My middle child will turn 25 in just a few days.
I haven’t really thought much about my kids’ specific ages lately; they’re all adults, and I’ve essentially just lumped them all together in the “grown up kids” category. It was a big deal when the youngest finished high school, marking the end of a long, long era for me; years of being captive to school schedules and the never-ending, low-key anxiety of shepherding five children through adolescence.
That’s a real thing, that low-key angst. I didn’t realize how prevalent it had been until it was gone. But any emptiness was pretty much immediately replaced by the low-key challenges of loving and worrying about five young adults who are navigating the grown up world.
That’s not such an easy thing to do, these days. And the role of Mom in this setting seems to be one in which I am constantly learning – navigating my own way.
But the middle child – the baby girl – hits a quarter century in a few days, and it’s got me thinking; that’s just a little less than half of my own life, but my version of twenty-five seems incredibly far away. My mid-twenties were years of being adrift; of living, but not really sure exactly what I was doing. Seems like I would take a stab, here and there, at various Ways of Being in the World, and I missed the mark. Over and over, I missed the mark. And I hurt people along the way.
Last week I had the good fortune to visit this middle child of mine. We sat on a huge rock on the shoreline of Lake Winnipesaukee (side note: One of her friends said, MY mom would NEVER climb up on that rock! and in that moment I knew that I absolutely, positively would be hoisting my mom body up on that chunk of granite. I am, still, slightly competitive…) We talked, the kind of conversation that sort of meanders through the inspired thinking that happens quite naturally when you’re perched on a rock, watching the sun set.
What were you doing when you were my age, Mom?
She asked, and I had a momentary flashback, during which I filtered all the things I might possibly include in my reply.
I was living, alone, in the Dominican Republic, coming out of a difficult relationship. I was on my second year of teaching. I was in love with somebody that was off limits to me. I was preparing to direct a musical; I was getting ready to return to the States. I had just begun to realize just how much I didn’t know; I was humbled, or maybe humiliated, for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
I had been pushed, hard, to answer some questions about faith and the nominal Christianity that I claimed. I spoke authentically to God, for the first time, to admit that I was doing a lousy job of figuring out my own philosophy of feel-good, make-myself-happy life. I was reading the gospel of John, discovering Jesus for real – the Jesus I never knew. I was wrestling with faith, honestly,
I was a year away from meeting your dad and taking another stab at trying to do what was right.
I was lost as a goose.
And I was living.
I looked at her – navigating the ending of an important relationship, discovering the importance of friends, digging deep into her own motivations and coping mechanisms, yearning for adventure, using her gifts and talents and skills and opportunities to teach, encourage, exhort, and make a difference – and I saw someone a lot like me. Except, from my vantage point, way ahead of the game.
I’m able to see my kids with such grace, when I remember where I was at that age. Because it took years – years, I tell you – to get to this point, today; where I am confident in who I am, in what I can do, in what I don’t have to do, in what matters most. And that’s it, in a nutshell, right? It takes years. That’s the gift of life; we get these years, be they many or be they few, and we get to live.
I got frustrated, earlier this evening, because of some nonsense I stumbled upon in a perusal of social media. People condemning, pointing fingers, making accusations. Those of faith branding others of faith heretical, false, dangerous. Multiple issues, various situations, tons of energy – all directed on drawing lines between who is right and who is wrong, justifying the side we claim as righteous and holy. Maybe it’s my age, or the season of life, or a certain philosophical tangent I’m embracing at the moment, but my reaction is swift and uncomplicated.
Just STOP! Please! Good grief!
It doesn’t matter! You are wasting time and energy and breath and LIFE!
Really! Our opinions make us feel better about ourselves, (especially when we tweet or post or comment from behind our devices) but they change nothing, and – in the grand scheme of things, they mean close to nothing. For those of us who follow Jesus, it’s simple:
He said it, just as plain as day: Love others like I have loved you. And the way he loved those he was speaking to was with grace, patience, and compassion. He had quite a few sharp words for the religious folks who spent all their time trying to keep everybody divided between “right” and “wrong”. Jesus just didn’t have any time for that.
Neither should we.
I balanced my middle-aged self on a rock with my daughter and reflected on my life, well-aware of the mistakes I made along the way and just how terribly, horribly wrong I got it, so many times. I looked at her profile and considered just how much she’s already done in her youth, well-aware that she would make her own mistakes and get some things wrong. And in the middle of all that – open admission of all the ways we had and would mess up – there was one unrelenting force.
Love I’ve been shown, incessantly, undeservedly. Love I have offered, freely, unconditionally. And something more, a force that went beyond the simple human interactions I could detail.
Big love; powerful, supernatural love, enough to part the waters of the lake. Love enough to paint the sky lavender and rose. Love that is a four-year old girl’s arms flung around your neck with joy and the snuggles of a toddler; love that wraps itself around good ice cream, good wine, and conversations that flow freely because “relationships matter more than art, and art is life.”
Love that feels like assurance and invitation:
Come, sit on this rock. Just sit, and wait. Watch the sky.
Nothing you do can change what I’m about to offer you. Watch the sky.
Tell the sun goodbye as it sinks below the tree tops. Wait for it; watch it blink and disappear.
Now sit, and wait. Be in the presence of what is, in this moment. Watch the sky.
Take this gift; take this rippling, fluctuated wash of color and watch it surge and swell. Sit with Me, watch this gift, see this Love.
Breathe deeply, and know that all your striving, all your regrets, all that tempts you to choose sides and be affirmed and claim righteousness; know that none of those things stand a chance when you simply release, relinquish, and relax. I paint the sky; I stir the waters. I bring a new commandment, and it is as straightforward as the setting of sun.
Love me, and let me love you.
Love your daughters; love your sons. Love your family and your friends. Love your enemies.
Watch the sky.