The ‘lasts’ can be hard, can’t they? Sometimes a ‘last’ passes by and we aren’t aware it is a last – until it is long gone. The opportunity to savor and purposefully remember is gone, and the wind of time blows it down the street of our days into the past. Today wasn’t like that, though. I knew ahead of time this ‘last’ was coming. I have been thinking about it, preparing for it, for a while now.
Today our ‘last’ child drove away for the ‘last’ time for a first day of school. It wasn’t that long ago that he had the cat in his lap, made himself a cozy nest in a laundry basket, and proclaimed himself ready for kindergarten. Different cat today, and the curriculum has certainly progressed (hey! Phonics worked!), but again he took some things to make himself a cozy nest while he settles in to do the hard work of preparing for a career.
I had anticipated feeling overwhelmed and maybe a little weepy after he left. With his older siblings on their own, including a newly married brother & sister-in-law, his leaving left us -alone. And then my husband left for work. I braced for a hard tug on my mama-heart. Homeschooling had been decades of loud laughter in a houseful of activity and energy. In my empty house this morning, all was still. Even our usually frenetic husky-dog lay asleep in the sun by the sliding door. For the first time in 33 years (at least for this practice run semester!), we are empty-nesters. This is how it will be. I waited.
But you know what? Instead of feeling an overwhelming wave of sorrow or emptiness, what I felt instead was an irresistible, tremendous surge of gratitude. This child for whom I prayed and with whom I worked so long; this child is going to be just fine. He struggled for five years to overcome dyslexia, sounding out words bit by bit well into fifth grade. Yet like a tiny single prop airplane, when he finally lifted off – oh, away he soared – higher, higher, higher – with seemingly no bounds to where he could go. Trust me, his reading comprehension has come a long, long way, baby. I am so grateful.
Not only that. He was the one left behind by circumstances. My elderly mother lived with us, and it seemed that every spring, just as we finished the long fall review and turned a corner into new material, she would have a serious medical crisis: a stroke, a knee replacement after a fall, open-heart surgery, necrotizing fasciitis, another series of strokes. After twelve hours a day at the hospital, I would return to that little face – that sweet little face. And he would show me what he was trying to learn to do, on his own. Just by reading the instructions, with some not-always-detailed help from an older sibling, he taught himself to borrow for subtraction, to multiple in columns, to do long division. During his elementary years, all the tricky things? all the steps that kids stumble over in math? I was absent for many of them – trying, desperately, at night to show him the next day’s work. When I mourned over all he was having to do on his own, a wise mentor gave me this verse, Psalm 127:2 "... The Lord gives to His beloved, even in his sleep,” and reminded me that this child was learning an awful lot about faithfulness, about giving and living and love. I clung to that. I was trying; he was trying. We were not enough; God had to make up for an awful lot. But He did, and I am so grateful.
So, today, that sweet-faced boy is a mechanical engineering student well past all that calculus and linear algebra and – well, past me! I laugh to think how I worried that he would never learn to borrow for subtraction! I laugh to think how worried I was that he was having to learn how to learn. Even at 7, 8, or 9, under the watchful guidance of his older siblings when I was away, he developed the understanding that learning was important and working at it made a sweeter victory when something was understood and conquered. How can I now be sad to see the seeds thus planted and prayed over coming to a bountiful and blessed harvest as he drives away to his own life and career? I can’t!
I have become so aware of the patterns of lasts and firsts in life these past few years; I am learning to appreciate and embrace their coming. As my children have grown into young adults, the lasts have been coming at us fast! Yet…we noticed that if we were willing to release the fear of the “last” – we were really watching the birth of a “first.” Last days at home become first days in their new place. Last days here become our first new days as “the old folks.” Last nights in a childhood bedroom lead to a first night in their own home. Lasts are easy to mourn, perhaps harder to see as incipient firsts, but – oh the beauty when you glimpse it in that new perspective!
Just as God was faithful to lead and guide and provide for our family during those long, full, ride-them-like-a-rollercoaster years of homeschooling, God is faithful today. After 33 years with kids in the home as my primary focus and priority, I turn my eyes to tomorrow -- what is next? If God so ordains, and Jesus tarries, I may yet have 30 or 33 more years on this earth. I’m excited to see the “first” that this “last” ushers in!
But I’m still going to be really happy to see that kid, come Thanksgiving break! <3
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