31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: The Not-Alone Alone

Before Jeffrey was born I worried love would become a thin vellum. His brother wasn’t quite yet two and he would stick his plump lips up against my belly and say, “Little Jeffrey, come out and pway wif me!” I wondered how I could possibly love another little being this much. Wasn’t all of my love spoken for?

But when he came, with his blues eyes, those dimples, that crazy hair … I learned the truth. Love really is the only thing you receive more of when you give it away. Love was voluminous, pages and pages of stories filled with moments of proof, evidence of love’s supernatural increase written into our days.

A house built on love gives when most of life takes. I tried to explain this to Jeffrey the other day. “If your dad and I do one thing well, I hope it is loving you. When a child knows he or she is loved, it changes the way they look at themselves. It changes the way they look at the world.” We talked about love as a foundation and how, when a child has the security of love to return to, he or she will carry that out into the world—give freely out of love expecting nothing in return.

Sometimes, life can squeeze that out of a person, that soft beginning. But when one is planted in love from the start, it becomes a way to resilience, a way of seeing.

The other night, when he returned from band practice long after the sun had set, Jeffrey walked in the house and came straight to me. We were alone for the evening, just the two of us, as often happens in the almost-empty nest. He sat down beside me on the couch, his shoulder touching mine, and laced one of his legs over mine on the ottoman. Then he started texting all his friends, with me but not quite. This happens a lot too, in the almost-empty: the not-alone alone.

I found it mildly humorous, like I was some kind of security blanket. But then, all at once, awareness washed over me and I was in kairos time. I was suddenly aware of the presence of the Holy, right there on the couch with us, legs tangled up in ours.

Time. It’s a funny thing.

In my book I talk about the mythology that gave us the words to name the awareness of the holy moments. According to Greek mythology, Kairos was the youngest son of the god Zeus. He is often portrayed as having wings on his feet, showing how quickly he rushes by. Ancient artwork also gives Kairos hair on his face but not on his head. This symbolizes that he must be grasped as he is approaching, because once he has passed, the opportunity is gone.

Kairos. When my eyes are open to knowledge that each moment passing is unlike any other, and so I grab each one by the beard … slow it down and look it in the face. Those are the moments when time stands still, when beauty seems to speak in ways that make my heart weep, when I feel the presence of God like a second skin—the days my sons were born, staring up at the night sky, sitting beside the hospital bed, watching a single leaf fall to the ground… ~Playdates with God, Laura Boggess

And sitting on the couch with a texting teen—studying the curve of his cheek, the long reach of his legs, the still-crazy hair. In the almost-empty nest I have more time to observe my life, to be with my one little chick who still waits to fledge. In this time of girlfriends and hanging out and driving, God sweetly allows the not-alone alone. He is giving me practice—training wheels in solitude.

He is holding on to the back of my bike until I am ready for the full letting go.

To listen to the audio of this story, scroll down.

I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. 

Almost Empty

West Virginia Morning: What David Oyelowo Taught Me About Faith

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This morning when I take Bonnie out, amber and violet hold hands in the meadow behind our house, coloring these early hours with sun-kissed hues dipping gently in the breeze. The bright waves of goldenrod and ironweed compliment each other perfectly, and I stand for a moment on the rim of our yard to let beauty settle in my soul. My eye follows the color trail along our property line, but something strange happens when I look beyond to where the meadow butts up against our neighbor’s yard. No golden waves dip between greens, no purple clusters kiss the sky. Instead, there is white laced into the grasses, as far as my eye can see.

The meadow behind our house looks like a tickertape parade, but behind our neighbor? There is a wedding banquet.

I have been having trouble ordering the days. Now that my editing job is over, there is a little more room in life and each day I try to make up for all the things I neglected when the deadline was king. At the slow winking of the end of each day, I find myself exhausted and dissatisfied.

Yesterday, I awakened with a terrible cold and am now forced to rest. I am feeling puny and ineffective, all the more aware that no matter what work I choose to do, there will always be something left undone. This transition leaves me questioning everything; I am wondering again about the best use of my time.

I have been trying to live more deliberately from a place of being loved—not let the things I do, the world’s definition of value, perceived success or failure, the actions of others—not allow these things define me. When a woman knows she is loved, it changes the way she lives in the world. I’ve had to grow into this beloved skin—still am on many a day. This question is a remnant from my chaotic childhood, “Am I worthy of being loved?” My husband’s eyes tell me yes, the arms of my children tell me yes, my faith tells me yes; but during times of transition, the soil I was planted in leaves my heart wondering anew.

God uses many things to speak into a life and not too long ago he used a movie star to whisper love in my ear. In an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, actor David Oyelowo was asked how being descended from a royal family has impacted his life now.

Laughing, Oyelowo downplayed this part of his history, saying, “You know, royal families are a dime a dozen in Nigeria. It’s more like being the king of Sherman Oaks, really.”

But then he went on to share a very profound way his family lineage has shaped his outlook.

… the effect that knowing that I was from a royal family had on me—I mean, it had no real monetary or positional benefits … as is the case with a lot of African royal families. There’s actually no real financial remuneration. It’s more born out of a tradition. But what it gave me, that is undeniably something I hugely value, is a sense of self that has enabled me as I’ve gone into my life in the West to carry myself in a way that flies in the face of the world in which I live in. You know, there are a lot of challenges I undeniably have faced as a black person, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. that contrived to make me feel lesser than what I am. And I can absolutely see that in the African-American experience in this country. If you feel like the beginning of your history is rooted in slavery, that really, I think, messes with your sense of self, your self-esteem and your self-worth. But to know that you came from a lineage of kings, to know that you came from a place whereby every opportunity afforded within that society is yours for the taking, it makes you get out of your bed a very different way than if you feel like today is yet another fight. And so that is something I carry with me that I know has been of huge benefit as a result of, you know, my family and where I’m from.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about his words since I heard them. Our country has had a rude awakening in the past few years when it comes to race relations. Everything I thought I knew about such things turns to dust in my mouth when I try to speak of them. But Mr. Oyelowo’s words teach me about more than the troubles of our culture. They teach me about myself.

What if I lived my life as one descended from royalty? What if I treated every person I encounter in this same way? Yes, I am worthy. I am a daughter of the king.

This morning, I look out over the meadow at an endless sea of white. Its name is Tall Thoroughwort, my wildflower book tells me. But I name it Promise. It’s a royal wedding feast.

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Marriage (and a winner!)

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It was the way his eyes kept returning to hers as he answered questions from reporters. And how he kept referring to her when mentioning key decisions and actions in his life—like she was a full partner in all these things. Then, when reporters asked former U. S. President Jimmy Carter questions provoking reflection on his life, he said, smiling, glancing her way again, “Well the best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about him. This man who met with the world to tell us he has cancer—in his brain, no less—and to answer questions that are really none of our business? He seemed as smitten with his wife of sixty-nine years as a newlywed. Maybe more so.

Sixty-nine years.

And he says it’s the best thing he’s ever done.

After watching that news conference, I go for a run and I do what I always do when feet pound the pavement, I pray. I am thinking about Jimmy and Rosalynn and I pray for my friends with broken marriages. I’ve been a runner since I was thirteen, since seventh grade track, and there are still hard days. But I can increase the chances of good days if I work harder on it. It is something I cannot let up on if I want to get better. It’s something that requires disciplined attention. The constant up and down keeps me moving forward, keeps me growing and trying.

Why do we give up on our marriages?

I always shy away from writing about marriage because, well, who am I? I am careful with the waggling finger because I know my life, my marriage has not been through the fullness of time. There have been seasons when we thought of giving up. And there have been seasons when I thought we’d finally made it, only to be blindsided by an unexpected turn in the course. And there are always those special circumstances. There are the destructive relationships that some must flee for safety. I would never want my words to discourage that. Then there are those who have been left behind, through no choice of their own. Careless words can add to the heartbreak. But as I run, and endorphins crescendo, I feel anger. Anger at the unfaithful one, anger at the one who lets love diminish, anger at the ways we trade commitment for what feels good in the moment and ignore the possibility of enjoying what Jimmy Carter called “a good, harmonious family” in our old age. I feel anger at myself for neglecting my love, letting so many other things displace it on my schedule.

It’s not easy. A good marriage is something that requires disciplined attention. How do we make living out the days with the spouse of our youth a beautiful journey, a grand adventure? How do we make it to the place where we say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done?

Jimmy and Rosalynn know this: To stay close to our spouse we have to stay close to Jesus.

The truth is, the moments may be boring. In the scope of life, they may not have much impact on the course of things or the decisions we make. But learning to live well in ordinary time isn’t a call to elevate moments; it’s a call to draw close to Christ. What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them.”~Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday

I must remember that in my body, heaven and earth embrace. Because our marriages are a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, I will follow his heart. I will not give up. On the hard days, I will seek love like seeking a hidden treasure. And on the good days, I will link arms with my beloved and celebrate our life together. I will fail. Because, unlike Christ’s, my love is not perfect. So I will remember the cord of three strands. I will draw near to Jesus. Because one day, I hope to say, “This is the best thing I ever did.

The winner of Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions (and a few other of my favorite reads) is: Denise! Yay! Congratulations, my friend! I’ll be in touch.

 

Playdates with God: Home

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Every day becomes a thousand questions: Did we make the right choice? Will he be happy? Do we have everything he will need? Only living into the days will tell and so I read the Psalms, hold prayers on my lips, and practice trust. I stand in the middle of the yard at two a.m. and watch for falling stars. It is cliché to say that in the darkest part of night the light kindles to flame. But I have found this true, and we watch time ignite in his face with each passing day.

Only five more days until we drive Teddy off for his first year of college.

I keep trying to add weight to the moments, look for special things to do each day. His father and I announce with misty eyes, “this is the last time we will … together before you leave us.” And he smiles that slow smile of his and says, no, we don’t need to go to the state fair today. Why drive two and half hours when home is the best place? He treasures the ordinary moment—the feel of his bed in the morning, a door that closes, soft pelt of fur on Bon’s back.

I remember once, when Teddy was two, we returned home from a family vacation at the beach. Already his mind was bigger than his vocabulary. After the car was unpacked and the suitcases stacked in the kitchen, the little man walked into our living room and stood in the center of that place where most of our life is lived. He ran over to me and took my hand. “Mommy,” he said, face shining. “Our house is boo-ti-ful.”

This boy rarely leaves home and we will leave him so many miles from it in just a few days. We are drifting into a new season and I can’t steer the ship. Best to enjoy the scenery as we glide by.

Last night I finished Amber Haines’s new book Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home. Amber’s has been one of my favorite voices for a long time and this book is her love story—a story of diving into love and bruising the knees and getting back up to take love’s hand again. I turned down the corner on page 143 because of this:

… my striving against sadness had driven me to despair. In those days of gaining traction and of remembering my gifts, I remembered the gift of suffering, of sharing in it with Christ, and how I was actually made to live close to sadness, to bear up under the yoke, because that yoke is with my Jesus, the man of sorrows. To reject the shared suffering and sorrow with our Lord is to invite despair, and to walk as a burden bearer with him is to oppose despair. Sorrow is the very place that hope and joy intermingle, because without sorrow, there is no whisper of hope. Joy is a sustainer, the strength in weakness, and hope is what calls us forward toward our healing. In this world, we will have trouble, but our great Peacemaker walks in the sorrow with us, and he is our joy. He is our peace. He is our hope. Sorrow does not overcome.”

This, I know. I have felt the great twist of joy in my heart even in the midst of loss and fear. But somehow, in the context of Amber’s story the point settled into my heart and brought great comfort. She and Seth have weathered much in their young lives. Amber’s poet voice reminds me that without risk there can never be gain, that the only way to avoid pain is to avoid love. And what a sad and empty place is the heart without love.

Our dining room table is covered with all the things that fill a dorm room. Today, I will wash all the clothes my boy is taking with him—I want them to smell like home when he dons them far away. We will not go to the state fair as I proposed to him yesterday. We will stay here, in this ordinary moment, this place steeped in love.

Home.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: Nightsong, a poem

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the silver underpinnings of the maple leaves shimmer
in the fading light of evening
I touch the grasses of the meadow with my mind and
walk through the myth that I am separate from all this

the sky opens it’s many eyes one-by-one, dropping light
like moist breath onto my dry bones
I remember how Kate looked the other night, so young
with no makeup on, so vulnerable and tired

Jeff says this is when she is most beautiful, no mask
I remember how her mother carried her on one hip
the thought of her in white lace feels like Eden; the river
forks again

we had too much to drink, laughing in the grass as
music played. I felt the bass drum echo through my ribs,
his hand in mine an anchor. the beads on the abacus of
time no longer make that sharp clicking sound as they meet

we sit together as night begins to sing.

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Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess