There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. Judges 18:28 (NRSV)
Wendy and I have been in a new phase of life the past few years. I’ll call it the proto-empty nest. The girls have been off living in different places, traveling hither and thither, and establishing their own independent lives. There is still, however, the safety net of home within proximity. Help is still, relatively speaking, a phone call away. I may not be close enough to just hop over and help with flat tire in another state or country, but advice, tech support, and 24 hour concierge service is only a phone call away. If things get in a nasty bind, you can always go home to revive, regroup, and relaunch.
In today’s chapter a little community of Sidonians were living in the land of Canaan. The tribe of Dan besieged the city and were victorious. The victory was, in part, due to the fact that the Sidonian villagers were not within proximity of help from their own people. When the “fit hit the shan” (as my dad was fond of saying), they had no safety net or support network to deliver them in their hour of need.
That got me thinking this morning about my own willful choices along life’s journey. It’s one thing to willfully choose to strike out on your own path and go your own way. Rebellion, running away, and going your own way are choices each one of us can make. It’s quite another thing when you so distance yourself from your support network as to put yourself at risk.
It was a week of major life transition here at Vander Well Manor. Just over two years ago, Wendy’s youngest sister Suzanna moved in with us. She entered her senior year at Pella High and then spent this past year working and saving for college. She’s been a welcome member of our home and together we’ve shared a ton of life experiences during this shared stretch of our life journeys. This past Wednesday was the day we drove her to college and launched her on a new stretch of her own journey. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Monday and Tuesday were spent packing, purging, and preparing. Both Suzanna and Wendy buzzed around upstairs. Suzanna took over the guest bedroom for her sorting and staging process.
Tuesday night was Suzanna’s last night at home, so we let her decide the meal. Her choice was Wendy’s homemade pizza and breadsticks. She also requested family movie night to watch The Big Lebowski, which she and I have talked about watching for months. Taylor invited her friend Curtis to join us. It was a fun night. We all gathered around the kitchen island and enjoyed conversation as Wendy made dinner. Despite me dropping one of the pizzas and losing half of it into the bottom of the oven, we had a great dinner and then settled into the Great Room for the movie (and requisite White Russians).
We packed the cars and headed out around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday for the two hour drive to Suzanna’s campus. She followed behind us. The load out was fast and much easier than we anticipated. Suzanna’s roommate had moved in the previous day and we enjoyed meeting her. After the last of her stuff had been dropped in the room we offered to take Suzanna out to lunch and make sure she was familiar with where things were in town. She opted for lunch with her roommate and some girls on the floor. As we said good-bye the mood went from smiles and excitement to teary good-byes. Wendy and I lunched at BWW on our own before driving home.
Taylor did some house-sitting for friends late this week so Wendy and I had four nights of experiencing an empty nest for the first time in a while. But, our social calendar kept us from savoring the quiet.
On Thursday night we headed to the Pella Opera House for their annual season kick-off. Our friend and neighbor, Kevin, is the Executive Director there and is in the middle of an audacious million dollar renovation campaign. We were excited when Kevin announced they’d reached $800,000 towards their goal. In October the Opera House celebrates 25 years since their historic renovation. A grand black-tie evening is on tap and Kevin asked me to script a sketch as part of the evening’s entertainment. Wendy and I enjoyed hanging out and socializing with friends. We were among the last to leave when Kevin flashed the lights at the end of the evening.
On Friday night we enjoyed barbecue chicken on the grill with our friend Cyndi who will be taking over as President of Union Street Players. We discussed transition of leadership as well as the transitions of both Suzanna and Cyndi’s daughter, Megan, who also headed to college. Kevin and Linda arrived after dinner and we settled downstairs in “V-dub Pub” (thanks, Chad VL, for that moniker). I unveiled my script for the Pella Opera House Anniversary show and was happy that it received a favorable review from the Producer. As always with this crew, spirited conversation and laughter reigned until well after midnight.
A couple of short nights led Wendy and me to a rather slow start on Saturday. We worked a little bit and eventually busied ourselves cleaning up the upstairs in anticipation of Wendy’s Uncle Brad and his bride-to-be Barb who spent the night with us on Saturday. I spent part of the afternoon helping my friend, Matthew, move a washer and a couple of dryers into his new house. We then met Matthew and his new bride, Sarah, at Kaldera for dinner and a celebration of their one-week anniversary.
I end this week’s episode of The Latest with a relatively insignificant, but admittedly proud moment. Yesterday in the mail I received my first ever royalty check for my play Ham Buns and Potato Salad which is being produced by Newton Community Theater this fall.
“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me….” Job 29:4-5 (NIV)
I had to be careful when I came up to my office this morning. Madison flew home yesterday for a brief pre-Christmas visit (she has to be on-call for work next week), and both bedrooms upstairs across from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. As I tip-toed up the dark stairway my mind was occupied with thoughts of the days when that was a regular morning occurrence. I remember going through a period of grief right after Madison moved out and the nest was truly empty.
And then, in a moment of vague synchronicity, I get to my office and open my MacBook to read Job’s words pasted at the top of this post. I get that Job is lamenting a loss that was far more extreme and infinitely more dire. That’s the cool thing about God’s Message. It meets you where you are in the moment.
In this moment I feel the bitter-sweetness of aging.
I watch my girls riding the roller coaster of young adulthood. One moment they express to me the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies that stage of life’s journey. After years of parental guidance (and/or repression), they are living their own lives. They can go where they want and do what they want, whenever they want to do it. And, they can legally drink adult beverages while doing it (except for our acquired young adult, Suzanna, who still has a year or two for that one!). And then, the next moment they express to me the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of finishing school, finding jobs, navigating the health care system, and making ends meet. Welcome to life, sweetie.
For the record, I look at my life currently and realize that I’m on the same roller coaster ride. My car is just over-the-hill. One moment I express the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies this stage of life’s journey. After years of parental responsibilities with children and teenagers, Wendy and I can once again go where we want and when we want whenever we want to do it. We even have the added blessing of financial resources to enjoy a few things for the first time in our lives. And, we can still legally drink adult beverages while doing it. And then, the next moment I experience the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of a body that doesn’t work the way it used to, hanging onto a job, and planning for retirement that suddenly doesn’t seem so far away. I carry concerns about the parents ahead of us on life’s road, and carry more concern than I thought I would about those young adult children following behind.
C’est la vie. It is what it is.
On this particular December morning, however, both rooms across the hall from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. And, while I miss the one angel who slumbers across the ocean, this morning feels a lot like “old times.” And, for that, I’m thankful (and hanging on for that next hill).
The house is quiet this morning. Wendy is still asleep. I will likely be leaving the house before she wakes to have coffee with a friend. Across from my home office is Madison’s old room. The bright orange and deep purple walls have been muted by a more gentle color as it has been transformed from teenager’s cave into a guest room. Around the corner, Taylor’s bedroom of Tiffany blue is preparing for its own overdue coat of paint. Another single guest bed is there, but it has become largely a transitional storage room for things we’re not sure what to do with. Her tiny walk-in closet has become storage for seasonal clothes for which there is no room in our own small bedroom closet.
There will be no rumbling and rustling this morning. No muffled fights of two girls fighting over the bathroom, or clothes, or schedules. Mid-afternoon as I work in the office there will be no streak across the hallway as a teenager goes to her room to shut the door and get on their phone with friends. No mumbled “Hi dad.” No family dinner tonight.
The nest is empty. It has been for a few years now. Some days I still find it hard to get used to. Yet, it is good. It is the way of things. It’s all part of the journey.
Those who know both Taylor and Madison can attest to the fact that they are very different ladies who have struck out on very different paths. One still in Iowa. The other in Colorado. One is into art. The other has found an entrepreneurial spirit for business. One married early. The other is single. It has been fascinating to watch our girls strike out on their own respective paths, but they have both been a source of great joy. What emerged out of those teenager-cave bedrooms are sensible, capable and amazing women who are each seeking God’s path in their own way. They both stumble. They both struggle. They face their own unique obstacles. They both make mistakes.
The experience of becoming an empty-nester has revealed to me two unexpected truths:
I experience far more emotional stress and anxiety over my adult children then I ever did when they were teenagers living in my house. I realize now how much I appreciated feeling like the ever present dad who could fix anything for his little girl. I struggle now with feelings of being the impotent father who must look on from afar as they struggle with broken cars, broken hearts and life wounds that are not my place nor in my power to fix.
I experience far more joy than I ever thought possible as I watch them become the women God intends. The first truth is tempered by this one. I read the proverb above this morning and felt it in my soul. My heart whispered, “I know that joy.”
For parents of young children, let this old man share with you one more truth I’ve understood as I now look across the hallway from my office at an empty bedroom. The adults your children become hinge upon the time, love, and attention you invest when they are toddlers and young children. Do not wait. Do not believe that someday you will make up for lost time. Take them on dates. Take a personal day and lay on the couch with them when they are sick. Go to their games. Be patient when they want to avoid you like the plague and be present when they actually want to talk to you. Once they are gone, so is your opportunity.
It was a momentous day last Friday. Wendy and I helped Madison pack up our beloved, beatup old Dodge pickup truck (named Tabitha). The forecast was for rain so we wrapped all of Maddy’s belongings and the bed she was taking in garbage bags and plastic tarps. At 7:00 a.m. Wendy and I climbed in to Tabitha’s cab while Madison entered into her faithful Geo Metro, named Squirt, through the only one of the four door handles that worked (front passenger side). We headed for Minneapolis, making a brief stop in Des Moines so that Madison’s mom could give her a good-bye hug.
Madison’s new leg of life’s journey began with the 350 mile trip to Minneapolis. With one minor misdirection (there is a difference between County Road 36 and State Highway 36), we arrived at her new apartment building. We had successfully avoided rain the entire trek, but it began to come down after we pulled under the overhang in front of her building (Thank you, God ,for small blessings).
It took less than an hour to unload Tabitha and Squirt and move all of Madison’s belongings into the apartment she will share with three other college girls. Tomorrow she starts classes.
Wendy and I took Madison to our family’s favorite restaurant, Buca Di Beppos, for a nice lunch. Wendy and I then climbed back into an empty Tabitha for the long trip home while Madison headed to her new apartment to begin the task of unpacking and organizing for this new adventure.
It’s a new stretch of the journey for all of us. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react when it came time to say good-bye. I’m a soft-hearted person and some of these special waypoints along life’s road stir a lot of emotions. I didn’t feel too sad as I hugged Madison outside of Buca’s. She’s ready and I’m proud of her. I raised her to release her on her own path. It is as it should be.
I imagine that the emotion will be felt more acutely in the quiet of the house staring out the door of my home office at Madison’s empty bedroom. There are certain crossroads in life which provide a hard reminder that you can’t go back. I cannot retrace my steps and take a Mulligan on raising my daughters. They are grown. and I’ve played my part to the best of my abilities. Obviously, my role isn’t over. It will just be different. I will watch Maddy Kate walk her own road.
And at the harvest, the delicate herbs and spices, the dill and cumin, are treated delicately. On t he other hand, wheat is threshed and milled, but still not endlessly. The farmer knows how to treat each kind of grain. Isaiah 28:27-28 (MSG)
In the past few years I've had to adjust to the idea of my children leaving the nest. Now that the reality is here, I'm finding it an interesting and challenging new leg in life's journey. Stepping out on their own, you see them stumble, only you're not right there to reach out and catch them. You'd be happy to point out the pot-hole that's right in front of them (which you've twisted your own ankle on many times before), but they must learn the walk the road themselves.
Parenting fledgling adults is more difficult than I imagined. These emerging individuals are infinitely more complex than when they were little, and parenting is no longer a black-and-white world of authority & submission. When they are children you simply tell them to take your hand and you lead them. Now, they are traversing life's obstacle course blindfolded and you occasionally get to whisper hints and directions in their ear (though, of course, there's no guarantee they will listen). When do you speak? When do you stay silent? When do you prod? When do you sit on your hands? And, then there's the added intricacies of dealing with differences between children.
I'm gaining greater respect for God who knows how to approach each of His children, the way He knows how to treat each kind of grain. I'm in awe of God, the Father.
At this time Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, puffed himself up saying, "I'm the next king!" He made quite a splash, with chariots and riders and fifty men to run ahead of him. His father had spoiled him rotten as a child, never once reprimanding him. Besides that, he was very good-looking and the next in line after Absalom. 1 Kings 1:5-6 (MSG)
It's humbling to watch your children grow into adulthood. No matter how hard you try to be the perfect parent, that silly sin nature thing gets in the way for both the parent and the child. If there is one thing I have learned in raising my girls it is that mistakes will be made. Pain will be part of the process. It's a natural part of the journey for every generation.
They say that hindsight is 20-20, and there is no doubt that your shortcomings as a parent come into focus in the lives of your children as they come into adulthood and start making their own life choices. I should have spent more time teaching her that. I didn't provide enough instruction about this. How could a child grow up in my home and not pick up that principle? Lord, help us.
King David, despite being God's man, had plenty of shortcomings as a parent. The consequences were disastrous. Rape, murder and rebellion were the big consequences, but we see in today's chapter that little things like anger, bitterness, pride, scheming, gossip appear to have been commonplace in David's household.
They also say that you never stop parenting. My elders have told me that the "empty nest" is somewhat of a myth since the birds always return home. That gives me hope. I have a chance to keep growing as a parent and to keep teaching my children in word and deed.