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.

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I See You!

Nope, we didn’t get the birthday shout-out we were hoping for. It is not because we didn’t try. I tweeted pictures of Nate to Taylor Swift and I harassed my friends to re-tweet the pictures. We knew it was a long-shot, but it never hurts to ask.

What impressed me the most was how Nate took it in stride. We were sitting in the nose-bleed section. I mean wayyyy up high. We still could see, but we no where near the stage. Nate smiled and said he liked the seats. I told him not to get his hopes up about a Birthday shout out and he said there were no worries. When we walked out at the end of the concert into a deluge of rain with no chance at the “Club Red” to meet Taylor, Nate simply said, “You know, I thought I would really want to meet her…but I don’t. I just really liked the concert and now I’m happy and ready to go home.”

Before that he had had a headache. The music had been loud and he had a moment of being overwhelmed just as she came out. We were surrounded by screaming young teen girls. Truly, literally screaming girls. The lights went down, the stage lit up and the music began pounding. Nate’s head went down and the tears welled up. The screaming began all around us and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

He handed me his iPod and asked if I would film as he plugged his ears. I was heart broken for my boy. His buddy sitting next to him looked concerned. I looked around at all these screaming girls and I wondered who would be the woman in years to come who would love this boy. As I listened to these girls scream as Taylor sang about love, I wondered about this boy who feels so deeply and is so impacted by sights and sounds…by hopes and expectations.

I whispered a prayer that his first concert wouldn’t end with tears, and God was gracious. The screaming abated and the boy came out of his shell. He even danced a little and sang a few songs. My prayers deepen as I think of who will care for this very deep soul as he grows.

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I know tonight was “just” a concert…simply part of a birthday weekend…and yet it is part of a childhood, and as such, part of a forming.

Sometimes we say no.  Sometimes we say wait, or sometimes we say that whatever the latest craze or the latest want or the latest drama is…is something that is unnecessary or is simply wrong.

Sometimes though…sometimes we look them dead in the eye and we say yes. We say absolutely. I will paint your hair red and I will drive you around town and jump out of the car and take goofy pictures. I will tweet them and harass my friends and make them tweet them. I will post them and I will repost them and I will do my best to help you win that certain something that means something to you.

I will help you in any way I can, and if it makes me look silly or ridiculous or altogether undignified, so what.

Sometimes, we look them dead in the eye and we let them know that we see them and we hear them and we understand and we are right there with them. That doesn’t always mean we win. That doesn’t mean we get the prize, or the shout-out or the meet-and-greet.

It does, however, mean we get the experience, and it does mean that we paid attention. It does mean that they know we saw them. It does mean that those times when we have to say no, the times when we have to teach them that we don’t always get to do what we want to, it is not because we didn’t hear them or see them…it is because we do. We see them well and we know what they can become. We see the beyond the moment we are in, and we know what they can become, and sometimes we have to say no. It is easier to hear that when they know we aren’t just ignoring them, though.

Tonight was a good night. We didn’t get a shout-out. We sat in the nose-bleeds. We had headaches and were in the midst of screaming girls. But it was still a great night, filled with friendship and laughter. Those of you who helped tweet and retweet in the hopes of a shout-out…you can help with a true birthday shout out over on FaceBook if you know Nate. Come by and wish him a Happy  Day over on my page!!

Enough!!! Well…..not really.

Dinner the other night did not end well.  The boys were rowdy and would not tone it down. Not after the first request. Not after the second. Or the third.  Not after Dad left the table and Mom gave them the silent treatment. They were reprimanded and scolded and told to knock it off.

Life with three boys can be rowdy. Most of the time. They test each other constantly and if they are not physically wrestling, they are wrestling verbally. Constantly. Sometimes there is giggling involved and sometimes there are tears.

They test Steve and I often. Not out-of-control rebellion, but they question us and they push us to see if we push back. They are not surprised that we do.

Then there is the addition of the little Miss. She has enough personality to keep them all in check. Granted, she comes by it honestly…there are stories that my folks had to tie a piece of plywood to the top of my crib to keep me from crawling out in the middle of the night. Since I am now almost 43 I think it is safe to say that without fear they will be called by Social Services. Apparently, however, I was slightly a handful and Maddie is following in my steps. She can scowl with the best and she has got a mean pointer finger that seems to be attached to her eyebrows…they go up when she points at you and says, “No!”.

Something struck me tonight as I was rocking Maddie. I’m glad the boys push and I’m glad Maddie is full of personality and challenge.

Sometimes I have a headache and I wish they would veg. Sometimes Steve has had a long day at work and wishes they would just be quiet at dinner and talk like…well, not like little boys.

We are weary from the responsibilities of life and they are filled with the enthusiasm of childhood. The enthusiasm that embraces fart jokes and mocking your brother, or imitating all the facial expressions of the family. We want to say, “Enough!”, but actually I’m thankful that they will constantly be pushing us.

That means when they venture beyond our dinner table they will continue to push. Not that I want disobedient children, and it would be nice if they know which fork to use when they go out to dinner and can hold a conversation without, well, farting. I do, however, want them to be full of life.

I’m realizing as we make our way through this journey some things about what is required of me as a parent.

I’m required to guide them in their knowledge of wrong and right, and to show that there are consequences to choices. I’m required to be committed with Steve to be consistent in our expectations of them, and to create a structure that gives them space to be themselves while learning how to behave with integrity and some level of decorum.

There is more though…

I’m required to delight in their giggles and to know all the tickle spots that bring the best laughter.

I’m required to pay attention to what is important to them at the moment, because it is important to them.
I’m required to remind them that they have amazing imaginations, and then to listen as those imaginations take flight and spin amazing stories. Even at the dinner table. Even when I’m tired and have a headache and wish there was a little more quiet.

I’m required to put them to bed with some routine that brings them comfort and structure and love and stories and imagination and wonder. Sometimes, though, I’m required to rock them (especially the littlest) until their eyelids flutter and they give themselves over to sleep in my arms. Then I am required to be amazed at this litte Image Bearer who trusts me implicitly to know what is required to care for them.

I’m required to delight in them. Because as I delight in them they blossom and they grow and they experiment. They watch to see if I am watching and if I am bored with them….well, they just might be bored with me and with life and they may not be interested in what I have to say.

Sometimes it is simply twinkling lights hung up in an empty cabinet to create a secret play space. Sometimes it is the hour…or two…of reading before bed that spins stories of adventure and courage and faith and wonder. Sometimes it is talking of God with hushed voices because…well…because He is amazing and wondrous and Creator and they bear His Image.

Enough….sometimes I want to shout that, but really, I don’t. I want to shout instead: “Keep at it!! Keep pushing!!! Keep living…loudly, with vigor and enthusiasm. Ignore that I am weary and have a headache and am boring. Remind me that life is amazing and worth delight.”