It’s Saturday night. May 31st.
My oldest son turned 19 today.
Wow. How is that even possible??
It’s a bit overwhelming, actually. So many thoughts, that I don’t know if I can capture them all precisely.
This young man—and that is what he is, now, a man—has overcome so much. So much that I can’t even put here. I’m so crazy proud. And he stands on the brink of his “new life”, with graduation exactly 13 days from now. And a summer filled with a trip to Seattle, a trip to Scotland, and enlisting in the United States Navy. If he passes his physics class this week, of course.
And I remember his birth like it was yesterday. The incredibly long hours of labor. The relief of delivering a perfectly healthy baby boy after a frightening scare early halfway through the pregnancy. Holding his precious little hand on the hour long drive home to our tiny house, then in Kentucky.
And I think, “Where has the time gone??”
I spent the first part of this week in Iowa. Good gracious. My childhood “home”. Filled with good memories, but some really, really painful ones as well.
So much LIFE has happened between now and the day I left home for college at the age of 17. Life that has been filled with the births of four amazing kids. Life with memories of travel that has taken me from the islands of Hawaii to the country of Kenya, and several places in between. Life with so many wonderful friends. And good, funny memories. And life that has, at times, been absolutely nearly unbearable.
And on Tuesday night this past week (really? It seems like that night was a lifetime ago!!) I had the gift of sitting with dear, dear friends from our seminary days, who have spent the last several years pastoring a church in Burlington, Iowa. We had so much to catch up on! Oh, it was so, so good to see them. And their incredible kids. We laughed, so hard, about so many funny times. About absolutely killing the seminary grass with the hugest waterslide known to mankind behind our apartment building. About pictures of Tim, sound asleep on the toilet. About potty training. About our boys and their obsession with Super-Heroes and their very own capes and their spending hours jumping off our couches, pretending to fly. About our girl’s beautiful friendship, their Build-a-Bear bunnies, and how they ran away to two apartments down the cul-de-sac the day we moved away. And so many things. We laughed, much.
But, we also grieved together. Over things that can not be understood. Over things that have no answers. Over the pain that life can sometimes shower down upon us.
It’s been a strange, hard, difficult, wonderful, beautiful week. Culminating today with my boy’s birthday.
But I think I walk away from this week with a couple of important reminders. They may, at first, seem completely unrelated. But they are intertwined.
1. God is exactly who He says He is. This week has been flooded with more memories than I have experienced at any one time in my entire life. Memories of my childhood. Memories of seminary. Memories of churches. Memories of school. Wonderful memories. Very painful memories. But one of the most poignant moments of my trip, was when I was leaving Fairfield and driving to Burlington. And all around me was the Iowa sky. You can only understand and appreciate that, if you’ve been to Iowa. It’s mostly flat, with fields of corn and soybeans that stretch for miles and miles. And long stretches of highways between towns. And all of that flatness means that you can see the sky. I mean, you can REALLY see the sky. And in those moments of driving, thinking and praying, I was reminded that my first real acknowledgement that God may be real and might even know my name–my real name–happened on a beach, looking over the ocean, where I could see the sky in much the same way as in Iowa. And I could breathe. And think clearly. And sort things out. That’s what the sky does for me. It has always been important to me, but even more so now that I know God is real. Because, when I look at the sky, I see Him. I see His vastness. And I’m reminded of how small I am. Not in an insignificant way–not at all! But in a way that puts my perspective where it needs to be—-on Him, and His ability and faithfulness to be who He says He is.
2. My kids may be growing up, but they still need me. And my “home”, until they are all grown and on their own, is where they are at. I travel occasionally for my work. It’s never a big deal, the kids are used to it and do a fantastic job of holding things together while I’m away. This trip, however, was very different. I couldn’t get them off of my mind. During my trip, I drove past my old homes, that seemed cavernous when I was a child, and I marveled at how small they look now. And I wondered about my children, if they will ever think the same thing about the homes they were raised in as children. I found myself praying that they would not know the loss of a mom, (even this incredibly flawed and often failing mom) until much later in life–they’ve lost so much already! I usually just text them each day to keep up with them while I am away, but on Monday night this week I called them. And I found myself in unexpected and unusual tears, talking to them. Overwhelmed with gratitude for them. Overwhelmed with how proud I am of them. And overwhelmed with the reminder that I am still their mom. That I have been given the gift of being their mom. That is not nothing. This, I cannot take lightly.
How do these two work together? Without number one being true, I cannot do number 2. I just can’t. I don’t have the capability, the skills, the patience or the kindness or the stamina to be their parent. Their only parent. I can only do this life that has been given me–and it has been given me–because God is real. Because He is sovereign. Because the sky is large, and beautiful, and I know that not only does He see and know, but His presence engulfs me like the Iowa sky, even when I can’t see it.
And so, I go to Him. I go to Him because, once more I have had to remind myself this week of the importance of John 6:68 and Peter’s answer to Jesus when Jesus asked the disciples if they were planning to leave him like the crowd had left him. Peter’s answer is my answer:
Where else is there for me to go? Only to Him. Only to my God. Only He can give me the strength to do the things I have been called to do. Only He can give me the courage needed to wake up tomorrow morning. Only He can heal the hurts and provide the joy. Real joy.
Such as the joy, tonight, of watching Tim turn 19. The joy of watching him graduate (if he passes physics). The joy of seeing Him want to serve his country. The joy of watching him become a man.
And, in that joy, I am reminded that home is Everywhere and Somewhere Else. Everywhere, because I find home amongst my friends. I find home in the churches that I love. And I mostly find home where my children are right now. But I also know that home is ultimately Somewhere Else—when and where I will echo Thomas’ words to Jesus when I see Him face to face: “My Lord and My God!”
Below is a gallery of pictures I took while in Iowa….of my homes as a child, of the Iowa Sky, of the American Gothic House, and of the church my parents pastored at in Eldon, Iowa.