This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: family (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.

 

 

 

Carolina on My Mind

 

The beauty of the South Carolina sunset took me by surprise. Low and warm and welcoming, I turned my face toward its glow and felt the chill in my northern bones begin to melt away. The farther we journeyed toward my sister-in-law’s home, the more majestic the sky became. The hot oranges and golds turned pink, then violet, before engulfing the entire sky in the deepest of purple hues.

 

This visit was not what you might have expected it to be, given that it was the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was not the long planned for family gathering around a giant turkey and all the trimmings. This was a trip made in haste and I had prepared myself that the visit might be hard. My brother-in-law had suddenly taken ill and we were traveling south to encourage him and to support my sister-in-law.

 

When you love someone, you take seriously the responsibility of being an encouragement to that dear one. To encourage means literally to fill with courage. It is an awesome responsibility to encourage and bless someone you love who is hurting.

 

And so my mind was filled with thoughts of what I would say that would be helpful. What I could do that would be useful.

 

The magnificent sunset should have been my first clue that it was I
who would be blessed by the visit.

 

 

Our planned gathering of two siblings and their spouses had quickly grown to include parents and a grown daughter, until we numbered seven, and spanned three generations. It had been far too long since we had all been together; years upon years have separated us. And during that time we have all known hardship – illness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, financial challenges. But we have all seen much joy during those years as well – new marriages, new life, restored faith.

 

We did what all families do who haven’t seen one another in far too long – we talked and we listened. We shared our stories until we were satisfied that we had truly communed with one another. And at the end of our whirlwind 24 hours, we longed for more time together.

 

We are entering the season that brims with family – beginning at Thanksgiving, moving through the Advent season and on to Christmas, and culminating in New Years. We feast, we celebrate, and we fill our time enjoying those we hold most dear in our hearts.

 

But the eve of Thanksgiving can herald the beginning of a tough time for many people. For many of us there is discord within our families that prevents real celebration from being possible. We have known seasons in both my husband’s and my extended families when we were not as close as we are today. Where we have allowed misunderstanding to block our way to true love and peace within our families.

 

I am thankful to those members of my family who have taught me that love’s way always trumps discord’s way. And that family is always worth fighting for.

 

 

I wasn’t expecting this impromptu family gathering, just days before Thanksgiving, but I will forever be grateful for it. While our celebration did not include a turkey and all the trimmings, it was one of the truest celebrations of thanks I have ever experienced.

 

And so, with a full heart, I offer these words of thanks that whispered to me through the great southern pines, and I pray they will be your words of thanks this Thanksgiving season as well.

 

I thank God for the gift of family,

For the gift of music,

For laughter,

For family memories made long ago and cherished in the secret ways of old family folklore.

 

I thank God for new beginnings,

For warmth and hospitality and generosity of heart,

For good food shared in a home brimming with love and service to one another.

 

I am thankful for the reckless love of God, who never stops pursuing us,

For the desire he placed within human hearts to go over the river and through the woods to be with the ones we love.

I am thankful that the Great Reconciler shows us the way to truly love one another.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Life, Interrupted

 

Life has a funny way of interrupting our best-made plans.

 

It was supposed to have been a glorious season. A capstone season. An icing on the cake, cherry on top of the sundae season. After working harder than she had ever worked, being in the best shape of her life, leading with the grit and grace that only the best of captains can, my daughter roared into her senior season of high school lacrosse ready to take on the world…and any opponent that set foot on her field.

 

US Track and Field Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell said nearly a century ago that God made him fast and when he runs he feels God’s pleasure. How often I think of those words when I watch my daughter fly up the field, stick in hand, cradling her precious cargo as she transitions the ball up to the attacking end of the field. God made her fast. He made her strong. He made her body nimble to fly up the field in joy and strength. I can feel his pleasure when she runs.

 

Yet at this moment she lies on a table in the operating room and I am trying to make sense of the last six weeks.

 

The MRI tells us the knee pain is due to a torn meniscus, a bone bruise, and a cyst response to the injury. There was no incident. There was no moment on the field when she fell or twisted or turned and knew she was in trouble. We don’t know how it all happened, but in an instant, my daughter’s life, as she had planned it, is interrupted.

 

I just have to say it – I don’t like interruptions. I have lived enough of the interrupted life to be under no illusion that I am really in control of much. And yet, every interruption still knocks me full in the face like an overpowering wave tossing me under with the weight of its surprise.

 

This interruption is no different. I rail against it, refusing to accept that my daughter will have to miss out on everything she had dreamt her senior year would be. All I can see is what will not be. Interruptions come as a thief to steal what was mine, what was hers, and to mock us for ever thinking we were strong enough to hold onto our plans and dreams.

 

All too often I see interruptions to my plan as the great enemy, and I fight against them with all of my strength. Running against the grain, I suffer all measure of splinters in the process of trying to return to normal as quickly as possible.

 

I don’t want to consider that the interruptions just might be a part of the plan.

 

But perhaps I should.

 

 

It seems the life of faith is loaded with examples of interruption actually being the plan.

 

I think of Joseph. Leaving his father’s home to deliver a fresh meal to his brothers, they betray him and deliver him into the hands of traders, selling him into slavery in Egypt. This interruption is the first of many that will lead him to become the second in charge in Pharaoh’s household and enable him ultimately to save his family from famine. While none of his interruptions – betrayal, slavery, accusation, imprisonment – were welcomed, each was a necessary step along his journey.

 

I think of Moses. Taking a walk in the wilderness, he collides with a burning bush that forever changes the course of his life. He didn’t want to return to Egypt, go toe-to-toe with Pharaoh, or lead his people to freedom. He wanted to live a simple life as a shepherd, far from the threats that would surround him as an emancipator. This interruption would also be for him the first of many that would test and try him in ways he had never anticipated or wanted.

 

Seen through the vision of 20/20 hindsight, it’s clear that these interruptions to a life plan were not thieves of the real plan. More than likely, they actually were the plan.

 

What might it look like if I would embrace life’s interruptions as part of the plan rather than constantly fighting against them in an effort to get back to my hoped-for vision for my life? I think it looks like holding my hopes and dreams with an open hand and an open heart.

 

I think it looks like intentionally letting go of control.

 

I think it looks like flexing my trust muscles so that anger and worry have no room to settle in and take up residence in my heart and mind when interruptions come my way.

 

I think it looks and feels a lot like peace.

 

I think it looks more like how Jesus handled interruptions than how his forebears, Joseph and Moses, handled them. Was there ever a day that Jesus accomplished what he set out to do, when he planned on doing it? None of his greatest healings or miracles were scheduled events as we might schedule things. They mostly came as interruptions.

 

At the end of a long day of teaching a crowd that just wouldn’t go home, he is moved by compassion to feed all 5,000 men plus their families, even though his preference was undoubtedly to be alone with his closest friends. On another occasion, traveling to heal the daughter of a synagogue official, he is interrupted by a woman who begs for healing from a bleeding disorder that had afflicted her for 12 long years. He doesn’t push her aside, but chooses instead to heal her and bless her before sending her on her way. Teaching one day in a private home, he and all those gathered with him look up to discover a lame man being lowered from the rooftop into his presence, interrupting his planned teaching, and begging for a healing touch. Without hesitation or rebuke, Jesus embraces the interruption and heals the man.

 

Jesus’s approach to life’s interruptions was to accept them, not to fight against them, and to look for ways to bless others through them.

 

This is the example I want to follow. I know this is the way to peace. The only way I can do this is by holding my hopes and dreams with an open hand and an open heart, trusting in God’s goodness and love for me to see me through.

 

As my daughter stirs in the recovery room, I realize that she has already been practicing Jesus’s approach to handling life’s interruptions. Choosing to trust God throughout this disappointing setback, she has made no room in her heart for anger or self-pity. Choosing to bless others through her injury, she has transformed her role from on-field leader to off-field encourager. She reminds me what true trust looks like.

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

What am I Leaning On?

 

Last week I buried my beloved father. The lone bagpiper stood sentry, beckoning us closer, as the familiar strains of Amazing Grace echoed in the open cemetery. The once cloudy skies gave way to a brilliant January sun as we approached my father’s final resting place.

 

The snap of the flag breaks the silence as the Major and the Captain begin the ceremony of folding my father’s flag.

 

Fold, fold, fold, tuck. Fold, fold, fold, tuck. Fold, fold, fold, tuck.

 

Until the stripes are enveloped in a sea of blue, covered in 50 brilliant stars of white.

 

The Major is on one knee before my sisters and me. On behalf of the President of the United States of America, we wish to thank you for your father’s service to our country. Piercing blue eyes lock gaze with each of us. Eyes that proclaim I offer you my thanks as well.

 

The flag is in our hands. The bugle is on the bugler’s lips. The strains of Amazing Grace have been replaced by the mournful notes of Taps. And it is finished.

 

Soon, my father’s coffin would be lowered into the same earth that, 55 years earlier, had swallowed the tiny coffin of his beloved and only son, Johnnie.

 

 

My father’s death was “in the natural order of things”; his son’s death was not. Taken at age 8 by a rapid onset of type 1 diabetes, and a shockingly fast decline of all of his bodily functions, my brother quietly slipped from this life into eternity and my parents began their lifelong journey of trusting God despite unfathomable pain and far too many unanswered questions.

 

As my sisters and I began preparations for our father’s services, we were asked this simple question several times.

 

Did your father have a favorite Bible verse?

 

The first time we were asked the question, we all three stopped, looked into the distance, and began what we assumed would be a time of quiet reflection. In less than half a minute, we all agreed that while he never said he had a favorite verse, he did have a life verse. He and our mother inscribed it in every Bible they ever gave us. And it was the verse by which he lived his life.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.

~ Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

When my father lost his only son, he had a decision to make. Would he trust in the Lord with all his heart?

 

With all his broken heart?

 

With all his heavy heart and aching gut, pummeled by wave after wave of tears of anguish?

 

With every doubt and fear and sorrow that would rise up from the heart of a devoted daddy who would never again hold his precious son in his arms?

 

Or would he choose instead to lean on his own understanding of how things should have turned out?

 

Lean on his own understanding that a good God doesn’t let bad things happen to good people, to good little 8-year old boys with their entire lives ahead of them.

 

Lean on his own understanding that if this is what God’s favor looks like, then he didn’t want any part of it, thank you very much.

 

While my parents grieved terribly the loss of their only son, they chose to hold onto these words of the wise King Solomon, recognizing that God’s ways were higher than their ways. Even in their greatest suffering, they chose to acknowledge that God is God and they are not. Their trust in the Lord remained steadfast, and not even the death of their son would shake their belief in God’s character.

 

God is good. All the time.

 

I wish I could say that I had the same heart response when my own son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 5-years old. My response to his diagnosis was swift and deep, allowing it to settle over me for a long time.

 

I was angry.

 

I had lived in fear of this disease my entire life. It took the life of a brother I never knew and has afflicted one of my sisters since she was 16. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, and during each of my pregnancies, I did regular urine testing to see if diabetes was invading my pancreas as well. This disease was so personal, so deeply woven into the fabric of my family.

 

God, how could you do this to me?

 

Overnight I lost sight of who I knew God to be. With one finger stick blood test, every hidden maxim of my “since-then” theology was revealed.

 

Since I love God and try to honor him with my life, then he will protect me.

 

Since God is good, then he won’t allow really bad things to happen to me and to those I love.

 

I didn’t even know I was harboring this false theology. But there it was. Out in the open in all its ugliness. The trouble with “since-then” theology is that when pushed, it becomes a slippery slide to an even uglier conclusion.

 

Since my child was not protected from this bad thing happening, then God is not good.

 

It’s easy to trust God when things are going well. When things are going as we want and expect them to go. It’s another matter entirely to trust God when our world has caved in and we can’t imagine how this same world can even spin on its axis anymore. And when, for the life of us, we can’t imagine how anyone can possibly be smiling when we can’t even breathe.

 

But trust is a choice. It’s a daily, moment-by-moment choice not to lean into our heart’s immediate pain-filled response, but to choose to believe in the goodness of the One who holds our heart.

 

In the midst of this season of standing apart from God, judging Him from a distance for not being exactly what I wanted Him to be, a wise friend spoke these words to me,

 

Father is always good.

 

I recoiled at her words. I was not yet ready to receive them. Surely He was mostly good, but how could she say He was always good, since He allowed my son’s life to be forever changed? Forever challenging and never carefree again.

 

The issue of God’s goodness was one I would wrestle with for two years. Blinded by anger and by my indignance at how and when God chooses to act, I needed time to recognize and deconstruct what I thought I knew about God. And then with much study, prayer, and reflection, to rebuild a faith that was anchored on the unchangeable character of God, including his love and goodness, and not on my desire to control everything around me.

 

Ultimately, these words of the psalmist became my words. I hope they become yours as well.

 

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

  Psalm 73: 25-26

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