Jana and I spent the summer and early fall at Mount Carmel Family Camp and Retreat Center in Alexandra, MN. I have been the Interim Director of Programming there the last two years and Jana has been working as their Director of Development.
As a result of being away from our home in Cedar Rapids until just a few days ago, we are aware that our empty-nesting phase had not really begun until now. It was easy to feel like both our daughters were just “away at camp” this summer … or like we were were all on some sort of “extended leave of absence” from normal life.
So this past Thursday was our first full day back in Cedar Rapids… and thus, the first official day of Jana and I being empty-nesters in our actual home…. and under “normal” conditions. We did enjoy the six weeks of early fall quite a bit … going on several long walks, dating more than we have been able to do… talking and dreaming about the future … but we also realized we were not yet fully experiencing life, emotionally, without the girls around. Now that we are home, it is feeling more real. The days of watching those two little blondies, loaded down with backpacks, heading off to school… are now a thing of the past. Good… no…. GREAT memories, but memories nonetheless.
And so, a new chapter begins…
Thoughts at the two month mark of empty-nesting? Though it is less crazy-fun and more quiet, I do like getting to know my wife again. I feel like we are EACH getting an old friend back. Not that that person ever left, but the reality is… one’s attention is divided the from the moment the first baby is born, and this is as it should be. But, truth be told, I DO like getting my friend back. (I THINK Jana does too.)
So, here’s to the new phase… and whatever life will bring. This much I know… though we drive each other crazy at times… the truth is… I love my wife.
I do miss those Blondies somethin’ fierce.. but this is okay. I’ve got a good roommate to keep me company.
So, here we go, Jana Swenson. Let’s do this thing…
I have now learned, this being the second of two “drop-off-daughter-to-college”
First, a brief and poorly executed (read “failed”) attempt at fatherly bravado soon followed, (approximately 8.4 seconds after beginning the drive away) by an absolutely fascinating and unmatched verbal explosion coming forth from somewhere deep within me… a spontaneous typhoon of emotion, unlike anything else I have ever experienced. A cacophony of sobs, snorts, sniffles… prompted by feelings that have somehow managed to force their way from the knot in my stomach past the basketball-sized lump in my throat to surface through tears, sighs and groans.
At least they are getting out. They need to.
This, in turn, is followed by a rather salty streak of cursing … rather blue and impressive, if I say so myself … words that seldom escape my lips, yet there they are.. in full force in this moment. Yet, somehow, I think God is cool with this. He understands. He’s been there & done that with the whole… “giving away your kid” thing. He gets it. And this, too, needs to get out.
And then, not timed– but when the time is right… all of this concludes, eventually, with a strange flood of overwhelming pride and peace and even excitement.. as a heart-soothing gratitude begins to settle the moment… buoyed by vivid memories and becoming strong through Spirit-led prayers of joy and thanksgiving that God chose me, of all people, to be “Dad” to these two incredible young women. And a thanksgiving, too, that God STILL lets me co–parent with a woman of such class, grace, wisdom and relational brilliance whose inner and outer beauty is so clearly passed on to her girls.
Kind of hard on a father, these initial moments of parting.
And kind of completely wonderful.
The intensity of emotion in these moments,for all parents, reveals the beauty and the pain, too, of the journey that has been taken the past 18 + years. It — again, the emotion — is a needed and deserved catharsis to the most challenging but most rewarding time of our lives.
And then… as one emerges from the initial emotional storm, you realize there is a gift to be opened, and you remember that it is time to do some flying yourself!
So… I lean to my wife, and I speak these words, feeling slightly younger than I did a few hours ago… “Here we go, Jana. Come fly with me again. Like we did 20+ years ago. Let’s fly again, my love.”
I posted this photo on my Facebook page this morning.
I posted it to celebrate my older daughter, Christina’s 20th Birthday and remembering, fondly the days when she and her sister, Caitlyn, were just young punks running around the house and enjoying life. Seems like only a couple of years ago… and now my wife Jana and I are nearly empty-nesters. Time does indeed, fly.
But I noticed something else: There are really only two things in the photo. Well, three things. Two kids… and a box.
No cell phones. No laptops. No i-pods or i-pads or.. gasp.. anything electronic at all. And, actually… there are no store-bought games and no latest toy from the latest advertiser-created craze.
2 kids…. and a box.
I think there’s a not so-subtle metaphor and reminder in the photo. Joy in life comes in relationship and simplicity. Sprinkle in a little unconditional love from a parent, add a friend or two and measure those gifts with a foundation in the love of Christ… and, well… I’m not sure we need much more than that.. do we?
Two kids and a box. A friend or two… and the love of Christ. Give me that… and… I think, in the end… I’m good to go. How ’bout you?
Waddya, say my friends? Let’s go find a box.
Let’s have no illusions. Life is sometimes very hard. So.. when I put up a picture of me and my bride… celebrating 23 yrs of marriage.. and when I post a video of us dancing, blissfully in love at our wedding reception… do not be mislead. I am not even pretending to say that life is free and easy and that we have remained forever, hopelessly, romantically in love every moment of the last 23 years.
Yes, there has been and still is wonderful partnership and romance. I married WAY up… and I am so very blessed to have Jana as my bride. But, truth-be-spoken… we are both incredibly bull-headed. We don’t give in easily. And we are opposites in SO many things.
There have been times, truthfully, that either one of us … or BOTH of us wondered if our marriage would survive. Sometimes we still do. The blessing of the last 23 years is not that it has all been easy.. and lovey-dovey … and always filled with rainbows and sunshine. The blessings is that, despite our tendencies to be self-focused and inconsistent in our expressions of love for each other, God’s grace has been the foundation of this relationship.. even when we ourselves screwed it up.. and when, to this day, we continue to do so.
The blessing of the ring on the finger is that we have made a commitment to hold tight, even in the seasons when the emotions and the fun and the romance are not highly present… due to arguments or the business of life, or parenting, or work problems, or survival.. you name it…. OR… in seasons of poor health, and loss of loved ones.. and other major life transitions… where the grief and fear and yes, even the healing and recovery can be all consuming.
Let’s face it. 2013 … the 23rd year of our marriage will NOT go down as our favorite year. But even though we can be completely unworthy of the gift of a life partner, God has been gracious to us.. and kept us standing in the midst of all of these storms. THAT truth, as part of the gift of life in Christ, is the greatest gift I have ever received.
So, again.. no illusions. No Facebook fantasy or projection of a marriage or a life that is “problem-free or hassle-free or marital-argument-free or temptation-free or life-threatening-experience free.” It is by Grace alone that we are still together, poop-heads that we can sometimes be. And for that I am forever grateful. And BECAUSE of that, my wife is able to forgive me… and I, her… and as a result, we ARE forever “in love.” Real love. Sometimes Tough Love. Graced-Love. That’s marriage, right my friends? The hardest and best of all human relationships.
23 yrs. Wonderful, Romantic, Tough and Hard and Beautiful.
Grace of God. No illusions.