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It’s All Gonna Be Magnificent

I didn’t want my own son.

Perhaps that’s a bit too honest, this essay a bit too public. But the sentiment was true, and truth, I’ve been told, can set us free.

I was an only child who’d recently turned 37. For a Midwestern boy, that’s considerably older than my schoolmates who were churning out babies while I was finding my footing as a young adult. I was also a new resident of Nashville, a city with considerably more to do than the small post-industrial town where I’d served as a pastor for a decade. I was wired for the mix of things to do and disposable income. My wife felt the same for the most part.

After seven years of marriage, neither set of parents had ever even asked about grandchildren. Neither of us had ever changed a diaper. Neither came from a large family, nor were we impressed to start our own. The idea of children entering our picture was frightening, to be honest, and the idea of the actual child-birthing process brought about anxiety in my wife. I couldn’t blame her. I’d feel the same if biology made such things possible.

Then came the news.

Just a couple weeks before, we’d had a brief conversation as my wife changed over our insurance plans—auto, home, health—from Indiana to Tennessee. “Do we want maternity coverage?” she asked. We both said no. That was it. No big discussion. No checking in again to make certain. Just a brief exchange over insurance. Several days later, my wife walks into the living room.

“I’m pregnant.”

It was a sobering moment. No fanfare. No emotions. I just remember a quiet moment where we both reflected on the coming reality. It was happening. We were hardly alone in this endeavor. We would adjust. Some deep breaths later, we simply moved on with our day.

The next January, Elliot was born. His mother took to him immediately, a switch flipped internally, and it was a beautiful thing to see. It took me quite a while. If anything, it was confrontational. Even today, my own father and I haven’t talked for years (and that’s par for our course). I had no model and certainly no idea of how to proceed as a dad. It wasn’t just a scary proposition. I was terrified of the future—mine and his.

It's learning to trust in ways I've forgotten and love in ways I've withheld. Matt Conner

What I had yet to discover is that a child was exactly what I needed in the moment, that I needed to see the world through a lens different than my own. It took considerable time and effort (and counseling) but gradually I’ve grown to love fatherhood. It’s his joy, his wonder, his capacity for love that has healed so much within me. So much about my five-year-old confronts me in meaningful ways—his ability to be present, his trust in people and processes, his longing for adventure, his innocent heart, his held out arms extended to the world around him.

Two years ago, one of my favorite bands, Elbow, released a song that somehow cut to the core of my own experience. Few instances are as powerful as the moment when someone gives you language for things you’ve felt or experienced, and Guy Garvey, the principal lyricist and vocalist of the band, provided that for me on a song called “Magnificent (She Says)”. He was confronted with being a new father himself at the time he wrote the song. I’ll let him share the set-up.

“Magnificent (She Says)”, Elbow

“We were deliberately, it being our honeymoon, staying away from the news, staying away from what was going on,” Garvey said in a video interview in 2017. “The only time we caught the news accidentally, it was so jarring that we found it really upsetting and it stayed with us for the rest of the day. So I thought this has to be addressed somehow.”

[Quick note: If you’re new to Elbow, just know they’ve been an influential Brit-rock band for 20 years, and Garvey, as a lyricist, has always swam in the deep end of the pool. If you like Coldplay’s “Fix You,” Chris Martin said he was trying to write an Elbow tune.]

In the song, Garvey sets up the scene of a family on holiday at the beach, a little girl standing in awe at the edge of the ocean while her parents watch. As a parent-to-be, he was filled with fright at the idea of bringing a child into the world. How can you possibly bring a child into a world as divided, as chaotic, as this? Not only are the parents broken, but the world even more so. I could totally relate.

Then Garvey sets the song in motion. I’ll let the lyrics take it from here (and I’d advise listening along at this point):

This is where, this is where the bottle lands Where all the biggest questions meet With little feet stood in the sand This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide And where a tiny pair of hands Finds a sea-worn piece of glass And sets it as a sapphire in her mind

And there she stands Throwing both her arms around the world The world that doesn’t even know How much it needs this little girl

It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says It’s all gonna be magnificent

I couldn’t stop crying when I first heard the chorus. I was undone. It was the child teaching the parent. The trust, the joy, the capacity for love, the longing for adventure, the innocence. These were the very things a broken world needed, all offered to it by a child. Sound familiar? Garvey charts his own learning curve in the second verse.

This is where it all began To light your mother’s cigarette Meant I got to touch her hand And my heart, there defrosting in a gaze Wasn’t built to beat that way Suddenly I understand

There on the sand Throwing both her arms around the world The world that doesn’t even know How much it needs this little girl

It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says It’s all gonna be magnificent

“I loved the idea of this innocence, a little girl with all of her goodwill intact, with the naiveté we’re all born with, which leads you to hold somebody, and leads you to trust strangers, the stuff the world could really use a big dose of, existing in all of us when we’re born,” said Garvey about the song. “The idea of this girl and the vastness of the ocean was the best way I could try to put this together. ‘It’s all gonna be magnificent,’ she says.”

My own child is teaching me the same, that to participate in the renewing of my own self and the world is to mimic his posture, his worldview. It’s learning to trust in ways I’ve forgotten and love in ways I’ve withheld. Ultimately it’s also about believing in these words despite how naive they sound.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:5


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