The Perfect Vacation for an Imperfect Family

We arrived at our campsite well after dark.  The rodeo had been a much-anticipated highlight of our cross-country trip, and no one was in a hurry to stop talking about it — or to crawl into our sleeping bags.

It’s a good thing, too, because standing where our tent should have been was a small gathering of fellow campers.  One was setting up our lawn chairs and three others were headed in our direction, dragging a pile of fabric that looked like . . . our tent.

The six of us piled out of the mini-van into the glow of our headlights.  My eight-year-old took my hand.

Kind neighbors informed us that while we were gone a tornado had swept through the campground throwing tents and camping equipment in every direction.  Our tent had been completely uprooted, leaving behind all its stabilizing ropes and anchoring pegs, and landing in a heap several sites away.

Beside me, a small voice quavered, “Does this mean we have to go home?”

Cobbling together a plan on the fly, my husband and I tag-teamed a way forward:

“We’re going to gather our sleeping bags . . .”

“We’ll pack up all our gear . . .”

“And we’ll find a hotel in town, back where we watched the rodeo!”

“Tomorrow we’ll buy a new tent, first thing.”

By the time we had loaded the last cooler, everyone was visualizing the luxury of a hotel shower.  (Especially me!)

Apparently when you show up in a hotel lobby at 1 a.m. with four dusty kids, they’re willing to bend the rules about maximum occupancy.  We arranged ourselves somewhere on or around two king-sized beds and, amazingly, we slept.

Fortified by a quick breakfast of yogurt and bagels, we bought a tent at a big box store and hit the road, because now we were not merely travelers.  We were tent-tornado survivors, and we would persevere.

Earlier in the trip, teenage squabbles might have derailed us.  Slow-drying beach towels twirling in tired campsite laundromats might have dampened our spirits.  The perennially squashed hot dog buns in our crowded mini-van might have seemed like an impossible hardship before, but post-tornado, we began to see ourselves as adventurers on the open road.  For this privilege, we could eat the odd squashed bun.

We had started our vacation behaving as if there was a “right way” to do this cross-country journey, a perfect itinerary to follow, and a “correct approach” to the family road trip.  We read every word of the historical markers, looked in every corner of every museum, and collected brochures for future school projects.  Please understand that this was not a matter of capturing teachable moments – this was a case of ambushing them and wrestling them to the ground.

Sometimes it takes a tornado to make you realize that you are driving your kids (and yourselves) crazy.  Intentionally, we backed away from perfect.  We began to get off the highway more often.  As our mini-van devoured the miles, we spotted our first cactus on the way up Scott’s Bluff.  We stalked cicadas that sounded like artillery fire in the muggy southeastern darkness, and we marveled at mockingbirds that apparently spend every waking moment fine-tuning their repertoire.

We made crazy Hail Mary phone calls to camp sites, hoping at the last minute to be able to pitch our tent near a place we had fallen in love with.  After all, if Mt. Rushmore is stunning at sunset, what will it look like in early morning light?

The unclenching of my fists around the idea of the perfect vacation signaled the opening of my hands to The Given.  Designed by a wild, incomprehensible, and totally-other God, we are, nonetheless, a family of imperfection – and delight!

We are museums, and we are rodeos.
We are McDonald’s hamburgers, and we are fresh Washington state cherries eaten alongside the road.
We are wild, whirling winds; and we are dark, peaceful night skies announcing that God really did “hang the earth on nothing.”

Our vacation was not perfect, but neither are we.

We had brought ourselves along for the journey.
And we were glad to have us.

//

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

//

If you are planning to read Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow  and to join us in the discussion, we’ll begin tackling chapters 1-3 on September 7th.  I’ll be sharing the full schedule on August 31 in my end-of-month musings post.

One of the prevailing themes of the book seems to be the nature of calling.  Jayber’s life takes some unexpected twists and turns, but even so, he had this to say:

“I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.”

 

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The Meeting Places

Some mornings the new mercy arrives at 4 a.m., looking like a slice of lemon yellow sunrise behind ragged lavender clouds.  My early morning drive to the hospital sent me due east.  Not knowing what I would find there, I thanked God for the mercy of ambulances and strong men who lift gently and answer questions with thorough patience.  When I arrived, I thanked Him for a thoughtful son who showed up unexpectedly and stood in a cramped, curtained room waiting for inconclusive test results.  There were no windows in this meeting place to announce daylight’s arrival, but this one thing I know:  by the time the coastal mist had burned off and blue sky had chosen the morning, Mum was already in heaven.

That afternoon, three generations gathered around spaghetti and salad and pictures from my mother’s albums.  Remembering and wondering and making ten thousand phone calls filled in the spaces of that whole day, but this is a homeschooling family, so the following sunrise was succeeded quickly by breakfast as usual — and trigonometry.  My graduating senior will tell you that trig has a language all its own, but what I see in these days of comings and goings is a charming branch of mathematics that assures me that there is a relationship among all the parts. If I know the measure of an angle and the length of a couple of sides, I can figure out the whole triangle.  This is oddly comforting on the morning after an abrupt departure that followed a mere three hours in the emergency room — a flight that somehow connects the vast horizon of heaven to the granite outcroppings and furrowed garden soil that comprise my everyday world.

Momentous Milestones

Poet Luci Shaw compares the death of a parent to standing on the top rung of a ladder.  Suddenly there you are, at the top, hands grasping at nothing, “no one above you to compass the wideness of space.”  Mum had long ago ceded the role of family matriarch to me, her older daughter, but even so, the generational ladder is filling up behind me and every milestone feels momentous.  For example, this year marks a perpendicular line that perfectly bisects the span of my days.  At the age of 27, I married an unreasonably patient man, and this month marks our 27th anniversary.  Finally, I have been married for as many years as I was single, my life folding over onto itself with a neat center crease like a greeting card — or a church bulletin.

This intersection of halves has set me to wondering:  would the single me even recognize her married counterpart, all settled into gardening and homeschooling, and happy to spend any amount of time alone with a book and a pen?  At the same time, my married self looks back with astonishment at all the energy and emotion that was spent like water in those early decades.  Surely there’s some way to capture and recycle it?

Of course, all this comparing and contrasting of the two halves is one more evidence that I “see in a mirror dimly.”  So, as I grab my cuff and vigorously wipe away as much of the fog as I can, the clearing surface reveals an aging faith along with this aging face.  The girl who loved theology — but was pretty sure she wasn’t smart enough to declare it as a major —  would be astonished at all the reading and re-reading of sacred words, the taking of notes and the building of outlines that goes on in this graying head.

The Truer Meeting Place

Paul writes about this kind of growth in a letter to the Ephesians that emphasizes wholeness and a maturing process that is endless, for today it is incomprehensible that I could be “like Christ in everything . . . so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (MSG)  Meeting myself in the middle and saying goodbye to my mother allows all that is past to strike a sympathetic chord with the future.  I’m encouraged to move forward, mindful of my weaknesses and stubborn sin tendencies — but not defined by them.

Madeleine L’Engle once said in her later years, “I am still every age that I have been.”  She may have worked that out through her career as an author, but with my mother’s departure, I’m seeing it happen in real life.  Already the past ten years of cantankerous demands and stubbornness are being swallowed up in memories of better days when she laughed at her own jokes and answered the phone with a high pitched “hallooo” (that my sister and I always made fun of).  Her older grandsons remember stale Oreos and boxed macaroni and cheese served with joy while they watched Teletubbies on her t.v.

Perhaps this miracle of memory foreshadows a truer meeting place that will become reality once faith has become sight; when the energy of the twenties; the ambition of the thirties; the settled contentment of the forties; and the ripening wisdom of the fifties and beyond all meet, join hands, and dance in a full-hearted, completely mended consummation of a life, “fully mature . . ., fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13 MSG)

//

Mum, my curly haired baby sister, and me — probably in 1965.

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Start Where I Am. Use What I Have.

When my thrifty mother-in-law made mincemeat, she would start with the venison roast from a deer who may have had the audacity to nibble on her tulip leaves.  From there, she would improvise, adding whatever needed using up on that particular day:  a batch of jam that didn’t “set up” just right or an over-abundance of applesauce.  Somehow, the mincemeat always simmered fragrant and delicious.

When I make mincemeat, I follow a recipe – to the letter. But it is likely that if any of my daughters-in-law find a need for that particular pie filling, they will just buy a jar off the shelf.
(Or I will give them one of mine!)

I’m well aware that generational change is a given, but having BOTH a graduation AND a wedding on my spring calendar this year brings it to center stage.  Good and exciting things happen quickly once our kids hit the double digits, so I’m braced and on board.  Change is on the menu whether I like it or not.

I’m choosing to like it.

However, here just below the 45th parallel, where the sun rises in its own good time, spring is still weeks away.

The majestic evergreens and the kindness of low  bushes that turn a deep red after they drop their leaves are all that rescue my mid-winter landscape from a panorama of sepia and gray.  Last night, Venus and the waxing crescent moon were veiled in mist, and the damp cold that is seeping into my bones today tells me that change is on the way.  And I welcome it.

If it’s got to be winter anyway, then let it be cold.  Let the ground stay hard, and let the sky send a fresh, clean blanket of white every few days to relieve the monotony of all that has expired.  Better to walk on frozen ground or across the crunch of snow than to sink into the mud of mid-winter acedia.  Better to bring my mittens, my shovel, and my small resiliency to a beautiful world than to mourn the slow and uncertain advent of spring.

In this season of slow sunrise and early dark when the daffodils snooze and the robins make angry phone calls to their travel agents, I will make fish chowder and fill up the empty spaces around my table with people who need the full feeling that comes from a hearty welcome.  After all, no matter how earnest my intentions, I cannot make less than six quarts of anything.  (And I can’t shake the idea that if Jesus had walked the frozen fields of New England instead of the dusty roads of Galilee, He would have worked His way with a metaphor around an abundant kettle of steaming chowder.)

With sons coming and going, who knows how many bowls I will need to put on the table?  This ever-changing count provides a concrete measure, a confirmation of the vague sensation I carry that someone, somewhere has thrown a lever, releasing a huge gush of life from this busy and crowded home.

This season of change includes Driver’s Ed — Round 4. This time, I’m certain that the boy behind the wheel was napping in his crib just yesterday, while I weeded green beans and scribbled in a journal.  Today, I handed him my cell phone (which he immediately silenced) and told him to call me when he needed to be picked up.

My first cellphone had a tiny antenna on it.  It rang infrequently, but when it did, I usually missed the call anyway, because, buried in my purse, it sounded like a distant chainsaw in the woods.

I still keep my phone in my purse, despite the “fervent counsel” (i.e. nagging) of my children.
Them:  “Where were you?”
Me:  “In the garden.”
Them:  “Why didn’t you take your phone with you?”
Me:  (momentary silence while I try to adjust my wording and tone to be kinder than I am feeling)  “Because I carried a baby monitor around in the garden for ten years.”

Is it a sign of progress that, now, when I hear a distant chain saw in the woods, I run for my cell phone?

A more urgent question:  Am I willing to “outgrow” my crankiness and claustrophobia about technology in order to connect with the important people in my life?

Facebook updates me on the steady advance of the cancer that is tunneling its way through one more friend.  Closer to home, dementia is stealing the self-hood and the memories of yet another precious personality whose creativity and warm laughter are forever lost to this world – while she wanders a locked-down ward and curls up on the wrong bed for her afternoon nap.

Thanks be to God that the offset of all this lament comes in celebration of the full-body smile of my adorable grandson who has absolutely no idea how much joy he adds to the world just by inhabiting his own tiny skin,.  And while it is true that it is the voice of the Lord that “strips the forest bare,” it is also true that when “winter is past [and] the rain over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth . . . and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  The fig tree ripens is figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance,” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).  I will bring what I am learning about patience from this cycling of the seasons to my navigation of a life of perpetual change.

I will start where I am with my full days and my inconsistencies and my pitiful mixed motives.

I will use what I have, putting it all in the pot to simmer, and somehow, by the grace of God, I believe that it will be enough.

//

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The Season of Yes

“You can say ‘no.’”

Immediately, my guard went up.
It was Christmas time, so my planner was bulging its squares with lists of things to buy and to wrap and to bake.  What was my husband going to propose that required this ominous-sounding, front-loaded disclaimer?

Well, it turns out that there was this puppy . . .

A St. Bernard puppy – the dream puppy of my youngest son’s heart.

Could I really say ‘no’?

Well, sure . . . I could have, but how much cuteness would I have missed at the sight of a small boy’s head resting on a big dog’s sprawled body?  How much joy and laughter would be absent each Christmas without Tucker’s howling descant that floats atop our seasonal singing?

It seems to me that many of life’s loveliest gifts come with a built-in refusal clause:

“Be still and know that I am God, (Psalm 16:10 NKJV).

I can say no to stillness.  I am free to fill my life with activity and noise            that drown out the whisper of God’s Spirit.

“In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path,” (Proverbs 3:6 NKJV).

I can say no to His direction.  I can bulldoze my own path through life.

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” (Isaiah 12:3 NKJV).

I can say no to eternal abundance.  My bucket can hang out to dry while I   search for joy in ways that leave me parched and exhausted.

Or I can trust God and make room in my heart for the risk that comes with a yes.

The “yes” that bubbled to the surface on the Christmas that Tucker joined our crew was a gift to my family, but it was a gift to me as well, for I learned that I don’t have to play it safe in my love for my family.

Acceptance of inconvenience stretches the boundaries of my heart, while my yes becomes a reminder that Jesus Himself ushered in The Season of Yes with His embrace of God’s great rescue plan for the human race.  Early in His ministry, He made His mission clear:  “I have come down from Heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me,” (John 6:38 NKJV).

This is deep teaching that we revisit every Advent season, but as my sons grow into men, our Advent traditions are no longer about teaching them the message of Christmas.  No, they’ve celebrated with stories and carols for so many years that now Advent has become a time to remember known truth and to rejoice in it together; to offer up our hearts as a family in an echo of God’s resounding YES that came when Jesus poured His glory – and His obedience – into a small body and entered time and space.

Jesus brought with Him the Promise, the Mercy, the Forgiveness, and the Welcome that lie at the heart of what we celebrate every Christmas.  His big, beautiful obedience opened the way for my heart to accept His grace and truth — and sometimes . . . to move outside my comfort zone in this glorious Season of Yes.

//

Find more inspiring Christmas reading at BCW’s Christmas Blog Tour!  Click here for the next stop on the tour!

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An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”

Till We Have Faces is a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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Celebration and Lament

The walls had been rebuilt.

The people living in and around the city of Jerusalem had gathered.

Along with the fresh aroma of new lumber from Ezra’s wooden platform and his strong voice ringing out over the hum of the crowd, celebration was in the air! Within the barely-renovated city walls of Jerusalem, there was a party brewing, and it was no token religious observance.

For the first time in a thousand years (Nehemiah 8:17), the Nation of Israel was gearing up for the Feast of Tabernacles. “Booths” — little huts, really -– would be cobbled together from branches and set up on rooftops and in courtyards, and families would live in their booths for seven days to commemorate Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Remember, too, that, although Jerusalem’s protective outer wall had been restored, this is all taking place in a city where many houses had still not been rebuilt, (Nehemiah 7:4).

I’m actually a little jealous when I picture this holiday:

An Annual Camp Out!

Gathering piles of branches with the kids, making a cozy nest inside the booth, and hearing the small voice:

“Tell us again, Mum . . . why are we doing this?”

Then the magic of storytelling under the stars would begin in which history flows from memory into the hearts of another generation — with everything made tangible by the show-and-tell of celebration.

Of course, in the re-telling there would be sadness for Jerusalem was still a city in captivity, its citizens still an oppressed people. Forking over up to 50% of their earnings in taxes to the Persian Empire, they were only just beginning to recover from the exile’s comprehensive shattering of their self-perception as God’s people. They were still in the process of learning their way back into fellowship with God. Governor Nehemiah’s gracious pronouncement to kick-off their feasting was desperately needed:

“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” —Nehemiah 8:10

And so it is today.

We live with one foot in celebration and the other in lament. Whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the imperfect execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans. Our only prayer for peace is to own the sadness; to recognize the power that grinding sorrow has over our hearts—and then to throw the door wide open to the feast.

By acknowledging and even embracing lament—an art we have lost here in North America—our celebration can be restored. Our feasting can be deeply sincere, even in a context of deep suffering or deep disappointment.

In the case of Israel, the people had just stood outside for about six hours (yes, stood), “from morning until mid-day,” listening to Ezra as he read aloud to them their saw-tooth record of rebellion. Their tearful response revealed that they were cut deeply with the weight of national failure over the centuries, but Nehemiah’s instructions proclaimed that the time had come for the people to begin, once again, to eat and drink blessing to themselves:

“Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Until Jesus comes, it will be this longing and this feasting that keeps my heart’s sonar trolling for Kingdom shalom. I will lament the family that could have been if not for alcoholism, if not for mental illness and garden-variety selfishness.

But when I grasp warm hands and gaze at the faces around my table, by faith I will celebrate the family that is because of the forgiveness that lubricates our relational gears; because of much-beloved friends who have been grafted in; because of the cords of grace that hold our hearts in joy.

//

This post first appeared in SheLoves Magazine (November 2015).


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Abundance and Harvest – Still in the Garden

Deep into the days of summer, I’m sharing a post that I wrote last year for my church’s website.  With an early spring snow, this year’s garden is behind schedule, but what a treasure it was to discover hearty, red-veined beet leaves during a just-before-dusk weeding session last night . . .

Once the dew dries today, I will amble up to the garden and pick enough tomatoes to fill my Maine Garden Hod.  There’s no stopping those plants now, and if I don’t hurry up and pick enough green tomatoes for our favorite relish —  well, there just won’t be any green tomatoes up there.

While I’m picking, I’ll take note of the dill’s progress.  Two days ago (when I last picked tomatoes, but who’s complaining?) the sprays of small yellow flowers were pale fireworks.  Poet, Luci Shaw would say, “They lift their lovely, loose exactness.”   Somehow,  in spite of their diminutive size, they were still of interest to the honey bees.

However, today, I expect that I will see signs of the flowers going to seed, a good thing if you like to make dilly beans, as I do.  I have seen lots of recipes for other delicious and satisfying uses of dill:  cold cucumber soup with fresh dill, beautiful heads of dill floating delicately in big canning jars full of colorful veggies.

Someday, maybe.

But for right now, for today, my dill reminds me to dream big, to expect great things,  because soon I will harvest all the dill seeds I can capture.  They will scatter and flee as I snip the dry stalks, but most of it will make its way into a brown paper bag to dry.  Once dry, it will spend the winter in a quart jar,  on a shelf in the basement for next year’s dilly beans.  If it weren’t for the fact that next summer I will be harvesting bushels of green beans, I might even forget it was there; but summer will come again, and the abundance of this fall will result in crisp, pickled beans next year.

Abundance is a lesson some of us have to learn by rote.  My patient husband and I had our first argument (26 years ago) in a grocery store, and the controversy found its gnarled roots in the issue of abundance.  He had grown up in a house where the pantry was full and the spice cupboard was a museum devoted to a long history of past recipes.  On the other hand, shopping had been a day-to-day thing in my growing up years, and it seemed to me that I had unwittingly married someone who wanted to spend our net worth on food.

I’m still learning about abundance, but not by looking into my full cupboards . . . and refrigerator . . . and freezer . . . and pantry.  (We’ve definitely come to an understanding about the merits of a well-stocked kitchen.)   Now, when I need a lesson in abundance,  I go to the Source.   Paul is practically crowing in Romans 11 when he exclaims about the deep wealth of God’s wisdom and His rich and inscrutable nature.

I am exhaust-able, and often exhausted, but I will never exhaust the resources of God and His Word, and so I read and ponder —  not to arrive at a “theology of everything,” (. . . but wouldn’t that be great?).  I come back to the Source  to be reminded of abundance, to dream along with Isaiah and the Apostle Paul about all that God wants to do and His “unsearchable” ability to carry out all that He has planned.

“All these things my hand has made, [says the Lord], and so all these things came to be:”

[dill seed and honey bees,

tomatoes and patient husbands],

“But this is the one to whom I will look:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word,” (Isaiah 66:2)

Tremble at His Word.

Tremble at His abundance.

//

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Parenting Past the Mid-Point: More Thoughts from the Garden

“These bean plants are a mess,” I muttered.  “But, wow . . . lots of beans.”

Our eleven rows of Providers (that’s the variety of green bean we always plant) had lived up to their name, but after four pickings, the plants looked tired, ransacked, plundered.

They looked like us.

I smile when I say that my good husband and I are “middle aged”.  I suppose if we live to be 108, we are middle aged, but the reality is that we are past the mid-point on many levels, and this is most glaringly obvious in our life together as parents.  Parenting feels different in these days of a teenage majority when almost everyone is taller than I am.  It was so much easier when I could put all the “forbidden things”  (cookies, snack food, breakables) on top of the refrigerator.  Now I find myself asking my kids for help with top-shelf-reaches.

So, how does a medium-short mother set boundaries for tall boys who still need them?  Now that we are past the days when someone might eat Drano, does parenting still qualify as my priority?

My vote is “yes,” and my campaign slogan is:  “T.V. is not the default in this house.”  Well, actually, to be honest, it’s more like this:  “T.V. IS NOT THE DEFAULT IN THIS HOUSE!!”   (Can you hear the difference?)

Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a balancing act of “yes” and “no,” of remembering that, sometimes, the “no” has to be for me, and the “yes” for my boys.  Writing a blog post one day, it occurred to me that I did not know what Boy #4 was up to . . . not exactly, anyway.  All his brothers were busy and gone for the day, and he had been left behind.  I kept typing, but the thought was nagging me, chewing ever harder, until a Proverb popped into my head:  “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother,” (Proverbs 22:15)  End of story?  Joel was fine, playing with Tucker the St. Bernard.  It would have made for a more dramatic story if I had caught him smoking, right?  But more and more he is spending time alone, so even though we can’t be “play mates,” and I will never be an adequate stand in for his brothers, that afternoon we sat down together for a read-aloud chapter of The Return of the King, and the blog-post got finished later.

I don’t want to drop the ball on the relationship with this boy, just because there have been three before him, and I’m “ready to do something different now.”  Having come late to marriage and family, most of our friends were raising their last child at the same time that we were still figuring out our first born.  On the phone, feeling the tether of the phone cord (remember those?), I could hear in my friends’ voices the feeling of being tethered.  “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do when _____________ starts school.”  (_____________ was six months old.)  Today, twenty years later, having resolved not to follow in their footsteps — but having taken on the challenge of a summer job —  I still want to be living in the present moment with the fourteen-year-old who is waking up every morning to a new, teen-age day.

Besides just the daily challenge of staying in the game, we are finding that the older our children grow, the more we need godly wisdom.  For us, Parenting Past the Mid-Point has meant parenting through disappointment.  Somehow, throughout childhood,  it seems as if our kids all managed to make the team, ace the test, and nail the audition.  It was inevitable, but, nonetheless, a JOLT, when we entered the days of college applications denied, cars totaled, and job interviews with disappointing results.  Now, I’m happy to say that the sons who experienced each of these calamities have lived to tell about it, are driving intact vehicles today, are enrolled in  college, and are employed.  This may not always be the case in our future, and I know this because I have listened to the sadness of mothers whose sons did not survive the totaled car or persevere in the job search.   On this fallen planet, happy endings are not a given, but I have noticed a tendency to ride through the difficulties in my own life with much more sanity and trust than I do the disappointments faced by my children.    Here’s what I’m learning about making productive use of those times:

  1. Pray for your child, and let him know that you are praying.  In at least one of our disappointments, I was so blind-sided by the “no” that came, I did not know how to pray for that son’s future.  I could see no better road than the one that had been blocked.  It was time to offer that attitude up to God (since it was all I had), and to ask Him for wisdom; not that He would give ME  a vision for my son’s future, but that He would do that for my son.
  2. Share Scripture with your child — not as a period, to end the conversation (“All things work together for good to those who love God.”  We know this will work out, so just stop worrying and put on a happy face and things will be fine  . . .”) —  but as a cup of water to prime the well, to keep the conversation going.  Jeremiah 29:11 reassures me every time that God has my children’s futures well in hand, and Psalm 5:8 gives me words to wrap around my hope for straight paths and righteous living for all my boys.
  3. Do the obvious — love them in the way that you know love to be loved!  That might mean listening to the frustrated rantings of your more vocal offspring; it might mean keeping your mouth shut if it seems as if your questions and suggestions create more anxiety.  It could mean that you sit down and help with resume preparation, provide transportation for a while, or offer encouragement in your child’s love language (write encouraging notes, give him a back rub, or bake his favorite lasagna).

Lest anyone get the impression that Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a desert waste-land, let’s go back to the garden.  Those bedraggled bean plants yielded an entire bushel which resulted in fourteen quarts of canned beans for winter, a batch of dilly bean pickles, and enough beans for dinner besides.

There is fruit.

It is a glorious thing to see the friendships that develop among “grown-up and growing-up” kids.  I love that my boys are friends, and am thankful for the grace of shared jokes from a life time of laughing together; spontaneous visits and phone calls; a daughter-in-law with a sweet, quiet smile; a grandson who melts my heart; the knowledge that values we have passed on and the God we love will hold center stage long after the Mid-Point has past and the End-Point is in sight.

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