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Assembling Gratitude

Anne Lamott’s book, Some Assembly Required, chronicles the first year of her grandson’s life. It is a joyful read! There are many laugh-out-loud moments that testify to Lamott’s skill as a writer. Like any good comedian, she has excellent timing–a fact made all the more impressive since her words are frozen on a page.

But there are poignant moments as well. She describes her grandson’s development from learning to crawl to figuring out that his hands actually belong to him. Likewise, she follows the parallel development of her son, Sam, into a father. Fans of Lamott will recognize Sam: he appears in much her previous work, including her book, Operating Instructions about the first year of his life. It is a full circle moment for her readers. We have followed Sam from his infancy and now eagerly read about him taking care of his child. Babies grow up to have babies of their own. I found myself rooting for him as he learns how to change diapers and give a bottle.

In Some Assembly Required, Lamott wrestles with her own inner demons of insecurity and doubt as we are accustomed to reading in her other works. But she also models for us a deep appreciation regarding the growth of her son. There are several places in the book in which she describes her pride. Even if Sam is doing something relatively simple, like holding his son in his arms, Lamott does not take it for granted or view such development as inevitable; rather, her heart is full of gratitude. She writes, “Life is like a nice fresh batch of Swiss cheese. Note to self: savor the holes, too, like the spaces between musical notes.”

It is the season of graduation in southwestern Virginia. I was asked to give the opening invocation and closing benediction at the local community college. In between, I sat and watched as names were called and degrees were conferred. As an expectant father, I tried to imagine my child walking across that stage. How would I react? Just think of all the moments that preceded that graduation! All the high and low points, the fullness and emptiness of days-the cheese and the holes.

Sometimes family members would stand up and cheer. I like to think that such outbursts were genuine shout of acclamation. Their hearts were full of gratitude, so full that they had to yell or they might burst with pride. And what’s wrong with that? Is it not appropriate to mark important occasions in our lives?

Many churches follow a liturgical calendar. Rather than viewing the year as the inevitable passage of time, we are intentional about noting the different points in history as a means of illuminating our own experience. As the year rolls by, the liturgical colors change: the purple of Lent gives way to the white of Eastertide and then the red of Pentecost. On the deepest level, these changes are not mere formalities; they mark time so that we are encouraged to take notice. Perhaps we will cheer; maybe we will laugh or even cry. But gratitude comes from paying attention to each change and recognizing that we are a part of God’s mysterious yet loving plan for the world. In Lamott’s words, “We aren’t a drop in the ocean, but are the ocean, in drops.”

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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