This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: children (page 1 of 2)

Keep Alert for Changing Conditions

 

I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.

 

The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.

 

And so, today was the day.

 

Regardless of the road conditions.

 

Or the condition of my heart.

 

I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.

 

Just as it should.

 

Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.

 

But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.

 

And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.

 

Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.

 

How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.

 

And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.

 

*

 

I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.

 

How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.

 

The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.

 

Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.

 

*

 

I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.

 

Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.

 

Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.

 

The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.

 

There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.

 

At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.

 

I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.

 

The wise King Solomon once said, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.

 

 

 

Hold On My Heart

Double-buckling up front because there’s no room left in the car!

 

It really began five years ago. Five years ago the first cords holding my heart intact began their inevitable, inexorable unfurling, taking with them what was never mine to hold onto in the first place. Depositing a first-born child at college is the dreadful opening of Pandora’s Box, for with that first Great Departure comes the promise of the inevitable departures that will follow.

 

No sooner does the heart settle and the mind accept a slightly less full nest when the cords are stretched and ripped wide open again, and just like that, the second child is gone. There is now no escaping the reality that this one who is left will, like her brothers before her, respond to the siren song, and my heart will tear just a little bit more.

 

This week, Time has called her name and has insisted that she too be wrested from my heart. This week, I moved my baby out of her forever bedroom and settled her into her new life in college, and my heart will never be the same.

 

Mamas like me have a need, a giant-sized need to settle our children into their college homes. Our need to settle them stems from our own role as nest builders, which we instinctively assume in the days and weeks preceding the birth of our first child. This same instinct goes into overdrive every time one of those children leaves to make new homes outside of the familial nest. We need to settle them, to tuck them in. To move them into their new dorm rooms simply does not cover the full spectrum of what a mother needs to do! And fathers and children who understand that will be all the happier for that wisdom!

 

I was woefully unprepared for my first son to leave, both emotionally and practically. When your son refuses to choose any décor for his new room, it’s hard to make that space feel like home! As much as I dreaded the day of his move-in and tried to steel myself against the emotional tide that was rising up within me, I completely failed at holding it together! My need to settle my son into his dorm room was at complete odds with my husband’s desire for our son to be independent and our son’s desire for us to finish up and move along!

 

The move-in for my second son was just about as unpleasant for the same reasons his brother experienced. Except this time, the stakes were higher. This time, we had to get it right to keep our son with type-1 diabetes safe. After preparing the dorm room, we still had to talk to the folks at the health office, visit the pharmacy, buy supplies, and meet the RA. Without warning, Orientation began and all the newbie students were whisked away to begin their new lives together while their parents stood open-mouthed, amazed that the first real goodbye in their child’s lifetime could be that sudden or casual.

 

Not only had I not succeeded in making his room look like home, but I didn’t even have time to buy all of his emergency supplies. Time came for my son and I was left standing alone, tears stinging my face, pondering all he had been through to get to this place.

 

I know what it is to watch your child suffer the interruption of academic progress due to health struggles and the associated fear that taunts life will never be normal again for your son. And I know the fear that college itself will be just outside of his grasp. And so I rejoice that this departure, as abrupt and difficult as it was, has indeed happened.

 

These are, of course, just the first of the heart wrenchings that herald more and greater departures to come. Where college is accompanied by the promise of summers and holidays spent together, under the pretense that nothing has changed to disrupt life as we always knew it, a child’s moving out after college keeps up no such charade.

 

My heart endured a deeper wrenching the summer my firstborn moved out of his upstairs bedroom, with no promise of an imminent return. The baseball men, who for more than a decade have stood sentry along his wallpaper border, will no longer have anyone to look after. The bedroom on the right will remain empty now.

 

And while I miss him body and soul, I rejoice in this departure too. For it is as it should be. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, not so much because of the future joy of being reunited, but because my heart longs for the world as I’ve known it for 23 years.

 

 

My daughter’s college move-in, our final one, was different. Better, much better. I guess we’ve learned a thing or two over the years. I was expecting it to be the worst, she is my baby after all, but it was surprisingly the easiest. Girls, with their undeniable preference for Instagram-worthy college dorm rooms, make a mother’s need to settle her offspring into this chapter of their lives easily satisfied. We arranged, we rearranged, we decorated, we hung, we folded, and in the end she was satisfied with her space, and I was satisfied that I had settled her in.

 

Nevertheless, as sweet as this experience was, I taste the bittersweet knowledge that nothing will ever be the same. My heartstrings have been stretched to their breaking point now. My heart has moved very far beyond my front door and has settled into 3 different cities, in 2 additional states.

 

Ours is a nest of five. It feels full and right and good when all five of us are present. How does one begin to carry the weight of its inadequacy when it is not full and brimming with life?

 

And I tell my heart to hold on; this is all as it should be.

 

These precious ones that I have had the privilege of raising and loving were never mine to hold onto in the first place. They are gifts from God, entrusted to me and to my husband, to love and nurture and care for until they have wings to soar on their own.

 

It is not fear for their safety and protection that occupies my thoughts – I know the God who knows the number of hairs on their head and calls the stars by name will watch over them better than I ever could. The ache in my heart stems from the knowledge that where their independent lives are just beginning, my forever-together life with them has come to an end.

 

There is a natural tension between my joy at the adults they are becoming and my sorrow over the children they have left behind. I have loved those little children with every fiber of my being and will miss who they once were.

 

I long to talk with them like friends and hold their chubby little hands in mine. I want to hear their opinions on current political events and hold them tight as I read yet one more bedtime story to them at night. I long to see them thrive as adults, glimpsing the paths they will choose in life, and I want to brush the hair from their cherubic faces as they drift off to sleep.

 

But I can’t have it both ways.

 

They too were created with a purpose, not just to stay my little ones, but to grow into all God intended for them. To glorify God, to love one another, and to make this world a better place.

 

Hold on my heart; it is all as it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

Days Like These

 

Today was one of those double-whammy, two-fisted, double-doctor appointment days. The kind that sucks all the life out of you, leaving a mama spent and wondering what happened to her plans for the day.

 

Still, I guess it’s better than last week’s triple play, three-doctor appointment day.

 

Five medical appointments and two small surgical procedures for two of my kids within two weeks left me with enough medicines and potions to take over an entire section of my kitchen and enough post-visit printed summaries to paper a small bathroom.

 

Some of the appointments were expected and had been scheduled far in advance; others were surprises, interruptions in a carefully scheduled life.

 

This morning’s visit with my son to see his endocrinologist was one of the expected visits. But the crashing low blood sugar just as we arrived at the physician’s office wasn’t expected.

 

Nor were we prepared for it.

 

You do have glucose tablets, right? Because you know I no longer carry them with me since you went away to college…

 

Unlike most days, today, my usually prepared son forgot to stuff his bag of tabs in his pocket. He quickly ate the snack he had brought with him but it was ineffective at elevating his rapidly falling blood sugar. Twenty minutes before, his blood sugar had been super high, too high to eat that snack. It makes no sense that his blood sugar could swing so wildly in twenty short minutes.

 

Unless you have type 1 diabetes. Then all bets are off.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

I remind myself of King David’s words from Psalm 118:24 and know that God has made this day for me. Including all the curve balls, the mini crises, and the unexpected events that come with this day. Will I rejoice in it or give into anxiety because the day is not going as I had envisioned it would?

 

Rejoice, oh my soul, rejoice. Trust and rejoice.

 

I reach into my bag and hand my son the partially eaten sandwich that I had started eating during our car ride. I quickly stopped eating it when he discovered that his blood sugar was too high to eat his own snack, so I quietly tucked it in my bag for later.

 

When it would be safe for him to eat. When it wouldn’t be rude to eat in front of him.

 

But now, he is in trouble, and I don’t care that my tummy is rumbling and that it will be hours before I can stop again to find food.

 

That’s what mamas do. We gladly hand over our partially eaten sandwiches to our children in need. Because crazy, unpredictable days aren’t always kind to those who have little control over how their bodies respond to the unpredictable.

 

We live in the tension between wanting to control all of life’s circumstances and knowing that we simply cannot control everything. And right there in that tension we discover the source of much of our discontent and grumbling. Many days there is simply far more that we cannot control than we can control.

 

But we can decide how we will respond to the unforeseen circumstances of life. Will we let go of what is beyond our control and choose to trust in the One who gives us and those we love our very breath? Will we trust Him enough to rejoice even amidst the dark, uncontrollable moments of life?

 

And I smile just a little bit, realizing that while I had thought myself so clever to think ahead and make myself a sandwich, I was not actually making it for me, but for my son.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

 

Today’s other appointment was not expected and I certainly had not planned for it to consume the bulk of my day. It began early in the morning, involved two hours of phone calls with nursing and scheduling staff at two different offices, the pleading voice of a mother saying, isn’t there just a small window of time in the schedule with one of your doctors, and the surprising kindness of the one who ultimately arranged for one of those squeeze-her-in-where-there’s-not-really-any-room appointments.

 

The knot in my stomach builds as my mind races to sort out what must be done.

 

Do not fear, for I am with you.

 

These words of the prophet Isaiah remind me to invite God’s presence right here in the midst of the storm. Deep breath in. Savor the opportunity for silent prayer during the long waits on hold with the medical staff. Deep breath out.

 

Two hours have passed since I began trying to schedule this appointment. Finally I hear her voice again on the other end of the phone. We have the appointment. Arrive 15 minutes early. Yes, I know the drill.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

The knot in my stomach loosens. I mentally review the schedule for the rest of my day, half-listening as the woman reviews with me more details about the appointment. I must leave home in 10 minutes to take my son to his appointment. I will have just enough time between the two appointments to take him home and pick up my daughter at school. Better pack a sandwich; it will be a busy day.

 

The conversation draws to a close, and yet I can’t hang up the phone without telling her how much she has blessed me today by her efforts to help me. She looked for the needle-in-a-haystack appointment when it would have been so much easier to say, I’m sorry lady, but there just isn’t anything available.

 

Comfort others with the comfort with which you have been comforted.

 

I speak my words of thanks and blessing. There is a pause. Then I hear her voice. It is changed. Lighter somehow. I think I hear the smile on her face, knowing she made a difference in the life of a stressed-out mama today.

 

Days like these are, unfortunately, not too unusual for me.

 

But they’re never expected.

 

And I rarely welcome them into my tightly designed vision of how my day should unfold.

 

I remember that these days never catch God by surprise. And I am comforted by the knowledge that He is right with me in the midst of the firestorm. These are days to practice letting go of control and of my need to have things go my way and to choose instead to look for the blessings that are all around me.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

His Eye is on My Sparrow

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I crossed a threshold in my life as a mother a few weeks ago. It was a moment filled at once with expectation at the adventure that lies ahead, and sorrow over what is understandably lost.

 

The moment came as I made the long journey from Philadelphia to Raleigh, NC to launch my first-born into “real life.” Like the signs that warn of “Severe Tire Damage” if you attempt to reverse out of the direction in which you are traveling, there is no backing out now. The bird has left the nest, and there will be no flying back in.

 

I often hear people say at this stage of life, “I can’t believe how fast it went!” I honestly can’t say that it went fast. None of it went fast. I took it slow, and so, for me, it all went slow, real slow.

 

Long moments with the unborn baby inside, pondering the mystery of the life growing within me. Daily walks in the park, rain or shine, with the baby in the pram, nestled warm and dry. Frequent visits to the firehouse or the library, hand in hand with the boy as he skipped up and down the curb, as though we had all the time in the world to explore together. Endless hours pitching baseballs, kicking soccer balls, and swimming in the pool together, because (did I mention it?) the boy has boundless energy.

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There were countless trips to the pediatrician for the chronic ear infections, the runny noses, the surgery and the stiches. There were hours upon hours of bedtime stories and homework help and lingering conversations around the dinner table. There were sports practices and games, baseball and soccer tournaments near and far. There was laughter. There were tears. There were late-night snacks for two that inevitably gave way to the best and most important talks between a mother and her dearly loved son.

 

It didn’t go fast; it went full.

 

It went full throttle and I didn’t miss a thing. And I am so very grateful.

 

But now, as I stand with my nest a little less full than I would like, a heaviness descends upon my heart. It’s not just the heaviness of a heart that aches for my precious one to be with me still. It is also the heaviness of uncertainty. Have I taught him everything he needs to know? How will he be guided in life’s major decisions? Who will take my place and love and care for my son?

 

fullsizerender-2And God speaks to me, reminding me that His promises in scripture apply not just to me, but also to my precious son. If His eye is on the sparrow, then certainly His eye is on my son and He will care for him. He reminds me that His love for my son far surpasses my own love for him. He reminds me that my son is first and foremost His son, and that it was God after all who entrusted him to my care 22 years ago.

 

He reminds me that He has a wondrous plan for my child. “For I know the plans I have for your child,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future.” He has a plan for my child, as surely as He has a plan for me, and I can rest in that assurance.

 

He reminds me how much He loves and cares for my son and that each and every promise I find in scripture applies not just to me but to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. In confidence I can lean on God’s words from Isaiah 43:

 

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed your son.

    I’ve called his name. He is mine.

When he’s in over his head, I’ll be there with him.

    When he’s in rough waters, he will not go down.

When he’s between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, his personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, his Savior.

I paid a huge price for him:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much he means to me!

    That’s how much I love him!

I’d sell off the whole world to get him back,

    trade the creation just for him.

 

I look around me and take one final inventory of the room that has now become my son’s bedroom in his new home. We accomplished much in 24 short hours. I blow out the candle and place my love letter to him on his pillow. I shut out the light and gently close the door. My work here is done.

 

The invitation is the same as it ever was. To choose trust over worry. To believe that God’s love never fails. To rest in the unfailing arms of the One who has His eye on my sparrow.

 

 

Jehovah-rapha, my God who heals

Psalm 16:6 “I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”

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God reveals himself by many names in scripture. Each strange, foreign-sounding Hebrew name reveals to us something of his nature, so that we can know him better. I have known him by many names that show him to be sovereign, master, teacher, and all-mighty. Now I know Him as Jehovah-rapha, the God who heals. Jehovah-rapha has healed my son.

 

He was 17 years old that day when he came home from school exhausted and went straight to bed. When he awoke, he was no longer the same. My vibrant, full of life son with the twinkle in his eye and the laughter in his spirit would not return to me for almost 2 years.

 
IMG_2416After weeks of languishing with fatigue and other symptoms, he was diagnosed with POTS – postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a disease of the autonomic nervous system that prevented his blood from traveling against gravity back up to his heart and his brain. It affected everything from his ability to focus, to his ability to fall asleep or wake up and feel alert, to his internal thermostat, to his digestion, and required a cocktail of 7 different medications, as well as a strictly controlled diet of salt and liquid intake. Exercise was a key part of the wellness protocol, even though those living with POTS struggle even to get out of bed, let alone exercise.

 

Did I happen to mention that he also lives with type 1 diabetes?

 

About a month after his POTS diagnosis, I came across this passage from Ezekiel in the course of my Bible reading:

Ezekiel 37:1-6 “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”

 

I knew the passage, and the promise of restoration that it has meant to the people of Israel at the time of its first writing and at various times throughout their history. I remembered that it was the scripture that the Jewish remnant had read at the Masada in 73AD when they took their own lives so the Romans would not be able to slaughter or enslave them.

 

But on this day, the words rang loud in my ears with a different sort of promise. A promise of healing in this life, not just in resurrection life.

 

I remembered that a friend of mine who is in the medical field had told me that the autonomic nervous system affected “just about everything that wasn’t the bones,” so when I read this passage about bones coming back to life because everything surrounding the bones had been restored, it caught my attention!

 

“Is this a word from you, God? Is this You speaking directly to me about my son through the pages of your scripture? Are You telling me he will be healed?” These were the questions that raced through my mind that cold December morning.

 

Over the following days and weeks as I prayed about what this might mean, God seemed to confirm to my spirit that yes, He would heal my son. I didn’t know when. Would it be in a year? In 5 years? During my lifetime? I didn’t know. Would my son be able to finish the school year? Would he be able to go to college? I had no answers to those questions either. But God seemed to be assuring me to trust Him in this.

 

unnamed-2And so I trusted. And I cared for my son as I waited and watched. And I cried when he couldn’t get out of bed. And I fought for understanding and for academic accomodations at his school. And my godly friends supported me when I could stand no longer.

 

And slowly, he began to heal. Yet, every baby step forward seemed to be followed by a giant step backward. Like the concussion he sustained just when he was getting back on a good academic footing. Or breaking his wrist, just as he was able to find the energy for greater athletic pursuits. Or eventually needing surgery on his wrist, resulting in many weeks of missed exercise and the fear of a return of symptoms.

 

In the fullness of time, God did heal my son. I don’t know why He chose in this situation to break through the veil separating heaven from earth and do the miraculous in the life of someone in such need of a touch from Him. Why did He heal this time and yet so many times it seems our prayers for healing fall on deaf ears?

 

We are taught to pray in faith for God to do big things, and yet we temper our prayers with small expectations, knowing that we deserve nothing from Him. This blessing of healing was not deserved, it was a gift of grace, a manifestation of the undeserved favor of God resting on us. But, whether God chose to heal my son or not bears no reflection on His love for me. Or for my son. That was settled once and for all on Calvary.

 

This healing was all grace. Pure grace.

 

And my heart sings with praise for Jehovah-rapha who has dealt bountifully with me.

 

 

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