I wrote this compilation of seventeen vignettes for my son, Wesley, and gave it to him at the birth of his son, Henry. I had hoped it would be useful to them during their life together.
Much can be said for the Age of Technology, in which you have spent all of your life. One advantage is that photographs can be mass produced from a phone with no fear of “wasting film.” After all, if a picture turns out bad, one can just hit the delete button and start over. However, in the Stone Age, when your mother and I grew up, we took the “bad” with the “good,” and we saved it all in scrapbooks. Fortunately, some of your early years intersected with that ancient, barely memorable time. Thus, I have these scraps with which to bless you as you begin your own journey.
So, where do I begin?
Well, for starters, much of what you and Rachel experience in the decades to come will have far less to do with you than you can imagine. You will take pictures of these experiences and they will live in your phone, until you stumble upon them in later years and decide what to do with them. In many of these pictures, you will be nothing more than an accessory, a peripheral participant, perhaps the one taking the picture, or paying the bills while your family enjoys the experience. Much of your journey will be about Rachel, or your kids, or the people to whom you minister with your medical knowledge. This is how God has always intended it to be, Wes. He rewards those who make more of others and less of themselves. As you know, Christ once said, “Of those born to women, there is none greater than John the Baptist,” whose finest accomplishment was to decrease so that Christ could increase.
Begin at this point every day, son. Be willing to decrease, until you are––at times––just an arm at the edge of the picture.
I get razzed a lot by the family for not instilling the Oklahoma State pride in you or your brother. And I admit your mom did a much better job of brainwashing you boys with the Jayhawks. But the picture below is evidence that I had a team in mind for you and Peter, and I made sure it stuck from the start. Twenty-nine years later, look at yourself… you’re still a Chiefs fan!
“Team” is so important, Wesley. Spend time thinking about the life experiences to which you will introduce your children. Watch your kids early on, and they will give you clues as to which things will define your family. Cunninghams are “gamers” and “storytellers” and “road-trippers.”
I wonder what kind of team you and Rachel will be?
3. God's Will
Your brother once asked, “Dad, do you think God has one woman picked out for me, or am I just supposed to use my mind and choose one from the billions of single, available women who exist on this earth?”
Fortunately, an answer came to me quickly, and I’m pretty sure it came from God. “That depends on how special you think you are son,” I replied. Peter seemed impressed by my answer, because he didn’t say a word. He just sat there, mulling my statement over in his twenty-five year old brain, until at last he said, “Thanks, Dad,” and he wandered off to the kitchen to have a bowl of cereal.
You see, Wes, we cannot tell people God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, if we don’t also believe He ordained their existence before they were born––orchestrating them to be the product of a specific sperm and egg, in a long succession of similar, appointed unions, stretching back to the beginning of Man.
I believe you’re infinitely special, Wes––which is why I also believe the woman pictured above was God’s will for me. After all, you would not be here if she were not my wife. Knowing these things has made all the difference in our marriage and our family.
Rachel is God’s will for you. And God already loves your future children.
Isn’t this a great picture of Dodo and you? I’m sure you were squirming, but you also looked very happy to be in her arms.
Grandparents are an important part of a child’s life, because they provide the child’s first glimpse into the “larger family”... the family beyond the nucleus, and ultimately the family of God. I’m so glad you had good grandparents, Wes. Both Mom and I had wonderful grandparents, too, who loved us, disciplined us, gave us an inheritance, and showed us how to live in this world.
Let’s do our best to experience life together until the day Mom and I pass on to the next world.
We’re here for you, buddy.
I remember this picture like it was yesterday, Wes. After a long day of work at Shelterwood, this is where I was sure to find you––waiting for me by the back door wearing my shoes. This always signaled that my “regular job” was done, and my “daddy job” was only just beginning. Sometimes, we would grab a plastic bat and wiffle-ball, and head to the front yard for batting practice. Other times, we would play “truck driver” on the red couch, or take a walk in the hundred-acre woods behind our house until it was time for dinner. It was our special time together, and I will always cherish it in my heart.
Someday, a little boy or girl might be wearing your shoes, waiting for you. I know you’ll have something up your sleeve to entertain them.
This picture will always remind me of the word, “wonder.” You have the excited look of a boy who has just discovered that riding a giant, golden bear is actually possible. Too often, us old folks look for ways to scrub the wonder out of a child’s life. This leaves the child wonder-less, and frightened about the adventurous side of life.
Your Uncle Coop was as good as anyone I know at helping kids find the wonder in everything. By the way, you have my full support if you want to serve your kids “candy sandwiches,” because I know the cavities will be worth it in the long run.
Mow mazes in the field next door. Weave hammocks in the tops of your trees. Lead honey-pot expeditions in the snowy woods behind your house.
Teach your kids to wonder!
They say, “A journey of ten-thousand miles begins with a single step.” The ones who say this, however, rarely get off the couch. But you, Wes, have always been a doer… rather than a talker.
This picture is special to me, because it marks the beginning of your running career. Long before you thought of joining the cross-country team, you were a runner. On this particular morning in Lake City, Colorado, you ran at least a mile, while I road lazily on my bike. I couldn’t believe it. You just kept going… and going… and going. And you were only six!
On September 3rd, 2016, you and Rachel began the marriage marathon. Run it with joy… one step at a time!
The great illusionists of history will tell you their performances were not really magic at all––rather products of endless rehearsal and ample distraction.
I believe, however, that magic is all around us, waiting for our senses to grow sharp enough that we can see it. This “sharpening” usually takes place around the age of four, when the concrete mind of a child has just begun to dabble in abstractions, and he first believes that some things might not be as they appear.
At some point in life, every man must make a decision regarding the magic I’m describing here. And it is at this juncture he will either close his mind to such wonderment and become forever wed to the verifiable––or, he will suspend his disbelief and become a miracle worker.
Sadly, most men never see the magic this world has to offer at all. Instead, they go right on thinking trees were meant by God to be mere agents of photosynthesis, rather than pirate ships with mates perched high in crows nests...
...basking in the open sea.
We live in an age of passivity, where people mistake words for service, and congratulate themselves for a job well-done if they have blogged about a particular issue. May it never be so with you or your family.
God has combined you and Rachel for a reason. The joining together of your DNA’s, your families of origin, and your life experiences will never again be duplicated on planet Earth. God’s intent for your marriage is that it makes a difference in His Kingdom, and a dent in the
armor of the enemy.
When you pray together, powerful things will happen. When you obey the Lord faithfully, He will accomplish more than you can imagine.
If you become anything in life, Wes, become a warrior.
Life is a million mundane moments, gummed together by sweet memories. Failing to recognize this, most people fill their already mundane lives with more and more of the same––steady diets of television, and video games, and pointless social media. The end result is that when they look back over the scrapbook of their lives, they find nothing worth remembering.
I selected this picture to illustrate the many memories we initiated with one another as a family. Perhaps Colin, or one of our other kid-sitters, is the one taking the picture. It looks like we’re on our way to the Pizza Cellar in Rockaway Beach.
Memories don’t happen on their own. They are made of good intention and follow-through. Tomorrow’s scrapbook is filled with today’s choices.
The things you do together as a family––the memories you create––will have a profound effect on the legacy you leave behind. They will outlast all the gifts you purchase for your children, all the improvements you make to your home, and all the possessions you’ll amass with a physician’s salary. The snapshots you take of these memories will tell the story better than words ever could.
Take a close look at the smiles in this photograph from our Caribbean cruise. If you cover each smile with the edge of your thumb, you’ll discover the face is still smiling. Why? Because the eyes don’t lie. We were far from a “perfect family”, Wes, but in our eyes you can see that we trusted one another.
In photographs, bright and shining eyes always suggest that the soul is satisfied with its current state. Such satisfaction is usually the result of time logged with loved ones. If I were to follow up this photograph with another one of my favorites, it would show you crossing the finish line of a 1600m race, many meters ahead of your closest competitor––and after consuming nothing but pepperoni pizza and Coca-Cola for a solid week on our cruise.
The eyes don’t lie!
The thing I like best about this picture is that your hand is on the wheel… and mine is not. You’ll also notice the throttle is pushed all the way forward, and we are flying!
Sometimes in life, it’s hard for a parent to let go of the wheel and hand it over to his kid. We think, “Oh, no! What if he runs into something? Or hurts himself? Or hurts somebody else?” Of course, these are real possibilities. But usually they are just reflections of our own inadequacies, and our own fears about life.
Look closely at our expressions. My mind is far away, pondering what this young man by my side might make of his life, and feeling very proud of him. Your hint of a smile says, “I wonder how hard it would be to sneak this boat out at night?”
The memory of your cross country team’s late night run from Whitewater to MacDonald’s will always be etched in my mind as something we all looked forward to. You were at the peak of your youth then, and in such good shape. Look at those abs! Look at that hair!
Much of life is a downhill slide––including the inevitable decline of one’s health as he slowly succumbs to old age. In time, you’ll come to realize the best you can do is fight gravity. Eventually, you’ll accept you were much more than your “earthsuit” all along.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing to take care of the one body God gave you; But if you’ll focus more on developing the real Wesley Klein Cunningham––the one whose spirit can have far more influence in this world than his body could ever have––you’ll truly enjoy growing old.
“And Jesus grew in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
A man once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” However, if you find an age that you like, and stick with it––at least in your mind––you’ll be able to navigate the difficulties of old age with ease, and prove that man was wrong.
Here is how I view myself to this day––with crazy locks of hair, and a puppy’s outlook on life. Of course, I’m aware that most of this hair turned grey a long time ago, and my muscles have relaxed a bit. But inside, I feel like I could still conquer the world.
Do your best to stay young, Wes. Not that I’m suggesting you should ignore realities. What I’m trying to say is that you should keep on being childlike… keep choosing Cap’n Crunch over Grape Nuts… keep dancing in the elevator, when you are all alone and no one is watching, etc.
Someday, you’ll look down at your hands and notice they are wrinkly and arthritic. But even then, your inner-man will still feel young, and you’ll have had a lot of fun along the way. Stay young, pal!
15. Extra Mile
Anyone can take a family photo in the woods. Nowadays, you don’t even need a photographer. All you need is a phone, a branch to prop it on, and the patience to get the pose just right.
But the family that takes the time to snap the picture over and over, until every family member is off the ground will never regret going the extra mile. Be that kind of family, Wes.
And you should probably work on your vertical, too. Your mom has more air than you in this picture.
Along the way, you and Rachel will hit some speed bumps, no doubt. No worries, though. Just stay in the car with one another, and soon you’ll arrive at the other side, none the worse for the wear. Difficulties in your journey can be expected. But if “God is love” and “nothing can separate you from His love,” then your marriage will always be in good hands.
Let’s get practical.
Words can be weapons. They can break a heart… or crush a dream… or invalidate another person’s goals in a flash. One should always be careful with words. However, try as one might to keep his tongue in check, sometimes the tongue takes on a life of its own. In that case, don’t panic… don’t be afraid… and definitely don’t believe Satan when he says, “You blew it! The damage is done! Nothing can heal the wound you’ve inflicted!” Instead, believe in God and the healing only He can bring.
When times are rough, never forget this: The only wounds that can’t be healed come when someone in the marriage says, “The pain is too great. See you later. You’re on your own.”
So, stay in the car, son. Whatever bridge you’re crossing is worth crossing together.
17. True Measure
They say you can tell more about a man by the way he treats his animals, than any other measure. I’m not sure if this is true, but it seems to make sense. Having no real conscience, animals can’t return the many favors we do for them. They are selfish through and through. Sometimes they make horrible messes… and destroy our possessions… and stink up our homes. Thus, when a man shows kindness to an animal, he is taking a risk that his kindness will never come back to him.
Becoming kind is a lifelong process. Start with your wife... then work your way down to your children... then your friends and colleagues… then perhaps politicians and malpractice lawyers. And when you are finally capable of expressing genuine tenderness to your pets, you will know you have become a kind man. In the end, my dear son, I guess this is the root of all love––doing good to someone who can’t do a darn thing in return.
I love you son, and I know you will carry on the Cunningham kindness for years to come. Already, Ollie is the recipient of your kindness.