Sometimes we fail to say things to our children when we are thinking of them. Sometimes, it is because we don’t have the courage. Other times it is because we don’t have the time or the opportunity. Or, sometimes, we don’t know how they will respond. I thought I would occasionally post letters to my children to inspire others to share their hearts with their children, too. This first letter is to my son who is now 21 years old and who, last night, had to make a difficult choice to sacrifice a friendship he has had since first grade in order to try to save that friend’s life.
My Dear Son,
You have grown into a young man—one any mother would be proud of. You know the meaning of friendship—of true friendship. The Greek call this philia –fondness, appreciation, and loyalty to those you hold in community.
Your passion for life and those you care about drive every part of you. I admire it and at the same time I see it as a cross you bear. Your friendships have been characterized by loyalty, availability, honesty, trust, listening, nurturing, and a sense of finding a kindred spirit. But they also have been characterized by conflict, sacrifice, forgiveness, grief, and disappointment.
The depth of your friendships, the love you have for others in your life also means that you have had—and will continue to have—a sense of responsibility for those you care about. I know that you have had to choose, on occasion, doing what is right over the relationship. It has meant not just calling out your friends but also standing beside them when they desperately needed a friend they could count on. It has meant seeking help from family and friends to save the life of a friend. It has meant agonizing over the choice and ultimately choosing love and life, knowing that someday your friend might turn back to you, and may even thank you—hoping that you will have restoration.
It has also meant grieving deeply at the loss of some of your closest friends—whether the loss was because of death, or distance, or doing what was right. I have grieved for you, as I can’t imagine at your age having endured the loss that you have already endured. I know you have sought to understand loss and that, in many respects, it has eluded you. But I know that you have faith that someday you will heal, even if small scars remain. That somehow loss and grief will shape you in a way that will remind you that loving others was worth the pain of loss.
So I pray that you will continue to love deeply and value friendship above other things, for it is part of the fabric of who you are. It has been imprinted on your soul as long as I can remember. And, while it has been a burden at times, it has shaped you into a man of integrity and given you great joy. The way that you love others in community beautifully reflects Christ.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument through which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.”
With love always,
I look around my home and see the stacks and piles. Stacks and piles of things. Mail sits on the end of the black granite countertop. Leaning precariously, as though anticipating that it will slide to the floor, unopened. Stacks of books. Not neatly stacked. Just stacked. Waiting to be finished. Or started. Or just waiting to find a permanent spot on the bookshelf. And then, there’s the dust. The dust colors everything like a winter fog. Dulls those things around me. The dust, piling up, particle by particle, on everything, not left by anyone, but just settling there. I notice it, even if no one else does. But I’m sure they do.
Mom would have. She noticed everything. Everything that wasn’t put away. Every mess. Everything I never finished. Every crumb left on the counter after making toast. Every sock hiding under my bed. She noticed the things.
But somehow, she never noticed me. The scars. The pain. The loneliness. The heartaches of a young girl growing up. Or, maybe she did but she just didn’t know how to catch her daughter’s tears. Maybe she just didn’t have the words. Maybe she couldn’t help me heal because she had never healed herself.
Despite her flaws, I loved her, as little girls love their mothers. And, I miss her, even after all these years. Today, if she were here, I would sit down with her and gently ask her why she couldn’t be there for me when I needed her most. Why I needed to look elsewhere in my life for shelter from the storms. And, I would look into her eyes and seek to know her heart.
And, I would tell her that it was okay–that I had found comfort in the loving arms of my heavenly Father. I would tell her that despite the stacks of unspoken words and unopened hearts and the grey haze that dulled our relationship, that love prevailed.
In my home, the dust on the hearth piles up, the mail sits unopened on the counter, and the books sit patiently for shelves or pages to be turned. And, I try not to notice socks hiding under beds or crumbs gathering around the toaster’s edge. They remind me of the piles and stacks of words unspoken in my childhood home.
And, so, instead of tidying up the house, I look into the eyes of my children, searching for their hearts. I hope they know that I notice them–every aspect of them. Every tear. Every heartbreak. Every moment of loneliness. And, I hope they know that their tears, and heartbreaks, and loneliness are mine, too.
Today, I hope that the piles and stacks for things go unnoticed–at least for one more day.
The alarm sounds and I reach over to find my husband still sleeping. “Wake up, you leave today. . . I miss you already.” We linger, holding that one last hug before we set the day in motion. I pray, “God, cover him as he travels this week,” and I rest in his arms another minute.
We stumble around in the morning light. Our usual morning routine disrupted by this early morning flight. Two showers. Breakfast. Last minute packing. Snacks. Passport. Hanging clothes. Book. We are ungraceful and the clock says it is time to leave–well past the time to leave. Forgotten items send us scurrying. And the peaceful moments we savored just before we slid out of bed become a distant memory.
We head out the door later than planned. And rain–torrential–slows our pace further. Traffic. Brake lights. A bumper-to-bumper parade going nowhere. I note that we missed every light. Why is it when I’m late that the lights are all red? And why not bring up more negative things to pile on to the morning stress. . .
Why is it that, when things are what they are–things I can’t change–I make them worse? I thrive on the negative and create more stress. Instead of savoring the last hour I get to spend with my loving husband, I squander it with my ugly side. Why don’t I just shrug things off and laugh about them? And then I think:
“All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me. His excellency and glory are seen as if they were mine; and I receive the love, and the fellowship, and the glory, as if I had earned them all.” –Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness.
This morning I haven’t earned them all, that’s for sure. I’m grateful I don’t have to. And, I’m certain the way I’m behaving isn’t what Bonar was talking about with respect to the things that make Christ precious and dear to the Father. I imagine God, in a parental stance, arms folded, saying those things parents say to children when they over react–those things I’ve said to my only children so many times.
Yet, I am loved by the Father, even when I am clothed in the ugly. In my tattered “clothes,” I feel ashamed. Deep sadness for this foolishness. Deeper sadness that I haven’t poured out Christ’s love on my husband.
I breathe in God’s grace and forgiveness. The words spill out, “I’m so sorry. I wanted to take you to the airport so that I could spend this last hour with you. . . . And now, look what I’ve done. . . . Please forgive me.” I see a glimmer of God’s grace and mercy and love trickle down on us. We travel in silence the rest of the way to the airport.
We remain wounded by the morning, but I know we will heal like we have so many times before. We say our good-byes and I-love-yous, and I slowly pull away from the curb, reminding myself that “All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me [and my husband].”
My tattered clothes remain, but the gift of the Father’s love and the promise of the cross, is transforming me one tiny thread at a time.
I feel God tap on my shoulder sometimes. Call Judy. Have coffee with Denise. Go visit Ryan and Dina and the kids. Make time for those you love and care about.
I ignore the shoulder tap. Work. Fatigue. Tomorrow is soon enough.
God taps on my shoulder again. And, I hear His voice. This is what matters. This . . . is . . . what . . . matters. Love others. That’s what I intend for your life.
Okay, I think. I know that is what You intend for my life. But what about work and all I have to do?
I’ll reach out. . . Soon.
And then the blow comes. This time it isn’t a shoulder tap. But, instead, heart-break. And, regrets.
Too late. No chance for that cup of tea. Or laughter. Or hugs. Or catching up on each other’s lives.
No chance to say thank you for just being you. For being part of my life. Part of my kids’ lives. For making my life better.
Forgive me. Forgive my selfish hours. Priorities misplaced. Excuses for not taking an hour or two just to laugh with you.
Your smile and laughter fade in the distance now. Beyond my reach.
Know that you are loved.
Know that next time God taps me on the shoulder, I will listen because I will hear your voice singing and laughing in the distance.
I sat quietly on the blue couch with my word for the year, “live.” 5:30 am, January 1, 2011. A new day. A new year. A word that seemed to have great significance especially on the first day of the year.
I ask myself, how will I live for Christ today? I had no sooner breathed those words when my cell phone rang. 5:37 am and my 21 year-old son was calling. My heart felt as though it had stopped. That feeling of dread. A son who had been out all night. Who had driven to a new year’s party with a friend. Why was he calling me? At this hour? The “what ifs,” the thoughts of terrible things began to run through my head.
As I answered, I heard, “Mom, everything’s okay, but I need you to come get me.” –Funny how even my son knew that a call at this hour would worry me. He knew those were the words I needed to hear first.
“Are you okay? Where are you? And, where’s your car?” I asked. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold. And my car,well, I can’t find it. That’s why I need you to come and get me.”
And so, the story unfolded. He went with a friend to a small party in an area of town where she grew up–and area that my son didn’t know. They parked the car and went into the house. A few hours later, the group walked to the house of another friend–several blocks away. Here, they saw the new year in and some of these young adults–most who lived in the neighborhood–drank a little too much.
As the party began to break up around 3:30 am, my son realized that a few of these folks shouldn’t leave on their own, even though they were walking. So, sober and willing to help, my son pulled on his coat and hat, and walked a few of his friends safely home.
However, when he dropped of the last person and was ready to head home, he realized he had not paid attention when they had left the first house and walked to the second house. He only knew he had walked up a long hill to get to the second house and that he had walked several blocks.
So, for over an hour, in subfreezing weather, he walked the streets of NE Portland, looking for his car. He called his friend–who was asleep at the second house–for direction. No answer. He walked back to the second house and knocked. No answer. And, I’m sure he called a few more friends before he called me.
“I’m at the corner of Stuart and Alameda. How soon can you get here?” I turned on my GPS to see where I was headed, “20-25 minutes. Stay safe and warm. I’ll be there soon.”
And so, as I drove to get my son, I thought of my word — live — and I thought about my son. I thought about how his fun evening–catching up with friends home from college for the holiday, bringing in the new year–had turned into a morning of fatigue, and a feeling of helplessness and, perhaps, foolishness. I thought about how he must feel standing alone on a dark street in freezing weather, surrounded by homes, yet all alone.
And, I thought about how desperately I just wanted to be there to help him.
This moment reflected what it means to live in relationship with others. How necessary it is that we spend time in relationship with others. That we look out for those God has placed before us. And, that we learn to lean on others, even when we are ashamed or embarrassed.
As I pulled up to the corner of Stuart and Alameda, I saw my son’s dark figure standing in the fog. He jogged over to the car and slid into the seat next to me. “Thank you, mom,” he said, with eyes of gratitude. “You’re welcome. Let’s find your car so you can go home and get some sleep.”
That afternoon we laughed about how he had lost his car in the middle of a city neighborhood. But, it made me think about how lost and lonely we can all feel even when we are surrounded by others.
Being surrounded by others is not enough. To live in relationship we need to be purposeful and authentic. We need to engage others, let down our guard, listen, lean, love. We need to live authentic lives loving others.
Christ showed us that model. He showed us that authentic love gives hope.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. . . And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” — Colossians 3:12-15, 17.