Grandfamilies: Disrupted by Spells of Unanticipated Joy

Birthday funLala initiates a tissue-tossing frenzy as she opens birthday gifts. Carly and Cadence assist while Elaine and baby Sawyer watch the action from the corner. January 2011.

Last weekend I committed to keeping an eye out for joy. I was tired of meeting challenges and being prepared for hardship. I claim this good God, see, and He not only carries me through the hard stuff, He also promises us good. Do you ever catch yourself so focused on bracing for the next trauma or drama that you miss those delightful moments He kneads into our lives? 

Me too.

This past weekend, as we gathered family and friends to celebrate three birthdays, I vowed to be prepared for attacks of glee. I’d ready myself for ambushes of bliss. I’d cope with spells of unbidden gratitude. If I found myself overtaken by spasms of jubilation, I’d muddle through.  When besieged by episodes of renegade exhilaration, well, I’d invite my grandchildren to join me in an impromptu tissue toss.

Instead of preparing a Plan B for party disasters and contingencies for weather, worry, and upset tummies, I girded myself for a weekend of rejoicing.

My dad and bonus mom were among our guests, along with my in-laws, church friends, neighborhood friends, three grandlittles, and our dear friend Mike, who defies categorization. My sister, Elaine, and bonus son Ryan were my fellow targets of birthday festivities.

You know how these things can go, right? You collect a bunch of loved ones together and you’re mixing political perspectives, party protocols, and personalities–and that’s before we even consider the great paper or plastic debate, now complicated by the introduction of reusable bags. There could be trouble. 

But when I decided to let joy sneak up on me, rather than sniffing around for awkward silences or heated debates or overcooked chicken or spilled drinks, it was–well, it was joyous. 

I witnessed my father telling my father-in-law the story about the time Toddler Me got hold of a rusty razor blade and chewed it up, and how he swept the pieces from my mouth and reconstructed them like some tiny terrible puzzle in the palm of his hand. I’ve heard my dad recall the rescue dozens of times–but never before had I heard the grace notes of fatherly satisfaction. Never before had I seen the flashes of dad-to-dad unity, the wordless fraternity of commiseration and pride they entered into, eye-to-eye across my dining room table.

Upstairs, the grandlittles, two siblings and a cousin, stairsteps at eleven, nine, and seven, guffawed and galumphed like a small herd of drunken rhinos. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened as their glee rolled down over me, so palpable I could have drawn it close around my shoulders.

The next morning, Sunday Sabbath, we launched into the familiar drill: Pancakes and Bacon and Church. I fried bacon and oversaw the three overnighting grandlittles’ rotation through the shower. We were behind schedule, hustling. Someone said, Maybe this is the weekend that we’re ten minutes late to church. To my astonishment, that someone was me. Delightful breakfast with my family or the hectic hustle? Delight, please.

I asked Grandlittle Cadence to assist me with some small task. What do I get for it? he asked, eyes playful.

A hug from your Lala, I replied, in my twinkling voice, and what could be better than that? 

FIVE hugs from my Lala, he said, melting my grandmotherly heart into a puddle of bliss.

Thankfully, I had prepared to deal with bliss.

Maybe there were awkward pauses or heated discussions or spilled drinks at our party. I really couldn’t say. I was busy patrolling for joy. 

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This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 (NASB)

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On Tuesdays*, we’re talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear each generation’s perspective.  Being family is by turns effortless, impossible, blessed, challenging, hurtful, joyous . . . . Let’s talk about it.

Please join us.

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*About Tuesdays, lately: It’s been quiet around here, more than I would like. Frankly, I got stuck. And then I wasted a bunch of time trying to unstick myself instead of asking for some unsticking help. Last week at church whatever had been sticking broke loose and dissolved. I’m hopeful that you’ll find me here more regularly, these days.



  1. Sheila – This is wonderful. I love the whole posture of preparing oneself for bliss. Too often I prepare for the worst. I’m the queen of plan B! But this expectation of joy and hilarity: I like that. It’s like a child waiting for daddy to “scare” her. She knows it’s coming, but she’s still so taken when it does.

    Hope you are well, friend.

    • Charity, thank you. Me too–always ready for a mishap. I love your comparison to a child waiting to be “scared.” That’s perfect!

      I am well, thanks, I hope the same for you.

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