"Wrestling with an Angel" The Book

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Family" is Intentional; Not Always Conventional

Her name was Marcella Carolyn; her friends called her “Luke”. I knew her as “Aunt Sue”. She was twenty-seven years old when I was born. She died last week at the age of seventy-two.

In those forty-five years, she stood in the gap as my mother and later when my children were born—as their grandmother.

She was a high school physical education teacher and a (very famous) girl’s basketball coach. She spent her life investing in the lives of others, but I knew her best for the deep investment she made in my life.

My grandparents raised my two sisters and me after our family was shattered by the common tragedies of life. They were wonderful, godly people, but they were rather aged when we were small children. My aunt and uncle stepped up during that time and became like parents to us. They never had children of their own—because they intentionally invested their time into us. I never realized how costly this commitment must have been until I had a family of my own.

Aunt Sue lit the fire of wild, untamed adventure in my heart and fed my love for the outdoors with bountiful servings of God’s most secret places in creation. One of those secret places was the Big Rideau Canal in Ontario, Canada. It was there where she (and my uncle John) taught me the essentials of developing boyhood masculinity, like how to tie a fishing knot, how to shift gears on a motorcycle and how to keep the rod tip down so the big bass wouldn’t get away.

I slept in a canvas tent overlooking the Rideau Lake for nearly three months at a time, throughout two consecutive summers, put to bed every night by the symphony of the Katydid and the lullaby of the loons. I bathed in the lake and played in the woods. I developed skills that every boy should have, like splitting firewood, building a campfire, skipping rocks, cleaning fish, catching frogs and telling stories. This was the proving ground of my adolescence—the stepping-stone into adulthood, manhood and eventually fatherhood.

Away from the Big Rideau, my Aunt’s home was always one of my favorite places to visit. There was always the hope of a wood burning fire in her living room insert or a campfire in her back yard. Some of my earliest childhood memories are lying by a glowing fire, falling asleep to the sound of her voice singing an old country music tune (I believe it was a Willie Nelson song) in the tone of a lullaby. She told tales that I knew were more fiction than fact, but they were real to my imagination and fueled my future passions for storytelling and writing.

I think I will miss her more than anyone I have ever lost in my life. I will miss her laugh and her singing; her jokes, pranks and antics. I will miss her encouraging words and her genuine interest in my life and the lives of everyone around her. I will miss her tenacity for living and her passion for adventure. I will miss her faithful presence in my family and her love for my children, especially her care and compassion for my son Jake, who she most affectionately referred to as "Jacob G.G."

I will miss her greatly, but her legacy will live on in so many ways. It will come alive in the sounds of the summer nights and the crackling of the campfire. It will bring laughter as her stories are passed down and retold many years and even generations from now. It will breathe with new life each time I tie a hook on a fishing line, feel the tug of the rod or the rumble of my motorcycle.

Even greater, her legacy will live the fullest through the presence of my own motley tribe as I look with wonder at the children God has sovereignly gathered to my side and realize that love, more than anything, is an investment in the brokenness of life and “family” is not always conventional—but always intentional. 

Thank you Aunt Sue.