It’s Monday morning and we are looking down the barrel of a heck of a week. Did I rest this weekend? Did anyone? I hope you did.
School starts in a week in Jackson and it’s time to find the backpacks and the lunch boxes and the energy to wash them and hang them up to dry. I’m not ready, not one bit. Is anyone?
This week I have seven closets to organize and countless outgrown toys and books to stack and tuck away in case one more baby ever shows up around here.
I’ll go back to my job as a teacher next week too, and is anyone ever really ready to look the living, breathing, fresh future in the eye and try to teach them something? I am feeling extra inadequate and unworthy of my charge today. I’ll be teaching high school this year at the sweet little K-12 school where I have taught elementary school for three years. I’ve been admiring wiggly teeth and putting on band-aids and repeating, “sound it out, sound it out,” but this year I’ll be walking with seniors through the last moments of their childhoods. It feels holy and heavy and exciting all at once.
My own kids are entering new territory next week, too. The baby will go to the sweet nursery down a different hallway from where I’ll be teaching and isn’t that just ideal? It softens the blow that my could-be-last baby is starting to school earlier than any of his siblings did so I can work - because even meaningful work that we truly love still comes with trade-offs, doesn’t it?
My seven year old will enter his new first grade class where he will stay through the third grade. My ten year old daughter will finally not be in the youngest group in her fourth through sixth grade class where some older girls were testing out their sharp new grown up teeth on her last year, if you get my drift. I’m hoping her higher rank will help her find her voice and use it kindly always. My first born who turns thirteen this year is leaving elementary school behind altogether next week, which has me getting misty as I type. His whole class is taking an overnight trip to a nearby campground during the first week of school and it just feels really important and monumental and like a major tectonic shift. I watch him walk around and sometimes I almost don’t recognize him.
They are good and kind and they know God loves them and they have lives to live that will take them far from me and it’s all right. No, it isn’t. But you know what I mean.
Anyway, I guess I just wanted to come here and sit with my own self for a while and think of these kids I am raising and you and the ones you are raising or watching being raised. Childhood is so incredibly short and it can feel so unbelievably risky. There are always a million ways to go wrong, it seems. We haven’t saved for college like we should and we are past due for every kind of check up there is. I know I didn’t read to them enough and they watched too much tv. I didn’t learn until regrettably late in the game that I deserved and desperately needed to be tended, too and as a result I spent their early years frustrated and angry a lot of the time. I said and did a lot of things I wish I hadn’t. I hid in my room more than I wish I had.
When I told God that I wanted to give my life to Him, that I wanted Him to do with it what he wanted, I really had something else in mind. I had no clue what it actually meant when I said I wanted to walk the Jesus way. I thought it would involve a lot of behavior modification and I thought people would like me and think I was good all the time. I think I thought I would finally like me, too.
So this morning, as the kids and the dog and the mosquitoes are waking up, I am opening up my clenched fists again, one more time. I’m forgiving myself again for all the ways I have messed these mothering years up. Did you hear me? I forgive myself. I’m not holding anything against myself anymore, at least not for long. I’m walking the Jesus way, leaning and living into the height and the depth and the breadth of the love of God.
The traps of regret and self obsession are always set for me. I can get so hyper-focused on the ways I can’t get it all right that I forget to save any energy to do the things I can. I have a confident walk and a firm handshake and I’ve mastered the self assured facial expression and exactly none of that is honest. I crumble like a house of cards with a word of criticism, always inwardly of course. Sometimes it doesn’t take a word, I’ve had people’s disapproving facial expressions burned into the surface of my brain for decades.
I know I write all the time about the new things it seems God is doing all over, and I swear to you it feels like a new thing is happening right in the center of my heart. I am still the same person and I have all the same fears and inadequacies and insecurities but something is shifting now. The length of time spanning my failure and my own offer of forgiveness is shortening. Maybe walking with Jesus all these years has taught me more than I thought because sometimes I can almost see myself the way I believe he sees me. Even when I’m misunderstood or offended or pricked or truly wrong, it just feels like walking with Jesus has softened the edges that used to poke and jab and make me bleed. Well, maybe I bleed a little but I can keep walking now.
Maybe that’s all our kids, any kids, actually need from the adults in their lives. Maybe more than perfectly consistent discipline, pre-tax savings plans and shiny, happy mothers and fathers, kids need adults in their lives who are stumbling and falling and forgiving themselves and each other and trying again over and over. Maybe kids really need to see adults offering themselves and everyone else the grace and mercy we want them to believe they will find when they find themselves on the ground, covered in dirt and they face the universal choice to reach for God or not.
And that’s what we want. We want our kids to reach for God every time they find themselves in the dirt.
The longer I write these essays and share them with you, the more connected I feel with the people who keep coming back to read my words. I would love to hear from you. Are you struggling to let go of what you couldn’t do and move on with what you can? Are you, like me, trying to learn what it means to lay hold of forgiveness and put it to work? Do you want to? I’d love to know.