Writings by Cole Huffman


Huff the Magnificent

Ask me what I remember from visiting Jerusalem last year and I’ll tell you what happened in Memphis. Unto us a child was born, our grandson Huffman.

We got word his mother was in labor as we entered the Garden of Gethsemane, the place Jesus sweated blood. Maybe the closest I’ll ever come to feeling stress like that is the day my barely 21-year-old son told me a girl was pregnant with his baby. (Colson provided some comic relief later: “I’m going to be an uncle? At 11!”)

I knew the baby would need grandparents to love him or her. But would the mother, unknown to us then, want me applying for the job? She did and has become part of our family.

I chose the Thanksgiving Eve service two years ago to tell the church Lynn and I were grandparents in waiting. Paul’s word to the Thessalonians was my text: Give thanks in all circumstances. Need I underscore “all”? It’s easy to be grateful when gifts are delivered pleasantly, but pain can also be God’s courier. Beauty for ashes requires something burn down, in this case that little shed in which I stored all my uncomplicated versions of how family life should go.

A ministry leader I knew in college had a son with Down syndrome. When they discovered the condition prenatally, they shared it with family and friends. Some expressed sorrow. “What is there to be sorry about?” he would say to them. God was giving them a son to love and be loved by, the son He wanted them to have, just as he was.

Frederick Buechner referred to Jacob walking with a limp, after his night spent wrestling God, as “the magnificent defeat.” Addiction cycles, intractability, children born out of wedlock—many experience these things as kinds of defeat. But if God is always doing more than we know, something magnificent can emerge from what seems like defeat.  

P. D. East was a journalist from yesteryear. An agnostic who held the church responsible for racism in the South, East could be aggressive with Christians. In Brother to a Dragonfly, Will Campbell says East badgered him once as they drove through Mississippi: “In ten words or less, what’s the Christian message? Let me have it! Ten words!” Campbell, a Methodist minister, replied: “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”

It was an arrow of an answer, because what Campbell didn’t know was that East was born to a single mother who didn’t want him. East didn’t find that out until he was 21, when his mom, who adopted him, finally told him about his origins. East bore that as a stinging shame all his life.

The circumstance of birth is no longer held over people like it used to be. On one hand this reflects how unremarkable the splintering of the family has become, on the other it reflects gains in common grace. We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway also preaches to two-parent households. I consider it one of the best gospel presentations I’ve ever heard, not just for its succinctness, but because it says God is a relentless father whose grace legitimizes each and all of us in Christ.

My grandson has been born into a godly heritage. David thanked God for that this way: “You’ve always taken me seriously, God, made me welcome among those who know and love you” (Psalm 61:5 MSG). That forms a prayer for Huff—that he’ll always be at home among God’s people. His mother honored us by making his first name our surname. Huff’s middle name is Richard, which is mine also, as well as being the first name of my father, and Huff’s mom’s two grandfathers. That’s a great start for a little boy, like having his own circle of life.

I know children can be fickle in showing affection, but ever since he could scoot Huff has sought me out, crawling over to wherever I was, propping himself on one knee, and reaching up. Now he toddles over to me: “Hold you,” he says. He knows Pops will pick him up every time.

Calvin Miller wrote in his memoir, Life Is Mostly Edges: “Memory arrives sometime after we get here, and generally abandons us long before we leave.” Huff won’t remember his early days living with us. Just like I won’t remember a lot of what I saw on his birthday in the City of David. Someday we hope to take him there. But I’ll never forget Lynn and me in that Jerusalem hotel room, receiving pictures over our phones, introducing us to a little boy we are now in joy with as well as love.

This is how I concluded my Thanksgiving Eve message two years ago: “If our grandchild ever listens to this recording in the future, I want him or her to know that in the Thanksgiving season preceding your birth, your grandfather stood in his pulpit in Memphis and publically thanked God for you. And as I do, I speak for your grandmother as well, your aunts, and even your 11-year-old uncle.” Our gratitude only grows.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:08 AM
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