Now in a new role of “Poppa,” the Rev. Glenn Wagner takes a practical and biblical look at what it means to join the ranks of the 70 million people grandparenting in the U.S. today.
Michigan Conference Communications
Have you heard the good news! Our world has changed. A new chapter is being written. In this new dawn, our perspective notices things previously unseen.
On November 8, 2019, at 11:16 a.m., Nancy and I became grandparents for the first time. You can now call me “Poppa.” Nancy chooses to be known now as “Nana.”
We have joined a great social order of grandparenting that up until now we only had admired from a distance.
It is estimated that there are about 70 million grandparents in the US today and each month another 75,000 Americans, aged 45-69 join this amazing club! Special thanks to the many veteran grandparents who have gone out of your way to hold the door open and to welcome us with hospitality and grace to this great fellowship!
According to a Pew Research study, 83% of all Americans over the age of 65 are grandparents and the vast majority of us affirm that having more time now to spend with family is a valued part of growing old.  Special praise is due to the estimated 2.6 million grandparents in our country who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. We have already noticed the extra demands placed on first-time parents tasked with the care needs of a new dependent life in their midst. Child care can be a demanding responsibility even for the young and healthy. When grandparents step in to fill that primary role for their grandchildren they model sacrificial love at its finest.
On the night of November 7th, we gathered in the family waiting room in the birthing center of a suburban hospital along with an intimate company of extended family. It hadn’t even been four hours since we first received the call that our daughter had already been in labor at home for the better part of the day. It took us less than 30 minutes to rearrange our plans, pack, and get on the road for our three hour and 20-minute after-sunset drive across the state. This was one of those rare life calls that takes precedence over all other matters. We weren’t going to miss being a part of this momentous occasion. We offered prayers of thanks for clear roads and light traffic. Adrenaline and anticipation kept us alert and made the miles blur by.
By the time Nancy and I reached their home, our daughter and son-in-law had already shifted the center of the unfolding miracle five miles to the nearby hospital. We dropped off our dog at their house and easily found the hospital.
“Parents of the expectant mother” were the magic words that got us a pass beyond the after-hours security check-point and through the locked entrance to the maternity floor.
In the birthing center family lounge, we bonded with our other waiting family in our overnight vigil and shared hopes for a safe and healthy delivery. Four decades of pastoral service has taught me the difficult lesson that not all infant arrivals have happy endings. Hope and anxiety mingled. We were sustained through the long night and early morning hours by munchies, bouts of prayer, dozing, entertaining table games, and by the after-midnight waiting room television shows I had rarely seen. Our waiting was punctuated by periodic updates delivered from the birthing suite by a hopeful and continually supportive dad-to-be.
I will never forget the final joyous announcement when our son-in-law appeared in the family waiting room. Like a runner successfully completing a marathon and with the look of someone who has just been hugged by God, he beamed radiantly as he shared the news. “We have a son and his name is . . .”
At that moment when our son-in-law announced our grandson’s name something sacred happened in my awareness. I bonded with the name. I memorized it immediately. I will never forget it. The name felt right. The naming announcement reminded me of the account in Genesis 2:19-20 where our ancestors noted that giving names for living things is a long-standing human privilege. That dramatic moment of initial naming of our grandson in our family circle at the hospital evoked for me similar holy moments I have lived as a pastor privileged to ask parents in public ceremonies of baptism, “What name is to be given to this child?” That instant in that family waiting room will be remembered by this “Poppa” as “Holy Ground.”
His naming was followed by a spontaneous eruption of applause, cheers, tears, and a great family embrace. There were congratulations, affirmations, and attentive listening for other details like baby’s size, weight, health, a report about his mother’s well-being, a replay of the delivery, praise for the delivery team, as well as plans for anticipated introductory meetings.
It was one of those moments in life when heaven draws near and life feels very good indeed.
Since that glorious day, Nancy and I are seeing life now through new eyes. We understand the truth of Proverbs 17:6 in a personal way that “grandchildren are the crown of the aged.”
We loved that the hospital encouraged our daughter and her newborn son to spend their first hours after delivery lying quietly together, skin to skin, to offer tactile affirmation of love to each other. Would that we could all have our first core memories of life rooted in a sense of unconditional love and security.
I will not forget the moment when we entered the birthing suite and saw our grandson for the first time. He was sleeping, cradled in the loving embrace of our daughter who glanced at Nancy and said with love, “Hi Mom.”
Nancy looked back at our daughter with equal love and replied in words of historic and spiritual significance, “Hi Mom.”
We loved that family was then given an opportunity to hold, hug, sing, pray, and dance with our newest member. Is there a way to preserve and promote this incredible joy of welcome and total belonging?
We loved that our grandson and his parents were greeted on their return home from the hospital by a front porch standing ovation and cheers from waiting family and then by the inquisitive sniffs from a pair of accepting family canines.
We loved that on one of his first days home from the hospital, neighborhood children wanted to come and meet their newest neighbor. They wanted to know, “When can he come outside to play?” In celebration of his arrival, they built their newest neighbor friend a snowman right outside the front window!
As grandparents, we share a realization that the earthly journey of life we are on is closer to its end than its beginning and we share a deep desire for our grandchild to inherit a better world as an expression of our love. We understand the Exodus 10:2 command of God to the Israelites to share “in the hearing of your son and grandson what signs I have done . . . that you may know that I am the Lord.” We accept that grandparents are blessed with a privilege to share with their grandchildren their knowledge of God and to be witnesses for what God has done and is doing in our lives.
We want as grandparents to model God’s love and to embody Jesus’ grace in the context of a supportive family and community. We want to teach forgiveness, and hope, and how to live with a concern for the earth and the welfare of others. We hope through our prayers and the consistency of our example to be a positive influence on his life.
Another biblical inspiration for our grand-parenting is lifted up for us by the Apostle Paul who observed in his second letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” Lord, help us to be effective witnesses for our faith as Lois and Eunice were for Timothy.
We pray that our grandson will come to value important gifts of family, friends, education, and hard work. We hope that he will discover his own unique talents and have the opportunity to follow his own sense of God’s calling in his life.
We know this new innocent may someday be introduced by others to negative influences that are also part of life’s journey. We pray that a stronger foundation of faith, family, and personal example can serve as a help and directional balance throughout his life.
We also learned that our grandson shares his name with a biblical hero who is credited with authoring Psalm 89 and who has given voice to what we feel about being grandparents.
Psalm 89 The Message (MSG)
An Ethan Prayer
89 1-4Your love, God, is my song, and I’ll sing it!
I’m forever telling everyone how faithful you are.
I’ll never quit telling the story of your love—
how you built the cosmos
and guaranteed everything in it.
Your love has always been our lives’ foundation,
your fidelity has been the roof over our world.
Thank you, Lord, for grandchildren and for this privilege you have given us to affirm the continuity of your love across our generations.