A dear friend of mine is a season ahead of me in raising children.
Her babies are the age of my oldest kids.
There's a reason God surrounds us with people of all ages--so we can learn from those who have already walked our road, and so we can encourage those who are coming along the road we have already traveled.
This friend burns the candle late into the night, while I'm barely making it through my own children's bedtime without falling asleep myself.
There's been the occasion when I'll climb into bed and yell to my big boys---"I beat you to bed. Come tuck me in."
And they do. Pathetic, huh? They don't do as sweet of a tuck-in as I do, but they trudge to our room and I get a quick kiss on the forehead, or maybe just an arm pat if we are going to bed under less than stellar terms.
I've mentioned my complete dread of evenings to this friend (umm...maybe weekly) and through the last couple of years, she's gently shared how God has worked in her family through those nights.
She's been gradually preparing me.
She's said how she needed to be available late into the evening as the teenage years kicked in because one of her teens would only open up while eating...in the middle of the night (maybe not really the middle of the night, but pretty stinkin late).
And she couldn't just sit down across from him at the table and look him in the eye and force the chat. She needed to simply be available, but not really look like she was available...maybe doing dishes...or fixing food...or wiping a counter.
But her availability and his vulnerability collided late in the evening over food.
That was when her heart and his connected.
I've heard her warning.
Be ready. Your teens might need you at night.
Ugh. Midnight. Food. Availability.
Sounds like the college years, which happen to be days I'd prefer not to do over.
(Don't read anything into that...I was a good girl...I WAS...)
I just don't really like late nights. Or fixing food. Or even being available on someone else's terms. (It's shocking that I'm a mother, right?)
My second son follows rules.
He naturally obeys. He even seems to love to obey.
He's got all sorts of other issues, but following rules is not one of them.
His obedience makes him fun to raise. He's the type of kid that makes a parent believe that they actually are a good parent (which is why God generally only gives each family one of those...lest we somehow think that we are actually better parents than we are.)
But, sometimes, it's the obedient ones in the family that need pursued.
Because they naturally fall in line, they love to be in the good graces of those around them, they don't require all of the "training." They don't demand the attention or the listening ear.
We're grateful for the rule-followers, we praise the one who obeys, we thank God that this one child is not going through a "stage."
And sometimes we can completely miss their hearts.
We can mistake their obedience for righteousness and we can lazily rest in their external actions rather than spending the time searching their hearts.
Disney World...three weeks ago...midnight.
We were on vacation with my parents and brother's family in Florida spending a week bouncing between Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom.
Although I can never stay awake until midnight in my own home, I happened to be bright-eyed late into the night because I have all sorts of energy when I don't have to make my bed or prepare meals or teach math or run our family. Disney World felt like a break. All I had to do was enjoy my family. And that I can do easily...when I don't have to do all the other stuff...
My second son climbed down the stairs, looked at me in complete frustration, and sighed,
"I can't sleep."
I looked at the clock.
"Want something to eat? We have granola bars and ummm...microwave popcorn."
He wasn't hungry.
In fact, he looked irritated that sleep wouldn't come.
He loudly groaned, furrowed his eyebrows, and headed back to his room.
They might need you at night.
So, I followed him back to his room and lay on the bottom of his bed as he rearranged sheets and pillows.
"Are you having fun?"
"What's been your favorite ride so far?"
One-word answers. Not quite the connection I was hoping for.
More silence. I couldn't tell if he had fallen asleep or not.
I almost fell asleep myself.
But I was available...and he was vulnerable.
"You know, Mom..."
And he talked and he shared and he opened his heart to me for a brief hour in time.
And it was midnight and I was tired, but my rule-following son was choosing to talk to me and there was no way I was going to miss this. He doesn't seem to need me all that often anymore.
The clock neared 1:00 am, but I didn't care and he didn't seem to care either. In a large family, I guess you have to take that one-on-one time even if it's into the wee hours of the morning.
His speech began to slow and I could tell that our time was coming to an end.
I wasn't quite ready to let him go.
I reached out and squeezed his toe.
"Hey J, finish what you were telling me."
And he startled out of his doze and finished his story.
One more toe pinch from me.
"Thanks for talking to me tonight, J. I really love hearing your heart."
He whispered as he slowly drifted off to sleep, "Me too, Mom."
I got in my own bed and cried.
Cried because a midnight feeding now meant something different to me.
Not that long ago, I was pinching his toe as a newborn to keep him awake during his late night nursing.
I'd watch him as he nursed.
He needed me for nourishment and I needed him for joy.
I thought our midnight feedings were over.
I'm realizing, a new midnight feeding has just begun.
A new season of connection.
A knitting of our souls.
And I'm going to be available...even if it's at midnight.
The next morning my brother and sister-in-law were bleary eyed from being awake with their three little ones in the middle of the night.
My brother tiredly plopped down next to me and asked how we had slept.
"J and I talked late in the night. I think I just started a new season of the midnight feeding."
I could tell the thought made my brother tired. He just wants to believe that there will be a time in parenting when he will actually get to sleep through the night.
I couldn't help but smile and think of my friend's gentle warning to me.
Be ready, Brother.