God and I had a lot of time to communicate that summer and so when it was time to take her off to college, I was able to get in the car, drive down and help move her into her dorm. We were so proud that neither of had a complete nervous breakdown. No tears (that anyone saw.) She was ready to fly! She jumped into college life like she was born to it. A few months in we had out first difficulty. We lost a family member that she loved so very much. I had to break the news to her and she was there and I was here. I had to do it over the phone. I couldn't hold her and cry with her and dry her tears. This is not how parenting is supposed to go. While that loss continues to be an only partially healed wound, I was reminded that God loves my child and has her wrapped up in His wings. He had surrounded her with a new godly family of kids there who helped her get through it when I could not. I grew stronger.
But here's the good news. After a month home for Christmas, I was ready for her to go back and so was she. I loved having her home but letting her go was pretty easy. God had been slowly filling me up and holding me just like he promised and she had become a beautiful butterfly who didn't need us much. She had grown up into the beautiful woman of God we knew she would be. She was not just OK, she was thriving and I was serving and learning.
Then the summer of 2012 rolled around. NOT MY BABY BOY! He's all I've got left. I still haven't figured him all the way out so I can't be finished parenting him. I just don't think I will allow this to happen. I had seen so many signs that he was ready to go. He had participated in a mission trip with our church and his father and we had all gotten a glimpse of the mighty mountain of God he was becoming. He is quiet but mature and wise beyond his years. He was born a 40 year old man so he was ready. Responsible is this child's middle name. He had decided where he was going to college and done what he needed to do to have easy admission and so I had no choice but to let him go. He was ready to fly. It was hard. He had chosen to go to our alma mater, the University of Texas in Austin. It's a hard place to be a person of faith. But God has been working there and preparing for him. (That's right...I believe that all of the godly ground made in Austin has been laid just in preparation for my baby boy...and others of course. That's what I'm telling myself. In the last twenty something years, He has MOVED INTO Austin and claimed some serious ground. That was not true when we were there.) He found a great church with a great college ministry. He met with a man who mentored freshman boys. He had the opportunity to serve in leadership at the BSM and he got to go on a mission trip to Costa Rica. This boy walked into the ungodliest place in Texas and started ministry. Those of us here who poured into him are so proud. I was terrified that Austin would chew him up and spit him out. Nope. Not happening to God's quietest and gentlest warrior.
The second child leaving is a teeny bit easier than the first, but the fact that he's the last sort of evens the pain of loss. I bounced back a little faster. I now had both children out of the house and I was still serving in a ministry that I loved. I won't lie though, if you enter ministry, you better buckle up. It won't always be pretty. But it WILL always be blessed, no matter how it feels. For the first time in my adult life, I had no babies in the house. No one here but my husband, Mr. Perfect, me and our ill and aging dogs. To be fair, they were the children's dogs and it seemed they decided to expire when their babies were grown. I clung to those dogs like a life raft. They represented so much to me. The childhood of my children and 11 years of great memories. I literally felt that I was breathing for them. A part time volunteer ministry takes time but not really all that much and I had a lot of free time to love on them. And as they faded, I found I missed my babies less and less. The babies, on the other hand were having a ball! They were thriving. They were happy. The world had not corrupted them. I was able to serve in the ministry I had been in many ways training for all my life. Life was going to be OK. But I was still spending most of my time on the couch...and it showed. (Still does. Working on that.)
In December, I got an "opportunity" to serve my community for the next 6 months. I couldn't turn it down. I was so excited I could barely contain myself until it began in January. I have spent so much time in the towns around where I live, I didn't know many people in my own town. Nor did I have any idea what we had going on. I spent the next 6 months serving with people who treated me with respect and dignity. I discovered that I still had a brain and it still functioned. If you've ever been a stay at home mom, you know it atrophies the brain. I began to learn of fun and sometimes educational events and opportunities in my own town. I also found that once again God had been looking out and preparing me. You see, a long time ago (1996) I learned about guardian-ad-litems from watching a TV show. I promised myself I would look into that when my babies were grown and I had the time. I felt it would be in the best interest of us all not to have my time split. But I am not really a kid person. I don't feel the need to hug and squeeze babies. I will walk into battle with the meanest adult, stand on stage and sing in front of anyone but 2 and 3 year olds terrify me! I wasn't sure it was going to be a fit. However, about 2003 I met a new friend that I loved instantly. She is an attorney-ad-litem and she is a WARRIOR for her clients but she doesn't feel the need to pinch cheeks either. Without words, she encouraged me gave me hope that maybe someone with my personality could still be useful there. In November of 2012, shortly after my son left for college, I told my husband it was time to look into it. Shortly after that I sent an email requesting information. I received no reply. OK Lord, we will wait. On my 6 month team, I discovered two wonderful ladies who were volunteers with CASA. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. They are guardian ad litems. God had placed these two in a room with me once a week for six months and had given me the opportunity to ask all my questions to several of their best and brightest. But please catch this, it was MONTHS AFTER I had decided to jump in. He knew they were coming for me. Months after my original inquiry I received an apology from their headquarters stating they had had email issues. SO I rolled the ball. I went through the training and I received my first case and my second one. I absolutely love this organization and I believe in it. I believe it is the literal meaning of "true religion."
James 1:27 says "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
The children represented by CASA are not all orphans but they were all living in terrible conditions. I can stand up for them and look out for their best interests. I also get to help their parents on the pathway to being better parents so maybe, just maybe their children can be best served in their own family. And I can minister in different way than I do in the church. It is stretching me.
About this same time I discovered Dr. Oz's Arthritis Cure. While it isn't a cure, it has given me a new lease on life. I have mostly pain free days most of the time.
With no children at home, vastly improved pain issues and a life full of service, I discovered the beauty of a life after babies. I no longer miss them terribly. Letting them go allowed me to step into the ministry God had waiting for me and allowed them to grow to maturity in His way. I've dedicated my life to serving in God's Church. I know He's called me to the Church. I have loved it and have been privileged to serve Him in Ministry to Women. I will always serve in that capacity in one way or another, I always have. My time in that particular church ministry has ended for now. I am grateful for lessons learned, some the easy way and some the hard way. (There are a few lessons I'm still working on being grateful for, but I'll get there.) I believe that God used that ministry to make huge differences in our church. I believed He used it as one mighty form of discipleship and I've been privileged to watch many women blossom with new understanding of His Word. I've cried with many of them during times of terrible pain and sadness and also times of great joy! I've watched Him step in when words failed me. I've watched the worst thing I could imagine happen to people. I've seen some fly and some fail in those difficulties. What a privilege to get to serve others in this way. For sure, its not for everyone. That's why they call it a "calling." There's an old seminary saying that applies here: "If you can do anything at all but preach boy, do that!" I really can't do anything other than minister to the wounded and hurting and make disciples. No matter what I intend to do, that's where I find myself.
So I once again have time on my hands. I'm excited to find ways to fill it. I'm excited to figure out where God is leading. I'm serving Him outside of the church and I will follow Him to the new ways to serve Him inside the Church too, if that's where He leads. I believe it will. It always has. But please know, there is life after children. I couldn't have imagined it 5 years ago. Now we can do anything we want. We can go to the movies on Tuesday evening...and sometimes do. Every Saturday night is date night no matter what the children are doing because they aren't here. That man I married still has it going on! We can get in the car and go should we desire. We can eat out a lot and still spend less money than home cooking for four. We can spoil our new puppies like crazy people. Who's here to tell on us? Our time is our own for the first time in 23 years. I had figured I would sit around and cry until the grand babies came but let's be honest, that's not my style. Ashley has graduated with honors and is beginning graduate school in a few days. My baby boy was home for the summer and just left to start his second (but technically junior) year. I couldn't be prouder but no longer is their life, my life. As it should be.