The kids and I spent last weekend at my parents’ house in Grand Lake, Colorado, with my brother, sister-in-law, and their four children, aged 8 to 13, who were visiting from Georgia. My son was born exactly ten years to the day after my eldest niece. As I watched these older kids, I marveled at their independence, in disbelief that my children will one day be old enough to put on their own shoes, much less play the clarinet or read The Lord of the Rings to themselves before bed at night.
Lately, I am too close to my story to see the big picture. I can’t seem to force myself to take steps back to accept that I am in one chapter and that this chapter does not equal the whole of my story. My kids will not always be 18 months and three and a half years old.
A couple years ago, my parents moved from Florida to the middle of the Rocky Mountains after a summer volunteering as rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park. They moved from sea level to over 8,000 ft. elevation and traded their swimming pool and flip flops for snowshoes and hiking boots. They now live on 20 acres, which are covered in pine trees with mountain views from all angles, live 15 miles from a grocery store and always include a trip to Target and Costco when they come to visit us in the “big” city. They are in a new season, a new chapter. They are in the season of The Widening, while we are in The Narrowing. They spent about 27 years with children at home. And now? They are still living life.
I’m reading the book, Looming Transitions, by Amy Young, and though it is written for those going abroad and coming home from living overseas, I’m finding many parallels to my transition into motherhood. She writes:
“This transition will not become of the sum of your life…It’s natural for people to mark things in terms of before or after events: graduation, marriage, a certain job, a baby, a painful breakup, a big move, or a serious health issue. But those events don’t become the story. They become a page in the story or possibly the beginning of a new chapter. They join a plot larger than the transition each one creates. Part of staying fertile, then, involves reminding yourself of of the bigger picture–the bigger story–that came before and will live on after it” (pg. 37).
“You will outlive this season,” she says (which my husband and I have repeated to ourselves about ten times since I read it to him the other night) (pg. 47).
To put things in perspective, if my husband and I live to be 85 and only have two kids, this is the percentage of my life I will have spent doing each of the following (rounding up):
Being in school: 24%
Being single: 36%
Living in China: 6%
Being pregnant: 2%
Having a three-year-old: 2%
Having children at home: 24%
Being married: 64% (and that’s after getting married “late”!)
When I am running up a long hill, I sometimes choose a landmark a short distance away and just try and run to that, then immediately pick another one and run to that until I am all the way up the hill. In motherhood, sometimes keeping the short view helps us to keep running. But in the end, God-willing, our story lives not only beyond this time at home with little ones, but way beyond that. And if we live a long life, mothering tiny ones is certainly a short chapter in a long story.
We will outlive this season.
As I drove the three hours back home from Grand Lake this weekend, my kids mercifully slept and I drove without music, drinking in the silence. As I navigated Berthoud Pass, a 20 minute winding up and down along stunning mountain vistas, a sense of awe came over me. It was the same feeling that has swallowed me as I’ve stood at the edge of the ocean, run in a crowd of 40,000 in a race in Chicago, and sat at the ridge of the blown-off top of Mt. St. Helens, recognizing the speck below me as a helicopter circling the cavern.
I felt small.
Not the smallness I wrote about last week in the sense of purpose, but a sense of physical smallness that envelops you as you realize that this life, this world, really isn’t about you at all. You are a single pine needle on a tree in a vast forest, a speck of sand among billions on the beach. You are a part of a story much larger than yourself. And your story is a story within a story within a story.
Our children will become men and women–adults with lives of their own. We, like my parents, may move across the country or world and start new adventures. God will teach us new knowledge, increase our faith and loosen our tongues to praise Him as He walks beside us each day, fueling us from within. We are privileged to be a part of the larger story of His creation and redemption of the world and can know Him and love Him forever.
And our stories will surprise us more than we know.
This week, some memories from seven years ago appeared on Facebook, almost one year to the day before my husband and I met and started dating. The first was of Adam in the show, Twelfth Night, and another one was of me with friends in Thailand. He was acting and I was traveling the world.
Oh, how life has changed. Sometimes that feels like someone else’s life. But I’m starting to realize that it was a chapter, just as being a mother to little ones is a chapter.
And God-willing, there will even be chapters after that.