My family and friends were at a restaurant playfully bantering, as is our custom. We are a lippy sort of crowd with (mostly) good-natured jokes and jabs flying often. After one such mother-daughter volley, my Very-Ready-To-Go-Senior turned to her friend and said, “Only six more months. I only have to listen to this for Six. More. Months!” The whole table erupted in a knowing laughter. Including me. Except as suddenly as we laughed, tears started falling from my eyes. I mean, falling. Like rats jumping from a sinking ship. The laughter turned into this weird, awkward “Mom are you okay??”
I looked to Chuck for rescue. I didn’t even know what had happened in this blink of a eye. His eyes softened and he put an understanding hand on my arm. “Mama,” he said in a tender voice, “you gonna be okay?”
Oh, now I see why the rats were jumping! The ship WAS sinking. Sinking. “Sure, sure,” I choked out and immediately excused myself from the table to go cry in the bathroom.
Six months. My girl was going to be gone in six short months. I sat in the stall snorting and snotting and tried to remember the last time I felt this out of control of my own body. Oh that’s right. When I was pregnant. Then, like now, there was a human being inside of me wrestling to get out, and I was trying to maintain my own mental stability while someone else was literally trying pull the life out of me.
I just want to say, very kindly for the record, the parenting books lied. At the very least, they lied by omission. They never forewarned us of the painful parallels. No one ever explained how the birthing process didn’t end at delivery and this grown up launching hurts every bit as much as labor. Liars.
They neglected to tell us that the incredible tension between “within you, a part you” and “outside of you, a part of you” never leaves. Did you hear me? It never leaves. Remember the internal battle? How the warm fuzzy “I love creating new life” feeling warred against the “get this kid out of me” reality. I experience this same supercharged battle every day with my woman-child who is now kicking at the wall of my heart and home the same way she kicked at the wall of my womb.
I catch myself just looking at her like I did when she was a newborn. Of course she won’t let me hold her like I did then. But I try to soak her in, to capture every detail of how she has grown and changed, fully aware she is not done growing and changing. Only from here on out, I won’t have a front row seat.
Whew. There is that lump again. The out of nowhere lump in my throat that keeps catching me off guard. It beckons just like a contraction, a painful reminder that an inevitable life-change is on the horizon. And we are never going back to the way it was. The other day, I was making work plans for the fall when the “contraction” hit. I had to stop and swallow down some maternal wail because, for the first time in 18 years, my plans would not involve my daughter.
Here are a couple of God kisses for you mamas on the same heartwrecking roller coaster I am, and a little heads up for you mamas following close behind.
“There’s No Magic Formula.”
For a week, I kept hearing that phrase, over and over in conversation, in my head, in my sleep. I finally asked the Lord what He was trying to tell me.
And He said, “Jana, there are no magic formulas.”
I tried to wiggle out of it with a know-it-all brat move. “Lord I already know that.” No magic formulas, check.
But He wouldn’t let me wiggle out of this one. God went on to show me what I really believed underneath the know-it-all bravado. In a hidden cavern of my heart, way down deep, under where the “right answer” lived and under where motherhood hopes and dreams lived, hanging out right next to “this is so freaking hard” there lived a lie that there IS a magic formula.
If I do it just right as a Christian mom, my kids will be successful.
I staunchly denied this lie. But the Lord pounded my heart until I truly acknowledged this lie was in there. For all my freedom, for all my breakthrough, that mommy fear was still too often driving my bus. Wow, this was a rude awakening.
Finally, I asked the Lord, “If there are No Magic Formulas, what’s left? I know that you love family and legacy.”
He answer took my breath away.
“There are no magic formulas. Just redemption stories. And Jana, I am really good at redemption stories.”
You know, I love the Lord with all my heart. I love my children so much it literally hurts. And, I confess I needed to hear this. Again.
The success equation of my children is only a little me plus a whole lotta Jesus. For sure, I have my part to do out of obedience and devotion to the Lord, but ultimately, no matter the right moves I manage to pull off, it is His grace and mercy, His kindness that will lead them to repentance and to paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
I am not saying take no responsibility. I am saying carry only your part. He is, afterall, God. And we’re not.
I look in the mirror and His truth hits home. My heart sings out, “Yes Jesus, you are really, really good at redemption stories.”
I don’t need a magic formula when God is so very good a Redemption stories. My kids don’t need the pressure to perform, they need to know “this love that surpasses knowledge” and that “He makes all things new.”
Which leads me to my last kiss.
“Be Kind to Yourself During the Labor of Launching.”
I replay a lot of mental videos. A. Lot. Some make me cry, rejoice, and laugh. Some make me blush and cringe. Some make me weep with shame. But God. I am learning to receive the same grace that I tell my kids about. He really does render miracles from our sin. So be kind to your own heart. Yes you blew it more than once. Yes you did things well. Yes it was harder than you thought and cost more than you thought you had to give. All that is true and yet God’s love is greater still. His love for you, His love for your child.
And just like you would never (or at least you shouldn’t ever) tell a woman in labor to stuff her feelings, experience your raging emotions. This launching of a human is not for the faint of heart. Give yourself permission to laugh and cry and brag and regret all at the same time.
Give yourself permission to be held by your Good Good Father (er, smile, your Good, Good Mother) even as your arms are letting go of your grownup baby. The Father, Son and Spirit… They truly get the heartache and joys of parenting.
Like, for reals.
So pray for me as I pray for you. Here’s to new stretch marks, the heart and soul kind. Here’s to clinging and flinging all at the same time. And to parenting, the hardest and best rollercoaster ever.
Art Titled, ‘Inevitability” by Salem Spicka