Adapting to College Boy

As described last time, our oldest has left for college, and I wanted to share an update of where things stand. Right now, I’m working my way through the stages of grief at not having him around anymore.

In these first two weeks, we’ve FaceTimed with him twice; the first time we caught up with him in the basement of another dorm “hanging out with my friends.” Well that didn’t take long. The next time, he was in his room with his roommate. The first time, he was monosyllabic–maybe didn’t want to be too expressive around his new friends. The second time, he was laughing and much more the young man I’d expected to hear from. But overall, clearly, he’s enjoying himself and off to a solid start in many respects. And yes, true to form, the only texts he’s initiated with me have to do with…money.

We’re still getting used to not having him around. It’s quieter, even though he often hung out in the basement anyway. My food bill collapsed. It’s easier to make a menu of dinners when only three have to agree on the meals.

But the silence still screams at me. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something funny in social media that I know he’d react to and went to call out, “Hey, D, come take a look at…oh.” It’s not being able to share the little moments of everyday life that I think bothers me the most at this point.

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College Boy

This past weekend we moved our son into his freshman dorm at college. Our baby boy, our firstborn, is now College Boy, and we’ve found our world changed to an even greater degree than we’d imagined.

Of course we’d been getting ready, or so we thought. We’d been planning for college literally since he was born, and pointing him on this path since he began school. He’s been gone many times before–mission trips, Scout camp–and I thought I was ready for what this would feel like.

I was wrong.

I think what surprised me the most was the size of the hole that’s been left in my heart. The experts say that the most stressful life event is the death of a spouse; having a child move off to college isn’t even on their top ten list. But I can avow that this week has been one of the most heart-wrenching in the last several years. Of course, I love my son; my problem is, I actually like him, too, and I miss having him around. I’ve enjoyed being able to share something with him on the fly. That’s not as possible now.

We got him moved in, and managed to say our goodbyes without drama. Made it out to the car just fine, and even made the four-hour drive home without a problem. But when we got home late at night and I headed upstairs to bed, I saw under his door that he’d left his room light on. Grrr…so I opened the door to turn the light off.

And now I’m in his room. And there on the bed is what was his most beloved stuffed animal since first grade, sitting forlorn, waiting for a little boy who will never return–because he’s all grown up now. That’s when I lost it.

“Behold,” says the one who sits on the throne, “I am making all things new.” And I know this is natural, this is part of the progression of a healthy human being as he separates and starts his own path. But I also know I’m still selfish enough to want one more game of catch, one more Daddy-David Day, one more driving lesson, one more…everything. This is a glorious time, and we do celebrate it. But I’m also selfish enough to mourn what I’m losing, to miss what I don’t have anymore. And so my struggle right now is how to set that aside, and keep my eyes on the promise of renewal and growth that Christ brings. That’s going to be my challenge for the next few weeks.

Becoming Perfect

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

This verse, and John Wesley’s teaching on perfection, is some of what I struggle most with as a Christian. I certainly know I’m not perfect, and from where I sit, I doubt I would ever be able to achieve a state of errorlessness on this side of the veil. Wesley taught that it was possible, to some degree, to achieve perfection in this life:

…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’ ( A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism, p. 12). 

“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end” (ibid.). Lastly, perfection is “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin” (ibid., p. 26) and “a Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin” (ibid., p. 25).

Wesley is right in that it ought to be possible to achieve a “habitual disposition of the soul” towards Christ, and indeed, I know people like that, and I want to become one someday. I also know, though, that those are people who still sin. They are human, after all.

oops

Jesus’ assertion that we are “to be perfect, even as” God is perfect, though, allows for the possibility that this completeness won’t happen on this side of death. And I think that’s OK: we will become perfect, one day, and while we can certainly strive for improvement, even perfection, in this life, it’s important (I believe) to cut ourselves enough slack to recognize our continuing frailty and humanity even after our justification through grace.

Caring For The Sparrows

I’d been planning this weekend awhile. The kids are both gone on their mission trip, and so I was going to take Mary up to New York City. She’d never been to see a Broadway show, and the son of my brother-from-another-mother was in his third Broadway production. It would be a marvelous weekend.

Until it started coming apart. Ben’s show got cancelled, after we had already bought the (nonrefundable) airline tickets. So we were going anyway, I figured, might as well see a different musical–and besides, the point was for us to do something together, for me to take her to a show, not just to see Ben.

The day of the flight, lots of running around, but eventually, to the airport in plenty of time…to have our flight get delayed. And delayed again. And delayed a third time. And then cancelled. Seems weather was getting in the way of lots of traffic up and down the East Coast. There weren’t going to be any more flights to La Guardia tonight, and the auto-reroute offer from the airline had us staying home overnight and catching an 8am flight. But then we’d lose out on the hotel room, which we’d already paid for…

We started looking at options. I got in line to spring our suitcase from baggage, and we started looking at train options to get there tonight. And I could just see where this was going: either we have to wait for a flight tomorrow and lose out on the hotel cost, or we have to spring for hundreds of dollars in train tickets. The voice of resignation was pretty loud in my head. And let’s face it, that’s certainly been my experience. Yours too?

But when we got to the front of the line, miracle of miracles, the airline made us a different offer: instead of La Guardia tomorrow, they could put us on the delayed flight to Kennedy still tonight. It’d be late, but we could still get there, still get to our hotel, and still begin our weekend together in Manhattan.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:26-27) But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. […] So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10:29b, 31)

Two facts: First, the good is always opposed. Love is opposed, and so an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together and add to the structure of our 23-year marriage…I should have foreseen that it would have been opposed. And second: God does take care of us. He’s promised we’re worth more than the sparrows, we’re worth so much to him that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. But we still refuse to believe it.

We’ve been wrestling with some big questions in our family lately, questions about life directions and key changes we may make to ourw ay of living. And in those as well, I’ve heard Jesus whispering, “What was that thing I taught you about the sparrows? Do you trust me yet?”

We got to our hotel room at 2:30 the next morning, after still more delays. But we were there. We listened to the voice reassuring us that there is a plan and it is good. And you know what? We had a great weekend. Seeing Wicked on Broadway is just a great experience. And we could build more bonds in our marriage, and still make it back in time to welcome the kids home. God is good, all the time.

It Takes Effort

Let me tell you a little about the last couple of weeks in my world.

  • Spent two-plus days with my son taking him to his college orientation.
  • Helping plan, then execute, his Eagle Scout project–he’s up against the 18th birthday deadline, so everything has to be done at once.
  • Planning for his own high school graduation, which will be this week.
  • Graduation parties for the high school graduates of some of my best friends in the world.
  • Emceeing the farewell dinner for our two pastors at church, and chairing the Church Council meeting.
  • Replaced the oven, which curled up and died suddenly in the midst of all this.
  • Taking my bride to a Dolly Parton concert, finally fulfilling a lifelong dream of hers.
  • Helping my daughter through the fraught last few school assignments and exams of freshman year.
  • Oh yeah, my day job: helping run a $28B organization while short-staffed.

All of these take a pretty big effort to pull off. Orientation meant eight hours’ driving total, and lots of information flooding at me. The Eagle project required multiple meetings, runs to Home Depot, and general support even before the first spade hit the sod to begin his project. Graduation parties mean multiple guests coming, which means the carpets finally have to be cleaned, and the house too, ahead of the big day. I’m not a big Dolly fan, but my wife is, so I make the time to do this, which is important to her.

What’s missing from the list? Oh yeah: drawing closer to God.

It always seems to me that the paradox of my life is that the times when I need him most, when things are running full-steam and barely under control, or even (shudder) out of control, those are the times I don’t make enough of a priority of being with Christ. Intellectually I know I have to; it’s just the press of the now-now-now that means I don’t make it the priority it needs to be. It takes a high degree of intentionality to stay focused on being in communion with Christ when all around me is swirling, and I confess, I don’t do that as well as I should. There’s a gap between what I know I should do, and what I actually do.

intentgap

I’m somewhat pleased to report, though, that in the midst of this past push of madness, I was able to do an 11-day Bible reading and reflection program. Of course, I did it in only three days: I’d forget about it for a few days then push to catch up, then fall behind again and have to cover several days at once. But I did do it, which is progress for me. I also re-started reading Matthew again, which I haven’t done in awhile, and trying a new discipline of reading it before even getting up in the morning.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort sometimes just to keep going. And to add something to the list–even something as essential as working on my relationship with God–often feels either one thing too much, to be honest, or slips my frazzled brain entirely. It’s not ideal, I know. But it’s real, and it’s where I’m truly at sometimes. I like to think those are the times my forgiveness is all the more precious.

Immersion in God’s Love

This past weekend, I had the chance (finally!) to go on the Walk to Emmaus as part of the National Capital Area Emmaus community, which hosted their 177th weekend. I was one of 21 men to walk as pilgrims, and even a week later (to be honest) I am still processing all that it meant.

For those not aware, an Emmaus weekend starts Thursday afternoon and goes until Sunday at a retreat center. We were up in the hills of western Virginia, and we are intentionally cut off from the outside world in many ways, so as to allow us to focus on God: no watches, no cell phones, no laptops, no nothin’. The 24 men on the staff have all done this themselves before, and they help us through the weekend with food, music, eating, activities, more food, and times of reflection. And eating. We had 15 little “talks” that some of the men gave on grace, life in Christ, and taking that grace and life out into the wider world. Several of those were incredibly raw, honest, even touching stories of how each man had fallen, and yet had been redeemed by Christ. We sang lots of contemporary Christian music, and even got in some exercise a few times. We shared joys and concerns at smaller gatherings, and we came together to reflect on what God’s love really meant.

At the closing ceremony, I stumbled through a few words about how the poverty of the English language means it’s not possible for me to put into words what the experience meant. People talk about an Emmaus weekend being life-changing; I pray it’s so, and the only test of that is down the road. But I had the opportunity to experience God in so many ways over the course of the weekend:

  • I experienced God’s love in new ways, ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time. In fact, I experienced it as a wonderful relentlessness: I might try to duck and hide, but God’s love will just keep coming, and coming, and coming for me. I had always known in my head about the scope of his love; this weekend I could feel it in my heart.
  • I met dozens of new brothers in Christ: men that, for having gone through this experience together, I know I can count on for support and prayer. Our “theme song” for the weekend was Lean on Me, and it was a blessing to meet so many people I can lean on.
  • I was challenged to set myself aside as never before. The little acts of service that the staff provide add up to a huge challenge to a “guy” who’s used to handling everything himself and being self-reliant.

On the drive home, I shared with my sponsor some of the reactions I’d had to the immersion I’d experienced in God over the weekend. I remember in the earlier part of the weekend feeling overwhelmed by God’s love and presence, and at one point I had the following exchange with him in my heart:

“I don’t deserve this, all this love being shown to me, someone who’s as broken as they come.”

“You’re right,” God replied, “you don’t.”

“I’m not worthy,” I protested.

“Oh, yes. Yes, you are,” he whispered. “And I’m gonna show you, and keep on showing you, until you finally get it: this is how much I love you.”

De Colores.

All About Heart

At the office, the big boss sponsors a twice-yearly book club in which we read current business/leadership books and then discuss lessons for us all. I’m in the middle of reading the current assignment, which appears to be a book aligned with the current fad of Silicon Valley–“fail fast”–and urges us to come to terms with our failures so we can move on to better things.

There’s a lot of pop-psych in it so far, but one thing struck me about the first set of advice. The author says that when we fail, we feel lots of difficult emotions–fear, shame, anger, resentment–but in our culture, it’s not widely acceptable to address those emotions. We’re taught as youngsters to downplay our feelings–shake it off, get back in the game–and her point in the book is that we can’t experience “wholeheartedness” until we at least acknowledge what’s going on in our emotional lives.

That phrase, “wholeheartedness,” captured me. In large measure that’s been the story of my own spiritual quest for the last couple decades. Intellectually I’ve always grasped Christianity; I can read all about the early church and the various schisms and heresies and I can grasp what it all means. But it’s been a slow lesson over the ages to learn that until I give my heart to Christ, I can understand what it means, but I’ll never understand What It All Means.

Proverbs 23:26 says, “O my son, give me your heart, may your eyes take delight in following my ways.” And in Matthew 22:37, Jesus answers the Pharisee who asked about the greatest commandment by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime to learn, God’s not after my logical assent to his philosophical argument. He’s after my heart, and as long as I guard that and downplay, deny, minimize what he’s trying to do in my heart, I’ll never experience wholeheartedness. Indeed, I’ll never really experience God.

And so one of the ways I’m trying to grow towards God this Lenten season is by understanding more of what it means to be wholehearted. Fill me afresh, Lord Jesus, fill my heart and let there be nothing but you there. Take all my fear, my shame, my anger, my resentment, and come, live in my heart and fill it with your grace instead. Not just at Lent, but in every day!