I went to visit colleges with my eldest daughter a few weeks ago. Sometimes the obvious is the last to occur to me….and although I know she is leaving home next year, it was strangely not real to me until we visited colleges together. We were walking across campus in Upstate New York and as I watched the students to-ing and fro-ing, it occurred to me that this was where she might be living, eating, waking up (or sleeping through her alarm), where she would be socializing and working out, where she could be living – – on her own – – not with us, not around our breakfast island or in her bed at night, but in a dining hall and a dorm, with new friends, and a new world surrounding her. And although the reality of her spreading her wings and making that departure is very exciting for me, because I know she is ready, it also makes me very sad and I just wanted to say that out loud. I am sure God already knows that and has a plan to get me out of my own way so as not to get in hers.
I love her face in the morning. It’s so soft and her lashes still look like they did when she was a baby, a little big for her face, almost cartoony long, and with her sleepy morning eyes, and the way she always wakes up with really pink cheeks and her hair going in a thousand different directions, she is still my little girl….she is still somehow so innocent….some things really haven’t changed. But others have. At 17, she is taller than me, stronger than me and smarter than me…even so, whose idea is it to let them go at this tender age? But she is ready, I can tell. She is so eager to see what is next, to compete at a different level, engage at a different level, really test those wings, break out and find out what life feels like on her own. I love that fearlessness. And I remember that feeling. But some mornings, I still have to take “Jenny” – – her stuffed dog that started sleeping with her when she was still wearing her little blue fleece nightie with the pink trim and the embroidered snowflake on the front – – out from under her arm when I wake her up.
This is crazy, this mothering business. This letting go… And all the doubt and wonder of “Have I done enough? Have I prepared her for what she is going to encounter?”….when even I don’t know what’s out there anymore. And when my “power of example” has only been me, muddling through my own life – – with more than a few really important “life lessons” told but not shown, it makes this time even more challenging.
When she was little, I thought I was going to send her off with everything she would need to cope with real life. Really, how naïve and arrogant at the same time, or perhaps just hopefully unrealistic. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to “get it right.” But how do you prepare someone for life? I am not even prepared for it half the time… Not only have I not been the example I have wanted to be, falling woefully short in so many ways, but I am not sure I have taught her the right stuff in the proper priority. Does she know, REALLY know God comes first and all else follows? Does she know without Him, her efforts are for naught?
Does she know she is His beloved? That she is perfectly made and that God has a plan for her today and every day? Does she really know that, or will she seek approval from a world unqualified and ill-suited to give it? Will she have to get to the end of herself, as I have had to do, to illicit change? Or perhaps could she, would she, Please God, take an easier route. Does she pray in little ways a hundred times a day for God to be there, lead the way? Does she trust Him, more than she trusts her own significant smarts or strength or ability? Does she know the elation and discovery that await? The disappointments that await? The death to self in store? Does she know joy can be found in every circumstance – – and that God calls us to dig for it sometimes? Does she know that life isn’t about getting “there,” it’s about being where you are? Can I lighten her load, shorten her journey? Make this life more forgiving for her than it was for me? I don’t think I can. But I love her. SO much.
And in the 18 months I have left with her before she flies the coop, can I be more of an example and less of a talking head? Better yet, can I listen more and not worry about teaching her anything else? Can I experience joy and wonder with her and open my grip? Can we have a little irresponsible fun together – – some hooky days, a ball game or two, ice cream at noon, just because? Or maybe a matinee every fourth Wednesday – – the more low-brow the better? Can I show her in the way I watch her go through her life, that I believe in her, and that I believe in the relationship she shares with God to face anything – – no matter what?
There has been a deep slowing down in me this past year for many reasons. Things haven’t worked out as I had planned or envisioned – – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am reading a novel right now about a girl who had an extraordinarily hard early childhood. All her expectations were dashed before she even made it to ten. The more I think about it – – the more having my expectations dashed is a gift in disguise. Anytime I am working toward a specific picture, I am creating expectations that will more likely than not remain unmet – – I am setting myself up to be disappointed. Since when does life ever behave? Expectations become a target so small and specific that they are incredibly difficult to meet. And as a result, true satisfaction, in the face of specific expectations, is next to impossible to achieve. The answer? Ditch the expectations. Really, actually. To “thank God in all circumstances,” includes all those circumstances in which I don’t get my own way – – which, let’s be honest, are most of the time in this age and stage as a mom. And expectations are all about heading toward or hoping for just that…My way.
And the fact of the matter is, all expectations are pretty grandiose. Expectations assumes I know better than God. They just do. God always knows better. All I need do is rewind the history of my own life and focus on some of the things that were the most devastating disappointments to me at the time, which have (not-all-that-surprisingly) worked out to some of my greatest advantage and delight since. Even some of the people I have met who have absolutely rubbed me the wrong way at first, became some of my favorite friends. Expectations are like a bunch of extra work for which I get absolutely no credit. They are like road blocks that I put up myself and then must ultimately lug back off the road before I can simply get on to the plan God had in store for me from the get-go. It’s a step that, if avoided, would save me a lot of time, energy and angst.
But anticipation – – now that’s a different story. Anticipation doesn’t need to fit my picture, follow my plan or resemble my hopes or dreams. Anticipation is about trusting God with the big reveal. And where hope is often extinguished with unmet expectations, anticipation breeds hope, creates hope, and restores hope. God is the source of all hope, and we wait in eager anticipation of Him. Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could treat the rest of my life like that. What next God? Do tell.
In this season of inevitability – – particularly in preparing for my first to leave home – – there has been a quieting in my spirit – – a willingness to wait and see what happens instead of trying to manufacture results. Honestly, it’s more of an impasse, where my way just isn’t working or isn’t possible any more. So I suppose it’s an end-of-my-rope, or a none-of-the-above set of options that have bred this renewed brand of willingness…But it’s a willingness none-the-less, and I am grateful for it.
This place of open-handed, I-give-up-willingness has also extended my perspective beyond where I am to where God is leading. This no-man’s-land has shown me I do have confidence in the unseen – – the yet-to-be-revealed – – that I do trust God, no matter what. That’s faith. And even when nothing else seems clear, I know I trust God. And that’s really good news.
There has been a stillness and faith in me, that is both new and renewed. It’s an on-my-knees place. And I haven’t been here in a while. Seeing things for what they are, not what I want them to be, and being willing to show up and do my part, no matter what.
I had an old friend in North Carolina who used to tell me there was a big difference between believing in God, having faith in Him and living a life reliant upon Him. For the moment, I think I have reached reliance.
So in watching my “big girl” prepare to fly, I am trying to live my faith rather than teach it. I wish the Bible didn’t have so many lines like “clanging cymbal,” – – visual and visceral references to what it is to be a proponent of God-centered living while not living that way yourself. I think the standard should always be “show not tell.” Those are the examples that stick. Those are the behaviors that transform. And I still have time – – I will always have time.
It never fails to amaze me that God always has something so new for me to apply. It’s like He gave me all the essential truths right up front – – from the very beginning of my faith – – but the opportunities to live them out have come in real time, with more and more opportunities the more rich and complex my life becomes. The learning curve and the opportunities for application never cease. They are daily – – sometimes minute by minute. Thanks God?! Yes, thanks.
God wants me to trust Him, live with joy, be at peace, and love others. He wants me to do that as a woman, wife, friend, member of society and as a mom. He doesn’t say he wants me to do things perfectly, or that I am responsible for preparing my kid for everything, or even that I need to always teach and lead by example (because sometimes he uses my failures as some of the best not-to-do examples). He doesn’t ascribe to the measures of this world – – God’s standards always take into consideration far more than I can possibly imagine and almost never follow the patterns of what the world defines as success. God says he wants my kid to have relationship with Him and he will take care of the rest with her as her time here on earth goes by. That’s all.
And unbelievably, my part – – the part I know and have played for the past 18 years is ending, changing, turning into something completely different when it comes to my eldest. It has been so short. Really. So although I am loathe to give direct advice, (because really, what do I know when it comes to the business of raising kids…) I am going to do it anyway. Enjoy it. Savor it. Slow it down. Engage. Listen. Love. Be silly. Touch, Embrace, Rough House. Share time and space. Get good at something together. Listen some more. Put down, close, and avoid all things that need to be plugged in. Share special time, familiar places, activities you love, and time doing nothing, together. Linger at bedtime. And never miss a hug. Being present is a real-time commitment that is its own reward.
God’s gift to me is that he left the memory of how excited I was to break out and go to college on my own – – how eager I was to test my wings. He left that memory so palpable for me – – that as much as I am rather shocked she is already going, I am in the same I-can’t-believe-it-breath, really excited for her too. It has been, for me, a supreme joy and privilege to raise kids. It has been a gift from God. My part of that process is now shifting radically with my eldest, which means God has a new role for me, in life, in relation to Emerson, with the kids still at home and in the world. In God’s economy, adventure always awaits – – He keeps us looking forward and not back, hopeful, not heartbroken, eager, not discouraged. That’s the adventure He offers. Bon Voyage Emerson. And anchors away, me.