Mourning into Dancing…We Need Them Both

One week has passed since we dropped the boy at college. One week of him finding his way around a new campus, sleeping in a room that is not quite his yet, finding his own meals and making new friends.

 

One week has passed and there is still a heaviness for me when I walk to the basement and realize for the hundredth time that day his absence is going to only be more felt with passing days.

 

One week has passed and I am delighted by the excitement in his voice over meeting new people he has found connection with, and over the small victories in navigating this new adulting.

 

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One week has passed and I have had to bite my tongue when he is overwhelmed and not try to fix it for him. One week has passed and my heart has broken at the fear of a little boy breaking through the cracks of manhood he is experiencing.

 

One week has passed, and I have realized that there are several friends walking this path right with me. We are joyous in our children walking in this next step of their journeys…and yet we are filled with a hollowness at the absence of these people who have been the stuff of our daily lives for eighteen years.

 

I realized as well the other day that while we have laughed at our sorrow, or commiserated over the difficulty of letting our children go, we maybe have not learned to mourn well.  We joke about our sorrow, but we need to give that sorrow its proper moment.

 

Here’s the catch….learning to mourn well something that is good and right and filled with celebration. 

 

I remember when I married Steve, and I was stunned that there was a deep sorrow in me just the day before the wedding. Not a regret, and definitely not a questioning, but a sorrow that the identity I had for 27 years was about to change. Complete with my name changing. No one had warned me about that. No one had told me to give myself the space to let that previous station in life a proper farewell so I could wholly, and joyfully, embrace this next station.

 

I fumbled through more or less effectively, and twenty-two years later I’m quite pleased with this new station.

 

Still. I think in our joviality about being sad, our jokes at our tears, especially on social media, reveal we are feeling that contradiction.

 

We have raised these children with the goal of their adulthood. Their fully independent, fully joyful, fully confident separation from our direction. I know we still have a role, and I rely on my Dad still to this day as a parent. I seek his wisdom and I value his encouragement…but what a different relationship it is from thirty years ago when I left for college.

 

Now I’m on the parental side of that change.

 

So how do we navigate this? And I have to give a disclaimer here…we have several friends and acquaintances who have navigated true tragedy recently. True sorrow, true mourning and deep grief. That is not what I’m addressing here. I do not want to make light of those moments of gut wrenching sorrow which becomes more of a state, as C.S. Lewis says, than a process.

 

This is different. What I’m on about here is the good things in life. Marriage, birth of children, and the growth of those children to the point of separation. We still need to give ourselves the space and grace for some mourning.

 

“I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger.” Nouwen

 

We are right smack in the middle of lots of others experiencing the same thing. Some, legitimately, are thrilled that their kids have left for college. Some are really, truly ready…but most of us are dealing with some sorrow.

 

That sorrow is not evil, and it is not weakness. It means we have loved this child well for 18 years and now they are transitioning to a position of not needing us in the same way. And part of that transition is separation. That physical absence of their laugh and their questions and their simply ‘being there’ has an impact.

 

And that impact…it should be to draw us closer to God as we navigate how to parent in this new situation. That impact should be delight in what He is doing in their lives, and awareness of the adults they are becoming.

 

“I am less likely to deny my suffering when I learn how God uses it to mold me and draw me closer to him. I will be less likely to see my pains as interruptions to my plans and more able to see them as the means for God to make me ready to receive him. I let Christ live near my hurts and distractions.” – Nouwen

 

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure we can adequately make room for rejoicing until we have mourned what we are losing. Every new chapter means that something has closed, some role or event or identity has shifted and become something new. I think we need to give ourselves the space to mourn. And in that space…which hopefully is not a lengthy time…we meet God in a new way as well. Our vulnerability in times of mourning, even mourning small or good things, leaves us open to meet God differently. As Nouwen says above, we begin to see these pains, or transitions I might add, as a means for God to meet us.

 

The world is full of dark shadows to be sure, both the world without and the world within, and the road we’ve set off on is long and hard and often hard to find, but the word is trust. Trust the deepest intuitions of your own heart, trust the source of your own truest gladness, trust the road, trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup. – Buechner

 

In the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sorrow, even if we fill somewhat silly or as if this is not something to mourn, we need to learn to praise God. I love the above quotation from Buechner. It speaks so deeply to true deep mourning, and also to this intermittent and even lighter mourning we experience.

 

So to all my friends walking this week and catching yourselves filled with tears and emotion. Let them come! Let the tears fall and let the emotion come. We need to allow those emotions their moment, so that we can fully rejoice and delight in the new station of being parents of adults.

 

 

Remember Psalm 30? I know…sending a kid to college is not quite the equivalence of the dedication of a temple after years of deliverance by God. But still. Weeping may endure…but a joy comes!  Cry a good cry and then be ready to be a cheer leader for your kiddo, and rejoice with them as they navigate their new role.

 

 

Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

The boy. Transitions and Tears.

Last night we dropped the oldest at college. Well. First I took the youngest to 3rd grade orientation. The middle boy is off on a grand adventure which will have to wait to be told. The youngest boy spent the day in the humidity and heat of the south lugging things up to the 4th floor college door room with Dad.

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So we “dropped” the boy at college after a full day of outfitting the room, making runs to Target, and figuring out details.

 
The departure was abrupt. I knew early on it was going to be difficult. I didn’t anticipate it being abrupt. Dinner was at 6 and we weren’t invited…just the students and the dean. So we had to let him hug us quickly and run to meet friends and make it on time. And we were left standing in his dorm room. I hadn’t quite pictured the transition like that.

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I also had not anticipated that the weeks leading up to this moment would be some of the most stressful we have ever encountered, all things not part of this college adventure. We were distracted. And exhausted. Wednesday night it hit me like a wall. He was leaving. Really leaving…and this constant, calm presence that had been part of my rhythm for 18 years was going to be gone.

 

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And I didn’t get to write the letter I wanted to tuck away somewhere in his things. Yes, I know that’s sappy, but I deal with emotions through writing and needed to leave him my words.

So, guess what, buddy…they are going here. Sometimes the keyboard is more cathartic than the pen. 

You are so very ready for this moment, even though you may not really know it.  There are some great letters out there to Freshman. They remind their kids to do their laundry, to clean the toilet and to not get drunk. They are reminding their kids that this is an amazing time in their lives. They are reminding them they love them. And all those things are true…but I have a few more.

 

First. Be alive in these moments. Take them in. There is going to be so much activity, so many conversations, and so much life. Be intentional. Be present. Pay attention. In those things God is there…

“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

You knew I had to start with Buechner.  Pay attention. Take note of your life. I left you a new Moleskin journal. Fill it up. Even just with stupid stuff. Write about who you met on these first days. Write about how you are feeling. Write. It is not just to have to look back on, it is to process and slow down and think about your days.

These days are going to be so full. Terrifying, and good, and daunting, and amazing. You are going to have the whole spectrum of feelings. ( I resisted the whole Buechner quote of Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.  See what I did there?)

Find the things that bring you delight and absolutely delight in them!

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Second. Take care of yourself.

Buechner again:

“Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, and strengthen yourself.” 

This. Take care of yourself. And remind yourself of those who have poured life into you for 18 years. You have such a strong foundation. You’ve been taught to work hard, to laugh even harder, and to think well. You have been taught to believe. Remember those lessons. You can tackle anything that comes your way. Remind yourself of the men who have taught you through the simplest things.

 

You have the tools for this life.

 

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Encourage yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Challenge yourself when you feel lazy. And rest. You have a great dorm room to find some peace and silence and rest. Pay attention to what you need emotionally and physically.

Third. Work out your faith, and make it yours.

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Yes. More Buechner. And more truth. You are going to have questions. You are going to encounter people and God in ways you never have. Your faith is going to become more yours than ever before. This is all good. Don’t be afraid of the doubts. Don’t ignore them. Wrestle with them, and pray and think. Remind yourself of the truths you know, of the experiences you have had and of the testimonies of God you have witnessed in our family. Pray. Read. Think.

Pray. Everywhere you go. Talk to your God. Tell Him everything.

“I have no idea who to sit with at lunch, I’m lonely and afraid.”

“I am so completely stoked to be here.”

“I am completely overwhelmed and don’t know what to do next.”

 
Everything. Everything. Everything. Pray without ceasing. He is there and He wants to hear it.  Pray.

 

Fourth. Note who you are becoming. 

“Daybreak is a never-ending glory; getting out of bed is a never ending nuisance.” – Chesterton

Yep. Had to have Chesterton. Don’t get bored. That seems to be the underlying theme I am getting to here. The details of the day are going to be making you a man. They have been for 18 years. Now you get to chose the details. You get to chose the influences and the situations. These are the formings of who you will be, what you will build on this foundation you have.

 

“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.”  -Buechner

Have so much fun. Learn so many amazing things. But think well about where you go, and who you allow to truly know you. Before you get out of bed, think of who you are and you want to be. Be intentional, my boy, don’t just be carried along.

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And remember that we are so proud of who you are becoming. You have quite the cheering section.

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Fifth. Be kind.

 

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.” -Chesterton

All these folks doing this life with you right now are full of all the same emotions. Pay attention to them. Find the ones who really need a friend and be a friend. Find the ones who you can really connect with and grapple with life, and hold them close. Be kind always. Even when you have to be strong or confrontational. You can still be kind.

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That’s it, my boy. And yes, I’ll still call you my boy. It’s yours now. The foundation is there, and we are still here. There’s a transition that happened in that last hug, though. You get to decide now on the directions and the details. We get to cheer and to support rather than to plan.

 

And I am so excited. Granted, I will probably cry a bit this weekend. But this has been our goal. To see you becoming a man who has character and integrity and faith. A man who can laugh and play and can also think deeply and weep and pray. You are becoming that man and we couldn’t be more proud. This is going to be fantastic.

 

Oh, and two last things. We still have to watch Something the Lord Made and Life is Beautiful, so come home eventually to watch them.

 

And. Last thing. I hid two $50 bills in your belongings. Have fun finding them.

 

 

Get in over your head….lessons from a hockey tournament

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? -T.S. Eliot

 

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I remember the very fist tryout. Zach was 9 years old and had just learned to skate. He did not know how to stop, or how to skate backwards. He barely knew how to stay upright.

 

We had told him he had to stick with it for the season if he signed up. He couldn’t quit in the middle. That very first tryout he was practically in tears when he realized the work involved, and when he compared himself to other kids who had been skating for years.

 

He stuck with it.

 

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His skating improved, and his joy came right along as well. He had to work hard to catch up with the other kids, and by the end of the season he was the most improved player on the team.

 

His team also won the championship that year.

 

 

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The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats. – Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

We just returned from the first tournament of his Senior year. The siblings loaded up in the truck and we made our way to Chicago. Arriving at 3:30am.

 

There were a bit of nerves involved in this preliminary tournament. Zach’s team had played a couple games locally…friendly games just to get a feel for the team dynamic. This, however, was a tournament up North. We love our hockey in Nashville, but we area also aware that our kids don’t grow up skating on outdoor ponds. The competition up North is always tougher.

 

And this was our first tournament of the season.

 

We lost the first game, 3-6.

 

The next day we lost the second game. 1-4.

 

Just a few hours later, back to the rink.

 

We lost. 0-3.

 

Three games, three losses.

 

Now, in at least one of those games our boys played pretty badly. They couldn’t pass well. They weren’t hitting. They were basically a bit timid and thrown off their game.

 

Sunday was the consolation game. Deciding who was 5th and who was 6th in the tournament. Who was the loser and who was the not-quite-losingest-loser.

 

We won. The boys played more like a team, and more like themselves. The game was still very tight, but we won 2-1.

 

We cheered and shouted and encouraged and told the refs they didn’t know what they were doing. (They never do, and we always know). We cheered as loudly as we had at the first game. The boys were all grins on the way out.

 

We could have played a tournament that didn’t demand so much travel and that we knew we could win. There are a lot of teams these boys could beat. Instead we went to Chicago and faced really talented, tough teams. Fast teams. There was discouragement after losing three games in two days.

 

What was the point?

 

Our coaches are wise.  They put us up against boys who challenged us and exposed our weaknesses. They made us fall apart a bit, they brought out emotions. We were sloppy and confused part of the time. Eventually, though, things began to gel a little more as a team and they won.

 

We were not the losingest losers.

 

 

Now, we have another tournament in a month in Northern Indiana. The competition will still be very tough. But we are a little wiser after this weekend. The coaches saw the weaknesses, and hopefully the kids saw their own weaknesses as well. We know more what to work on, and hopefully the next tournament will have more wins than losses.

 

Did you catch that quote at the top of the page? I’ll repeat it:

 

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? -T.S. Eliot

 

I really like that.

 

Sometimes, we need to be in a place where we are beyond our measure. Where we might be able to see our strengths pushed beyond what we expect. We might see ourselves do things we didn’t think we could do.

 

Life will provide us with ample opportunities to feel completely over our heads. I often find myself feeling inadequate. There are two reasons that is a really good thing…

 

First, we are forced to push ourselves. We are forced to think things through, to find solutions, to motivate and challenge ourselves.

 

Second, we find that God is truly made perfect in our weakness. We are reminded that even when we push through, even when we pull up all our talents and skills and strengths….there are things that will happen that simply leave us unequal to the task.

 

I can find my rocks to conquer, and they can bring me joy and confidence. Then the next moment I can find that I do not love well. There is a balance in this walk of faith between the strengths with which we have been gifted, and the work of God in our lives. The intersection of our struggles…physically and emotionally and spiritually…draw out our character, and give the room for a Creator God to continue his work in making us more than we could imagine.

 

Sometimes, because of insecurity or fear or embarrassment…or just plain weariness…we avoid situations that might be challenging. We don’t go to the retreat with all the men or women who may just have it far more together than ourselves. We don’t initiate that friendship with someone who is a bit different than ourselves because we aren’t sure how to engage. We don’t jump at the opportunity to do something really amazing because we are afraid of the outcome.

 

What if we went for it? What if we took on the tougher competition, the uncomfortable situation…what if we swallowed our fear or insecurity and trusted that God is at work for our good. What if when we did that we were able to love better, to understand more deeply and to see God work in ways we couldn’t have imagined?

 

Don’t be afraid of the tough situations. Even if the tough situation is as simple as figuring out how to get through the day and not be swallowed by stress and anxiety. Face them. Know they will expose your weakness some…but take that and allow God to be present in your weakness. He will show up.

 

You might walk out with joy at your hard work, with confidence for the next situation and not being the losingest-loser. (Sorry, but that really cracked me up this weekend).

 

I’m hopeful the next tournament has more wins than losses…but I’m more hopeful that these boys’ character is being formed. They are playing with heart even after three losses in a row. I hope they remember that when life gets difficult, and they don’t shirk from what will make them better.

 

In the meantime…I’ll keep shouting encouragement and cheering and yelling at the refs. One more season of this boy playing hockey…I bet I’ll learn another thing or two watching him.

 

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Horrors and Sacred Cookies

I started to write the last night. I had thoughts in mind, things stirring in my heart, but no time to get them down on paper.

I planned to sit today and enjoy a cup of coffee, giving time and space to these thoughts and grabbing a chance to write here on the blog again.

Then I woke and heard the news this morning. 


Heartbreaking, overwhelming news
.  

 I thought about what had sparked my desire to return to writing.

A cookie. 

Yep.

And then I realized what I wanted to write last night was exactly what I needed to write this morning. 

That cookie, and my eating it, is a sacred act.

You see, I ate that cookie to hold a memory my mother cannot hold any more. The memory that she loved macadamia nut cookies. The memory of things that brought delight and a moment of splurge. I could do the same with a Payday candy bar. That cookie is sweet in a deep way…because it holds the reality of a broken world, of a woman who delighted in good things, and memories. 

That’s a lot for a cookie.

We need those sacred moments. Walking through the grocery store and catching sight of something which can bring you up short. Allowing the pain of what is lost, and the delight of what has been, to mingle in the act of eating a cookie. 

That is sacred.

So what does it have to do with today?

Mom’s Dementia, the horror of Las Vegas last night…they force our awareness of the broken state of our world. We know this, of course, but sometimes we are struck forcefully by how fragile we are, and how desperately in need of rescue.

We have to watch in the midst for grace, for humor and for rescue. We have to carry on. (Yes, I’m listening to Rich Mullins at the moment). There will be moments the brokenness is so raw it will break our hearts.

There will be moments we need to weep. Moments we need to see those around us and their pain…and in those moments we need to be so thankful for those we can turn to for comfort and grace.

“The mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death and grief, either.” – Wendell Berry

There will be new memories, and there will be another sunrise and another sunset. I like very much, however, what Berry says here:

New grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and grieve alike endure.”

Time helps. 

We carry on. The next sunrise helps us. But then we see something or hear something and our breath is taken away afresh. 

But we will dance again.

We will laugh again.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Buechner

I know…probably the tenth time I have used that quote.  Maybe Buechner can say that because of this…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be r I g, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

So. A cookie and a tragedy and a mother who cannot remember. They are all tied together because of a God who sees, who knows and who will one day set things right. Today, let’s find the sacred around us, let’s comfort those who weep, and let’s carry on. Grace upon grace for those around us today.