ready to be dating, let alone married!) I know my parents spent at least two years of married life in Greenville while my mom finished school. Although she had always wanted to earn a master’s degree, married life called her and my dad to Pennsylvania where my older sister, Heather, and I were both born. I know my mom had at least one miscarriage before I was born—probably more. But I’ve heard the story of the “little baby before me” several times.
My parents lived in Pennsylvania until the July of my third year when we all moved to New Hampshire. Having lived there for fourteen years, I guess New Hampshire is the place I should consider home, but I don’t. I remember nothing of Pennsylvania, and I remember very little of my initial reaction to New Hampshire. My mom was pregnant with my brother Chris when we arrived in Dublin. The house we were moving into had not been vacated yet so we were sleeping in sleeping bags in one of the apartments down the street. My mom had my brother Chris on my sister’s birthday, before we had even moved into our house. At the time I didn’t know that Chris had almost died. He was six weeks early, and his lungs hadn’t developed yet. I know my parents still praise God every day for saving his life back then. All I remember of the move into the new (very old) house was that I plopped my rear end down in my new bedroom with the pale brown carpet and colored pictures of fish.
What I loved about the New Hampshire house was all the character. I remember my dad giving tours throughout the house whenever we invited company over. My first bedroom (before the expansion of the family) was originally the carriage house. My dad built the garage and most of the second story when I was in second grade. My sister and I got to choose our paint colors for the new upstairs bedroom, and I remember when my mom along with her friend Mrs. Hubbard painted all the new rooms in the upstairs.
But that time in New Hampshire was a mix of roses and thorns. My mom got really sick after Chris was born. She had her gallbladder taken out. She had several more miscarriages. I remember one in particular. She had only recently told the kids that she was pregnant. Baby Isaac came out, and my mom let me see the baby resting in her palm and pointing out the different tissues that had only begun to form into hands and feet. We buried him in a Tupperware container in the back yard and planted a red rose bush on his grave. The bush refused to bloom for several years, but when it finally did the roses were white. And then another Isaac was born—my brother who is now thirteen. Just before he was born, my mom’s stepdad died. I was ten, and I only got to see him once a year while I was growing up. I don’t remember much of him, but I do remember that my mom found her joy in God giving life even in death.
My mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was in third grade. I also don’t remember much of that time. I may have been too young, but I think I chose to forget it. I remember my mom having panic attacks while driving. I remember her pulling over to the side of the road and waiting for my dad to come pick us up when she couldn’t go on. I remember when she came home from the doctor crying and told us the diagnosis. I remember the scar the plastic surgeon left on her neck when he removed her thyroid. I remember her being in pain when we tried to hug her. But I also remember the “clubs” that my mom created while battling cancer. The cancer club met at Nonie’s for breakfast on Saturdays. When she was labeled “cancer-free,” the club still met—only this time she called it the Pig Pen or the Fat Farm or Hog Heaven—and it was a club for all the people in her group of friends who were “dieting” together. During that time Jimmy and Jacoby were born. I don’t remember much from Jimmy’s birth, but I will never forget Jacoby’s. My sister and I stayed up all night watching The Princess Diaries with our adopted sister, Ye Jin. The doctor told my mom that Jacoby was almost normal. (She was worried after Chris’s near-death experience and Isaac’s prematurity—he was two months early.) Jacoby’s only abnormality was that he had two thumbs on one of his hands. For most of his baby pictures in that first year, he has a huge cast covering his entire arm. Soon after Jacoby was born, my parents announced that the family was moving.
That summer was one of the most trying times for me. My parents packed up everything and went to Georgia where they had family and a church but no jobs. That summer before I went to college, I studied Hebrews 11, especially the verses concerning Abraham and Sarah and God’s promise to them that He was preparing a heavenly kingdom for them. I claimed that promise for myself and for my family.
While I tried to get settled into college life, my parents tried to make a new home. The move was hardest on my brother Chris who was then in the middle of junior high. There was a difficult period for a few months in which my dad had no job and then finally had to accept a job as a janitor even though he has a brilliant mind for finances and computers. The Lord faithfully provided for my family’s needs through all of the uncertainty, but just as Chris was about to enter his senior year of high school, God called my parents to Pennsylvania where we hoped their jobs could be more stable.
My parents were greeted with a loving church family when they needed one most. God in His mercy showed my parents in several ways why this move was necessary for the spiritual welfare of our family. Our faith was shaken, but God lovingly helped my family to rest in His sovereignty. This time around my mom learned flexibility when she agreed to teach Pennsylvania History one year and the next year agreed to teach fifth grade. But once again my parents were forced to relocate after only a few years, this time to Greenville, South Carolina. My dad will be working for the same company I work with now. My mom will be living a dream come true. We all hope that this change is more permanent.
People have asked me how I feel about my parents moving so close to where I live. I’ve been on my own for almost six years now. Many are surprised when I say that I am excited. A little over a year ago, I never would have thought that my entire immediate family would be “together” ever again. But now everyone in my family, whether wanted or not, lives within twenty minutes of each other. That in itself is an answer to prayer.
I’m not worried about losing my independence. I love my family. God has made my family beautiful. And He is using it and all the struggles that come with it to make me beautiful too.