I’ve been composing blog posts in my head all summer. As I tried to soak in every second of having my oldest son home, I found myself noticing moments, images, and phrases that would be perfect to share in writing. Each time, the mental composing was halted when the words became too real and my eyes filled to max capacity. I blinked away reality and retreated to my den of denial, awaiting another day when it might be easier to spill out the words welling in my heart. I knew better. I knew each passing day meant harder…not easier, but still, I dreamed up partial compositions in the hopes that at some point they would stir together to create a soothing balm for my parched mind.
On one particular Sunday in July, I realized that my countdown had reached seven. SEVEN more Sundays to sit beside my oldest man-child in the church pew, rubbing his back while he soaks up the affection that has come to be his weekly norm. “Joy, Sadness, and a Week of Sundays” I wrote in the notes on my phone so I could remember the perfect title for the latest never-to-be-written mental composition.
If I could have planned out the perfect “last summer” home before he left for college, I’m sure it would be a lot different than what we actually had. He worked throughout June and so did we – filling the month with summer school responsibilities. In July, he concluded his job so he could have the rest of the summer free. We counted our blessings that he had five full days to enjoy with his beloved cousin and friend early in the month, and we joined in for extended family fun as much as possible. Many of our remaining July days were just “regular” with workouts, odd jobs, cleaning, meal prep, and a couple of outdoor movies on nice evenings. I found myself increasingly saddened and a little frustrated that we weren’t going to be able to have a family vacation – a real getaway that would allow me to really unwind and enjoy my family and my surroundings. Day by day and week by week, our calendar filled with a variety of other activities for each kid that combined to equal – no real down time for a getaway. My countdown of Sundays was quickly altered when the boys decided to work at children’s camp and then attend youth camp…there went two more Sundays without my boy in the pew beside me…small realities kept creeping into my den of denial. I dreaded August. August is tough on a teacher anyway because it means the official end of summer. No matter how late in the month school begins, the whole month feels lost to preparing for a new school year, but this year, August brings harder challenges than that.
Hindsite, the July we had together was probably more valuable than any luxury vacation. We had regular, plain days where our oldest son was home and present with us, unlike in the busy days of senior year. We had long conversations and countless backrubs and babying. We saw him tease his youngest siblings and take some time away from his reading and studying to play with them. We heard him talking and laughing with his brothers and sharing a bond of brotherhood and bikes with the one following closest behind him. When they rode away together earlier this week to share the joy of the road, I tried with all of my might to freeze the picture in my brain while simultaneously praying for their safety. THESE are the days we will miss the most…these regular, mundane days when all seems right because we’re together.
As I write this, we have just wrapped up the first day of our two week finale. In two weeks, we will leave Bolivar to make the long trek to Boston, where we’ll leave our precious son for his greatest adventure yet – college. I can barely process it. Today, he had his wisdom teeth removed, so he’s required to have a few more days of downtime, trapped here with us, but he’s itching to get some time in with friends who he hasn’t seen much this summer. Time: it’s the thing we’re all grasping for and running out of.
A couple of days ago, my youngest daughter picked a book for me to read to her at bedtime and one for Daddy to read to her. My book? Let Me Hold You Longer by Karen Kingsbury. (If you know, you know). It’s about all of the lasts that slip through our hands without our awareness and how we would probably hold on longer if only we KNEW it was the last. It was brutal and she ended up having to read several lines for me. Here are some that pierced me:
I never said good-bye to all
your yesterdays long passed –
So what about tomorrow –
will I recognize your lasts?
Silly, scattered images
will represent your past.
I keep on taking pictures
never quite sure of your lasts…
The last time that I comb your hair
or stop a pillow fight.
The last time that I pray with you
and tuck you in at night.
The last time when we cuddle
with a book, just me and you.
The last time you jump in our bed
and sleep between us two.
The last [guitar] lesson,
last vacation to the lake.
Your last few weeks of middle school,
last soccer goal you make.
I look ahead and dream of days
that haven’t come to pass,
but as I do, I sometimes miss
today’s sweet, precious lasts…
The last time that you talk to me
about your hopes and dreams.
The last time that you wear a jersey
for your high school team.
For come some bright fall morning,
you’ll be going far away.
College life will beckon
in a brilliant sort of way.
One last hug, one last good-bye,
one quick and hurried kiss.
One last time to understand
just how much you’ll be missed.
I”ll watch you leave and think how fast
our time together passed.
Let me hold on longer, God,
to every precious last.
I see my friends with babies, and my mind is blown as I think that we were JUST there. He was JUST a baby yesterday…or maybe it has been almost nineteen of the fastest years time has ever known. I believed the women who said, “Treasure it. It flies by!” I BELIEVED them and I tried to hold on…tried to treasure it…tried to take it all in…see it all and feel it all, but right now, I feel a little bit like I missed it. What just happened? How is my baby a man who’s actually ready to do exactly what we’ve worked, and trained, and prayed, and dreamed for him to be ready to do? The heartwrenching lyrics of Caleb and Kelsey’s song “Slow Down” express it so well:
Here’s to you
You were pink or blue
And everything I wanted
Here’s to you
Never sleeping through
From midnight till the morning
Had to crawl before you walked
Before you ran
Before I knew it
You were trying to free your fingers from my hand
‘Cause you could do it on your own now
Won’t you stay here a minute more
I know you want to walk through the door
But it’s all too fast
Let’s make it last a little while
I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly
I am your biggest fan
I hope you know I am
But do you think you can somehow
I can’t slow down time, and if nineteen years were fleeting, I dread how much more so these next two weeks will be. We fight against everything in us that wants to hold him back because the reality is, he’s in God’s hands – right where he has always been – and we are so incredibly proud of the man he is and the amazing ways he is growing and changing. The day we dedicated him to the Lord (in 2002), our wonderful Pastor Lingo reminded us that our sweet baby boy is on loan to us from the Lord. We are so grateful that, by God’s grace, he has chosen to love and serve Jesus, and that he is passionate about the Truth of the Gospel. We can start the next chapter filled with hope because we know the Author of his story.
Even still, the coming days will be so hard. We joke that we were tricked. Point to the sky, they said. Prepare him to fly! Oh yeah?? Well now he’s ready, and he wants to, and he’s going. NOW WHAT?
Trust Me. The Spirit reminds me. He’s mine. I’ve got this. So I’ll take a deep breath and keep scooting close to the Source of my Hope. And just a few short days from now, I will hug my firstborn son, kiss his cheek, and then I too will fly…back home…to learn to lean harder on the One who holds my baby.