I heard a good answer to that question recently in regards to the season of parenting - the days are long but the years are short. Ain't that the truth?
I can easily remember the long days of nursing babies for what seemed like neverending hours. The countless nights of interrupted rest wondering when my crier would ever sleep through til morning. The days, weeks, and months of battling with a strong willed child. The endless days of sports practices and nights eating dinner from a drive thru. Man, that went fast.
This September of 2014 is even a little more emotional than usual because it is Ally's last first day of school and the first of many more lasts for her and her parents.
Here she is getting on a school bus for the first time. I mean seriously.
I also worked on this in her room. These are old hospital closets my dad gave me years ago that I painted to surprise Ally one summer while she was away at camp. I figure if I write it all down it will cut back on reminding (or as the rest of the family puts it, nagging). Chalkboards, lists, colored chalk. Could I have missed a calling to be a homeschool mom? No. Probably not.
We had a glorious weekend. It could not have been more enjoyable for Scott and me. (Except for the disgusting humidity. Thank God Drew and Brittany have air conditioning. Without it things could have gone a lot differently.)
While together I hoped to have two family meetings (a.k.a. intentional conversations over dinner) allowing the rest to emerge naturally out of the ebb and flow of our ever-changing family dynamic.
The first was to present them with the familar, often-asked, "What are you learning about God from your quiet times spent reading His Word and praying?"
Because they never disappoint, the kids initially responded in their usual sassy fashion, a quick eye roll, a mock putting on of imaginary seatbelts, glancing at their pretend watches - preparing for a looooooong conversation. This is not their first rodeo.
Spurred on by some recently heard sermons, this time I upped the ante and probed deeper.
"What have you repented of lately?"
"Based on what you are reading how is God asking you to change?"
"How are you growing in Christlikeness?"
These are important things to discuss. How else can we really know how closely our kids are (or aren't) walking with the Lord? With discussions like these comes the accountability within families which is a must. This is also a good reason to insist on regular, not occasional family dinners with everyone present.
Eventually, because intimacy takes time, the most honest, real, vulnerable answers were revealed and rich conversation followed. There may or may not have been some croaking by an unnamed party or two as we shared the good, the bad and the ugly.
The second round of questions (saved for our last meal together) was planned in advance by all but one of us. Why you ask? Because if I had sprung the questions on them without warning I would have gotten simple, probably even dumb answers, not at all what I was looking for. And after chastising them I'd get the deer-in-headlights look that screams, "Seriously Mom, I don't know what to say. I haven't thought about it." Nope, I couldn't take any chances so I prepped them before we ever left home.
I asked my sons and daughter-in-law to think about and be willing to share with Ally advice for her senior year.
- What would help her
- What she should focus on
- What she should ignore or not get sucked into
- What they regretted
- What they would do differently (knowing what they know now)
It started out lighthearted, the boys shared some of their favorite and ridiculous high school memories (that they can laugh at now). Again, after awhile they went deeper.
I was surprised when one of them said he wished he had not traded weeks of youth group every winter to play basketball. (Shocked, I was to hear this.) He recognizes now the importance of Christian friends and staying close to them year round, not just around the sports calendar. He wishes he had chosen different school friends to spend the majority of his time with as well. The kind that would last.
Another regrets choosing to be a spectator in school rather than a player when it came to getting to know new kids. Perhaps he missed opportunities to share his faith and wasted time. If he could go back, he would use his voice and words to share the hope of the Gospel with friends.
She held back for a while but when she spoke, our darling Brittany brought out the big guns. She had given this some thought. (Have I mentioned that she is not only Drew's gift - but mine too?) She gave Ally a charge that only a young woman not too far removed from high school could give. She shared stories, relationships, regrets, and her heartfelt concern that Ally live wiser and pay close attention to the fact that her future that still lies ahead will trump high school experiences.
I'm not sure when or how the idea came to initiate this chat just days before Ally starts this final year of school, but I can tell you it is consistent with a goal Scott and I have long shared to relentlessly put godly Christian examples before our kids to guide and influence. For example, books we had them read, music they listened to, concerts attended, missions conferences, sharing meals in our home with missionaries and listening to testimonies and stories from many other dynamic Christians. Potential heroes we hoped.
As Scott and I sat back and let it play, suddenly I realized that because they have been out on their own for a while it's their time to speak up.
The three big kids - ok ok, young adults - volleyed back and forth all sorts of their own time and hard-won wisdom for Ally to consider. They didn't just focus on the negative (mistakes and regrets) but also the positive, giving her practical ideas on how to finish high school well with good motives, intentionally and God-focused so that she would not share their regrets.
I believe they sent a strong you can do it message.
And glory hallelujah - someone even said, "Listen to your parents - they have your best interest in mind"! I didn't plant that either, I swear.
In summary, their message was to not wait until you are older to give God every area of your life. Start now. Put Him first in everything, read His Word, grow by being obedient to it, love others and avoid worldliness and high school drama. There is a much bigger picture at stake that you can't see yet.
I'm so thankful to God for that and so much more. I'm thankful that Ally has so much support behind her as she begins what could be a time when the enemy of her soul will pull out all the stops to distract her from God's will for her life.
I think she knows this now and feels the weight of the love and concern for her and the intensity of the advice, urging her to learn from what they've learned.
Makes me wonder if I would have made better choices had I heard even half of this from people who cared enough about me to be honest and open about their experiences. I'm so glad that God is a God of second chances, always inviting us to come back and try again. New mercies every morning. Remember, it is not who we were or have been, it's who we are becoming - how Christ is being formed in us.
Witnessing this exchange between our children makes me less sad about the fact that they are indeed growing up and out. Instead, I'm grateful and excited for who they are becoming, how we now interact with each other and how they will influence the world around them for God's glory.
I can't help but remember what they were like when they were little (so cute!) so the lesson for me is to only be sad for a moment. Then shift to celebrating and encouraging them into the natural process of maturing (not too quickly) into a Christlike adult, prepared for the future He has planned for them.
If we can send our kids courageously into their schools year after year, we can courageously embrace their growing up. We can do it!
I saw this quote on a blog I love the other day "September 1st is the new January 1st".
So whether this is your kids' first day of kindergarten or 12th grade or even college, why not take this opportunity of a new beginning to remind them that the Christian life isn't just for when they are older? With effort and intention they can have God's blessing on their own lives right now.
Here's my not so little girl in front of the flag one last time on this - her final first day of high school - go get 'em Ally!