When people find out I am the 10th of 12 children, they often ask about you and mom. As I talk about you, in my mind’s eye, I see you with a contented smile, gently shaking your head as if in unbelief at your good fortune. “I am blessed.” Little did I realize what it took for that sentence to be born in your heart and flow from your lips. Scripture describes how gold is purified of dross in a fiery furnace. “I am blessed” is pure gold, and our family life was your furnace. Only now, with nine children of my own and twenty years of marriage under my belt, do I appreciate what it meant for you to speak those three simple words.
Being a mom to nine munchkins is exhausting; for you to be a dad to 12 kids with your temperament must have been crazy making. Organized, meticulous, clean and frugal to an extreme; that was you! There is a place for everything and everything in its place. Trouble was, we kids knew those places too. Before you could blink an eye, voila your wrench, calculator, razor or gin disappeared, never to be seen again. You are the only person I know who not only had a “to do” list, but also a “replace” list. I wonder if any of us were ever on that second list 🙂
Rather than “Good night, John Boy.” your bedtime message was “Shut off the lights, lock the front door and turn down the heat.” That worked until your older kids returned home from their sporting events, prayer meetings or parties and started banging around the cleaned up kitchen looking for food, cooking food and, of course, leaving the kitchen a complete mess. Those nights meant a detour on your morning routine of reading the just delivered newspaper over fresh brewed coffee. How could you possibly read the headlines or do your crossword puzzle in peace with the kitchen such a mess? So you rolled up your sleeves and dealt with it. The crossword puzzle could wait and would wait until order was restored. Did you say, “I am blessed.” while scrubbing the frying pan? If you did, I want to know your secret. Really, I do.
That many active kiddos meant broken windows, damaged appliances and new stains on walls, carpets and furniture. Accidents happened; and so did carelessness. In all of this, you somehow ran our household on a budget and balanced your checkbook to the penny. It must have been incredibly frustrating to account for all those unexpected expenses. Or did you expect them? Did you have a line item in our household budget for “carelessness”? I wouldn’t be surprised.
What does surprise and even amaze me was your openness to life in the midst of all this. Your regular detours from your morning routine never deterred you from a radical generosity when it came to children. God must have been so delighted in you. Dad, you were faithful. Faithful to God, Mom and us children. And so after one child you said, “Yes” again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again.
I can’t put my finger on when I first noticed it, but “I am blessed.” became your motto. Maybe it was when grandkids first showed up. Or maybe it was when you realized you would never experience “everything in its place.” but that was okay, because “everything is a gift.” I think that’s what you meant when you said “I am blessed.” All that comes from God is a blessing and a gift! And among God’s blessings, you put us kids right there at the top of your list, along with your Catholic faith and mom.
Whether we were at a Sunday dinner, an impromptu birthday celebration, a grandchild’s Baptism, a wedding, or a happy hour, I remember the look of wonder on your face as you told us in all kinds of ways, “I am blessed.” And we could feel it. You were overwhelmed with surprise at God’s shocking generosity to you. It was as if you woke up one morning to discover you had 12 children. How did that happen? How did I ever end up here? I am blessed beyond measure!
But now I get it, at least a bit. Writing this to you, I am amazed, surprised and blessed beyond measure at the way my own family has come into being… I understand a bit better what it meant for you to trust God and to experience openness to life as a blessing, even when your temperament wants you to run in the other direction. But you didn’t run from generosity; you embraced it, us and the crosses we laid upon your shoulders every day… and through it all, your life spoke so loudly, “I am blessed.”
I have a firm hope you are in heaven looking down lovingly upon me and my crew.. With you are the little ones I will meet one day and the family members who have gone before me. While you left behind the struggles and burdens involved in being our dad, I know there is one thing you took with you; your motto, which you will sing for ages unending, “I am blessed.” I can’t wait to join you. Until then, dad, just know,
I am blessed.