Blessed Be the Ties That Bind

“Hard is the day’s task –
[Jersey], stern Mother –
Wherewith at all times
Thy sons have been faced:
Labour by day,
And scant rest in the gloaming,
With Want an attendant,
Not lightly outpaced.”
(from Sir Alexander Gray’s “Scotland”)

In the last dozen years we have been on the receiving end of any number of solicitations to move away from New Jersey. Many of them are lighthearted and congenial daydreams from the lips of sincere friends. We reply to these with an earnest measure of flattery, affirmation, and/or acknowledgment. But many such appeals are rife with no small modicum of poignant pressures and enticements. The appeals of this genus are predominately of the financial nature. Cost of Living is presented, and Property Taxes are paraded for our review (as if new information). Come for this amazing homeschool network… Be closer to family…This church could really use a family like yours… Imagine the size house you could afford… Wide open spaces, Greener grass, Leeks, Garlic, etc., etc.

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We know everyone’s reasons for leaving New Jersey, and we could etch more than a few very personalized items onto that list. But here we are—fourteen years into a mortgage, seventeen years into a career, sixteen years into a marriage in the crucible that is our Garden State. Four children, one income, $66,000 per acre in property taxes. Believe me, we know the numbers and what they add up to.

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Late Monday morning I will attend the funeral of a woman that I have always referred to as “Grandma.” But this 92 year-old saint was not my grandmother. She was not related to me in any way except through the bonds of Christian love and charity. With her husband and children, her family in 1981 comprised a sizable constituency of the members that originally founded the only church home I’ve ever known. Forty years ago, she and her husband welcomed a wide-eyed, newlywed pastor and his wife when they were called to the wilds of northwestern New Jersey to help organize a new OPC church. This faithful, godly woman (herself a Chicago transplant) mentored the pastor’s wife (a Philly suburbanite) and befriended the young pastor (a British Canadian from the Upper Peninsula, Michigan). She loved them and cared for them as if they were own two children. She was, after all, a mother to anyone and everyone, and it is no surprise then to see how she became like an adopted grandmother to me.

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In these days since we heard the news of her death, it has occurred to me that (at her passing) I have lost yet another person who has known me for my entire life. There is now one fewer person alive who was praying for my safe delivery when I was yet unborn. There is now one fewer person who remembers me in diapers and who can laugh and remember how big my head was as a toddler. Of course, the significance is not merely in the knowing—the Social Security office has known me from birth, too, after all. No, the immeasurable, irreplaceable, priceless treasure was being known *and loved* by this surrogate grandmother for 39 years. She wept when I wept and rejoiced when I rejoiced. She prayed for my health, my education, my marriage, and my salvation. She solemnly vowed to be devoted to me in love and then spent nearly 40 years amassing for me a debt of friendship, family, and grace that the cost of my very life could not repay.

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When I listen to another offer to leave New Jersey for Place(s) Unknown, the reference to intimate, multi-generational relationships is conspicuously absent from the appeal. Of course, it *cannot* be part of any portfolio or package to lure me away from my home—because I have it. I possess it already. What I have after 39 years of life in one New Jersey county cannot be quantified or codified. My treasure is appreciable but not appraisable.

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I know and I am known here. I love and I am loved here. My place here is my birthright and no financial incentive can lessen the luster of this, my home. I have ties that bind me here, and they are—to me, and in so many words—blessed ties indeed.

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