how a great dinner party is like church…

how a great dinner party is like church…

Jesus – “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35

I have often wondered why I enjoy dinner parties so much – especially when they are at our home. You have to make the house look nice ahead of time, and then there’s all that food prep, plus the task of cleaning the kitchen afterwards often carries over to the following day. It’s a lot of work.

Yet, serving good food, then sitting around the table with friends enjoying great conversation, is absolutely one of the best possible ways to spend an evening that I know.

Maybe it’s the all-inclusive theme of nourishment? Nourishing our bodies; nourishing our spirits; nourishing our relationships. Fact is, we were created specifically for the purpose of enjoying community – communion both with God and with one another. Being together, breaking bread in community, is always a spiritual experience. It’s a spiritual experience any where, any time.

I love the way Peterson paraphrases Christ’s words about this – “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there” (Matthew 18:20).

Monday night’s gathering included three newly elected WFPC church officers and their spouses. Jon and Tony will be serving as elders, and Joy is a new deacon. They just finished eight weeks of training with Rebekah, and will be ordained May 28.

Leadership:

Rebekah’s theory of leadership development centers around the principle of building community. We are invited to know one another, to share our stories, to love each other, to pray for each other, to grow in faith together, and to do the work of The Church from the context of a mutual love for Jesus, and a shared ministry.

This is not the same as agreeing about everything, sharing the same political views, thinking in lockstep, or rubber-stamping all the pastor’s ideas. Building community means:

  • doing life together;
  • understanding that we all follow the same Lord;
  • sharing a commitment to encourage one another along the path;
  • praying together;
  • learning together;
  • loving unconditionally;
  • celebrating together… holding one another up when there is grief to bear;
  • being willing to struggle together;
  • honoring those who see things from different perspectives;
  • sharing our hopes and dreams as well as our fears and doubts;
  • living our faith – not anonymously but out loud.

Breaking bread together is what the church looks like. Having people around our table for dinner is not only a manifestation of the Body of Christ, it’s part of what it takes to be the church.

Being the Body of Christ is a one hundred percent investment; 24-7; 7-52. If church is only something you do when you’re at 12605 Capital Blvd, or when you’re “on the clock,” then it likely never really was church to begin with.

So…

So there I go, beginning with a post about a dinner party and ending by talking about how we build community and grow together as the Body of Christ!

But I don’t think I diverged at all. I believe that if The Church (our church, your church, any church) is going to be relevant at all over the next few decades, then it has to more completely define itself – redefine itself if necessary – in terms of intentional community.

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With Rebekah at WPC

Jesus was as clear about this as he was about anything: “The world is going to be convinced of the truth about me – my life, my words, my invitation to know God – only to the extent that you all (y’all – the church) demonstrate authentic love – in effect modeling my love as a vibrant community, an invitation, a living testimony to grace” (John 13 – author paraphrase).

Why don’t you come and see?

In love, and most certainly because of love – DEREK

what a good wedding can teach about the kingdom of God…

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And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” – Revelation 19:9

This weekend Rebekah and I are over in the small North Carolina town of Stokesdale for the wedding of one of our young adults; Friday evening was the rehearsal, followed by dinner. The bride, Kaitlyn, is one of the purest voices in our praise team; her mom – Kim – is WFPC’s music ministries director; and her dad – Eddie – is in my Wednesday evening men’s group.

IMG_9422Both Kaitlyn and her soon-to-be husband, Jacob, have family roots around Stokesdale, so the weekend is like a big southern family homecoming.

The reason this is making it into my blog is twofold. One – it’s what I’m doing for the next two days, and I always write about what I learn (in terms of life and faith) from what’s going on. Two – and more importantly – this is a very happy wedding, and happy weddings turn out to be a great opportunity to tell the good story of God’s extravagant love and grace.

Love this generation!

As you can see from the first photograph, Kaitlyn and Jacob have tons of attendants. You can also see how Rebekah is helping them thoroughly enjoy themselves while going over the details. This is a group of young people who genuinely love one another and who value commitment.

I seriously fail to understand how and why so many people of my generation feel the need to criticize today’s twenty-something to thirty-something crowd. Personally, I see a lot more wisdom, altruism, willingness to serve, and maturity in these young people than I remember when many older Americans were this age. As a group, this crop of young Americans tends to come across as less materialistic and more public spirited; I have a lot of confidence in how they are going to respond to the challenge to lead over the next few decades.

The Kingdom of God:

IMG_9418The marriage feast is a lot like the kingdom of God. There is generosity, lavish celebration, wide open arms, welcome, faithfulness, commitment, renewal of hope, and promise for the future – all brought together in the context of extravagant love.

How much more like church can you get? How much more like God’s kingdom can we imagine?

Every day that I get to live, and love, and shine my light for God is a celebration of this magnitude. Now if only we could do a more consistent job when it comes to communicating this good news to those who need to hear it, with authenticity, and with the right amount of joy and enthusiasm?

Blessed and grateful – DEREK

purpose, and the alchemy of tragedy…

IMG_9277I may have said this before – oh, about a bazillion times over the past month – but what an amazingly beautiful day it is here in Wake Forest, North Carolina!

The sky is the perfect Carolina blue; everything is fresh, clear, and clean after the long rains; the temperatures are perfect for lingering on the deck with one more cup of coffee; the birds are singing; it’s a morning just bursting with promise.

So what am I going to do? Well, in yesterday’s post I talked a little about personal mission statements (Cold French Fries do not Define Your Story!). Then – just before lunch – Rebekah came into my study and said, “I want to read this to you.” Here’s what she shared:

When I woke up this morning I had a clear vision of God’s purpose through my living. Though I often fail, and I have a lot to learn in the years to come, I have no doubt that my contribution to this world is meant to be the strengthening of love, the turning on of lights in its darkness, the opening of closed spirits; and I believe that this is God’s special purpose for all of us.

I also know, without a doubt, that this is possible, and that God will endow us with his Spirit as we extend ourselves with purpose to this mission. Our task is clear. The starting place is simple…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise—let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen… practice these things;. and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

A Long Path:

IMG_9144“I think I recognized the voicing,” I said. “That sounds like me.”

“It is,” she replied. “You wrote this in 1989.”

Context. Rebekah was home yesterday morning preparing the words she’s sharing in today’s funeral service for our friend Sandee Hagen (we left the house at 4:15 so she could catch the early flight to Minneapolis). Rebekah was working to bring some closure to a message that finished not so much with a period but with ellipses (….) back in 1989, at the memorial service after the tragic deaths of Sandee’s husband and son.

I had shared the above words (and Rebekah saved them) just a few days after the accident, as part of a devotional for the young families Sunday school class we were all a part of at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

“That was the moment,” Rebekah said to me yesterday as we talked about it, “where your personal mission became clear (the strengthening of love, the turning on of lights in [the world’s] darkness, the opening of closed spirits).

ALCHEMY?

She was right. Today I’m wondering if there’s a kind of spiritual alchemy to all of this? I’m wondering if maybe dramatic – often tragic – events serve as a catalyst, where common elements already in place are then transformed in ways that are otherwise impossible?

Rebekah described such moments as a great ax coming down, rending time and space, creating fission and fusion and heat like a lightning bolt; and the ground shakes, and sparks fly, and the air is split, and the wind rushes in, and…

… And there go the ellipses again.

Like a long walk in the woods….

– DEREK

Postscript to a Beautiful and Courageous Life

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Sandee Hagen

A short while ago, and after an escalating illness, one of the brightest lights in the constellation of our friends faltered, flickered, and then passed into eternity.

The news tore a hole in our hearts. It’s a huge blow for those of us who love her, and a sad loss for our world. But Sandee was one hundred percent confident that this life is just the beginning of the journey, and so am I, so in that sense she’s been freed up to shine more than ever before.

Sandee Hagen was one of the most courageous people I have ever known. We became friends back in the early 1980’s, when Rebekah and I launched a ministry for young families at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola. Sandee, her husband (Bruce), and their son (Nicholas), were a key part of the beginnings of what became an epic crowd of great friends.

Then, in an unimaginable tragedy, both Bruce – forty-one, and Nicholas – a vivacious six-year-old, died in a terrible car accident. Something like that leaves a wound that will always remain open, but Sandee made the choice – every day – to live. Not just to live but to live graciously, and creatively, and generously, and lovingly, and faithfully.

That’s what I mean when I say Sandee lived courageously; it takes not only great faith, but great courage, and honesty, and persistence, to continue to shine in the way that she did; and this world is a brighter place today because of her constant, insistent, faith-charged, luminosity.

That’s what I mean when I say Sandee lived courageously; it takes not only great faith, but great courage, and honesty, and persistence, to continue to shine in the way that she did; and this world is a brighter place today because of her constant, insistent, faith-charged, luminosity.

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Naomi, Rebekah, Sandee

Where many people would have built a wall to protect themselves from the danger of more pain, Sandee allowed us to love her, and she loved us back; she became a very real part of our family. She loved our children, and she allowed them to love her; she served countless others through her counseling practice; she became a Stephen Ministry leader at our church; she cared for people with a sensitivity and a depth born out of her own pain.

Sure she was hurt, and sometimes angry, and confused at such outrageous and impossible loss – but she trusted her Creator enough to work through the hard times without letting go of God’s hand.

  • Sandee convinced me of the truth of Psalm 23“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
  • And she demonstrated the reliability of those first few Beatitudes in Matthew 5“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.”
  • And she illustrated the authenticity of Paul’s words to his friends in Philippians 1: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

In many ways, Sandee’s work (here) is complete, and those of us who love her feel privileged and grateful to have been witness to her eloquent testimony to grace, and faithfulness, and God’s unfailing love. But God’s work through the rest of us remains ongoing – an invitation, really.

Each one of us is a work-in-progress in our own way (me especially), and it is my prayer that we will be encouraged and inspired to live this gospel truth out loud, to the very end of our own days here on this Good Earth.

So I’ll wrap up these thoughts by continuing in Philippians 2:14-16

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

Our imperative is to shine – and then shine some more – as we hold firmly to the word of life.

Thanks, Sandee, for everything. In Love, and because of love – DEREK

Is policing for us… or for them? #UnitedAirlines

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learn to do good.
Seek justice:
    help the oppressed;
    defend the orphan;
    plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:17

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Not so friendly United (picture from the Internet)

This morning I intended to write a quiet, contemplative, devotional post in the spirit of Holy Week. But instead I find myself deeply disturbed by the overwhelming specter of violence – not only around the world, but in domestic news too.

Once particular incident is the recent United Airlines debacle, where a passenger – already seated and holding a valid boarding pass – was forcibly removed by security officers because the airline wanted the space for some of their own employees.

Here’s what’s bothering me (other than everything about it), and it comes up every time any policing agency acts this way, intimidating, bullying, using violence against the powerless at the behest of the powerful. Are the citizens of this country being served and protected… or those in uniform deployed as a kind of brute-squad in order to protect the interests of those who already hold power?

Are the citizens of this country being served and protected… or those in uniform deployed as a kind of brute-squad in order to protect the interests of those who already hold power?

Historically this turns out to be a huge question. What is the role of the peace officer? What does the militarization of policing say about the relationship of government to citizen? That’s the inequity what worries me when students in public schools are roughed up by uniformed officers when there is no threat of harm; that’s why I’m troubled at the ease and frequency with which the state deploys violence against minorities; that’s why this latest outrage against the common person rankles me so deeply.

My Experience:

When I taught exceptional education (students with emotional challenges) I participated in a school study designed to get to the bottom of a huge uptick in physical altercations between staff and students. We observed a consistent point of no return, after which order broke down and violence escalated. That point of no return came when staff chose to substitute bullying and intimidation for best teaching practices.

The off-kilter and politically-charged rational that seems to govern today’s conversations might say, “Double-down on those troublemakers, and teach them to respect authority. We need to make an example of anyone who won’t knuckle under.” But that’s exactly what was happening in some classrooms at my school, and the number of restraints, take downs, forceable removals from the classroom, and detailed “incident reports” skyrocketed in response.

So our administration tried something different. We took note of what was happening in classrooms where teachers were experiencing success. Then we retrained all the staff, taught a course in NVCPI (Nonviolent Crisis Intervention), instituted accountability protocols, and then documented a spectacular reduction in violence across the board.

Our job as teachers was to facilitate learning, social responsibility, and ongoing healing in our students. Instead, staff were using their authority to protect the institution and they started using their power to keep the powerless “in their place.” That wasn’t education, that was oppression.

Today, in like manner, we need to constantly examine and reexamine the practices of community policing, security forces, and any uniformed entity that stands in the space between the powerful and the powerless, to make sure we have not forgotten the purpose of such agencies.

We must constantly examine and reexamine the practices of community policing, security forces, and any uniformed entity that stands in the space between the powerful and the powerless, to make sure we have not forgotten the purpose of such agencies.

So I’d like to call out United Airlines, and pray that this unacceptable incident sparks a national conversation that results in a stop in this seismic shift in our society – a growing divide that seems intent on favoring those who have power, and doubling down on those who do not.

– DEREK

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never miss the opportunity to celebrate… and to live!

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Sunrise in Wake Forest, North Carolina

Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14

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in church on my birthday

I have two things on my mind this morning. First, my birthday celebrations over the past couple of days have been full with love, generosity, and grace. Then, today would have been my brother Geoff’s 63rd birthday. It’s been just five years since he passed away, and his absence is still very real.

1: THE CELEBRATIONS – Several birthday celebrations, the very best people, and my passion for great food all came together in beautiful harmony over these past few days. I’ve tried to be good, but I’m still not going anywhere near the scales for at least another full week!

Friday I cooked an epic seared cod with roasted potatoes and a date sauce over baby greens. Saturday our daughter Naomi prepared pork loin encrusted in walnuts. Sunday I enjoyed an epic Châteaubriand with all the trimmings. Then Monday evening good friends took us to Fleming’s Steakhouse in Raleigh, where I feasted on French onion soup, truffle-parsley mashed potatoes, and their amazing slow-roasted salmon on a bed of mushroom salad.

I know! It’s been the perfect storm of great food and wonderful company. I celebrated my birthday by enjoying life full-tilt, and in the company of good people. Then, to put everything in its proper context, I was privileged to spend the entire morning of the actual day – Sunday March 26 – in church. To begin my birthday in worship, with 500 or so wonderful Wake Forest Presbyterians, was the perfect affirmation of life.

So I am grateful, and I am full, and I am looking forward to this new year in my ongoing adventure of being alive.

So I am grateful, and I am full, and I am looking forward to this new year in my ongoing adventure of being alive…

2: My Brother –

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3-year-old Derek

Today, in recognition of my brother’s birthday, I’m having lunch with my parents. We’re going to eat British fish-&-chips, and we will share Geoff stories.

It was serendipitous, then, when one of these stories popped up earlier today as a memory in my Facebook newsfeed. It’s called, “How Did We Do? A conversation with 1959.”

The (short) post is built around a photograph of three-year-old me, and I’d like you to read it if you have the time. Then, after you do, I want you (and all of us) to think about the relationships you have with the people you love, and to ask yourself the same question.

You see, every new day is an opportunity to say, “Thank you, God, for this amazing gift of life! Please help me to honor you, and to serve you, through all of my relationships, and in all that I do.”

Today; on your birthday; on your brother’s/sister’s birthday; every day. Grateful, blessed, responsible.

– DEREK

grateful for this amazing gift of life!

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celebrating with Rebekah

This weekend I’m celebrating the sixty-first anniversary of the day I made my debut as a living, breathing, being here on planet Earth.

I know, we all have birthdays, and March 26 is certainly not unique to me, but there’s something special about acknowledging the particular day we were born, and I always like to use the opportunity of this annual marker to thank God for this amazing gift; to renew my commitment to live as fully as I can; and to remember to live in gratitude.

  • To thank God for the amazing gift of life;
  • To renew my commitment to live as fully as I can;
  • To remember to live in gratitude…

IMG_8556My understanding of providence tells me that my very existence was a great idea that God imagined, developed with care and compassion, and then followed through on with love and purpose. I honestly believe that my Creator had something special and wonderful in mind – and in heart – when I was formed; and that my life – moment by moment and day by day – is best experienced as a grateful and purposeful response to God’s great intention.

My life is best experienced as a grateful and purposeful response to God’s great intention.

Rebekah and I are blessed in many ways, and one huge blessing is the fact that Naomi, Craig, and the grandchildren live up the road in Richmond. So they drove down for a quick visit and a dinner party; Naomi cooked, my parents came over too, and the children made me smile.

That’s all I needed, really, to be filled up; four generations of commitment, faithfulness, love, and promise.

Blessings to each and every one of you. May the good news of what it means to be a grateful child of God fill you up, overflow from abundance, and cause you to be the reason other people live in hope – DEREK

setting our hearts toward Jerusalem – because Jesus has already done the hard part…

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Journeying to Jerusalem at WFPC

As the time drew near for everything to be fulfilled, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

Today is the second Sunday in Lent, and I have a question for you – for all of us. Here it is: “Have you started on your journey to Jerusalem?”

For Jesus, the answer was – is – an unequivocal “yes!”

  • Yes, and without hesitation, since the day he was first born;
  • Yes, he knew what was likely going to face him there;
  • Yes, he went anyway;
  • Yes, he understood what was at stake;
  • Yes, Jesus lived into his purpose, with deep courage and deliberate grace….

Interestingly, Jesus knew that taking the journey to Jerusalem meant that he would be betrayed by his friends, mocked by the crowds, suffer terribly, go through a kangaroo court trial, and be put to death by crucifixion… And, we know that our decision to take that path will lead to a focused life of faith, a deeper walk with God, more love than we could possible imagine, celebration, peace, and everlasting life.

So I find it curious that – knowing what we know, and knowing what Jesus had to face – it is still us (the beneficiaries of Christ’s passion) who are the reluctant ones when it comes to traveling to the Cross, and it’s Jesus who would go again, in a skinny minute, even if it were just for me, or just for you.

So I’ll ask again, “Have you started on your journey to Jerusalem?”

It’s Sunday morning, friends, and the church doors already stand open wide. Let’s humble ourselves, follow in the footsteps of the other disciples, make our way down the dusty road, and set our hearts on Jerusalem.

What awaits us there is glory! Glory, and peace like a river, and love like an ocean, and joy like a fountain.

– Derek

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love, Legos, stories, and imagination at “Camp Grandparent”

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This has been a classic “host the grandchildren” week here at Maul-Hall. Four days in Wake Forest while their parents remodel the nursery at their church home in Richmond. I love the way our daughter Naomi is harnessing her creativity, her crafting, and her commitment to serve God in such an imaginative way.
Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the creativity, the imagination, and the over-the-top enthusiasm of two extremely energetic children! The challenge is to provide constant opportunity for them to remain engaged and learning, while having fun at the same time.

img_8081The challenge is to provide constant opportunity for them to remain engaged and learning, while having fun at the same time.

That’s why I love to see them involved in so much self-directed play. They build, make up stories role play, read, and invent their own games. Then there was making bread with grandmama, heading to the park with grandaddy, and – the big project of the week – putting together a 700-piece Lego rendition of Tower Bridge in London.

At five years of age, David is eager to accomplish tasks well beyond his years. So we went through the 99-page instruction guide one step at a time, and all I did was to ask questions and drop hints: “How many of those pieces do you need?” “Remember to assemble what you need before you put that part together.” “Does that look like the picture or should you try again…”

After maybe six hours over three days we were done. I love to see the concentration, the complex spatial awareness, the problem-solving, the sense of satisfaction when things fall into place, and the willingness to try difficult things.

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Volcano research

David is also a big fan of volcanoes, especially Mount St. Helens. Yesterday, while I was preparing dinner, he sat at the counter and watched the entire National Geographic special detailing the geology behind the massive 1980 explosion.

Lastly, one of my favorite things is to watch the children sitting with Rebekah and asking for, “The Old Woman Stories.” Rebekah is a master storyteller; she doesn’t just captivate the children, she draws me in too. I’m thinking I should start to record her and use the stories as the basis for a book.

The kids need some attention now, so I’ll leave you with a few photos and get on with another exiting day of grandparenting.

Peace, and more peace, on your Lenten journey – DEREK

Signs of the times (blooming flowers – and grandchildren)

img_7950Jesus: “And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?” – Matthew 6:28-30

One of the sweetest things about an early spring is the sudden arrival of so many beautiful flowers. Daffodils are springing up all over, Hellebore, Iris, and a slew of other delicate blooms. I’m itching to get out with my Nikon and capture some images, but I simply haven’t had the time and I’m not sure when I will. I just hope they wait for me.

The other spectacular spring display comprises our beautiful grandchildren, David and Beks. They bloom and they grow, and they bloom some more. Every time I see them I have to shake my head in wonder at what perfect work the Creator does.

Yes, they’re scrumptious!

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cruise ship photo

I’m heading up to get them for a few days next week, and we all know it won’t be more than a few minutes before I’ll have more new photos than I’ll know what to do with. So it makes sense to share these latest portraits now, before the moment will have passed.

So here they are, shamelessly pasted into this blog by a grandaddy who is completely convinced that ours are the most amazing and attractive grandchildren ever, since the dawn of time, and certainly since the invention of the camera. And the wonderful thing is that I entirely believe you when you insist that it’s yours who are the best, the brightest, and the most beautiful.

It’s part of the wonder of being a grandparent. It may be a non-sequitur to say that everyone has the most beautiful granddaughter, but it’s a proven fact that we all do; it may not make logical sense to say that my grandson is the smartest kid in the state, when we all know that yours is too – but it’s okay.

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Royal Caribbean photographer

Fact is, in the world of grand-parenting, we understand that we don’t have to put someone else’s family down in order for ours to be awesome. My being right doesn’t make you any less right, and your grandchild’s genius can stand right next to the Nobel Prize certainty of mine.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of broadly applicable truth held is all this seemingly gratuitous glad-handing and back-slapping. Because it turns out we’re on to something, us grandparents. What we’re on to is the deep truth that it’s just fine if I’m outlandishly blessed – because at the same time, so are you; that goodwill invariably replicates itself; that rooting for other people is more effective than putting them down; that there is room at the top for everyone; that in real life there can be winners and winners; and that it’s entirely possible to hold opposite viewpoints and both be right.

Your grandchildren sure do shine! And I know you agree that mine do too. Just look at them bloom!

Of course we’re both right. I wouldn’t want it any other way – DEREK