…reflections on Kahil Gibran’s “On Children” 31 December 2010 at 20:52 @ Copyright 2010 by my friend and fellow mom, Mary Cypher
I’ve always thought that Janus, the Roman god with two faces was an appropriate metaphor for this time of year. It is good to look back and then forward at the same time, to take stock, to adjust expectations, establish objectives. This can be a time of celebration, of sadness, a taste of the bittersweet. It is so for me.
My Facebook status early last month was “My youngest greeted me with the words ‘This is your last day with a 6 year old!'” It struck me that I’ve been a mother for 30 years and I am at the end of a season in my life.
I smiled as she spun and danced celebrating growing older, as only the very young do. Quickly, a lump formed in my throat as I grasped that she really was quite big! My baby was no longer so little.
In an age in which most people have 2.5 children, I chose to have a dozen. I had tots and teens for a long time, and truly reveled in the experience; the delight of their discoveries, the pleasure of their innocence and guilelessness.
It has been my unadulterated joy to give my children love AND to share my love of knowledge, of language, literature, history, art, music, & nature with them. Because, thank God, they too developed similar passions, we have had wonderful conversations and I am awed by the depth of character and the understanding that they have.
Now, I am forced to acknowledge that part of my life is over. Having shoved that realization to the back of my mind, even though it was still there percolating, Kahil Gibran’s poem,”On Children” came back into my thoughts during a quiet moment.
I smiled wistfully as I remembered how, as a 17 year old, I read these words with such a wash of relief:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
I remember feeling justified in pulling away from my immigrant parents and seeking my own identity, indeed, my own nationality. These words particularly resonated within my 17 year old Self:
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
” Yes!” I thought then.
How little I knew at that time that I would need the traditions, the values (if not the identity) of the heritage for which I had little use. Little did I realize how sad it must have made my parents.
It’s a painful part of parenting, releasing the son or daughter that your heart still calls “my child”. As a mother whose children range in age from 7 to 30 now, I think how true the words from Gibran’s poem really are.
Their souls DO dwell in the house of tomorrow. As much as I love them, they stretch their wings, reaching for the sky, seeking to go forward, upward — to a place I cannot go.
Half of my offspring are young adults now, and I have come nearly full circle as I truly begin to understand the last stanza of Gibran’s poem:
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
The sheer pleasure of having very little ones in my home is now a thing of yesterday. A wonderful, special season, that I will always remember, but which belongs to yesterday. I look at my youngest, who looks so much like me, and think,
“I must still be a stable bow for her and the rest who are still in the nest, that they may grow to be men and women who also will freely bend to the Archer’s Will.”
O ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow…
The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love. The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable. You get it. You might be in the middle of it. Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long? How much? Why? Why especially right now?”
I love the holiday season. From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions. Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few. (A quick confession: I like this paragraph more than the first one. I want to live here. I want all good things, happy thoughts.)
The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now. Shauna Niequist says,
“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled. However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting. Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable. Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering. Do NOT minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.” This is not an easy place. I struggle with Advent. I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it. I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come. As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”
Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end. Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain. It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now). It does NOT bring true healing. Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing. Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior. Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.
God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times. Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.
We still have more than two weeks until Christmas. Let’s not skip to it. Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation. Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love. Let’s be okay in the waiting. Christmas will come soon enough. A baby will be here. A Savior will come. What is empty will be filled. Heartache will be healed. Yearning will be fulfilled. What is broken will be repaired. What we’ve lost will be found. But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!
A year ago, my third-born was bursting through the door, overstuffed college laundry bag in hand, ready for a week of “rest” in the “best bedroom ever,” along with eating the ultimate “Taylor ham and egg on an everything bagel” sandwich every morning of his time with us.
This afternoon, I was driving him to the airport. He is off to see his younger sister 2,726 miles away on the left coast.
A year ago, I was picking up my exhausted college baby girl up at the same airport, joy filling my heart as we chit-chatted on the way back to a house filled with family.
Today, my phone buzzes. “Can you send me Josh’s flight info? Also, can I have the famous jello salad recipe? I’m going to make it for Thursday.” She is headed to buy the ingredients to make her favorite Thanksgiving dish at a grocery store I don’t even know the name of.
A year ago, my oldest fed her baby our family-secret sweet potato casserole in the same booster seat we used for her, surrounded by oohs and aahs from cousins and great-grandparents.
On her commute home from teaching second-graders earlier, she chatters away on the phone. “When do you leave, Mom? I’m hoping to get my grad school papers done on Friday. We are just going to eat out with my mother-in-law on Thursday. I might make the family-secret sweet potato casserole just to have leftovers. ” Her two-year-old babbles in the background, “I want to go that way. I have a raccoon sticker. I see a tractor.”
A year ago, the second child of my heart was on his way home from a land far away, new puppy in tow, ready to cuddle up on his favorite sofa, eat his favorite NJ pizza, and see his favorite friends.
“Just landed in Florida. I hope you have a wonderful week” lights up across my laptop screen on Sunday morning. He’s with his girlfriend spending the holiday with her family. I can’t even tell you what town he is in. Maybe somewhere near Palm Beach. Not sure.
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
Feelings bubble to the surface, unlike any I’ve had before. I’m not sure what to make of them.
Thanksgiving has been together for 27 years. The three of us. Then the four of us. Then the five of us. Then the six of us. PLUS, a whole bunch (and I mean a WHOLE BUNCH) of other family and friends and anyone who wanted to join the mayhem.
Pies. Parade. Mashed potatoes. Dog show. Family-secret sweet potato casserole. Puzzles. Turkey. Football. Ham for those who hate turkey. Cousins. Gravy. Games. The famous jello salad. Beer-tasting. Pictures (the one at the top of this website being last year’s).
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
No overflowing shopping bags filled with cranberry sauce and giant foil roasting pans. No beds being prepped for guests. No Costco runs for last-minute hors d’oeuvres. Not even one decoration in sight except a pumpkin candle burning slowly behind me.
My husband, away on business, calls in the middle of all the feelings. “You’re alone. How are you?”
“I’m okay.” I say. “I like it in many ways. I am glad for tonight. But I’m glad I will see you soon.”
Tomorrow, I hop on a plane myself to spend a few days with my parents. My man hops on his own plane the next day to join me. I won’t be alone for long.
But right now, this alone thing gives me space. Space to sit with my Savior and sort out this new normal I find myself in.
This new normal filled with sorrow that I am not seeing ANY of my four children. To shed the tears that need to flow.
This new normal filled with thanks that I am seeing my parents, my groom and a grieving childhood friend. To allow a warm smile to curl to my lips.
This new normal filled with bewilderment that this is actually where I find myself on the journey (I think Costco might send a search party). To sit quietly, a questioning “hmmm” filling my thoughts.
This new normal mostly filled with hope that I might have just done this mom thing okay. To embrace the idea that my kids are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing: building lives of their own, going on new-found adventures, loving those they are with and best of all, making family-secret sweet potato casseroles and famous jello salads.
Here I sit on one of your chairs, spending some much-needed time with you today. What a mess you are, strewn with apples just bought at the farm stand, my purse, books I am reading, an open cereal container, a dirty plate filled with the remains of eggs and toast, my phone, some unpaid bills and a piping hot cup of tea.
You couldn’t be more perfect.
I am so sorry that I am not bringing you with me next week when we move.
You have been such a strong, yet inviting friend to me. Out of everything I am leaving behind, I will miss you most of all.
I will miss choosing you at the furniture shop over 28 years ago, my thoughts of the future with you swirling in my head.
I will miss decorating you for every.single.reason. From apples to pumpkins to snowflakes to birthdays to easter eggs to whatever tickled my fancy.
I will miss babies being pulled up in their high chairs next to you, surrounded by faces of those who love them.
I will miss the spinning lazy Susan in your middle that holds napkins, salt and pepper, the standard balsamic vinaigrette, butter and some spicy seasoning I refuse to try.
I will miss dogs licking up all the crumbs off the floor beneath you.
I will miss spaghetti-faced toddlers “coloring” you with red sauce.
I will miss sheets turning you into a fort for Dad and his little ones.
I will miss the small missing piece on your leaf where one of us dropped something hard and you paid the price.
I will miss your chairs where each one of us sat in our “assigned” places.
I will miss dishes being set on you for large family gatherings where you became the “kid’s table.”
I will miss laughing and crying, listening and talking, whispering and yelling, all of it.
I will miss nails being painted, pumpkins being carved and homework assignments being mostly finished on top of you.
I will miss the dreams shared, the scoldings given, and the “you have to try it” mantra being repeated every single night.
I will miss friends throwing purses on you and coats on your chairs as hearts were shared in another room.
I will miss birthday parties with cupcakes crumbled in your crevices and balloons tied to your chairs.
I will miss Thanksgiving soup being prepared as veggies and turkey were chopped into tiny pieces on your very sturdy, formica (but wood-look) top.
I will miss the way you endured beer-sampling, game-playing and appetizer-eating on all those crazy extended family holidays.
I will miss arguments, raised voices and quieter apologies with you right there in the middle of it all, holding us together.
I will miss how you held Easter baskets, babies, fondue sets, games, legos and gingerbread houses, displaying for everyone to see.
I will miss flowers, invitations and decorations scattered all over you as showers and weddings were being prepped.
I will miss normal family dinners when someone got trouble for poking the person next to them. (NOTE: It was never Dad.)
I will miss how you watched from afar as silly pictures were being taken on the computer only a few feet from you.
I will miss Friday pizza nights when you were sprinkled with paper plates and plastic cups filled with everyone’s favorite drink of choice.
BUT what I will really miss is the way you stayed with me through six kids, four houses, one marriage, lots of hellos, many goodbyes, and all the celebrations and sadness that made up our family. You stayed with me.
How good and precious for me to be alone with you right now, just the two of us, saying our goodbye to each other. Thank you for being with me as tears sneak down my cheek, a lump forms in my throat and I not-so-secretly hate leaving you behind. I couldn’t be more grateful to you. Thank you. Thank you. You have held my heart well.
You have been a mess in the past. You are a mess right now. But you have been perfect. You couldn’t be more perfect.
I wasn’t good at listening to pain in those early mom years.
I was good at getting things done.
I wasn’t good at facing loss in those early mom years.
I was good at never looking back.
I wasn’t good at sitting in grief in those early mom years.
I was good at looking at the “bright side.”
I lost two babies in the middle of all the other pregnancies that bore children and never skipped a beat. I got things done. I never looked back. I looked at the “bright side.”
This morning, as the reality of moving away from our family home in just a few short days, along with my grown-up children sleeping in homes far away,
I choose to skip a beat.
I choose to listen to my pain. I choose to not get things done. I choose to remember those babies whose names I will never know, who didn’t get to live in our family home and who are not now sleeping in homes far away.
I choose to face my loss. I choose to look back. I lost those babies. I am losing my home. I am losing my heavy-duty, active mom years.
I choose to sit right here for at least a few minutes with this gentle friend called grief. I choose to look at the shadow side. Those two precious souls who live with Jesus in heaven makes this mama heart sad. The truth that I will never sit around my beat-up kitchen table again with my kids makes me sad. The memories of little ones clutching my pant legs and teenagers sleepily coming down the stairs on Christmas morning makes me sad.
I choose to not rush to joy this morning. It’s really good in this place.
As I lie here this very normal Thursday morning, my body and mind and heart are somewhat anxious, so I spend some time talking to God.
The old, ugly, harsh, “principal’s office” God begins his normal barrage: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Can’t you get your act together? UGH.
I quickly step in and remind myself that this voice is not God, it’s the voices of discouragement and shame, enemies of my soul.
In its place, a tender voice speaks gently: what is wrong with you? what do you need?
I start bantering with this lover of my soul, and quite the conversation ensues.
I need Jared to start making money at this job he is working so hard at selling insurance.
Actually, you need My wisdom to know how much to help or not help.
I need our house to sell (and especially for this fledgling contract to be signed). This one is huge right now. It’s causing lots of underlying stress on our finances, our marriage, our very bodies.
Actually, you need a settledness of soul in the waiting, an abiding trust in Me. I care and I know.
I need Rachel to make a friend out there in California.
Actually, you need to feel your sadness over missing her and confront your own loneliness without her. You need to grieve.
I need Allen’s job to be more secure.
Actually, you need to live in today and from a place of provision from my generous heart, instead of that never-ending, life-sucking place of scarcity.
I NEED TO BE OKAY ON THE OUTSIDE!
Actually, you need to be okay on the inside.
(this time, He keeps going….)
My Esther, it’s not going to be having all the OUTSIDE problems solved. More of them will creep up every day. What you “needed” a year ago is completely different than what you will “need” a year from now.
What you REALLY need, however, is the same every moment, every day. You need to trust, to settle, to be in that “all manner of thing shall be well” place INSIDE, the place where I dwell. It’s safe there. You have EVERYTHING you need there.
And my God will liberally supply (fill until full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
P.S. One thing I do desperately need this morning (and any of you who might grace my presence would heartily agree): I NEED A SHOWER! Warm soapy, water, here I come!
I’m awake. It’s 4:00 am. Just 45 minutes ago, I heard the garage door open and close for the last time at this ungodly hour. I ran downstairs to give and get a hug from our youngest.
You see, tonight was the night of nights. After a final dinner celebrating our two graduates, Rachel and her best friend did what they always do. They drove around enjoying our sleepy little town and the surrounding areas, talking about all those things BFFs talk about. This was their last time to do that as neighbors who’ve known each other (and been mostly inseparable) since they were just six years old. That’s why it’s an ungodly hour. I don’t blame them. It’s really hard to say goodbye.
After crying and hugging when she came in, and clinging to her (and secretly wishing I never had to let go), she went to sleep in her childhood bed for one more dreamy night and after trying to venture back into my own fitful sleep, I gave up and decided to process just a tiny bit of the swirling emotions coursing through my very bones.
You see, today is the day of days. I begin the long goodbye of driving my precious Rachel across the country to her new life on the other coast in Burbank, California. 2,764 miles from our house to her new apartment. That’s really far. We leave in just 11 hours.
When she burst on the scene 19 years, 10 months ago, I never fathomed the ache I would hold in my heart this morning. The proud and painful and thankful and joyful and awful ache. It’s the universal mom ache that comes every time we say goodbye.
It starts when our babies take their first toddling and tentative steps away from us. That initial ache comes unbidden as we grasp a glimpse of all the future steps they will take away from us, all the goodbyes to come.
The goodbye of walking onto a school bus or into a classroom for the very first time. Tiny hands turn and wave. The ache rears and settles.
The goodbye of a first sleepover or summer camp. They are not “right in the next room,” safe under the cover of our home. The ache rears quietly and settles quickly.
The goodbye of their very independent, “I’ve got this,” preteen self. This one smacks loud and jolts abruptly. The ache rears ferociously and settles slowly.
The goodbye of a challenging teen mishap. Their childhood innocence door slams shut. The ache rears dragging fear along with it and settles in fits and starts.
The goodbye of backing out of the driveway moments after receiving freedom in the shape of a gift from the DMV. The ache rears with memories of a toddler in her car seat and settles with some much-needed freedom from late-night, seemingly endless pickups.
The goodbye of a graduation cap and a college dorm room. Stopping here for a moment. This one was really rough for me. This ache rears and settles, rears and settles, rears and settles, every time they come home and leave, come home and leave, come home and leave.
The goodbye I find myself in this morning. The goodbye of moving out and moving on. The goodbye that speaks to adulthood, active parenting job done, “will they make it on their own? This ache rears fresh and raw this morning. I am hopeful it will settle.
There are more goodbyes to come. The goodbye of weddings and births of grandchildren (I’ve experienced those with my oldest and she is experiencing her own goodbyes now). Every time, the steps are further and further away. Every time, the ache rears and rears and rears. Every time, the ache settles and settles and settles.
I know that with each goodbye comes a settling hello. A settling hello that brings newness, possibility and life. Believe me, I know.
But in the wee hours of this morning, I sit in the real, raw ache of the goodbye, not rushing the pride I feel, the pain I feel, the thankfulness I feel, the joy I feel and the awfulness I feel. It’s beautiful here. It’s sacred here. It’s momentous here.
The sun is not up yet. I sit quiet in the dark. The ache will settle soon enough. I like the ache for now. It’s my very good friend.
(To those of you who have said the worst goodbye in the loss of your child, I am just so sorry. I wonder if there is ever a settling after the ugly rearing of the ache. It’s okay if there’s not. Maybe there shouldn’t be. Either way, I wholeheartedly salute you. I stand with you. I sit with you. I am just so very sorry. You never should have had to say this kind of goodbye.)