Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ben's Gift

When I was younger and was just oozing with creative energy, I used to write songs for kids to sing. It was a great way to teach Bible stories. There’s something about singing a story that goes beyond learning it. The story isn't just in your head that way. It flows through your veins and becomes a part of who you are. I wrote a number of children’s musicals. Often we used them for VBS and I’d also write the curriculum to go with it. I did this for a number of years while my kids were in elementary school, so they were a part of it. But that was back in the 80s and I haven’t done a whole lot of it since.

Now, some of you know that the relationship I have with my son Ben, who is now 28, has been challenging at times. I dearly love him, but he has a way of pushing my buttons and making me crazy and ripping my heart out all at once. My daughter Gretchen tells me it’s because we’re so much alike. But I refuse to believe that. Well, back when Ben was 20, it was one of those years when I saw him at Thanksgiving, but we weren’t together at Christmastime. Gretchen came to be with me at Christmas and she brought gifts from Ben with her. He gave me a really nice sweater that I just love. And then he also gave me an audio tape. It was one he had done himself. Ben, who is now a gifted musician, was just learning to write music back then. He had a keyboard and guitars and a mixer and did some recording. This was a tape of some of his songs. I decided I’d get around to listening to it some other time.

Later, when I was in the kitchen doing dishes, Gretchen said, “Why don’t you put on that tape Ben made for you, Mom?” So I did.

I was half listening to the tape when I suddenly realized what I was hearing. Ben had taped his own arrangements of my songs, the ones I taught him when he was a little boy. He didn’t have any of the music, but he still remembered the tunes. By adding his own creative touch to them, some were much better than I ever remembered them sounding. I stopped what I was doing, sat down and listened to the whole tape and cried my eyes out. It was beyond a doubt the best gift I ever received from anybody in my life.

First of all, it was a true gift of love. I couldn’t imagine how much time Ben spent on it. Hours upon hours. And then, it was also such an affirmation of what I meant to him. Some silly songs he learned from me when he was a little boy would be with him for the rest of his life. The faith stories they told were a part of him, as well. (Since the church has no place in Ben's life as an adult, this brought me some comfort.) And then there was also the realization that something that had brought me such joy and fulfillment in my life was also something that brought him joy and fulfillment in his life -- engaging in the creative process through music.

All the frustration I felt over my relationship with Ben just melted away. I knew that despite it all, there is a deep love between us. Of course, when I tried to express to him what that gift meant to me, he just said, “It was no big deal.” But we both knew, it was a very big deal.

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