Back to school. It’s that time of year. We’ve all run around like feral headless chickens, spending money hand over fist on clothes and school supplies, backpacks and lunch boxes. News feeds light up with obligatory first day picture posts.
We behold the jubilance of our young children, eager to have their pictures published for the world to see. We’re all treated to the eye rolls and indignance of the newly minted teenager. “Do not put that on Facebook!”
I ignored her instructions. It got me in trouble. Maybe I’ll fall into line next year.
There seems to be one of two things that you might write to caption back to school pictures. It’s either—
“I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you!” The most common caption to the dorm room drop-off.
“Time slow down!” Most often accompanying pictures of children ages birth through about to graduate.
When Eden started kindergarten, I was so excited for her. She would learn to read and go to PE and art classes, sing in school programs and make lots of new friends. We snapped a few quick pictures–arriving at the classroom, then seated joyously at her desk—and my eyes were completely dry. I had to jet out of there because my own freshman English students were filing into my classroom on the other side of the building.
But even in those few brief minutes, I couldn’t help noticing that most other moms gravitated to the boohoo rather than woohoo. And it bothered me. Was I detached or something?
The use of social media gained its traction during those years, so I easily observed that the pervasive back to school mom reaction was to grieve, not celebrate. I thought that meant that the slow down response was more correct. Everyone except for me seemed to grip each moment lovingly, reluctant to let go of baby faces, preschool projects, glitter and ruffles. I never felt that way.
In a small group bible study a few years ago, I confided in my friends. I thought this was something I needed to confess, as if my mom skills were deficient or my capacity to love was broken. “Is it because I adopted?” I asked. “I mean, would I get all weepy if I were their birth mom?”
My friend Gina quickly reassured me, even with her daughter’s senior year looming. “Oh, Katie, no!” she insisted. “I was just like you. It was exciting to watch her grow up.”
What a relief. It’s okay to look forward to the milestones.
Each year, my girls confront new challenges. They grapple with identity and sometimes it hurts. It hurts them and me. But we see our prayers answered. They demonstrate increasing maturity.
And that gives me so much joy. I love them so deeply, and it’s exciting see young women emerging. More than sadness, I feel such gratitude that God gave them to me.
As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one.” Romans 9:25
They weren’t mine, but became my dearly loved children, through the blessing of adoption. God’s plan for us was so hard. And beautiful.
I was God’s enemy, but I became His—also by adoption, paid for in blood–and now I am His dearly loved child.
Does He have joy in me–as I reach milestones and maturity–the way I do with my own children? Certainly. In many scriptures we’re told He rejoices in us, delights in us, takes pleasure in us. We see that Christ’s followers are commended for growing up and doing His work. In I Peter 1:7, we find that the suffering which brings about maturity will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Nichole Nordeman’s “Slow Down” made the rounds on Facebook last week. And I admit, I clicked it and cried. Then I clicked it a second time and cried all over again. Maybe the grief over leaving their childhood behind is just a roundabout way of celebrating the milestones. A child’s maturity represents the someday–when she will affect a separation from us. And it pricks our hearts.
But maturity in Christ brings us closer and closer to the day that we are with the Father forever. He isn’t turning us loose; He’s drawing us in.
When was the last time you celebrated a spiritual milestone? Maybe you’re in the middle of something difficult. But know that He’s pushing you to a new level of maturity—and ever closer to bringing His family together for eternity. That overwhelming love you have for your child, the love that is so powerful that you wish for time to screech to a halt so you can hold her forever–He loves you like that, only with infinite depth.
As always, I’m praying these words find the heart that needs them.