On The Road Again


My husband, daughter and I just returned from a 3 day whirlwind trip to the Washington, DC area to tour colleges.

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Here are a few things I have learned as a result of those days:

1) Never, never, never travel through NYC and try to cross the George Washington bridge at rush hour. Those drivers are crazy! Add in an ambulance with sirens blaring trying to get through the gridlock and I nearly had a heart attack on the spot. I specifically recall thinking, “So this is where it all ends” as my life passed before my eyes.

I marveled as my husband remained calm, cool, and collected as he  skillfully navigated the madness. He is definitely someone you want to have around when a crisis hits.

Me, not so much.

2). Washington, DC is a beautiful city.

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I was surprised by how safe we felt walking around the city at night. We were surrounded by families, student groups, fitness enthusiasts, tourists, and guided tours.

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3). It is the perfect city for our daughter, who is passionate about political science and history.

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The last time we were there in 2004, she was only 6 years old. She was very excited to see the monument of her favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. She hurried to the area where the Gettysburg Address is carved into the wall. She took a seat on the floor and there she sat, cross-legged, and began to read. When she was done, her dad sat down to join her and they had a good, long talk about Lincoln.

I absolutely love this photo.

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Fast forward ten years and here they are in the same place…

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DC 2-0145I always get choked up every time I see this monument to such a great man.

Our next stop was to visit the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. My dad was a veteran in the Korean War (Air Force). The statues looked particularly ghostly at night.

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DC 2-01654). Old friends are such a treasure!

This is my dear friend N.

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Twenty-five years ago, we worked together as temps at a computer company for the summer. (Which also happened to be the same place that I met my husband!). We bonded so much that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding and we have kept in touch all these years. It had been twelve years since we had last seen each other, but we literally picked up right where we left off. We talked non-stop, commiserated over our role as parents, laughed a lot and reminisced.

It was a joy to have N. meet my daughter, who told me she felt like she was “meeting a celebrity”, as she has heard so much about N over the years.

5). I never want to take another college tour again.

We visited 4 colleges in two days.

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DC 3-0065The last college we visited was George Mason University.

Who is George Mason you ask?

I had no idea either.

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I felt better when our tour guide called him “the forgotten founding father.”

Turn out that he was one of the signers of the Constitution. He pushed for the Bill Of Rights, which George Washington didn’t care for, so they had a major falling out. In fact, this statue of George Mason faces away from DC, to illustrate the animosity that Mason felt for Washington.

After taking all the tours, Julia eliminated two and will apply to two.

I already feel weepy thinking about the moment when we will drop her off at college and drive away.

6). I loved the family time we had. It was a gift.

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Time is moving so fast, like water running through my fingers.  I am trying to enjoy the moments and concentrate on what is truly important.

Right after I snapped this photo of my daughter, these lines from a famous children’s book (one that I read often to both my kids) came to mind:

I’ll love you
forever
I’ll like you
for always,
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.
—Robert Munsch

DC 3-0048I love you Julia and I am so proud of you!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Changing Seasons


My husband and I took a road trip this past weekend to visit our son at his college.

It had been the middle of August since we had dropped him off to begin his new life in another state.

Now, summer had melted away into the brilliance of fall. It was a new season.

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In more ways than one.

My first thought when I saw Josh was, “He is taller!” I had to reach up higher to hug him than I did in August.

My second thought was, “He looks older. He looks like an ADULT for crying out loud!”

And of course, he is an adult.

Then, “He looks tired.”

We never stop being mothers, do we?

We had picked him up to take him out to dinner with Doug’s best friend Mike. Mike is a writer like Josh aspires to be and Josh was anxious to meet him. (They had met a few times before but Josh was a kid. This would be their first meeting as adults).

As we pulled away from the dorm, that is when I began to realize that just like the season had changed from summer to autumn, so our parenting season has changed.

I wasn’t prepared for the fact that our son felt like a stranger.

Not a complete stranger, of course, but there was definitely a certain awkwardness that I wasn’t expecting.

He had been on his own for over two months. We were no longer part of each other’s daily lives and text updates don’t tell much of a story.

So much life had happened since the last time we saw him in person and how does one get caught up on all that?

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So began that delicate dance that exists between parents and their adult children.

Doug and I had an understanding for this trip: we were simply going to take what Josh gave us. We were not going to pry. We were not going to ask a million questions. We would not give advice. We would let him set the pace.

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At first, the pace was slow. He didn’t say much, just looked out the window at the passing cityscape and said he was looking forward to getting out the city for awhile.

I began to fill him in on all the happenings in our small town. He smiled in amusement, made a few comments. Then more silence.

“What is happening?” I asked myself.

Gradually, the conversation increased and Josh became more talkative.

We got to the restaurant and before we ordered our food, Josh leaned over, and put his head against mine like he used to do. It was just a single, very brief moment but it made all the difference to me. My heart smiled.

Somewhere in that man-child, my little boy still lives. :)

Doug and I were thrilled to see Josh and Mike instantly connecting, talking about the joys and challenges of being a writer.

That was the turning point for the weekend.

For the next two days, the conversation was easy. We fell into an easy rhythm. The initial awkwardness of gone, much to my relief.

The weekend flew by and it was time to say goodbye again.

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It will be another two months until we see him again.

It was wonderful to get a glimpse into his life at school and into the man that he is becoming.

On the way home, I read an article that a friend had posted on Facebook. It was written by a mom who was explaining why she homeschools her children.

I found myself smiling as I read her article because I could relate.

How grateful I am for those years!

Wherever life takes me or my kids,  there was a time when we spent hours and days and years together. Was everything perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a time in our lives that no one can take away.

And the memories only become sweeter to me as the years go by.

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Open Letter To A Teenage Girl


Photo credit: Google

Dear One,

I overheard you say, “Boys don’t like me.”

I am writing this open letter in the hopes that you will one day see it.

Granted, I am nearly half a century old, far removed from the angst of the teenage years. You may wonder what I could possibly have to say that would be helpful to you. 

I have the wisdom that comes with age and the clear eyesight that experience gives. I see life in a way that you cannot see at this point. 

So here goes…

The truth is, most high school boys have no idea what to do with you. 

***You are a young woman of substance.

You are passionately engaged with the world around you.  You are well aware of the serious issues at work in our world today. More than that, you intend to do something about it. You know deep down that you have the passion, the intelligence, the drive, to make a difference in this world. 

And you will. 

You have big dreams that reach far beyond this sleepy old town. This little town in this little state will never contain you. 

***You respect yourself and and insist that others do the same. 

You will not allow a young man to use your body to satisfy his own self-centered lust. That is good and right.

You must insist that any boy who is interested in you get to know your heart and your mind because you are more than the sum total of your body parts.

If he does not show a willingness to do this, he is not worthy of your time…and he certainly does not deserve access to your heart. 

Frankly, most teenage boys do not have the maturity to appreciate this. (Of course there are always exceptions). They are driven primarily by hormones at this age and the cold hard truth is that most teenage boys will be drawn to girls who make themselves easily available for sex. They are not interested in their minds, their feelings, their hopes and dreams. They are after one thing: their bodies. 

This is NOT the type of boy you want.

You may think you do. You see these boys with those girls and you wish that you could be part of a couple because it all looks so glamorous and fun. But things are not always what they seem.

I have heard you mention girls in these seemingly happy relationships who have been blindsided by the boy’s callous disregard for them when they break things off via text or an abrupt phone call. You have seen the bewilderment, the hurt, the devastation. These girls had given their bodies to these boys and were now tossed aside like yesterday’s news. It is a tragedy. They may have been in “relationships” but they were never truly seen, never truly respected, never truly known. What a lonely and sad place to be in. 

You want more than that. In fact, you demand it. You are not someone to be used; you are a person who is fearfully and wonderfully made by your Creator and you deserve to be cherished and adored.

So hold fast to your standards. Expect to be treated with dignity and honor.

 Show compassion for those girls who have bought the lie that in order to be liked, to be validated, to be wanted they must grant access to their bodies to those who do not have their best interests at heart. They don’t know that they are too precious to give themselves away so cheaply. Tell them that there is another way.  

***You do not suffer fools. 

You can spot a phony a mile away. You realize that talk is cheap and your head is not turned by pretty words. You are not afraid to call a spade a spade. 

Anyone looking for an easy  target can move right along. 

You have been given a voice and you intend to use it to boldly state what you believe in and why. You are not easily intimidated.

You have been given a sharp mind and you have no interest in hiding that fact. 

Trust should never be given before it is earned. Do not take anything at face value. Never stop asking questions. 

***You have the strength to face life head on.  

You do not need to blunt the hard edges of life with alcohol or drugs. You do not need to fuel your body with foreign substances to have a good time. You have a sunny spirit and a strong faith that will serve you well when the hard times hit.

Life is hard. Only the brave can look adversity right in the face and keep moving forward.

You are brave.

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I will leave you with this: it’s a huge world out there.

Life is so much bigger than high school.

There is going to come a day when you meet a young man who sees the special girl that you are and you will totally enchant him. The silly boys of high school will be a distant memory. 

You will not intimidate him; you will inspire him.

Your strength of character will be something to admire.

Your joy and your light will blaze brightly in this dark world and you will be a blessing to all who know you. 

With the unique gifts that you have been given, you will make your mark on this world. 

You, dear one, are a remarkable young lady. 

Believe it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Church Ladies Here


Credit: Google Images

I had lunch with a new friend yesterday.

She and her family recently started attending our church and we are just in the early stages of getting to know each other.

At one point, she lowered her voice and her eyes and said, “I feel like a hypocrite walking into that church sometimes.”

When I asked why, she said, “Everybody there is so good. And I’m not.”

Oh honey. That is so NOT true!

Our pastor from our Florida days,  the incredibly gifted Tullian Tchvidjiian (here is a link to his sermons. Do yourself a favor and go watch some of them. His sermon series on the book of Romans was life-changing!), has taught me more than any other teacher about the miracle and wonder of God’s breathtaking and scandalous grace. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from him on this subject:

God only saves bad people because bad people are all that there are.”

I know one thing: I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.”

“God’s message to the worn out and weary is this: ‘God’s demand: Be righteous.
God’s Diagnosis: No one is righteous.
God’s deliverance: Jesus is our righteousness.”

Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. 

Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose.
Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

“Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. It is one way love.”

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return.”

Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be regarded, right, rewarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves and validate ourselves.”

When you read those words, do you sense the wind of freedom blowing into your life?!

For so many years, I lived as if all of this Christian life depended on me. I constantly felt the need to do more, to try harder, to perform, to pretend to be be something I wasn’t. And in the end, it left me feeling empty and hypocritical.

But then Jesus opened my eyes to the freeing fact of His incredible grace and I have never been the same!

He has done for me what I could never do for myself. My identity is no longer in external things: the size of my bank account, my looks, my possessions, my career. Rather my identity is in who I am in in Him.  Among other things, I am unconditionally loved, fully forgiven, chosen, beloved, free. That makes all the difference.

 I am no longer bound to “shoulds” and “oughts.”

I have made the choice to accept the free gift of grace that He offered me at the cross. (I just read a fabulous quote about what Jesus did at the cross for us from author Mark Batterson: “Jesus said, ‘I’ll take the blame for everything you did wrong and give you the credit for everything I did right.”). 

Grace is a free gift to us but it cost Jesus everything He had to be able to give it to us. 

When you live in the light of that kind of love, your life is filled with a joy that circumstances cannot touch and a liberating freedom that no one can take away. 

I had no interest in playing the role of Church Lady with my new friend during our lunch. I was very honest about the fact that I am as much of a mess as anybody else. I have my own baggage and struggles and trials and heartaches. I told her that every single person she sees in church on Sunday morning is dealing with their own stuff. (As Tullian likes to say, we are all train wrecks in our own way).

 There is not one person who would willingly volunteer to have all their inmost thoughts displayed up on the screen for everyone to see. None of us are perfect. That’s why we need a Savior who is perfect on our behalf. 

We are all broken people living together in a broken world.

Years ago, I may have wanted to leave her with the impression that I had it all together. That is the last thing that I would ever do now. I described how I used to be. She expressed amazement and proceeded to rattle off a list of lovely words that she would use to describe me now.

I smiled wide and said honestly, “If any of those things are true, that is Jesus who you are seeing. That shows you the difference He has made in my life. I’m not the same person that I was anymore. You can’t walk with Him and stay the same.  In fact, to quote Patsy Clairmont, ‘Without Jesus, I’m not even nice!!'” :)

Very true.

The last thing my new friend needed was to leave that restaurant thinking how great Susan is. 

She needed to walk out of there thinking, “Wow, Susan is a mess. Susan is broken. But Jesus has met her right there in that brokenness and He is making her whole. He is giving her beauty for ashes. He is bringing redemption and restoration to a life that desperately needs it. He is taking a rebel and transforming her into someone who loves like He does.”

 She needed to leave that place marveling over the fact that it is the beauty of His grace alone  that has the power to set her free. 

Give that same gift to those who come across your path today.

Show them Jesus.

His love for us does not depend on our loveliness. It goes one way. As far as our sin may extend, the grace of our Father extends further.”

(All quotes taken from Tullian’s book One Way Love: Inexhaustable Grace For An Exhasuted World. I highly recommend this book).

 

 

 

 

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Over The Brick Wall


The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”–Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.

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It was summer 2011.

My daughter Julia had decided earlier that year that she was ready to follow her big brother and leave homeschooling behind to enter the local high school as a freshman.

Years ago, her dad had taken her to see a volleyball game at the high school. She was 10 years old and remembered being totally enthralled by the game. Now that she was entering high school, she decided that she wanted to play.

Fortunately, we discovered that the volleyball coach was going to hold a  summer clinic on the local beach. This was good news for Julia. Most of the girls had been playing volleyball since 5th grade, but she had never played competitively before and had much to learn. And learn she did. What she lacked in skill, she made up for in pure heart. She dove, she ran, she hustled, she spiked. She soaked all that knowledge up until she she was ready for tryouts. She earned a place on the JV team and made tremendous progress by the end of the season.

The following year she made the JV team once more.

When her junior year rolled around, she had improved a lot and had high hopes of making the Varsity team.

It was not to be.

She was devastated.

Several girls (also juniors) quit the team in protest rather than play for the JV team for the third year in a row. It was outrageous to them that 4 freshmen made Varsity instead of them. However, everyone knows that this particular volleyball coach is only concerned about ability, not age. There were girls who played on JV all four year of their high school career. Everyone who was on Varsity earned their spot, whether they were 14 or 18.

These girls joined the cross country team in “defiance.” They thought that that would really “show” the coach who had denied them what they felt they deserved. All it showed the coach was that they were quitters.

But Julia refused to quit. After a good cry the night before, she walked into practice the next day with her head held high, determined to be the best player she could be. She went on to help her team have one of their best seasons ever and became a fierce middle hitter.

“I WILL make Varsity next year,” she told Doug and me as we drove home from the last game of the season.

She was true to her word. This past summer she worked out several times a week despite working full time at the local bookstore. When the first day of practice arrived, she was ready.

On the third day (when the teams would be announced after the morning practice), Julia came into my room and said she felt sick. “What if I don’t make it?” she asked, her blue eyes meeting mine, filled with trepidation.

“All you can do is your best,” I told her. “You’ve done the work. Go and play your heart out. Leave it all on the court.”

I watched her drive away with a lump in my throat. I think I wanted this more for her than she wanted it for herself.

“I MADE VARSITY!!!” came the  joyful text a few hours later.

As soon as she came home after her victory, I didn’t even wait until she came into the house. I sprinted out into the driveway to greet her. She ran into my arms and we jumped up and down, squealing with excitement.

I have never been so proud of my daughter. She had a goal and a dream and she never stopped reaching for it, even in the face of intense disappointment. She didn’t stay down. She didn’t give in to self-pity. She didn’t play the blame game.

She simply refused to take her eyes off the goal. She knew she had one more chance to achieve a dream and she did what it took to get there.

This gives me great hope for her future. We all know that life is full of disappointments and as a parent, you wonder how those inevitable moments will affect your child. I now know that when life gets tough for her, she will get tougher.

Julia’s perseverance over four long years inspires me to deal the same way with the disappointments in my own life. I am amazed by her courage and her grace under pressure.

It is a beautiful thing as a mom to be encouraged and motivated by your child.

I am so proud of my girl.

Here’s to a winning season!

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”—Mary Radmacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Chapter


So, I didn’t cry when it was time to say goodbye.

I hugged my son in front of his dorm, told him I was proud of him and that I loved him, and took one last photo of him and his sister.

PA 2014-0043Then I watched him wave and walk through the front door of his dorm, disappearing into a sea of students and into a brand new life.

I remained dry-eyed during the 14 hour drive back home. I was feeling pretty good.

Then I walked into the house, saw Josh’s room…and sobbed for a solid hour before falling into an exhausted sleep.

I cried on and off for the next couple of days.

I’m not sure I like our new normal. I miss my boy.

Yet I am so happy for him. We had a lovely last few days together exploring his new home away from home.

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Mudge-0037It felt very surreal to Doug and me as we walked around the city where we both went to college, knowing that our son would be walking these same streets thirty years later. Full circle.

The days since we have been home have been so odd. The house has seemed strangely empty to me, despite the fact that my husband, my daughter, my mom and me all live here. And I am so grateful for the presence of each one of them.

However, I have come to discover that you don’t realize the depth and richness that a loved one provides to your daily life until they are gone. I was living daily with a combination of sweet, happy memories and some regrets of things I did or didn’t do while Josh lived with us. I wondered what kind of decisions he is going to make now that he is on his own. I am filled with more determination than ever to encourage young moms to enjoy that season of life because as the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.”

One morning, I found myself scanning Facebook and commented to a sweet friend who was struggling with the fact that her little boy was about to go to kindergarten. I told her that I was right there with her, just a little further down the road. In turn, she reminded me of something that Linda Anderson, the founder of the Mom To Mom program told us, “You are not releasing your child into a void. You are releasing them into the hands of God.”

That was just the reminder that I needed to silence the fears, the regrets, the “what-if’s?”.

It’s a new season. Granted, it is not one that I think anyone ever feels completely ready for, but I am in it and I intend to fully realize the blessings that it offers.

I have more photography jobs booked. I am looking forward to enjoying every minute of my daughter’s senior year of high school. I will be leading 2 Bible studies and continuing to serve as a mentor to the young moms at our church.

My son’s story is really just beginning, and a new chapter is being written in mine.

Bring it on. :)

 

 

 

 

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A Week of “Lasts”


(Note: I have absolutely no idea why certain words are highlighted and capitalized. That was not my doing).

So, it’s come down to this.

This is the last week that my son will live at home before he leaves for college.

Sometimes it’s the unexpected gifts of time together that are the most precious.

I popped my head into Josh’s room yesterday to say that I was taking a trip to the camera store. He brightened up and asked if he could go with me to get some photos developed.

Within the next few minutes, we were heading down the highway, windows open, and listening to his iPod. I was delighted that he chose to play the 80’s music that I raised him and his sister on. We sang with abandon as the  summer wind whipped through the car. I smiled as he stuck his head out the window like he used to do when he was a kid, the sun lighting up his red hair like a flame.

After getting our photos developed, we strolled along Main St and walked into our happy place: a bookstore. Then we went to lunch before heading home.

It was such a blessed time. We talked about everything and nothing…and we laughed. Once again, I marveled at how much alike he and I are…just like my dad and I were.

As we turned off the highway, tears sprang to my eyes and I was so relieved that my sunglasses hid them. I didn’t want tears to spoil the joy of the past couple hours.

When 18 years comes down to a few days, I’ve noticed that there are so many things I want to say, so much that I wanted to remind him of, a few tidbits of last minute advice to dispense. But the words die in my throat.

I’ve already said it all. After 18 years, for better or worse, the days of my formal parenting of my son are over. I’ve left it all on the field and he will do with all of that what he will. It’s out of my hands.

When we pulled into the driveway, I whispered a prayer of thanks for the gift of those past few hours with him.

There have already been so many lasts this week.

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Julia wanted to give her brother a surprise going away party, which happened on Sunday night. He didn’t suspect a thing and was totally stunned to walk into the house and find it full of most of his friends, all gathered for one last hurrah under our roof.Surprise Party 2014-0002
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Surprise Party 2014-0018Those kids who have practically lived at our house for the past four years will soon be scattering all over the country, both to college and the military. I won’t hear them call me “Mama Brown” anymore or come home to  a bunch of them hanging out in our kitchen while Josh whipped up one of his culinary masterpieces.

How does time go by so incredibly fast?!

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Last night, my brother took the kids camping at their favorite campground for the last time. The tradition began when we first moved here in the summer of 2007. Every August since then, they have rented a cabin and had adventures. Doug and I would drive out there to join them for a campfire and s’mores and we would all sit under the stars and the faint glow of the cheerful multi-colored camping lights and make memories.

When Jeff checked in, they had given away all the smaller cabins so he was given a deluxe one for the same price that slept 10 and had an enormous loft. He later texted me a photo of the kids up in the loft, looking over the edge with delighted expressions. And in those faces, they looked to me like the 10 and 11 year olds they were the first time Jeff had taken them there.

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Our pastor stopped by the house earlier today to give Josh a copy of his favorite devotional.  His heartfelt inscription on the inside cover made me cry. At the end, he wrote, “The Lord promises His Presence always. My prayer is that you will find time to stop, be still, and experience it. May the Lord bless you, Josh, in all your endeavors for Him. Pastor Steve.”

That will be my prayer for him too.

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I received a text a few minutes ago from my cousin’s wife. Both our boys graduated from high school in June and he, too, is going off to college soon.

I am very anxious about  T moving 45 minutes away,” she had written. ““How are you doing?”

The truth is, I am both happy and sad all at once.

I will miss my boy.

I in awe of how fast the time has gone.

I know that as flawed as a parent as I am, that I did my best.

I am proud of the young man Josh has become and I am excited to see what mark he will make on this world.

Most of all, I am beyond  grateful that Jesus will go with him and be there when I cannot.

“There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” —Graham Green

 

 

 

 

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