Sifting Shifting Sands

I look at the calendar and question whether I must be in a state of deep denial: Teen has only a handful of school days left, then a few days of finals, before he graduates high school. Fifteen days, including weekends, before this long leg of the journey comes to an end.

Oy, I just choked back tears. Not for the first time, certainly not the last.

Obviously I knew this end was coming. In a vague sense, since January I’ve been counting the months, the weeks, now days. I’ve been spending more time at home—more work-at-home afternoons, more nights in on weekends—intending to be present for those unpredictable times when he suddenly overflows with information. I never know what will turn the spigot, and whether it will trickle or gush, but I’m ready to catch the flow.

Sometimes the flow smells more like sewage than good, clean water. Undoubtedly, Teen could tell you more about the biology behind the term for this, called soiling the nest. Fledgling birds apparently make a mess of the nest so their birdy mamas will kick them out. The nasty stench makes it easier to say goodbye.

By refusing to get out of bed, or go to school, or contribute in any meaningful way to a positive home environment; by making me want to scream in place of fruitless nagging, and clench my already-aching jaw, go for a power walk, and come home to a glass of wine consumed in the privacy of my bedroom, we both become ready for a separation. The ridiculous part: by being his worst at home I’m supposed to believe he’s ready to show his best to the world?

I’ve reminded myself: he’s afraid. Everything he’s known and counted on throughout his lifetime is changing, and change is never easy. Sure, the adventures ahead are so exciting. He’s going to his #1 college choice to study his life’s consuming passion and play his sport. A few weeks ago he got a text from an Olympian who recently graduated from the school, congratulating him on his choice and looking forward to working out together. So cool!

Still, he feels vulnerable, unsteady as the sands shift beneath his feet. And I am a safe arm to grab hold of, to catch all the junk he doesn’t know how to process. He can actively push away because he knows we will always be his soft landing spot. Push and pull, shove and yank. Some days it feels like a fistfight; others, a cling-for-your-life embrace. Hard, and normal.

Thankfully, some days I see the man he is becoming. Some days my presence at home has been rewarded with pleas for advice, details of his adventures, arguments on real-life issues he’s working out in his head and sounding out in private. Just yesterday, he invited me to watch one of his favorite movie scenes with him. We laughed side-by-side on the couch, a tender moment (for me) until the scene ended and he said, “That’s it. You can go now.”

We have lived on the California coast his whole life. When he was little, we sat facing each other in the sand, kitchen items between us—colanders, slotted spoons, Tupperware—sifting sand, tossing out the rocks, turning the shells over in our hands, collecting water and building sand castles. Always ready, I watched as he toddled away from me, playing catch-me-if-you-can with lapping waves.

Now he strides into his future, leaving me behind on the beach sifting memories and moments; tossing misshapen ones, treasuring the intricate beauty of others. Long ago as the sand slipped between my fingers I daydreamed of who he would be, how his exuberance would develop into passion for something larger than himself. Now I have space to daydream of other shorelines—and mountain trails and jungle paths—where we will walk together, creating new memories, as he explores life.

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Humanity: Lost

Guy spent his childhood summers traveling the United States in a Volkswagen Vanagon with his parents and younger brother. Four to eight weeks most summers, adventuring and creating memories. A few summers ago we took a 9-state, 5-National Parks, 15-day trip of our own. We loaded up our minivan with clothes and food, camping equipment and cots, and got outta Dodge with books on CD as our only on-board entertainment.

More than halfway through the trip, we camped at Farragut State Park outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. One late afternoon we hiked to the lake. Kids swam while Guy and I watched, pleased to see Swim Team so obviously paying dividends in Tween’s confidence. Tween eventually got out and wanted me to take him back to our campsite for food and warm clothes. His simple request produced a memorable adventure.

Farragut

The trail we took from campsite to lake had seemed easy enough, straight, then slight left, then hard left. But it hadn’t been clearly marked, and somehow we missed the hard right and slight right that would have dropped us on the straightaway.

I love to hike, one of my favorite ways to spend time with my guys, but they are the outdoors-men, the pathfinders, the Scouts. Here I was in the clear leadership position – Tween was eight that summer – and, while I knew we had missed our intended way, my best guess was to turn right and aim for the road.

It didn’t take too long to get out of the forest, but then we walked for two hours more, winding roads between this campground and another, none of them ours. Tween complained of hunger, thirst, fatigue (after all, he’d been swimming prior to our unexpected hike). I held his hand and did my best to bite down my concern while I encouraged him that we were having our very own adventure, that this would be something we’d talk about for years to come (true!). We told stories and made up jokes and prayed, me distracting him best I could.

My heart held a mixed-bag of emotions: frustration that I’d gotten us into a mess; anger that Guy hadn’t sent out a search party; pride that Guy trusted me and hadn’t sent out a search party; wonder at the beauty surrounding us; joy in the sweet softness of my little guy’s hand in mine.

mother and son holding hands

True confessions: I have an odd habit leftover from my learning-to-type days… I ‘type’ words I see along the roadside by moving in order the fingers that would strike the appropriate keys. So I remembered the street signage because I had ‘typed’ them as we’d driven past the day before. At least I knew we were finally headed in the right direction!

Of course we eventually made it back to the campsite to find Guy and Teen not at all worried (again, an honor or an upset?). They figured we’d enjoyed a detour, or maybe we’d headed to the showers, but either way they knew we’d be fine. And we were, truly, just a little shaken, and colder and hungrier than we had been two hours earlier. I especially felt frazzled around the edges as my strong-for-my-kid exterior crumbled head to toe.

This story works as a metaphor for the human predicament. The path should be simple enough but we’re not equipped or able to find it. We’ve made more than a few wrong turns. We’re lost. We see some signs here and there but the hike is hard work, lonely, stressful. How I would’ve welcomed the help of a ranger! We need someone to show us the way, and Jesus is The Way (more on that next week).

Meanwhile, it helps to recognize that we are lost, to stop pretending that we know exactly where we are and where we’re going. We might as well be honest with ourselves and one another. Faking it will not help us make it. At least in our honesty we can express and experience compassion for fellow lost travelers.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you love got lost.

Study
Read aloud Romans 3:9-20.
Who is under sin’s power (vv. 9-10, 19-20)?
Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God “with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27), which covers every aspect of a person’s being. In this passage, note how Paul describes how each of these four aspects of a person is affected by sin.
Which description in vv. 10-18 most stands out to you, and why?
What is the power of the law (vv. 19-20)?

Live
Give some examples of how you see the power of sin over people.
From this passage, how do you respond to someone who says that people are essentially good?
How do we in the church still try to justify ourselves by works of law?
Read Psalm 1:1-3. How do you “delight in the law of the Lord”? How is your daily Bible reading useful in becoming conscious of your sin?
How can a regular practice of confession work as an antibiotic against sin?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will convict you of sin and guide you deeper in relationship with your God.