Tuesday, April 21, 2015

midlife and mercy for the mamas and the papas

Growing up is hard to do.

Because we live in the land of the free and the brave; because our parents told us that we could do anything we set our minds to do; because the blessings of capitalism and democracy have declared that we can "have it all"; because of all those things and more, we spend our youths continually growing and expanding. 

It is an adding, this growing up of ours: adding skills, knowledge, responsibilities, privileges, choices, and freedoms.

Remember the shock we felt when our parents didn't think we were old enough to wear eyeliner/ stay up later/ have a voice in a decision about our future/ eat cake for breakfast? Remember the inner smugness we felt when we reminded ourselves that someday, we would get to do it all our own way? And then, recall the joy when we sat behind the steering wheel of our own life and pulled out of the driveway and into the great big world of freedom at last?  

Slowly, adulthood is gathered like daisies from a great big field of beauty. Sure, there are some ant piles that get us along the way, and we fall down sometimes, but we fill up our basket: career, love, accomplishment, adventure, quiet days, grand plans. 

Until the day we realize we are the fullest we have ever been, and we begin to see that, sure, the adding continues, but the basket has a crack in it. One by one, tiny petals are slowly blown away by the winds of time. That sneaky storm of time has blown us into midlife, and we are no longer the starry eyed youths we once were.

Midlife is simply the moment that we realize we have as much to gain as we have to lose, and that there are parts of life we cannot hold forever. We have learned we can't actually have it all, but we also have decided "having it all" may not be as great as we once thought. We take inventory a lot in midlife. We want to keep a firm grasp on what we can and cannot control:

We are losing our patience for Jerry-Springer-type drama in our immediate lives.

We are gaining the Jerry-Springer-type drama of our teenage children and their friends.

We are losing the carefree years of our flashy youth and easy health.

We are gaining quieter years of rich friendships and trusted confidants.

We are losing their baby faces and tiny hand prints.

We are gaining their funny and insightful conversations and the trust of our growing children.

We are losing career options and opportunities. (We are almost as high as we are probably going to rise.)

We are gaining stability and experience, balance and perspective, wisdom and patience.

The past slips away, and we know now that the happy future means letting go of today, so we cling to right here, right now.

We trade our baskets for a sturdy bucket in midlife (much more practical), and along with the flowers of today we gather the water of what can never be taken away from us. Eternity flows from a fountain that washes away everything we gain and lose in life. We are filled for His glory, then drained to show the world His greatness. We learn to receive what is offered with thanksgiving, even when it is destined to be taken away someday.

But there are days the flowers we just finally gathered and placed in that bucket fly out faster than we can stand. We never know what's going to happen to send our bouquet streaming out all over the place.

This time, for me, it was just a haircut. But, as we all know, there's rarely such a thing as "just a haircut".

My sweet daughter has had hair past her waist since always and forever, it seems. Every day, she has worn thick, golden tresses that most women only dream of growing out of their pretty heads. But for a year now she has wanted to cut it off. A mama can only ask her to wait for so long.

Last Saturday was the day it all sort of crashed into place, and the inevitable happened. I know it's only hair. I know it will grow back. But it broke my heart.

I still don't understand exactly why. I suspect it's because being a mama is really, really complicated.

Only a mama knows that even though hair can grow back, the truth that she is no longer a baby, or even "little", changes more than I would like for both of us. The days won't grow back like they once were. I stand here with a bucket in my hand and a field of big girl flowers spread out before me. The field of baby days is far behind us, and I taste the bitter irony of the truth that when we are shopping for prom dresses someday in far off pastures, I will long for these "littler" kindergarten days.

The truth is, my children aren't the only ones growing up. My view from the fountain of forever proves I have a very long way to go, and many buckets to fill before I will be fully grown myself. Midlife is really only the beginning of our stories, as unfathomable as that is for our earthly minds.

There is space here, in the midlife; space to freak out about haircuts and mistakes and the growing pains we face. There is time to get mad, to apologize, to try again, and to hold hands and laugh at all the things we got wrong when we were younger. We have grace and love and truth cheering us on, and a God who delights in who we are every day. We are His every. day. delight. That alone is a miracle I can scarcely wrap my heart around often enough.

And in the end, all the space we give ourselves and others means that mercy triumphs. We will cross the finish line with arms raised up, emptying our buckets one last time for the glory of the God who led us all the way home. Because growing up means finding our way back to the Father who calls us with whispers through the winds of time.

No, it's never just a haircut. It's always a stepping stone to Him along the path. And it is how He wins our hearts.

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