"What I remember about your dad," my cousin said at a recent family reunion, "is that he was a big kid. He was always in the thick of things, playing with us. He never sat still."
My cousin's lip trembled a bit, and tears came to his eyes.
My eyes also went damp, as they always do when my older cousins describe their Uncle Harlan's antics. Though their memories bring me to tears, I crave their stories.
These cousins remember an uncle who could walk and run and read and write.
A few minutes later, my brother sat down beside me. "Everyone keeps asking when I'm planning to slow down and take it easy. They don't get it, Jo. They just don't understand that as long as I can walk, I'm going to walk."
His words echoed something I had said earlier in the summer.
I was teaching a class about time management and organization at a writing conference. "Some of you don't realize the gift you've been given. You get up in the morning and take your ability to walk and read and write for granted.
"But I don't.
"I have older cousins who remember my father as the life of the party. He was the uncle who played games with them and played tricks on them. But I remember a father who couldn't do any of those things. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1959 when he was 29 and I was 2. I remember a father who was in a wheelchair first, then confined to bed in his home, and then in a nursing home.
So every morning I get up and picture my father who couldn't walk or read or write for the last 38 years of his life.
"Then, I go on a walk because as long as I can walk, I'm going to walk.
"I continue to research because as long as I can read, I'm going to read.
"I work at my computer for hours every day because as long as I can write, I'm going to write.
"Being able to walk is a gift. Being able to read is a gift. Being able to write is a gift.
"I refuse to take these gifts for granted. I refuse to squander the days I've been given me. Because doing so dishonors my Father in heaven who gave me both ability and time to use it. And doing so dishonors my father who refused to grow bitter and ungrateful about losing so much."
I blinked and came back to the present.
Cousins milled around, talking and eating and playing games. My brother sat beside me on the bench. "I know exactly how you feel," I agreed. "As long as I can walk, I'm going to walk. It's what Dad would have wanted."
We got up and joined the fun, unable to sit still a minute longer.
If I could go back and change the course of my father's life so he remained strong and healthy to the end of his days, I would. I imagine you might do the same for your child with special needs. But instead, God calls us to do what we can do as stewards of our health and our time.
As long as we can advocate for our children, we will advocate for them.
As deeply as we can love our children, we will love them.
As long God calls us to serve him, we wills serve him.
And as long as we can walk, we will walk with him.