Life Lessons in a Van

van driving

Still driving (vans) after all these years

I learned to drive on a fifteen-passenger van. My dad was the headmaster of a private school and he got a company car. That was our family vehicle, this large, tan deus ex machina that transported the math club and the basketball team and our family as well. By the time I was sixteen, I could parallel park with ease and had no idea that a compact car was considered one million times easier to drive.

I have a lot of great memories of driving with my dad. He was always so patient and took on an other-worldly calm as I would round corners or come to a complete stop at a neighborhood corner. “Watch that car there,” he’d casually mention, which helped to ease my overly-amped up ways. There was no need to fret, learning to drive was a safe, natural part of life.

We developed a good rapport, my dad and I. We would go out for a drive, run an errand, and here is where I learned the confidence and safety and complicated dance of wielding large machinery down an open road. I learned the nuances of my dad’s instructions, learned to trust his double-check when it was time to change lanes. Over the weeks and months of maneuvering the wheel, I learned that my dad’s yes meant yes and his no meant no. Dad is my co-pilot, that was enough for me.

One fall evening my dad and I ran up to the neighborhood grocers to grab something at dinnertime. My younger brother came with us and by the time we were heading back the sun had set.

It was dark as I pulled onto the street heading into our neighborhood, and I started the climb up that first hill towards home. I picked up speed in the dark, approaching an oncoming intersection with confidence — the other street had the stop, and I didn’t see any traffic.

We were at a nice cruising altitude, on a steady course for home when my dad yelled at the top of his lungs for me to STOP.

I threw my foot on the brake with all my strength, my level of commitment to that stop dictated entirely by my dad’s tone of voice. There was nothing else to give me pause, no other reason that I should stop other than my dad said so. I saw no car, no people, nothing in the glow of that hazy autumn evening other than a clear road ahead and smooth sailing to home.

But as our car skidded, I saw flash before us an oversized sedan in flight, floating through the intersection and sailing by the stop sign. The car, speeding down the road with no headlights and at full-force on our small neighborhood streets, would have crushed us instantly.

But my dad saw it and he told me to stop. And even though I didn’t understand his orders, I stopped in my tracks going only on the urgency in my father’s command.

It saved our life, my quick obedience. And that lesson has never left me. My ability to obey and do what I needed to do saved the lives of me and my dad and my younger brother. I was in the habit of obeying my dad quickly and in that moment it was a life-saving event.

I was retelling this story to my boys the other day, in the midst of a situation that they didn’t understand. Paul and I had reacted very strongly to something and my boys didn’t quite get it. “What’s the big deal,” they asked (respectfully), “we don’t see it.”

“You don’t have to,” we explained. There will be times, we told our boys, that the only way they might recognize the gravity of a situation is the way we react. “You might not understand, but you will have to trust us.”

It’s a hard lesson, but one I’m glad I learned early. After that near-miss in the van all those years ago, I was a teenager quick to trust her parents’ wisdom. My dad’s authority saved my life one night, that was enough for me.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Summertime Sanity Saver

I'll admit, I feel like this every so often

I’ll admit, I feel like this every so often

Ready or not, here comes summer! Hip hip, hooray!

Let’s start our discussion in a positive fashion: isn’t summer grand! We’re excited about a slower pace, we’re excited about a more relaxing schedule. No more early morning alarms or uniforms to wash. No more lunches to make! Check ya later, carpool!

There’s a lot to love about summer, and I for one am always quick to romanticize. Oh the places we’ll go and the books we’ll read and the swimming holes we’ll explore. It’ll be 1956 all over again.

That’s the way I tend to think on this side of things, on the very front end of summer. School is out, here we go.

And then about three days in, I feel like I’m dying. Why does everything feel so hard? What am I doing wrong? Gone are all the dreamy notions of easy summer living, and I’m facing the cold, brazen reality that summertime involves all of my children being under one roof for many many hours in a row.

Summer is wonderful but it’s always a great challenge. A few years ago I discovered that the best way to make this season enjoyable and fun is to admit that it’s not as easy and relaxing as I tend to imagine. Here’s the lesson I learn every year: there is an adjustment period between school getting out and a summertime groove (and I’ve heard this applies across the board, including home-schoolers). One minute you’re in the midst of a beautiful rhythm and schedule and the next, boom. All gone.

I’m hoping that by reminding myself now, on the front end, that there is an adjustment period, well I’ll save myself the heartache of all those tears I shed when I look around and think “crud. What have I gotten myself into?”

So here’s my Survival List for the Summer:

Don’t forget that without a plan, the people perish. You have to have a plan. That’s part of what makes the transition painful. While it’s nice to be out of the school year grind, day after day of open-ended nothing isn’t always the best idea. It can make the days feel very long indeed. Of course, each family must find a plan that works best for them. Some people can’t imagine an hour-by-hour calendar; some can’t live without it. Whatever you do, have an idea of where you’re going.

Make your plan realistic. This has always been my problem. I love having a plan, but it takes a little work to make my lofty goals work for the size and makeup of my family. I have five sons. We are probably not going to hit a lot of crafting hours at the local fabric store. Have good ideas, make them fun for everyone.

Phone a friend. Feeling crazy? Call your momma. Or your sister. Or a friend who won’t be freaked out to answer your call only to hear you sobbing on the other end. In moments like these, you need a lifeline, someone who is smart enough to reserve judgement and tell you how very normal you are. You need to hear the words “you are not crazy. It’s going to be okay.” This is the hardest part of summer: when you think everything in order and a great plan and…it still feels hard. It’s okay. There will be days like that and you need someone to tell you to keep up the great work.

Finally, commit your ways to the Lord. First you pray. The best way to be in the center of God’s will, especially in the summer, is to give each day to Him. “Lord, what is your plan for our family this summer? What do you want us to learn, how do you want us to grow?” I’ve found the best way to be at peace with how things are going is to constantly commit things to God. And then, when I’ve given it all to God, I can recognize that each summertime moment, good or bad, is an opportunity to serve God.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.<

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