A heads up before you delve into this blog, it is really long today.
This year we finally took all of our home movies from the past 30 years to have them put onto DVDs so we can actually watch these precious moments that we lived so long ago. I’m very excited to watch them because the majority of these home movies we literally lived but have never viewed. As much as I’m anticipating this, I’m also a bit worried that it will absolutely wreck me emotionally! To step back in time and relive those years gone by is risky at best. I’ve determined to push through that fear.
Our family loves the show, The Wonder Years. One of my favorite things to do is watch it with the whole family … again an emotionally risky venture. Bill and I love it because it is an accurate depiction of our lives growing up in America in the late 60’s and 70’s. A very unique time in our history- the growing up of America’s largest generation- the baby-boomers… who are now on the other side of their beginning. Every episode leaves me in tears with a lump in my throat as they cue the closing music and draw the narrated application.
These moments are life lessons that are so common to every generation, but also strangely, deeply personal to our hearts- each a unique interpretation of a common past. Lives lived in different places, different times, different centuries, different cultures, different everything, and yet so similar that the same chord strikes each of our hearts in the very same way at the very same time. Picture a Hallmark or Kodak commercial- a daughter and daddy dancing at her wedding and then the camera flashes back to when she was a little girl dancing on top of her daddy’s feet…. There it is, the heartstring is played and we all tear up at the same time as we each play our own personal movie inside our head- separate but shared experiences…what an interesting concept- parallel lives- completely separate but so nearly the same that we cry together at the same moments in life. Truly amazing.
Samuel Coleridge said; “Truths, of all others, the most awful and mysterious, yet being, at the same time, of universal interest, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the powers of truth, and lie bedridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exposed errors.” That is deep waters.
We are all walking life’s pilgrim journey trying to find our way. We were all little and became big, living and loving, learning and growing, broken and breaking hearts, good decision and terrible choices, hard times and perfect moments. Incalculable tears of laughter and sorrow. The unknown journey of each soul…a blank canvas of untold possibilities.
Nostalgia is a strange thing that sneaks up on the unsuspecting heart- squeezes and releases bringing us to our knees upon reflection. It could be a song, a smell, a picture- just a flash really, but our soul is flooded with stories, people, vivid colors, distant but distinct memories, faces and places, joy and pain- all in a moment. Words spoken- breathing bits of life into us, or striking death blows on our tender impressionable hearts. Either way, we carry these around with us as fragments of pieces that make up our life story. How is this possible?
Our parents and their parents before them take what they were given and try their best to do something they have never done before — be a parent. To be the one in charge of this new life lying before them could easily be described as the best moment of our lives and also the most terrifying, as its full implications envelope us. The birth of our own children is the greatest responsibility we will ever undertake- the raising of another soul. From our own experience we know generally what lies ahead. They will have joy but we also know they will get hurt. We can’t stop it from happening. So we carry them as long as we are able, as long as they let us, paving the way through the forest, breaking the branches in our path that seem to purposely reach out to wound the exposed tender skin of our child. We take the branch and break it. We shield the arms, face and legs of our little one — gladly letting the thorny bush scratch our older, tougher skin. We then struggle alongside them as they learn to walk trying to postpone as long as possible the first moment when they fall and the innocence of their little hearts get broken; the first time they experience rejection and fear, knowing it’s coming but wishing it wouldn’t … praying that they would escape some of the pain we still wear that found its way into our own little lives, hoping we didn’t pass that hurt on to them. We instinctively know when the time has come, even though it pushed its way in without consulting us. We wish it wasn’t time. We beg God for wisdom and guidance to handle each moment correctly along the way as we pull back and fire our arrow into the big sinful world (Psalm 127:4). We watch as the arrow is released with our arm still frozen in position to shoot, not blinking, imagining this moment of lingering over the release will help in some small but meaningful way to keep the arrow on course- hardly breathing, praying as we see the arrow fly. “Please go long and straight, long and straight, long and straight.” Hoping an obstacle doesn’t jump out in its way, or a gust of wind suddenly diverting it off the course we sent it. Praying — motionless. The truth is, the arrow is quite literally out of our hands now. God gave us these arrows — his creation — and he has trusted us to take care of them and turn them into the kind of arrow that will be strong and true; the kind to impact the world around them in the biggest way possible. For so long we carried around these arrows in our quiver. They were our responsibility. We kept them close and protected. Oddly enough, our load doesn’t seem lighter as they fly away. Instead, things seem heavier. But now the arrow is flying through the air on its own momentum, further and further away. We watch until we can no longer see it.
I believe, one of the most asked questions could be, “Where did the years go?” What happened to our cute little babies we once rocked to sleep, who depended on us to literally sustain their lives? What happened to those preschoolers learning to stand on their own two feet … learning to say words that are jumbled and almost unrecognizable, except to you who hear them plainly as you play the interpreter desperate for other people to understand what this little human is trying to say- longing to be understood. When did they turn into funny, awkward children in elementary school, and then on to high school- the notorious teenage years? Graduation. Then the day actually came when our children left home. Little by little, pieces of them moved out… each time more permanently.
When Lance left for college it was like a death in our family. I mourned and felt sorry for myself for months, melodramatically sitting on his bed looking at photo albums of him growing up. Where did this adorable little guy go? A few years later, it happened all over again with our Rachel. It was like a light had been turned off in our once blindly bright beacon of a lighthouse — for our kids and all the friends in their lives- in our lives. I longed to hear the pots rattle from the pot rack hanging in the center of our kitchen as herds of teenage boys wrestled upstairs. I missed the constant conflict over hairstyles and clothes. I missed the music, screams, splashing from our backyard as our kids and their friends packed themselves into our pool, running from trampoline to pool and back again. I miss trying to take a Sunday afternoon nap and being lulled to sleep to the sounds of laughter, music, splashing. These screams of joy soothing to my ears coated my mind and poured over me as I drifted off into a peaceful sleep, knowing my kids were home and happy. I couldn’t imagine letting that go. So we boxed up their Golden Books, their Legos, their Star Wars action figures and Polly Pockets. I carefully washed their baby blankets and baby clothes. I preserved select baby clothes and blankets for them to maybe one day give to their children.
In the story of Benjamin Buttons he says, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
As parents we look back and see our glaring flaws, wishing we could redo some of the things we did, things we said, but it’s done, not to be undone. We all have regrets. I think I gave my kids the blessing and the curse of unlimited encouragement. In my effort to create a wonderful, magical childhood I worry I may have somehow crippled them to the harsh reality of life. Building in their psyche all the possibility of even being able to fly to Neverland as Peter Pan. The promising of the future as bigger than real life, unlimited potential, imaginations encouraged, harsh reality ignored, dreams fostered, nostalgia, and the hope of what could be, always moved freely in the air of our home. I realize now it even crippled me. My perspective was earthy, on this life as being the “it.” Yes sure, heaven. I knew in my head but I kept looking with my heart wrapped around this earthly life for my joy. I didn’t see it for what it was in the moment.
We’ve loved every stage of our lives with our children. We still miss every day of life without our children in our home. But the truth is, they are no longer children. That has past. They are adults with children of their own. It’s their turn. It’s been time to change hats for a while now. I tried to hold onto their lives– to our lives as a little family unit of four. The choice is ours to let go gracefully and thankfully or to selfishly cling to what needs to be released so it doesn’t damage the natural dynamic of this progression in this life cycle. There is simply no getting around this truth; the longer we live the more we lose. As Indiana Jones’ friend and mentor said to him, “Indi, we’ve reached the age where life has stopped giving to us and started taking away.”
This is the turning point of this story so please stay with me because I believe this truth I am about to share is life giving. It was and is for me everyday. As believers in Christ, this earthly life is just a prolog of the book. It is the qualifying race for the Olympics. It’s the preparation not the party. It’s the commercial before the show. It’s the dancing popcorn and the singing M&Ms before the blockbuster holiday movie. It’s the warm up band before Coldplay. It’s the sideshow before the greatest show on earth. Heaven is the main event!We get so caught up in living our lives now that we lose sight of the fact that this life is just the temporary before the permanent — the dash between our physical birth and our physical death, the split second before our eternity.
If you’re young and looking forward to your life ahead, rejoice. If your kids have just left home and you’re still raw with emotion from that reality, hang in there…. there really is life after your kids leave home. If you have already lived a full long life then you already know better than I, heaven is more real and is sweeter than it used to be for you. Don’t worry about finishing a bucket list before you die. You have eternity and a new perfect body to work with in heaven. No more bad backs and knee replacements- you are getting a brand new model- a glorified resurrected body that has an unlimited mileage guarantee of eternity. No more loss, no more sadness, no more tears, no regrets over past mistakes, no more separation from our family. The kingdom of God — heaven on earth, perfection is our future. Don’t miss it.
So the take away for you is this- next time you reflect on the wonderful life you used to have, or mourn the loss you’ve experienced, or long for the past, the way things used to be, remember this isn’t the end of the story- even if you are at the end of this life, you’re just at the end of the prolog. The best is yet to come. Stop putting your hope in this world. This life wasn’t meant to be the fulfillment- it is place where we find our need, Jesus.
In the serenity prayer at Celebrate Recovery, I love the part at the end where it says “Lord help me to be reasonably happy in this life so I can be supremely happy in the life to come.” Stop expecting supreme happiness in this life- you are setting yourself up for sadness and disappointment. I’m just looking for reasonable happiness here.
I’ve grown up and stopped dreaming of flying to Neverland like Peter Pan. I think I might get to fly in Heaven for real! I get to be with my mom again. This world is a fallen, thorny, broken sad place that will only get worse, not better, but we keep trying to fix it up so we can be happy here. It is harder to trust the unseen. We are aliens, strangers in this land, we are just passing through. Heaven is our home. God has this all figured out and if you truly know Jesus- let me help you jump ahead – it’s a very happy ending because it is actually the beginning of forever for us. And you thought they only lived happily ever after in fairy tales! The truth is as Children of God we really do get to live happily ever after.
*”Life as we know it in this dimension is just a parenthesis between nonexistence and eternity- a beginning that has no ending.” *Duane Riley