I’m lying on a sectional across from my cousin, who’s wrapped in a blanket. The smell of chili still permeates the house. Despite having just eaten, it’s a welcome smell – something about chili is comforting on a cold day. There’s frost on the ground keeping us inside, but not bad enough to keep me off the roads.
Between the two of us, hundreds of magnetic blocks lie on the carpet. A few minutes ago those blocks formed a castle but only the rubble remains. Wrapped in the blanket with her are my cousin’s two daughters – five and three years old – and they’re both vying for the best real estate, the place closest to mom.
While we are lying there stuffed from the chili and the Girl Scout cookies her oldest daughter is selling, my cousin’s husband is washing dishes and preparing banana bread for tomorrow’s breakfast.
My cousin’s youngest, a 15-month-old boy, comes into the living room shirtless and pantsless. After scanning the assortment of toys, he picks out a pink tennis ball, shows a big smile, and hands it to me. While staying on the couch, I play catch with him – well as best as you can with a 15-month-old.
Because of COVID and other interruptions, it’s been a year since I’ve seen them, and the growth is evident. I’ve enjoyed the evening, but soon the girl’s laughs turn to tears, a sign it’s time for bed, and I find myself walking into the cold.
I keep thinking back to those minutes where my cousin is bundled up with her daughters. I have no doubt it was a precious moment for my cousin, albeit one that is easy to take for granted. But my mind fixates on her daughters. I still vividly see their faces, content and secure as they’ve found their desire for affection met by their mom. What a beautiful sight. When I think about their future, I can easily see them as doctors or lawyers and great wives and moms.
I’m also reminded of a four-year-old I used to see – we’ll call him Sean. I’d see Sean when I spent time with his teenage cousins. Sean would always run up and give me a big hug – it felt as if he was afraid to let go. At the time, Sean was living with his Aunt in a crowded home. I never learned anything of Sean’s dad, and the only time I heard about his mom was when I overheard chatter about her court date.
Not long after I met Sean, I saw his cousins ridicule and yell at Sean for crying. I got onto them, but I only thought they were teasing and bullying him as older siblings do. But then I saw their grandma do the same thing. “I’m not raising no cry baby.” This took me aback. I had seen many kids Sean’s age start crying for no significant reason, and I never felt they needed to be scolded.
Later it made sense. Grandma loves Sean, but she knows the coldness of the world and that she can’t shelter him. If he’s going to survive, he needs to be tough. When I think about Sean’s future, I’m too embarrassed to write my thoughts. He’s a cute kid, but in twenty years, he’s going to be seen as dangerous, not cute.
For me, I had an incredible childhood, and it certainly has had a positive cascading effect on my life and my successes, and not everyone can say this. I did nothing to deserve this. It’s simply the grace of God, an unmerited gift, that I was born into my family.
So should I feel guilty? By no means, for listen to what God said to Abraham:
“And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2
We who have been blessed are not to feel guilty – that would be insulting to God’s kindness.
But neither are we to deny the impact of God’s grace and kindness towards us. Too often we justify turning a blind eye to the less fortunate by saying God helps those who help themselves as if everything we have is from our own doing. No, we who have received God’s grace are called to be a way God shows his kindness to the world.