Ten years after most parents have their first day of school, we are on the dawn of ours.
I have dreaded...absolutely dreaded this night from the moment the decision to put him in school was made.
I dreaded the tears I knew I'd cry, the second-guessing I knew I'd do, and the heightened emotions I knew I'd experience as we begin this new season of life.
I was hoping Jesus would come back before tonight.
There's still time for Him to return and take us home...there's still several hours before the first school bell rings...but as much as I strain my ears for a sound, I don't hear the trumpets announcing my Savior...
Masterfully, I held back tears most of the day. The torrential build up of emotion became too much as we loaded into the car for back-to-school night. I ran into my firstborn on the stairs and he quizzically looked into my tear-streaked, vein-bulging eyes, and asked "Why are you crying now?"
I was adamant that I was going to control my emotions, "Don't hug me. I have to pull myself together and get rid of these puffy eyes before we get to the school."
Apparently, he wasn't going to hug me anyway, because he was already in the front seat of the car before I finished the statement.
I lost most of my mascara on the drive there.
Nearing the school, the freshman firstborn gasps, "Where are my shoes?"
And we are already late and "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU FORGOT YOUR SHOES?"
This vision of walking into back-to-school night with my freshman in high school not wearing shoes is enough to instantly dry my eyes and bring color back to my face. This is not happening.
Even the toddler brought his shoes this time.
I'm no longer sad he's going to school; instead, I want to slap him upside the head.
He exaggeratedly searches around the seat and through his bag before he grins and holds up two shoes, "Just kidding. You don't really think I'd forget to bring my shoes, do you?"
Gosh, I'm really going to miss this kid. He somehow has me all figured out.
Maybe it's because we've been together for the last fourteen years.
Later, as he was getting ready for bed, backpack sitting by the door, lunch made in the refrigerator, I kind of wanted to pull out a scene from that book, I'll Love You Forever. I wanted him to crawl up in my lap and just be five again. Or better yet. I wanted him to sneak into our room in the middle of the night, and be five again, and crawl into our bed, just because. Just because he was little and wanted to be near.
So, tonight, after he was asleep, I did sneak into the boys' room. Just to peek at my babies. I'm always amazed. Somehow, seeing both my older sons laying in their beds, growing bodies sprawled out and filling the mattresses, grounds me to the very reality that going to school is not what makes me sad. What makes me sad is the fact that they have to grow up. Whether they go to school or not, the transition into manhood has already begun.
Time is no respecter of a mama's feelings.
The light from the street reflected on my firstborn's face and I saw a hint of baby fat...a hint of the little boy that didn't sleep in his own bed until he was six...but I can't ignore the chin that seems more defined and the shoulders that seem to be broadening. Why can't he just be five? His physical body fills a bed in our house for only a season of life and that hardly seems fair. Next time my kids say something is not fair, I'll tell them what's not fair. "What's not fair is that I'm going to love you little ones and give my life for you for eighteen years and then you are going to leave and call another place your home. THAT'S WHAT'S NOT FAIR."
I'm not sure which of the older three children will roll their eyes first at that comment.
But every mom understands.
Watching your children grow up is such a painful pleasure.
The Daniel of the Old Testament.
For much of this last summer, I wished I could have a little chat with his mom.
Daniel---the young man (teenager) ripped from his family and his heritage and his land and thrust into the greatest city of those days. Babylon.
Daniel---taken as a slave to be trained to serve the king. He's described as handsome, quick-minded, well-informed, and of noble blood, which qualified him to serve royalty.
He and other young men from Judah were taken to be trained in all areas of Babylonian culture---the language, the literature, and all other areas of life that would be useful in the king's service. This would include being trained in the knowledge of Babylonian gods and worship.
Wealth, glory, prestige, idolatry, excess.
All of it was found within the walls of this magnificent city.
All of it within reach of these young boys if they would just make some compromises.
How long would it really be possible for a teenager to hang on to all that he had been taught as a young boy when he was being trained daily in ways that were contrary to his God and his entire way of life? Everything he knew would have been challenged.
How long could he possible stand?
But Daniel did stand. He did stand firm in his faith and did not turn his back on God.
And God lifted him to excellence in all areas of importance to the king.
He and three other young men are the only ones mentioned of ALL the Israelite boys taken who maintained their love for the Lord.
That's not very encouraging.
All good Jewish boys would have been taught Old Testament scripture.
They would all have known about the God of Israel. They would all have known about the one true I AM.
Only four kept the faith?
I'd love to talk to the mamas of those boys, specifically Daniel's mom.
Interview her. Pepper her with a million questions to ease my worried soul.
Surely, she holds the recipe~the magic formula~ to raising a kid whole-heartedly sold out to the Lord.How did you prepare your son?
Did you know he was strong enough to stand?
Did you get to whisper any last words to him as Babylonian soldiers were taking him away?
Did you tell him you loved him or did you whisper scripture knowing that a mother's love would never sustain him? Only the Word of God would have that power.
Tell me your secret, Oh Mom of Daniel.
And my frantic soul this summer kept searching for the answer to raising a child that didn't turn away when leaving the home. My soul regretted lost training opportunities, and toiled over future plans and ideas to properly prepare him for a life lived in our very godless culture. I worried. I prayed. I feared a bit. I prayed some more. What I didn't take the time to do, however, was to still my soul before the God, who created my son, and remind myself whose child he really is. Deep down, I think the children in my home are mine. All mine. I know I think they are mine because I really have a hard time releasing them to God, who might choose to grow them in ways that make them uncomfortable...or ways that embarrass...or in ways that hurt.
Several different entries in my journal talk about this desire to talk to Daniel's mom. Tell me exactly what you did, Mama Daniel, and I'll do it. It's not shocking that this woman from long ago didn't talk to me. In fact, my repeated search for specific information on Daniel's mama hardly turned up any information. Finally, finally, finally, God opened my eyes to something very important that I was missing in my quest for the specific recipe for raising a son like Daniel. It was as though the Lord opened my heart to this, "If I had wanted you to know about Daniel's mother, I would have mentioned her. The secret doesn't belong to Daniel's mother. I AM DANIEL'S GOD."
The God, who lived in Daniel, kept the teenager strong.
The God, who had a plan that required Daniel to be lifted far above the others, gave this young man the wisdom to withstand the temptations.
The God, who created Daniel for such a time as that, grew him in knowledge academically and gave him favor in front of kings.
Daniel's God is my God.
Daniel's God is my firstborn's God.
I don't need to talk to Daniel's mom.
I've got the God of the universe living inside me, His written word to guide me, and His promises to hold tight against my aching heart and over-working mind.
My son has that same God.
The firstborn going to school tomorrow is nothing like Daniel being taken as a slave to Babylon.
Hopefully, we still have several years left with him in our home and under our guidance.
There won't need to be any last minute profound words frantically whispered as I send him off tomorrow because, Lord willing, I'll be seeing him just six hours later with time left in our season of life together to do more training.
But, now that I think about my last words to him in a few hours, maybe I will steal my mom's old goodbye to me in high school, and use it with my own children as we are slowly releasing them to the world.
She used to say, "Remember whose child you are."
The teenager in me would always say back to her, "Yours."
I knew what she meant, though.
"Remember, Beloved Michelle, that you are the daughter of the King. Bought at a price. Redeemed for all eternity. You. Belong. To. God."
It would seem God's using that to cushion my heart on the night before my firstborn goes to school for the first time.
Fear not. I have redeemed your (firstborn.)
I have summoned him by name.
He. Is. Mine.
I've been writing an hour and the snoring upstairs tells me that everyone else in my family seems to be at peace with this decision. I guess this first day of school thing is really going to happen.
My ears are still straining to hear the trumpets...maybe there's still some time left, and Jesus will return.
Instead, I hear the still, small voice calmly reassuring me on this dreaded night before...
Do not fear.
He. Is. Mine.