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Becoming a Grandparent and Other Amazing Gifts

Posted by Dr. Greg Austen on Apr 19, 2018 5:00:00 AM

 I watched my younger son and my soon-to-be son-in-law as they each took turns holding Emmett, gazing with wonder into his face, looking eagerly into a future they had chosen for themselves: a life script of faith, healthy marriage, children, and family connected to Christ's church and the gospel. 

My oldest son, Matthew, and his wife, Kylie, arrived with a small brown gift bag, white tissue paper sticking out of it, and set it down in front of us. I had no idea what it was and neither did Pam. She told me to open it and so, with all eyes on me, I took the package, placed my hand inside, and pulled out a small, white onesie. Matthew and Kylie just looked at us and smiled. I said, “Seriously?!!”

That’s how we found out we were going to be grandparents. :)

Pam half screamed and ugly cried. I just grinned and didn’t know what to say. I’ve always been a slow processor and not the most expressive guy. I don’t usually cry, except at unexpected times, and I rarely do a happy dance, except inside. Also, in joyful moments like these, I tend to get nervous fearing that folks—especially my family—won’t feel my heart.

I was happy though.  I was excited for Matthew and Kylie, and “Mi-Mi”-to-be, Pam. Plus, for years, I’ve looked forward to reading to my grandkids. But the news also made me feel old. Time waits for no one.  Aging brings changes to your energy levels, appearance, but gratefully, also to your priorities. Relationships matter more and, these days, few things are more important than passing on a healthy, godly legacy.

A little over a year ago, my commitment was enhanced in this area as a result of finishing my doctorate on “Fathering Well: The Neglected Missional Priority". One of the most significant learnings from my research was that the home is the primary conduit for passing on the faith. In analyzing data from a landmark study on who is really leaving the faith and why, sociologist Christian Smith noted, “Parents are huge, absolutely huge, nearly a necessary condition” for children to remain strong in their faith into young adulthood. He concluded, “Without question, the most important pastor a child will ever have in their life is a parent.”[1]

Over the remaining months of the pregnancy, my apprehension about aging grew less and less and my excitement about being a grandparent grew more and more. I looked forward both to the birth itself and the opportunity to provide third generational strength and stability to my family. My wife Pam and I had raised our three children, and now it was time to have their backs while they raised theirs.

On Thursday, March 28th, Kylie’s water broke and we got a call about it at 3:00 in the morning! They rushed to one of the finest hospitals in the area, were admitted, and, not long after, Pam joined them. I waited till 6:15 to feed the dogs and then went over myself. We joined Kylie’s parents and spent a good part of the day nervous, excited, sleepy, and trying to work remotely from our computers. We waited… anticipating that moment. Every so often a bell would chime, indicating not that another angel had gotten its wings but that a new human life had courageously emerged into a brave new world.

Throughout the day, the drama unfolded. At 3:45 am, she was 2 centimeters dilated and 60% effaced. By 9:00 am the contractions were getting more and more frequent and she was given an epidural. As we waited in third floor designated area, a TV played on almost inaudibly. For some reason, the preselected channel was TV Land and we endured reruns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. It seemed that every time I looked up someone was shooting, getting shot, limping from being shot, or laid up because of the same. Ok… what did I expect from a show called Gunsmoke?! By 10:30, Kylie was 3-4 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced, and the contractions 2-4 minutes apart. At 1:00, she was 10 centimeters dilated and ready to push! Nervous and oblivious to the classic westerns that continued to play, we continued to wait and talk, wait and talk. And then by 3:00 it happened: our bell tolled as a 6-pound, 15-ounce baby boy named Emmett Gregory Austen was born!

What was it like to hold him for the first time? Truthfully, scary just like with my own. That head is so tiny, precious, and fragile. I sat down and carefully took his head in the palm of one hand and his teeny, tightly wrapped, miniature-sized football body in the other. My son, Matthew, then sat down next to me, put his arm around me and I felt connected to something eternal and holy. Two men twenty-six years apart sharing the gift of precious newborn life, life that had come from us—for Matthew, a first child and son, and for me a first grandson and the sole heir of a new generation of Austens. It was also a fourth generation of Gregorys, my grandmother’s maiden name:

  • My father, Edward Gregory Austen, Sr.
  • Me, Edward Gregory Austen, Jr.
  • My son, Matthew Gregory Austen, and now…
  • My son’s son, little Emmett Gregory Austen

The grand finale of this amazing day came when all thirteen of us (parents, siblings, a fiancé, and a boyfriend) gathered in the large hospital room to see, be enamored by, and pass around an already beloved baby boy for the first time. There were lots of tears and uncontrolled excitement—“He’s so stinkin’ cute!,” an overwhelmed daughter-in-law who’d dreamed of being an aunt all her life, and inexpressible joy from my daughter as she held her nephew for the first time. And then I watched my younger son and my soon-to-be son-in-law as they each took turns holding Emmett, gazing with wonder into his precious face, looking eagerly into a future they had chosen for themselves: a life script of faith, healthy marriage, children, and family connected to Christ's church and the gospel. It's a view you just can't see with a biological evolutionary bag over your head devoid of God.

Thankfully, the God who blesses families with gifts like Emmett is the also the God who pursues the faithless: Long ago, when we weren't ready and didn’t even care to receive him (John 1:11)... He still came.

 “And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV) 

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, NLT) 

This post was originally published at The Carpenter Theologian

[1] Andrew Hess, “Who Is Really Leaving the Faith and Why?” The Gospel Coalition, accessed November 14, 2016, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/09/18/who-is-really-leaving-the-faith-and-why/

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