Family life is perpetual noise. It’s like the sound of riding a bike – the constant whirring of air passing by, and wheels turning on pavement as you ride along; not usually too terribly loud, but constant, with an occasional burst of ear-piercing noise. Raising children is a very busy and noisy occupation, but raising five children is busy and noisy times five! I loved every minute of it, but it was very loud at times, and I am a great lover of quiet. I sometimes thought the Lord must have an interesting sense of humor to have given me five children, especially given that three of them were boys – very active, noisy boys!
Raising my children was the most amazing, exhausting, wonderfully terrible full-time job I’ve ever loved. It was everything I dreamed it would be, and so much more. I was profoundly in love with the family God gave my husband and I, the family I had hoped and prayed for, for several years. Not only did God bless me with five of the most amazing people to raise, but He allowed me to school them all at home. Home schooling was a fantastic, mind-boggling adventure that I will cherish my entire life. I’m glad I’m finished with it! But, I cherish those precious days I had with my children home, growing and learning with me for 23 amazing years.
As I said, I am a great lover of quiet; I gain energy, stability and sanity when in a quiet environment. So, I tried to teach my children the value of quiet times. Our oldest, Kimberly Kathleen, was a quiet baby. She loved to “read” books, play in her little kitchen making “cakes” and snuggle with her dolls. We interacted in a quiet, gentle manner. My memories of our time together, before our second child came along, are like the soft whirring of the breeze as we coast down a gently sloping hill on our bikes.
Two and a half years after our first child was born, our second child came along – our first son, Joseph Daniel. He, too, was a fairly quiet baby, but not a good sleeper like our firstborn. He cried in the night a lot, and nursed every couple of hours ’round the clock for the first 3 months. Needless to say, I don’t remember much of anything besides that fact! His baby days were like riding a bike on a very bumpy gravel road; I had to hold tightly to the handlebars to keep my balance.
When Joseph was only 19 months old, our second son, Israel Thomas, came along. He, like his older sister, was a good sleeper, but was very active. He had a happy disposition most of the time, so we continued to ride smoothly along through those early parenting days. When Israel was just a year and a half old, though, we began our journey into home-schooling. It was a little rocky in the beginning, in part, because the responsibility was so overwhelming to me. I have very fond memories, though, of holding our toddler on my lap, our three-year old on the floor beside us, while teaching our almost five-year old phonetics. It was a beautiful time in my life. A time of beginning to ride the bicycle of parenting up a slight incline, but still exhilarating in the challenge.
Two and a half years later we added our third son, Timothy Joel. As a baby, and into toddlerhood, he, like his oldest brother, didn’t sleep well until he was almost three years old. I remember very little of this time in our parenting journey, except that it was quite the challenge. I had a six-year-old I was home-schooling, two ornery boys, ages three and four, and a baby who never slept well. My ride wasn’t just a little rocky; I was riding up a steep hill on a gravel road, carrying on my back a backpack filled with books – grade-school textbooks – and on my front, a fussy baby that never wanted mt to put him down! I feel a bit breathless just remembering those years, but the ride was still an exciting challenge.
When our oldest was nine and half years old and our sons were seven, five and a half, and three, we added our youngest, Elizabeth GraceAnne. By this time, I had a fourth-grader, a first grader, a kindergartner, a very clingy toddler, and now a newborn baby. The sheer number of people in our little school room was a racket comparable to an entire team of bike riders being cheered by onlookers on the side of the road! Yet, I still encouraged quiet work when it was possible. God was kind and gracious to me and blessed me with a baby who loved to sleep, at this point in my home-schooling journey. Her normal sleep pattern was from 10pm to 10am, giving me plenty of time to get ready for the next day in the evening, and plenty of time to get the other children going on their school work before she woke up. It was amazing! A blessing indeed for this over-extended, though deeply grateful mom.
As our children grew and became more and more independent, not only in their school work, but in their social activities, I felt less and less like I was leading a troupe of bike riders on all sorts of rocky and smooth terrain, and more like I was riding along slightly behind them, encouraging them to continue their rides into new and unknown adventures. As time moved along, and they all began to approach adulthood, I felt more like the cheering crowd on the side-lines, watching them approach at full speed, then whizz by me, the sight, sound and smell of them lingering in my senses. These days, though not only expected and anticipated, but planned for and worked toward, have been bittersweet. This is the goal of parenting, is it not- to launch our children out into the world armed with a healthy sense of who they are, riding steadily along on the path God prepares before them, hopefully donned with the helmet of salvation, in case of any unexpected slips or falls?
All but one of our children have left the nest and are pursuing their own adventures. As I meditate on the activity and sound of being their mom, I see myself parking my 10-speed in the garage and taking up my stationary bike in the living room. The actual motion hasn’t changed; I still pedal along at a more easy-going speed, but I’m not going anywhere. I pedal along – praying for them, talking to them, advising them when asked, babysitting for them, running errands for them, and anything else needed – while watching their beautiful lives grow and change and blossom into all that God has prepared for them. It is like watching my favorite movie on my husband’s big 70″ TV, while gently pedaling my stationary bike. I’m not as breathless or exhausted as in those fully involved parenting days, but I’m still moving, still working out the call God placed before me many years ago. I love all the sights and sounds that pass before my eyes on that big-screen TV – the laughter, hugs and sticky kisses from my grandchildren, and the warm greetings, hugs and words of affection, encouragement and affirmation from my precious children. I sit and watch it all play out before me with sweet satisfaction in my heart.
As I ponder all these wonderful, beautiful goings-on in my life this rainy Monday afternoon, I can’t help but think of the one I’m missing. Contemplating the correlation between the activities, sights and sounds of the past 32 years of my life with riding my bike (something I’ve not actually done for many years), I think of my son in heaven, and I see myself sitting before the TV on my stationary bike, motionless, a blank screen before me. It has been almost 3 years since my son entered his heavenly home. In those first horrendously shocking days after his death, I could still see him in my mind, hear his voice and his laughter, feel his arm around my shoulders, feel the slightness of his body when I put my arm around his waist, smell the scent that was uniquely him. Seeing all this with my mind’s eye was like the screen had gone to static, and I was straining and squinting my eyes trying to see him again. I felt like he was still near, but where? Why couldn’t I find him? I looked, and still sometimes look, for him everywhere I go; straining my eyes, searching for him in the places he might be – on a motorcycle on the highway; in my oldest son’s garage working on his motorcycle; coming through my back door, sniffing the air for the aroma of his favorite dessert.
The static on the TV has dimmed. The screen is black. His story here on earth has come to an end. My longing for him will never end. But his story here has ended. No matter how hard I look, or long for, or hope for him to return, he is not here, and he never again will be.
But he is somewhere. I can’t get to him just yet. But, I will. He will not return to me, but I will go to where he is.
My fervent hope and prayer is that all of us – myself, my husband and my children – will find and cling to this hope in our hearts, as we wait to be with him again, and as we walk out God’s purposes in our lives while we remain here on the earth.
“Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles us, let us keep running with endurance the race set before us, fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before Him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25