Monday, August 25, 2008

From a Distance

Everyone is home now. Bill and Abby arrived home late afternoon, yesterday. And Alex is settled in his new home, at college, far away. It feels surprisingly okay. After all, these last couple years we have seen less and less of him as he has gone out to concerts, stayed overnight at friends' houses, gone on short trips, worked a job. He has been growing up and leaving for college, in a sense, for a while now. It was talked about and planned for and happened.

It's amazing how fast life goes, and also how agonizingly slow and long some days are- the painful days. Right now, these are happy days. I feel a bit sad, but I am not in severe pain over the loss and the separation. My son hasn't left us- he has just left home base for another base where he can continue on towards his dreams. That's what we want for him.

While Bill and Abby were gone, getting Alex settled into his dorm, I was here in an empty house filled with a lot of stuff. I had bags and boxes of things that we no longer needed or wanted or things that we have outgrown. So my sister, Sue, and I had a Garage Sale at her house. It was a great way to be busy and to thin out unnecessary things from our life.

It was hot and sunny and the people came in waves. It was also a lot of fun.

"A dollar!" became our answer for almost every inquiry of "How much is this?". We just wanted to get Stuff out of our life and make room for Love, for Change, for Moving Onward. Her oldest son was leaving to go back to his last year of college and we both were feeling a bit blue, a bit unsettled. So it was fun to be together and to meet so many interesting people.

And then I saw him- the most beautiful little baby boy. A chubby baby- as in pudgy dimpled arms and legs. I joked with the Mom who was holding him, "This is the only time in your life when rolls of fat look so good on you!". My sister and I remarked how adorable he was. The mother told us he was five months old. I looked at that little boy and thought of my little boy, now big, now grown, now gone. I think she saw longing in my eyes, because then she did something so unexpected. She suddenly reached out and placed her baby in my arms. Without a word. With a smile. A very knowing smile.

I held him close to me and my eyes welled up with tears. He was chubby and blond and fair skinned- not at all like my son was when he was a baby. But he was close to me. He was in my arms and not resisting. He was snuggled in close to me. And for one minute I felt such sweetness and such sadness that I couldn't speak. I had once held my son like this. More than once. Many, many times, many days, many years. And the years flew by.

And now I hold him close to me, but also from a distance.

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun...." (Eccl. 3:1)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Midnight Battles and Morning Convictions

You don't have to have a child going off to a college far away to feel anxious. There are so many things that can cause that nervous undercurrent where you are breathing rapidly and feel slightly nauseous. Then the mind kicks in with those circular thoughts that never come to a conclusion, and you realize you are worrying.

For me, this usually occurs at 3am. I don't know why, but this is when I suddenly wake up and have to admit that I am feeling anxious. It happened again last night. And the Fight is always harder at night time. This is when things look bleak and your resources seem to be a tiny, tiny cup of hope. This is when you could even think that God is far away and that your battle is yours, alone, to deal with. But its not.

I've gotten more adept at these night time battles. I no longer expect to float through life without getting attacked by Anxiety. Anxiety is a voracious lion always looking to enter into the land of your mind and feed off your fears. But now I expect that I can win this battle every time I start to feel the erratic palpitations of my heart.

God wants me to win this battle, because every time I do, I am reasserting my proclamation that God is My Provider, My Healer, My Deliverer. This is what is at stake: who is God when we feel weak and afraid? Is He as weak as our quivering will to survive or is He as mighty and strong as the One who just whispers an order and a violent storm is stilled and quieted? I have to answer that every time I battle anxiety, every time I feel afraid. I have to keep reasserting Who He IS and How I want to know Him.

How I know Him determines how well I sleep at night, determines how much I am willing to take a risk or even make a mistake. "He gives more grace", always more grace, to the ones who not only ask for it, but by their need are constantly aware that its by grace that they stand (James 4:6).

Now today I see a very dark sky. It's raining and it will probably thunder. It looks bleak and it feels as dark as it looks. But I also see a reason to smile, even as I look around the messy house and as I think of the last minute errands I have to run. I battled an enemy last night, and I came out ahead. I'm farther along in trusting Him, and I think I could even say He is proud of me that I am contending for all that He wants for me: to live in peace, to breathe in hope and give out love, and never ever fear what lies ahead.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tears and Smiles

I think the dog may be more in tune with the reality of what's happening than I am. After all, Harry is not running around buying socks, shampoo, x-long twin sheets for those famously uncomfortable extra long beds in the dorms. Instead he is lying on my bed, half asleep,half mourning all the commotion, looking like a sweet lamb in a bit of distress.

The dining room table is our Grand Central: that's where lists and bags and more bags of stuff are being stored. That, and Alex's room- which is quickly filling up with more duffel bags of clothes and books and assorted things. We are packing up our son as if he is going off to the wilderness for four years. I am too busy managing and shopping and making lists to pay attention to what I may feel later...when he is gone.

The plan is this: early (very early) Wednesday morning, Bill will be doing last minute packing of the car (I already know this). Then Alex will wake up in a fog,put in his contacts, and root around the house looking for last minute things. Abby will get up last, and smile at me in anticipation of the adventure ahead: she is going also. There is a college connection type of day camp going on at the same time as the freshman orientation. She is going to take part. It is going to be a whirlwind of activity for the three of them for three days. And I will be here at the house, soothing Harry with lots of murmuring, "It's going to be alright" and lots of sighing- both his and mine.

For the five days Bill and Abby will be gone(three days in Kentucky settling Alex in and then two days traveling home), I will be wandering around this house in total peace and quiet. I intend to pray a lot, take Harry on lots of walks, read, and look out the window while my mind flashes back to the days when I was so needed in my son's life.

There's a bit of joy and peace I have in releasing him to his future because I do feel I have done all I could do in "launching" him. He would tell you, also, that there has been no shortage of words, on my part, no lack of admonitions, warnings, and reminders. I could wish that I had hugged him more these last couple years, but even there it seems that young men need fewer hugs and more looks of love, instead; the kind of look that says, "I want to hug you so badly right now but instead I'll look at you with such pride. You're a strong young man,...and I'm so glad you're my son."

My son will tell you that I give him all kinds of looks- those looks of love, looks of frustration, looks that yell out in warning, "That's one more box of hair coloring that you owe me!" every time he has turned me gray with worry. I think he may miss the looks I give him most of all. He certainly knows that I will call him a lot and we'll talk by phone.

But as for the look on my face when we're talking, he will have to imagine what that is. Most of the time it will be a look that says, "I'm missing you so much right now...but I wouldn't wish that you were home. You are right where you are supposed to be. And that makes me smile. " After all, tears and smiles go together quite frequently. At least in this household they do.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Everything Will Change

The dog is upset. I don't say that with much sympathy. I'm a bit frustrated with Harry right now. For the last six nights in a row, he has had an accident on the carpet, in the same spot, blatantly displaying his refusal to come and nudge us or bark in warning that he needed to go out. He didn't even try to get to the door to go out and do his business. No, it's like he has issued a warning to us that he is disturbed and emotionally troubled right now, and what better way to let us know that than with something so aromatically charged and obvious as his "business" right there before us where he has no business going?!

It could be that he can tell our son is leaving for college any day now. It may be that he senses all the commotion and packing and discussing is a sign that a big change is occurring- and he does not like change. He has made that very clear to us in the years we have had him.

"He's very delicate," my husband will say, in his defense.

"He's needy" my kids will offer up as an explanation of why he clings to us and shadows me everywhere I go in the house.

"He's a lot of work," I usually reply with an angry glare... and then a sigh signaling I am going to overlook his latest faux-pas. He is what he is: furry, fun, lovable and often a pain in the neck. But we adopted him from the Animal Rights Rescue group. We chose him to come live with us, for better or worse. And that's where we are right now, at one of those seasons where Harry is exhibiting his anxiety and confusion.

I myself have been having disturbing dreams, midnight wrestlings where I wake up and look at the clock reading 3am, and then battle all the "what if's" that suddenly come to mind. None of us are sad that Alex is leaving for college. We're excited for him. We're very hopeful about all that he is going to learn and experience. But we're a bit anxious about how life will be, now. Everything- and I do mean everything- is going to change.

Now there will be only three of us at the dinner table each night. The house will be quiet, except for the light humming along to music that Abby does. There won't be groups of guys coming over, saying "Hi Mrs. Caldwell!" while they hopefully eye the kitchen looking for chocolate cake or something freshly baked for them to eat. A big change will be that once Bill and I retire to our room to sleep, I will not lie there half awake as the night goes on, waiting for that knock on the door that signals my son's return home from whatever adventure he'd just had. When our daughter Abby goes to sleep (at a reasonable hour), she is out for the count, just like that. But our son is a night owl. And he doesn't always remember to let me know when he finally gets home. Many nights I have suddenly woken up with a start, run to his room to find him sprawled across his bed, and have heaved a sigh of relief. Now, when Bill, Abby (and even Harry) go to bed for the night, that's where everyone will be till bed, safe and sound.

As to where my son will be every night, who knows?! He will be where he should be: at college, in his new world, carving out his life there with joy and probably some confusion. It will be a big change for him, having complete autonomy and jurisdiction over his life (other than the reminder phone calls that I do plan to make, reminding him to take medicine, reminding him to try-please try- and get some sleep, reminding him to eat vegetables and fruit and not just pizza and fries with cheese sauce all the time).

His leaving is not the only big change in our family's life. We are homeschooling Abby this year. We are also looking for a new church to be part of, one that is scaled down to the basics of fellowship, ministry, prayer. Many churches struggle in their quest to handle their growth. Sometimes they wind up wanting the supposed beauty of the business world where everything is efficient, successful, and organized. Management can become a key word, instead of Ministry. I'm at a point in my life where I have to scale back to the things that I know I need. I need to get to a place where I can fellowship with struggling Christians, with victorious Christians, with broken and confused Christians- 'cause I am all of those. Look me in the eye, and you'll see that. But we'll need to be face to face. We'll need to be real with each other.

Everything is changing. And change, for the most part, is stressful. But it is so needed. It signals that we're growing, that we're developing our gifts. It signals that we're releasing loved ones into their future. It means that we can't hold onto the past. We fumble around through change, and we often look ridiculous as we navigate the new paths before us. We are humbled as we have to ask for help, ask for advice from others who have gone before us. We are sometimes skittish and nervous, as Harry has been.

But it's all good. It really is. Or I should say it all works together for good- if we're flexible, if we admit that we have not gone this way before, if we look up and fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our Faith. He will make this new world we enter be above and beyond what we thought it could be. It will be a journey and a Challenge. And it will be alright.

Monday, August 11, 2008

How to Make Him Smile

You never know when something is an opportunity or a distraction until you do a bit of investigation. We received a letter in the mail, recently, saying that someone referred my daughter, Abby, to a local girl's pageant. It was a bit confusing, the letter. It seemed like it was talking about a type of beauty pageant- only they made references to it being a pageant based on personality. Hmmmm. Only one way to find out what this was all about: we decided to go to the information meeting. It was set for Saturday.

It turns out that it was not something we would get involved with- for many reasons. But we did have an enjoyable experience watching what was presented, listening to the details, and investigating what the bottom line was all about.

As we drove home, my daughter explained what the personal interview was like. She was told she needed to walk towards the panel of judges with her eyes on them, projecting confidence, and then sit down while they asked her three questions. It all happened within a couple minutes, she said. (And they were going to evaluate on just that?)

"Did you maintain eye contact with the judges as you walked toward them?" I asked.

"Yes, " she said. "Only they weren't looking at me. They were scribbling notes on a piece of paper, probably notes about the girl who had just gone before me. They didn't see that I was looking at them." My daughter is pretty discerning about the way life is: that first impressions are noted, that people do judge a book by its cover, and that she really isn't into "all that". So we headed to the community pool for some fun in the sun, and put all this pageant stuff behind us.

It was interesting, though, this morning, when I was reading in Hebrews chapter 4 and 5. We are not to have "an evil heart of unbelief". And with confidence, we are told to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need". To come boldly means to come without reservation, with unreserved utterance, candor, cheerful courage. Why would we be cheerful and courageous in approaching God with our requests for help? Why would we have our eyes on Him, expectant and hopeful, as we walk towards Him- just as my daughter did when she approached the panel of judges?

Could it be that cheerful courage is the sign, the external evidence, that we know Whom we have believed in and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him- our faith, our trust, our reliance on Him?(2 Tim. 1:12) Now, those judges did not see my daughter looking confidently at them. They are human. They miss things. We all do.

But God never misses a saint looking expectantly at Him- never! But sadly true as well is the fact that He sees when we have averted our eyes, when we have failed to trust Him, failed to believe that He is our Help in times of trouble. "'...O you of little faith!' What a stinging pain must shoot through the disciples as they surely thought to themselves, "We missed the mark again!'. And what a sharp pain will go through us when we realize that we could have produced complete and utter joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, in spite of what we were facing"(My Utmost for His Highest 8/12).

The thought that I could produce joy in the heart of Jesus by letting Him see my eyes are on Him, my confidence is in Him, and I am walking towards Him expectant of His available help- well, that makes my day! I'm all set to go out and bring a smile of joy to Him by simply letting Him see that no where but Him do my eyes rest, no One but Him do I trust in to make me able to run this race and not be weary, to walk courageously onward and not faint.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Letting Go

Two weeks from today my first child, my son Alex, leaves for college- and not a college in a nearby town but in a southern state 13 hours away by car. This is the child who was born 3 1/2 weeks premature, weighing 4 lbs. 14 ozs, and who didn't weigh what a normal new born would weigh till he was three months old. My husband kept saying "He looks like a little squab" as we looked at baby photos of him the other day.

This is the child who has aged me considerably these last two years. He was only doing what he had to do- which was asserting himself, trying out independence and autonomy; and I was only doing what a mother does- which was letting go, or trying to learn to let go while watching over him fiercely like the mother hawk that I am. I don't know how to love casually and dis-interestedly. But I had to learn to love from an increasing hands-off distance. I would give myself a C, so far.

At least I am not failing the Course "How to Be the Mother of a Teenage Son". The only mother who fails that course is the mother who gives up...permanently. I have given up many times. Usually at the dinner table. My son reminded me of that last night. My level of frustration will rise as the level of my son's humor-turned-into-sarcasm sometimes rises, and I'll throw my hands up, and retreat to the bedroom for some peace. (I normally did this when the supper turned out to be dry or burnt. It was easier to retreat then.)

But I only gave up temporarily. You're allowed to do that. Some nice people call it surrendering. Some Christians- the gracious kind- will murmur how you are wise to give up, to let go, to walk away. Even if I yelled out, "I quit! I'm not going to mother you anymore. Do your own laundry and make your own meals!", I meant it...for only an hour or so. Then that need to love and care for someone who tried my patience would return and I would buck up and brace myself to go on clumsily mothering my soon-to-fly-off little chickadee. Only this chickadee grows a beard in a day and walks like a man and sometimes comes back home for a quick hug and a whisper of encouragement to me: "You're not so bad, Mom".

That's what will ring in my ears as he and his Dad fill the car with all his stuff and drive off to take him to his college, to take him to his future. I might feel a bit teary eyed but then I'll think of all that awaits him: the challenges, the fun, the growing, the discovery of it all. And then when I walk into the house and see the silent drum set in the garage, and hear no raucous music blasting from his room, and see no dirty clothes lying around the bathroom floor, I'll whisper to myself, "It's not so bad." And then I'll know that he and I can do this thing called Letting go.

Monday, August 04, 2008

How Do You Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S?

Saturday my Dad threw a party. My brother Mark and my two sisters and all the grandchildren gathered over at my parents' house to eat lobster and sweet corn from my brother's organic garden. Only my brother Joe and his family were not there (because they live in Pennsylvania). But we added in Laurenzo, my cousin, from my Dad's side of the family, and his daughter. When I introduced my daughter to his daughter, I tried to explain that she was a second (or was it third?) cousin, but Laurenzo gently rebuked me and said, "In South America, there are no second or third cousins. It is simply primo, cousin; you are family, and there are no second or thirds."

So we feasted and of course, we danced. Or I should say, they danced. I'm not into the salsa and tango and mambo or anything else that requires me to whirl around the dance floor shaking my hips. I must have missed out on that gene when it was passed out. Instead, I wound up out in the screened in porch overlooking the garden, discussing choice of majors, colleges, and careers with my nephews and one of my brothers-in law. I started to recall the days when I did recruiting and personnel placement. I wanted to help my nephew zero in on his heart's desire rather than choose a college major and a career based on what pays, who is hiring, and where the majority go.

Later, after we got home, I felt restless. And the restlessness didn't go away. What kept surfacing in my mind was the whole issue of how we navigate the major crossroads of our lives, the turning points when you have to make a choice, or by not making a choice to do something, you have inadvertently chosen something by default. The whole issue of success- or what is success- has been on the back burner of my mind, constantly simmering, never coming to full boil, but not cooling down either.

How we define success will influence our level of peace and contentment. And what, exactly, is success? Should the Christian have a different definition of success than the world does? According to wordnet, success is:
  • an event that accomplishes its intended purpose;
  • an attainment that is successful;
  • a state of prosperity or fame;
  • achiever: a person with a record of successes; (

  • Now that last one-"a person with a record of successes"- can be a real doozy. If I choose the Lord Jesus Christ as my role model, and I look at His life, I find that He has successes and yet He has what looks like... failures. After all, in one town, "He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them" (Mark 6:5). For Jesus, doing a "few" miracles is an apparent failure compared to the great success He had in other towns. And we could go on and on about the many times Christ looked like a failure, when Jesus withdrew from the crowds (Conquerors never withdraw), when Jesus looked like a bloody, broken mess dying on the cross (Successful people avoid looking bad at all costs, don't they?).

    "God called Jesus to what seemed absolute disaster...His life was an absolute failure from every standpoint except God's" writes Oswald Chambers. And that's the word we have to remember: standpoint. It's not a common word. It has to do with viewpoint, stance, mental attitude. It's a position you take from which you make your decision: is this the right thing to do? Is this what it means to succeed?

    To succeed means to prevail and to win the victory. That's how I define success. "And this is the victory that overcomes the world-- even our faith" (1 John 5:4). Our faith in Him leads us to obey Him. Successful is the one who obeys. Successful is the one who trusts Him even though it looks like your ship is sinking. Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" and He was talking about what it felt like, what it looked like, when his world was falling apart. It can look like you are a failure- from the standpoint of one who trusts in attainment and fame. Or it can look like your world is shaky, your trophies have fallen, and yet your faith is still in the One who defines what success is for us.

    Each time I trust when I want to fear, I am successful. Each time I reach out when it would be easier to pull back, I am successful. Each time I say, "Yes, Lord- even though I don't understand what You're doing", I have won the victory.

    Friday, August 01, 2008

    The Opportunity Before Me

    I thought when I got back from vacation that I would be able to retain the newfound peace and sense of refreshment...but it's been a battle. Life comes at you with appointments, errands to run, children's needs to take care of, and you're flying all over the place taking care of these things when all of a sudden you realize your heart is racing, you're a bit agitated, and the sunny, peaceful beach days of vacation are long past. You could almost think you have to let go of what you gained. Almost. But I've decided that its mine to keep- the rest, the refreshment, the sense of contentment.

    Even though this month of August is the THE month for change, for good-byes, for traveling, for visits, and for starting new things, it is still summer vacation. I've got to make sure I glean all I can out of the sun and the laughter and the taste of watermelon and the smell of sunscreen and sweat. "Summertime and the living is easy" that jazzy song tells us- but it's really not that easy to relax. It's doable, but not easy.

    In about three weeks, my husband drives our son down to Kentucky for the beginning of his life away at college. Then a week after that, I fly down to Nashville to visit my niece. Then a week after that, I begin homeschooling our daughter. We have decided to go back to homeschooling her after two years of middle school education at a Christian school. It's going to be an interesting year, and possibly a bit quieter- with our son gone. (No more beating drums and blasting music). But one thing it will not be is routine. Everything is changing. There are more changes I will tell you about. And I've got to flex with it all.

    "If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish- His purpose is the process itself" (My Utmost for His Highest 7/28). Now that "calm, faithful, and unconfused" part is a real mouthful. I normally don't major in calm (my husband does). I struggle with being faithful (but my dog, Harry, doesn't). But the unconfused part- well, that I am getting better at. I am no longer dismayed and floored by the changes and the suddenness of how life throws something new at you. This part- life's ups and downs- this part I expect. More than ever.

    One life changing thing I learned from reading The Success Principles was to look at problems as an opportunity to learn something. And where there are problems, there's stress. And where there's stress, there's a need for surrender. "If you want to remain calm and peaceful as you go through life, you have to have high intention and low attachment. You do everything you can to create your desired outcomes, and then you let it go" writes Jack Canfield. And he is absolutely right.

    But the letting go part is the killer. Acting as if you can trust God to take care of what you cannot is a beautiful expression of faith. But this is not beautiful as in "sittin' pretty". This is beautiful as in the praying, releasing, worrying and then praying and releasing all over again. This is work. This is the beautiful work of the Christian- "letting it go" into the hands of God.

    When we let go of what is happening and our expectation of how something should turn out, we can look for the surprise God had in mind for us, rather than the expected Outcome we had wanted. Canfield says it best when he writes, "Instead of getting upset when things don't unfold as you anticipated, always ask yourself the question, 'What's the possibility that this is?'"

    So many changes occurred in these last months that I could be very confused about what God wants from me. Or I could view all these changes and problems as opportunities, possibilities. There's always the possibility that God has something different in mind- different than what you were thinking.

    I am quite uncertain about what God is doing, right now, in my life. But I am not confused as to his motive and His plan: God wants me to learn to "appropriate risk and uncertainty" (The Shack) and by learning to live with all that I don't know or understand, still be certain of His love, still be completely unconfused as to the fact that he is FOR me. He leads me. There's no doubt about that in my mind. He loves me- there's occasional bits of doubt about that, yes; because there are times that are not so loving and comfortable. But oh, the opportunity to grow and trust Him!