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William is 2 1/2 weeks old. He has gained almost two pounds since birth, and he has grown nearly two inches. He is beautiful–slate gray eyes and a full head of dark hair and pouty lips and long, delicate fingers and toes. He has a cleft in his chin that reminds me of his dad. He smiles when he sleeps.
There are idyllic moments every day–when he nurses and coos, milk dribbling out of the corner of his mouth… when he sleeps peacefully… when he lies on his back and begins to discover his arms and legs… when he gazes into my eyes, grabs my index finger…
But then, there are also the diapers, the cries in the middle of the night, the times when he kicks and screams and can’t be consoled. There is the loss of freedom that comes as I give myself to another human being, the loss of time with Peter, with Penny. There is the need to submit to his needs over my own.
And all of it is physical, concrete, tangible. He has no words, but he can receive my touch. I feel his presence in my body even when I am not with him–in my aching back, as my eyes glaze over from fatigue, when I find myself rocking side to side as if he were still in my arms. Food, sleep, comfort.
It reminds me that love is not an abstract concept, but that love builds and becomes real through daily interaction, daily touch and care, through poopy diapers and spit up and kisses. It reminds me that love is incarnational, in-the-flesh. It reminds me that, at least in the short term, I prefer abstractions. I prefer to think about loving my children rather than having to attend to their needs when it inconveniences me. And yet, somehow, it is through serving them in the times when I don’t want to that the love grows.
Finally, having this little life join our family reminds me of Jesus, of God in the flesh, incarnated. I think of the introduction to John’s Gospel–“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The language is lofty, but the sentiment couldn’t be more mundane, that God came into the gritty, humble, physical reality of everyday life. He came as a baby, weak and dependent and needy. He grew into a man who continued to love incarnationally, through healing touch and concrete action. Jesus translates the abstract love into active reality.
So tonight, when I awake to the grunts of my baby boy looking for food, perhaps I will remember that God has loved me in just the same way, by giving freely of himself, that I might live.