We aren’t always prepared for how the “in-between” years will effect us or how we will handle them. But God is always faithful.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel at this point. Even now, when I think back to that early morning goodbye in the driveway, tears fill my eyes. When the day finally came, when he was packed and ready for that eleven-hour drive, I didn’t know if I could do it. Just pull him close only to let him go. I put on a smile, avoided eye contact with my husband, (who knew everything it took to keep it together) gathered the younger kids as we all held hands and prayed.
Lord, keep him safe. Lord, bless this journey. Lord, go before him in all things. And silently, straight up to Heaven, Lord, please keep my heart from breaking.
We were purposeful in giving him the space he needed to exit slowly over time. At eighteen he was released from the obligation of chores and spent much of his time working or with friends outside of his studies. We didn’t count on him for every meal and knew weekends, especially, were dedicated to making memories with buddies before they all left for different corners of the country. The ticking clock was a tangible thing this past summer. But this was a good thing, I told myself. A good way for me to learn to miss him in stages.
Baby steps. Not seeing him in his place at the dinner table would be easier if I had months to get used to the sight of his empty chair. The old blue mom-van he drove happily began to leave less of a mark in the gravel. I thought for sure I’d be happy to see less of that dented, sixteen-year-old van, but I was wrong. It had carried them from babies to braces, and soon, it too, would be gone. Those long muggy nights were a constant reminder of endings and beginnings, and all of it felt so fragile.
Those first few weeks after he left felt like learning to walk again. Daily life remained much the same, but there was certainly a shift. The hum of absence quietly vibrated throughout our home, even with the constant noise of six people. Summer quickly became fall and as the leaves dropped, filling the air with their earthy perfume before ushering in winter, we also fell into new routines.
The boy who could be quiet, living inside himself, happy enough with one-word answers or texts, found his own rhythm, too. If I’m being honest, I kept my mind busy with things that didn’t include thinking about him a thousand miles away. We gave him his space and kept our expectations low. Months passed and I realized all of us, our entire family, were thriving. Separately, but still needing each other, we were learning a new way to grow together.
The funny thing about being a parent is that it’s a calling pursued with such emotional reverence that the eventual leaving makes it feel like deep loss. Launching a kid you spent every effort and energy caring for is supposed to be a natural part of life, but it sure felt like God forgot this step in the Bible and skipped straight to the leaving and cleaving. Everyone tells you how hard it will be but no one talks about the after. Now I see why. It’s not really loss and it’s not really gain. There is no category to describe this phase, and we’re simply left with big feelings when the time comes to say goodbye.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6)
How often do we read this verse and our eyes immediately rest on the word “train”. In the early, tender years fraught with every possible kind of training we are reminded that our perseverance will be blessed in the years after toys and tantrums. I made a home on the word “train” and allowed my heart to rest in its promise. But now, in this in-between time, I read this verse and all I see are the words “go” and “depart”. The training is done. It’s time to find peace in the remainder of that promise and experience the joy of his departing and finding his own path.
These are the in-between years, and they are beautiful.
Father, for every parent in the middle of the first half of this first year away, I pray for peace. Not only did you know about these in-between years, but You encourage us that the training and foundation in Your Word will carry them on in righteousness. Lord, make theirs paths straight. Keep them focused on You and place people in their lives who will continue to guide and strengthen them in faith. Give them courage for this world and give us hope for their future. As we enter this new, fragile phase of parenting, strengthen our relationships as we find beauty in this new journey together. Amen.
Be blessed friends,