My great-uncle, Martin Ainsworth, was an intellectual bookworm known for his unparalleled generosity, witty optimism, and theological wisdom. As a child, I thought genes from Mother Theresa, Santa Claus, and Solomon must have mingled the day Uncle Mar was born.
Every weekday Uncle Mar waited at the elementary school to escort me to his bungalow near the creek where wild mallard ducks frequented his back yard. It was a comfortable arrangement for all three of us: my working mother, Uncle Mar, and me. My afternoons with him became a continuing education class where hopes, dreams, fears, and disappointments defined the syllabus. He taught me to respect and love God; how to sit quietly with two cookies and a glass of milk … and wait on Him.
“Fresh-baked chocolate chippers with walnuts, coming right up,” he’d say as I’d scramble into place at his scarred kitchen table. “And milk, for dipping.”
He always sat in his special captain’s chair, his back toward the expansive French windows, his graying steel-wool goatee ready and eager to catch crumbs or drips. I knee-squatted on a wooden bench on the other side of the table facing the squawking, waddle-walking mallards. Uncle Mar didn’t believe in napkins, so I’d peck fallen crumbs off the table, mimicking the ducks.
For maybe two or three minutes we’d savor our snacks amidst intentional quiet. I think he prayed silently while I rehearsed a few thoughts for our upcoming conversation. Uncle Mar exemplified self-denial, other-centeredness, and God-focus. I always understood this time of waiting to be compatible with those virtues.
One day I slurped the last gulp of milk from my glass and broke the silence with a question. “So Uncle Mar, what was it like when I was born?”
He rubbed his goatee between his thumb and forefinger. “Well, you know your papa went away to war and never returned, so by default I was your mama’s pregnancy coach. It was a long nine months, especially since she felt ill much of the time.”
I knew this already, and nodded for him to continue.
“Labor started one afternoon. The waves increased - like a powerful receding tide in slow motion.” His arms symbolically swung and pushed against some unseen obstacle. “I was grateful when the doctor arrived early the next morning,” he chuckled. “Then I prayed, stared at those awful, faded mauve flowers in the living room wallpaper … and waited.”
“What then, Uncle Mar?”
“Well, the doctor left at noon and sent a frizzy-haired midwife. She stayed all day, and around 10:00 p.m. she finally shuffled into the living room. ‘You have a beautiful great-granddaughter, sir. But she’s had some birth trauma.” She stammered, “I – I don’t – can’t - know how she’ll do.”
Uncle Mar’s eyes misted and a single tear drip-dripped down his weathered cheeks onto his plaid shirt. “I told her, ‘Then we’ll call upon the Lord – and wait.’”
I was captivated by his emotion. “What else were you thinking?”
He wiped the tear with the back of his hand. “I knew angels wept with me to celebrate this miracle of new life together. In the next few hours I also cried out to God.” His steely gray eyes pierced mine. “You were His, and I entrusted you - body, soul, and spirit - to Him.”
He went on to tell me how other women came to help. On the second day he held me for the first time, cradling my tiny form with his arthritic fingers. He said I was his angel, a messenger of hope from God.
Five days passed, then eight, then ten. Everyone waited to see if I’d die. All the while, Uncle Mar held prayer vigils through the night. I suckled, slept, and cried. I rested beneath the shelter of His wing. I lived.
“The first weeks of your life God was teaching all of us to wait on Him,” Uncle Mar explained. “To trust Him as sovereign. Those are important lessons: wait and trust.”
Two weeks after this conversation about my birth, Uncle Mar had a heart attack. He hovered near death as my mother and I sat by his bedside and she put her arm around me. “Your Uncle Mar taught me birth and death are very much alike. Now it’s time for us to take our shift, here in his final waiting room.”
Around 10:00 p.m., Uncle Mar’s spirit was birthed from life to Life. The angels rejoiced, knowing he would never wait again. He was already Home.
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