As I watched my youngest graduate from Junior High School, my heart was torn. It was not for the reasons you might assume. While I felt joy in the celebration of these kids (many of whom I have known since preschool), I wrestled with the sadness coming from witnessing behaviors minutes before which have become the norm rather than the exception. And not from the kids.
My husband, my older son, my daughter and I came together to celebrate with my son. I realize that this was Jr. High graduation and some areas of the country do not even consider that event worthy of a ceremony (I didn’t experience it and don’t feel I’m less the person for it.) However, last night was about celebrating a milestone in a child’s life. As with most milestones, families play an integral part in the support given to reach it and desire to celebrate it together.
Finding four seats together became a daunting task. Although everyone needed a ticket, not everyone’s “party” arrived together. I understand the desire to include extended ticketed family with your group. However, when saved seats have morphed into rows, we need to ask ourselves what’s really at play here.
We found seats: I sat alone, my husband and daughter sat several rows back and my son sat in the back row by himself. Meanwhile, the two “saved” seats in back of me never filled.
As I sat alone, I mourned. First, for the immediate grief of not sitting together with my family. We’ve been through a lot these past few years. My son has encountered the typical Jr. High social challenges, confronted the academic rigors that come with maturity, and dealt with many difficult situations experienced by our whole family. In many ways, we’ve been stretched to our limits for a decade. Last night, it would have been nice to be woven together in our celebration.
I also mourned the small rips into humanity I witnessed earlier in the day in my own community. Two different adults looked at me and continued to cut me off in a parking lot. “Just because you can does not mean you should” has become a well known mantra in our home. My kids have learned that this world is not “all about them.” Sometimes, we sacrifice for the sake of someone else. It may involve a big act-maybe even their life. Yet, many times, the humility involves the routine moments of asking what can be done to make life better for someone else. When we cannot even give up an extra minute, who have we become?
How easy it is to explain away those behaviors. We are all stressed. Some days, we wonder how the lists for our days will be accomplished within the 24 hours we are given. Our minds are constantly multitasking; hoping that fulfillment will be found in reaching our expectations. Whatever the cost. But maybe, we need to evaluate what it is we expect: out of our days and out of our lives. Who informs your identity? How does that influence your daily expectations?
Two years ago, I lamented the division in our nation through my post. http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/11/14/the-hard-work-of-being-neighbors/ Since then, has anything really changed? The trespasses against our neighbors continue-some with loud fanfare; others in a more quiet “sin of omission” manner.
Everyday we have an opportunity to shine a collective light in the moments we have with others.
treating waitstaff (despite your frustration)
responding to the annoying neighbor kid (who ironically is perceived as a “trespasser”)
listening to a person who holds a different political view (without unfriending them or tuning them out)
tempted to financially gain from someone else’s loss (just because you can, does it mean you should?)
driving or standing in line (Is your time really more important than someone else’s)
Our natural selves will find it difficult but our transformed selves can embrace the hard. Did we not invite Jesus in to do just that?
Paul exhorts us in this way: “…Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8)
I know we can do better. Jesus made it so.
Four years ago, I wrote a post about the struggle I experienced as I acknowledged that my oldest child was about to enter high school. http://stephaniejthompson.com/2012/07/13/as-my-child-grows-i-am-learning-to-surrender-control/ Disappointment surfaced as I began to realize that all of the dreams I had for him before he graduated from high school may not come to fruition… at least not in the tangible ways I had envisioned. The Grand Canyon, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Niagara Falls, Mt. Rushmore, mission trips, and experiencing other countries all held spots on my dream destination list for him. How could he have reached this milestone already?
The “Ifs” quickly pressed on me: “If we would have had more money”, “if we hadn’t faced health issues”, “If……..” I felt like time was trekking forward and I was grieving the loss of expectations. My expectations. And while I wish some of those items on the list could have been checked off, I am aware that God’s hand at work in his life far exceeds any of my expectations.
Today, he entered his last year of high school. And you know what? I was not the mess that I thought I would become on this day. In fact, I embraced it. And I prayed God’s blessings on it. This summer, he had a ton of fun. Amusement parks, movies, lazy hot days drinking cold beverages, family gatherings, a life-changing, church youth group event all grabbed a spot in his life. And throughout those weeks, I noticed something: he’s ready for a new season-in life.
Gone are the days of finding joy in a trek to the park, splashing in the sprinkler, a ride in the wagon(he wouldn’t fit in it anyway). It’s as it should be. Scripture bears witness to Jesus’s life as a boy: ” And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people” (Luke 2:52 MSG).
Present are days of spontaneous, thought provoking discussions, seeing his maturity unfold in various moments of life, watching his identity as a follower of Christ affect his choices and questions about the future, and experiencing new journeys together.
It’s been said of those early days of child rearing that the days are long and the years are short. I don’t know if he would agree with that quote but, as a parent, it rings oh so true. In those “short” years, I have seen God’s hand at work in answers to my hopes and prayers for him. Sometimes, those answers came through “big” moments such as his decision to be baptized, receiving awards for musical skills or grades. Often, my blessings came through the witness of his resilience and hope through challenging moments, words of wisdom or clarity, the revelation of character strengths which unfold in ordinary moments of life. All of which point to the big picture that is being weaved; of which these past 18 years are just a small part.
I find comfort in knowing that many parents have traveled this journey before me. I’m not referring just to the sisterhood of moms that I know, but sisters of long ago that had to let go of their kids and let God navigate their lives. Sisters like Hannah (mother of Samuel), Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist), Mary and Eunice (mother of Timothy). Each of them came to a spot when they had to acknowledge that their children ultimately belonged to their God.
I’ve realized that this year is just as significant as any other year of his life with us. Yes, it is his Senior year and there will be unique milestones to mark. But, God will continue to be at work just like in previous years. He will “mature, grow up in both body and Spirit, and be blessed by both God and people.”
And, like Mary, I will “treasure these things in my heart (Luke 2:52).”