"At the deepest level the story of any one of us," Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Yellow Leaves, "is the story of all of us."
Standing on the beach surrounded by 75 friends and family last month, a few minutes before my son was baptized in the Pacific, Buechner's words rolled through my mind like the waves crashing gently on the shore a few yards from my bare feet.
How we all got to that place in the sand on the southern coast of California is an epic story, the best one I know. It is a story of grace and redemption, of God's providence and tenderness, of friendship and the bonds of community that even death cannot sever. It is our story, all of us.
Three years ago, in a humble enclave of mud-and-wattle huts by the side of a dusty African road, I met, by accident (if you believe in such things) the sick little boy who would become my son. At the time, I had no idea how intimately intertwined our lives, and our stories, would become.
When I met Vasco, he was 8 years old, an AIDS orphan who had lived alone on the streets of Malawi for a time. He had a hole in his heart and didn't have long to live. In April 2009, he came to the United States to have life-saving surgery, and today, he is in perfect health. In June, Vasco became my son, legally and forever, when the High Court of Malawi approved our adoption.
Vasco's story is remarkable. I've lived it with him and it still gives me goose bumps. I tell it again and again because it is not just his story or my family's story, but our story -- all of us broken and beautiful human beings. We are all adopted sons and daughters of God, each of us a chosen member of a global and eternal family, stitched together by grace.
My son's baptism was not only a public affirmation of his relationship with God and a commemoration of the day a 30-year-old Nazarene was baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John 2,000 years ago, it also was a symbol of his adoption into the communion of the saints, living and dead -- the cloud of great witnesses who stood with him on the beach and who watched his big splash from afar (and yet close by, in the spirit.)
Vasco was baptized in the same waters where the ashes of the uncle he never met, "Mr. Mark," were spread. Mark's parents, sister, wife and daughter witnessed Vasco's baptism from the beach with us, while Mark watched from the other side.
Before our pastor walked Vasco down to the water to dunk him, Vasco's godfather, whom we call "Uncle Bubba," shared a few words of wisdom with his new godson.
"Vasco, God has given you a wonderful story to tell. Your story of what God did for you is your dad's story, it's your mom's story. And now it's my story, too," he said. "Vasco, this is all of our story. As people we are living lives with hearts that need to be fixed, in places that are unsafe. Jesus comes and gives us new hearts and puts us in a new family and gives us a new name, his name. God has given you a wonderful story and I want you to always tell your story."
Bubba and I have been friends for more than 20 years. We met as freshmen in college and have been inseparable ever since. Our friendship is an unlikely one. He is a farmer from Mississippi, a son of the south and a diehard conservative Five Point Presbyterian. I am a member of the liberal media, a Connecticut Yankee and spiritual traveler. Still, he and I go together like carrots and peas (I'm the carrots).
The only way I can explain our enduring friendship is that God created it and sustains it. The go-between God who makes connections between people that we'd never be able to make on our own, saw these two polar opposite 18 year olds and thought, "Yeah. That's a great match. Watch this!" With that, God knit our stories into one beautiful tapestry of soul friendship.
My friendship with Bubba is perhaps as whimsically unlikely as meeting my son by the side of the road in Malawi was. Both are stories of profound grace as unbelievable as they are true, stories that their author -- God alone -- has now woven magnificently into one.
Cathleen Falsani is a columnist for Religion News Service and Sojourners magazine, and is author of The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.
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