On the Important Stuff, Before They Leave

It seems that, more and more lately, I am pondering what it will look like to launch our firstborn. It’s still two-and-a-half years away, but I have this thing I do. I think of it as my internal peace-making tool, my anti-anxiety technique. Whenever there is something that is going to happen, or maybe even might happen, I rehearse it. I think about it, turning it over and around in my head and in my heart. I allow the idea of this “happening” to sink down deep inside me, and begin to feel like it belongs there, like “All shall be well” there.

I suppose some might describe this as obsessive or fearful, anxiously anticipating future events, and thinking about how they will go. All I can say, though, is that inside my head, this feels like a good thing. A very good thing.

There are so many “happenings” that I have rehearsed, and that I continue to rehearse. Prenatal diagnostics with my second-born indicated a strong possibility that she would be born with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). For five months, I rehearsed parenting a child with Down Syndrome. I thought about her birth. I thought about her going to school. I thought about how my family would react. I mourned some losses I anticipated, and began to embrace the joys that would also come. Haley was born in August of 1999, healthy and genetically typical. There was something strange and beautiful about having surrendered to whatever and whoever she would be.

I periodically rehearse a friend dying, or my husband dying, or one of my parents dying. I think about what that will look like. I imagine the feelings and consider how life will go on.

Strange? Maybe.

I am inclined to think that by turning these “happenings” around in my head and my heart, I am preparing myself for the real deal. Perhaps, it won’t feel like completely unfamiliar territory.

One of my recent ponderings has been about launching our first. He’s a Sophomore right now, thinking about classes for his Junior year. I’ve begun to think about his college decision, and what life will be like when he’s no longer living under our roof. Such a mix of emotions.

In a rare moment of quiet the other evening, my husband and I were reflecting upon the qualities we especially love in our children, and the challenges we see ahead for them. We solidified some goals we have for them, and confirmed with one another that we are headed in the right direction. I commented that there are times when I look at one or another of our three and think, “What have I missed? What did I forget to tell you? How can you possibly think that, having grown up in our home? I must have neglected to tell you that all-important thing, that most important thing.”

There is a wonderful place that I enjoy visiting occasionally. It is a place where I am certain to be cared for and loved. It is a place where I am understood and challenged. It is a place where I feel known, because it is a gathering of women who have lived many of the things I have lived. You can find (in)courage here. I love their by-line: “home for the hearts of women.” About a year ago, (in)courage had a lovely, thoughtful piece by Ann Voskamp about that moment before the launching, the moment when you wonder if you’ve said all the right things, taught all the right things. My favorite line, written as a longing, a desire for her son:

That you’ll be radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness and vows and the real hills worth dying on.

That’s the stuff, huh? The stuff you don’t want to forget to say. The stuff you just might miss in the midst of nursing and feeding and tying shoes and potty-training, and helping with homework, and driving here and there and everywhere, and making meals, and helping with more homework, and putting bandaids on skinned knees, and wiping away broken-hearted tears.

I need to think a bit more about what I’ve missed. I’m hoping he’s caught most of it, in between and among everything, everything we’ve done, everything I’ve offered, all that I’ve given of myself. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps. And yet, with two-and-a-half years before launch time, I want to consider what I’ve missed and whether there’s still time.

In the meantime, Ann’s thoughts to her son are amazing food for thought. I pray that they will sink down deep, as you ponder the launching. What are you teaching today that will last for eternity?

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8 Responses to On the Important Stuff, Before They Leave

  1. What a wonderful post, Jennifer. You read my blog, so you know that I try to fill in those gaps regularly. :) I wanted to comment on how you play things out ahead of time in your mind. I do that too. Like, every day. I imagine my husband getting in a car wreck and not coming home to me. I imagine my parents getting sick and me having to fly to AZ regularly to care for them. I think this has to do with my losing a brother very suddenly when I was young–I need to mentally prepare myself for the worst because I wasn’t prepared then. Does that make sense? I don’t know, but I really resonated with what you wrote. Thanks!

    • jennifer says:

      Thanks, Shelly. I feel like, when I say that out loud, I sound anxiety-ridden and a bit obsessive. I know what that feels like, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m truly rehearsing the possibilities. For me, it dramatically reduces anxiety to picture to might-be’s.

      It’s interesting to think about this as possibly connected to your brother’s death. I had never thought about this, but for me, it may be connected to the death of my best friend from high school. She was in a car accident a year after we graduated from college. I think, in some ways, my pondering are attempting to avoid the shock that was

  2. Nancy Ann says:

    Another beautiful piece, Jennifer — I too am a ‘rehearser’ — maybe it runs in the family — I have and still do rehearse all the things you mentioned — some have already come true — for good and for bad, and some the rehearsal made it easier, and some it didn’t help at all — there is no amount of rehearsing that makes you ready to take the stage for the death of a loved one, and yet I still rehearse — thinking maybe I’ll get it right this time. As far as sending your first one off to college — let me ‘discourage’ you by telling you it doesn’t get easier the second or third time either — you’ll have to continue to rehearse. The only thing that takes the wondering away is knowing that we have raised them as parents under the influence of the Scriptures and under the authority of God. (and with the help and guidance of our own Godly parents) There are some places we can’t go — like operating rooms during surgery or dorm rooms during parties, we can only leave them in the Lord’s hands and pray, as you so beautifully put it, that the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. I’m in the process of ‘rehearsing’ how I’m going to handle Heather going off to Ireland with the UNH Chorus and then on to Scotland on her own to see the birth places of her grandparents — the going alone part is what I am rehearsing — and praying about. Jen, continue your posts, they are both reflective for me and encouraging. Love you, Cousin!

    • jennifer says:

      Life is so much about letting go, isn’t it, Nancy Ann? And you are so right: no preparation truly prepares you for a death. Thanks for reading! I love your thoughts.

  3. Laurie says:

    That you’ll be radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness and vows and the real hills worth dying on.

    Amen. Wonderful post Jennifer. Our launch is fast-approaching. I look forward to seeing you soon and sharing with you a small moment in our journey as I bring H. your way. I think about these big things all the time. And the superficial things I had hoped for too. He still needs to learn how to bake a loaf of bread…

    • jennifer says:

      I know, Laurie. So many things I intended to do! I’m still working on doing laundry and some cooking skills. I am most hopeful about the character development. Most of the rest can be learned later.

  4. Becky Dorf says:

    It is good to be thoughtful about this time. I found having my oldest leave to be very difficult for me but very easy for him…and that was my goal in raising him. This year is much better for me as I see what a man of character he is and how he is thriving as his own pilot. I, like you, wanted to make those last years count and continue to feel that way with my girls. I tell my children often how much I love them, why they make me proud and what makes them so special. Mostly I make sure I don’t worry about the small things and I make sure I am present when they are (which is not really often enough!!)

    • jennifer says:

      I love your style, Becky. It is easy, as our children (appropriately) push away from us, to remove ourselves from parenting in those last years. It seems to me that they are as critical as the first ones are. I am hopeful, as I try to remain engaged that these years will be part of the foundation for launching as responsible and caring adults.

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