Leaving the Nest

first day 14I knew it was ridiculous, the way I was carrying on. But I couldn’t help it. Hormones and life’s circumstances had rendered me a useless lump of emotions. For some reason, on this particular Wednesday morning, my central nervous system decided it was time to focus — really fixate — on my oldest son’s high school graduation, how it was a few weeks away and life as we know it will never be the same.

It all started with a pile of papers. The day before, everyone brought home report cards, the last ones before the end of the year. There were three weeks left of school and we were getting to the finish line.

In these report cards were the registration forms for the following year including one for (hold your hats!) dear, sweet Isabel, who will be starting kindergarten in the fall.

But there was one missing, one less form. And that’s when it hit me, the thing I’ve known forever but didn’t fully embrace until that moment in the kitchen on a Wednesday morning in May — there was no registration form for Ethan. He wouldn’t be at the school next year. This was it.

Of course I already knew that. I’ve known it all year. And a few weeks ago we heard exactly where he would be next year and it’s wonderful. He got into the school of his dreams and it’s exciting and wonderful and we are all thrilled. So that’s where our boy will be in the Fall, up at Georgia Tech getting started on his college career.

How could it be then, in light of all our celebrating Ethan’s plans for the future, that I’d be hit so hard by the reality of him not being here. He’ll be there — you already know that — but it was like the item in Column A (away at college) never got in touch with Column B (not here). And oh how it hit me.

Not here. Not at this school. I already knew he wouldn’t be in our home, at least not for weeks at a time. And I thought I was okay with that. It’s exciting! It’s wonderful! They can’t stay little forever!

But as I filled out those forms for each of my other children, the ones who’ll be at our K-12 school next year, my heart hurt. So very much.

And then, the tears started. They came and stayed and they were very ugly indeed. It was a deep sorrow that I didn’t expect and didn’t see coming. I knew it had to be there somewhere but not like this. The sadness of it all, the reality that life cannot stay the same forever and change hurts and I don’t like it, not one single bit.

Those thoughts were the lowest points, thank the Lord. Admitting that all of this was hard. And then, after a while (a little longer than I’d like but what can you do) I got my wits about me. I sniffled one last time, and took a deep breath and realized this: change is scary. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

It will indeed be strange without Ethan here next year, here in our home, here at our school. It will be different. When everyone loads up in the morning to head out to school next year, it won’t be Ethan driving his four younger brothers in our 12-passenger van. It won’t be Ethan leading music at assembly or sitting in the classrooms or passing his brothers in the halls.

But. BUT! Before I get too carried away, I tell myself this: this is what we’ve been working for. It’s hard, it stinks. It’s wonderful and beautiful. This little boy who you taught to tie his shoes and ride his bike and put away his laundry — all of that was for this, these beautiful scary moments when he will leave the nest and wobble off and yes! come back home too to visit and stay and share with the rest of the family everything he’s learning as his world expands and grows and he becomes more of the man God created him to be.

This time of change is scary because it’s unknown. And I know it’s okay to mourn the loss of one season. But at the same time I always want to remember that our God is a God of peace and joy and I want to look ahead to the new seasons with a feeling of excitement and adventure. What does the future hold for our boy? We cannot wait to find out.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Need, and Be Needed

I got a text from our next-door-neighbor the other night, asking if I’d ride out with her to the Army base to visit our elderly neighbor who was in the hospital there. Miss Georgia, whose backyard connects to ours, had fallen earlier in the day and would need surgery for a broken hip.

When I got the text from Cathy, I immediately got ready to go. No doubt in my mind, no questions asked. Our neighbor, sweet Miss Georgia, didn’t have anyone else. I gave Paul a kiss and told him I wasn’t sure when I’d be home. He told me to keep him posted.

Cathy and I made the drive and arrived at the emergency room to find Georgia pretty banged up, but sleeping and pain-free. That’s what Cathy (a nurse) wanted to see, our almost-ninety-year-old neighbor being cared for. Meanwhile Georgia’s husband was at home and heading to bed, preparing to be with her the next day.

We made sure Georgia had everything she needed, that she understood what was going on and that her son had been able to get in touch with her. Then we held her hands, said a prayer with her and headed home.

I was thinking, on the drive home, how grateful I was Cathy had texted me, that she included me in her efforts. In the end we were there and back in an hour, and Miss Georgia was blessed and humbled that we’d taken the time for her. A simple act of kindness, easy for me and Cathy, did so much for Miss Georgia.

“Visit the sick,” said Cathy, reciting the Corporal Work of Mercy, “check.”

We were joking a little, but I think we both recognized how easy it was to do this simple act — and how much it meant that we had.

A few nights earlier, one of my very best friends was treated to a surprise baby shower to help her get ready for her eighth baby, arriving at any moment. She was honored and humbled because when she had twins four years ago, everyone had (in her words) already been so generous. She still clearly remembered all the meals and gifts and help caring for two brand new babies — and when friends and family were still willing to shower her with love, she was blown away.

I thought about the simple forward motion that this surprise shower required — one friend with a great idea who got the ball rolling, who called someone else and their efforts honored our dear, sweet expectant mama so much. A simple act of kindness, blessings beyond words.

We really are the hands and feet of Jesus and I’m always amazed at how God uses us. The things we do for others, maybe a kind word shared, maybe an encouraging text, maybe throwing a shower or visiting a shut-in — these are all easy enough to do and go so far in bringing peace and joy and love.

We need other people. That’s what it all means. We aren’t meant to live alone, to be isolated and shut off. Sure there are plenty of times when that seems like it would be easier, that dealing with people is the hardest thing there is (I’d be a saint, if not for all these people in my path!). But God designed us to need others — and to be needed. How our faith is built when we see what a kind act can do!

God uses the people around us to draw us closer to Him. Sometimes it’s through the painful act of learning to deal with difficult people (which I don’t like mostly because of what it reveals to me about my own shortcomings). But many times it’s the luxurious gift of love itself, of a simple kindness poured out that reminds us we are not alone, that God will give us everything we need.

The originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

A Good Family Venture

Holy Heroes is starting a nine month campaign tomorrow that allows families to “spiritually adopt” an unborn child. Each family that signs up will have a specific unborn baby to pray for throughout the mother’s pregnancy:

Inspired by Venerable Fulton Sheen’s “Spiritual Adoption Prayer,” families and individuals who join this initiative will “adopt” and pray for an unborn child in need, receiving periodic updates throughout the “pregnancy” that provide insight into the baby’s growth and development.

For more information go here!

Isabel Turns Five

photo.PNGOur sweet Isabel celebrated her fifth birthday this week. Who can believe that? Five years in a flash, and yet I can’t remember life without her.

Actually, I totally can. I remember all those years in a house full of boys, times when I felt very much alone in my home of males — and plenty of times when I knew it was something very special to be the mom of so many boys. By the time we had Henry, our fifth son, I had embraced the unique and wonderful vocation of Mom of Boys, the notable charge of raising tomorrow’s men.

When Isabel came along, I had become very much at peace with never having a daughter. It’s not that I didn’t want one, but after so many boys, I had to acknowledge that it might not happen. I knew other women raising boys — and lots of them — and I loved being part of this adventurous club.

My pregnancy with Henry (and Augie five years prior) involved lots of bed rest and other physical challenges that made Paul and I feel like life with five children was The Plan. In other words, we didn’t foresee having another baby because the last two pregnancies had been so challenging for me.

But God has an interesting way of doing business sometimes, and His Ways (I’m happy to report) are not always mine. When we found out baby number six was “unexpectedly” on the way, I was terrified and emotional. I second-guessed God’s wisdom in allowing this to happen, I felt abandoned and undone.

Hormones can make you a little crazy, it seems.

Here are my memories of that time, of finding out we were having another baby: I can’t do this. This isn’t part of the plan. The last pregnancy was too much. We have five boys, what else can I handle? My body is going to give out. My mind might possibly as well.

In the grand scheme of things, these feelings lasted about four days. But it was an intense time, those four days. It’s a lot to deal with, the shift in perspective. One minute you are training for a half-marathon and managing your five sons, and the next you’ve thrown on the emergency brake and come screeching to stop.

It’s like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said: you want to know what it’s like to have a fourth baby? Find someone who is drowning, and throw them a baby.

That was me. I was preparing not just to add another baby to an already crazy plate — but to spend the next nine months watching my body slowly fall apart. That was my plan.

But lo and behold, that pregnancy — baby number six — was the easiest, most peaceful one of them all. None of the previous issues surfaced, it was smooth sailing the entire time.

And then, after that, the most beautiful thing happened. We had a daughter. Which I did not see coming.

But even better than that (if you can believe it!) is that in the midst of that season, of having a sixth baby, woah!, I finally learned to abandon myself and my plans to God. It’s not that I realized you get what you want (a daughter, after five sons!) but that in that beautiful, totally challenging season of having two small children while trying to keep up with four bigger boys, I stopped trying to do anything but what was directly in front of my face.

In that season after having Isabel, it was intense and overwhelming. But there was grace. The grace came from realizing that none of my worth came from what I did — it was in who I am. Not in my accomplishments or my service or even in my role as wife and mother. My worth was from being God’s creation — God made me, and he delights in me. And that is enough.

And here we are, five years later, and our sweet Isabel is getting bigger. I’m so grateful God didn’t limit me to my own plans for my life, I’m so humbled that he knew I could handle another sweet soul to love.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross