This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: peace

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.

 

 

 

Peace in These Days

My last post began with these words, Last week I buried my beloved father. Today begins as an echo from the depths of a heartbroken daughter,

 

Last week I buried my beloved mother.

 

Exactly one month separated my father’s departure into Glory from my mother’s.

 

Too much death. Too much sorrow. Too many tears shed.

 

Understandably, I feel a bit adrift. Unanchored. Too old and too surrounded by loving family to feel orphaned. But somehow changed.

 

Forever changed.

 

I was still riding the swell of grief from my father’s passing. Trying to hold on and catch my breath as the great waves tossed me about. I make sense of the nurse’s words, you better come today, and realize that yet another wave is rising. It is gathering strength too quickly. There will be no turning back to shore. The wave crests and takes me under.

 

And I am undone all over again.

 

There is a great heaving of the spirit when you lose one you hold so dear. Incredulous, the spirit refuses to accept what the eye beholds. There is a grief that rises up from places unknown, deep within the recesses of the human spirit.

 

There is an emptiness, an aloneness that comes with the unmooring. It cries out for attention, threatening to be your constant companion throughout all the days of your mourning.

 

I think this is the picture of mourning with which we are most familiar. The desperate sense of aloneness. The sudden flow of tears. The piercing shards of a broken heart that resist any chance of being reassembled.

 

And the fear that it will always be thus.

 

Oh how the enemy of our soul wants us to stay locked in the pit of grief. Swallowed up in the finality of what was lost.

 

 

But what if my experience of grief can better be described as surprising peace than constant tears? Doesn’t it somehow feel disrespectful to move from anguish to peace in a matter of days? None of us needs permission to grieve. Unwelcomed, grief just comes as that great heaving of the spirit. But sometimes we feel we need permission to allow grief to move from the place of tears to the place of peace.

 

There is a sense that grief can be measured. That we can predict the dimension of its depth and calculate its length by marking time. That we ought to know what it should look like, and that anything else is not authentic. Perhaps the great enemy of God likes it this way.

 

But the unmooring is not the only legacy my beloved parents left their grieving daughter. They also left a legacy of hope. A hope that is strong enough to turn my grieving into rejoicing.

 

My parents were convinced that the shaking off of these earthly bodies meant the welcoming of an eternal body through which they would continue to offer praise and worship to their holy God. And because of that, I can rejoice that my parents are fully alive now with God. I can rejoice that they have been made new. I can rejoice that their suffering is over. I can rejoice that I will see them again. If this is their story, if this is their anthem, then my grief loses its weightiness. Grief loses its hold over me.

 

Their hope is my peace.

 

My house will resemble a flower shop for a little while longer. Gifts from dear friends sharing in my grief. But these beautiful gifts of the earth are no longer reminders to me of what the earth has swallowed up but are reminders of the new life my parents are now enjoying to the full.

 

 

 

 

The Great Transfer

angry sea                                                                       Philippians 4:6-8

 

God longs for us to live at peace. Conceptually, I think we all know that. Every Christmas we sing about “Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men.” The emphasis is on peace with one another and between nations. But God has another message for us individually. He longs for us to be at peace on the inside.

 

Sometimes I think it’s easier to live at peace with my family, neighbors and community than it is to live at peace within myself. How can I possibly live at peace within myself when my head is so often a swirl of worries, cares, and burdens?

 

His instruction is to take everything that makes us prone to worry and literally give it, present it, to Him. The visual I have of this is taking all of my struggles, worries, sorrows, disappointments, anxieties, fears, and points of anger, and gathering them up into a great big, ugly, unwieldy bundle. And then, with a great sigh, heaving the enormous bundle over to God.

 

It takes but a moment. A few moments in prayer and then it’s done.

 

I call it The Great Transfer. I give God the big messy bundle, and what am I left with?

 

Nothing.

 

Nothing to fret over that is. When I present my messy bundle to God, He frees me up on the inside to receive what only He can truly offer. Peace. His peace. Paul calls God’s peace “the peace that passes all understanding.”

 

And how do I stay in this place of perfect peace? By choosing to let my messy bundle stay with God and choosing instead to let my now freed-up mind focus on things that He wants me to focus on, like—

things that are true (not imagined fears about the future),

things that are honorable (not the bitterness I hold against another),

things that are right (not the wrongs I see all around me),

things that are pure (not the bad I see in myself),

things that are lovely (not the anxieties that keep me up at night),

things that are of good repute ( not the lies and gossip that I hear and may have an urge to share),

things that are excellent (not my failures and shortcomings),

and things that are worthy of praise (focusing on who God is and not who I am).

 

Our minds can only focus on so much at one time. Our focus will either be directed toward our messy bundle of worry, anger, and fear, or on those things that bring us sustained peace.

 

The choice is really mine to make every day. And repeatedly throughout each day.

It’s a wonder I don’t choose peace every day. Why shouldn’t I choose The Great Transfer more often? Why do I insist on holding onto my messy bundle when God is offering me perfect peace?

 

God really does want us to live in peace. The choice is mine to make.

 

What will I choose today?

 

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