They said it would. Everybody said it would. Oh, they didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of the message. The sun ‘ill come up tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, come what may… It always does, doesn’t it?
It’s taken me a long time to write this third installment in the Secondary Labor Series. For those coming on board just now wondering what the heck secondary labor is, don’t worry. I made the term up to describe the feeling moms have as they prepare to birth their kids out of their arms and into the world. While this is the third in a trilogy on the Empty Nest experience, like the others, it has its own stand-alone nugget. So feel free to pause and take them in order at www.katsilverglate.wordpress.com or to plow through with this one now.
This installment has been delayed because I’ve been…well, waiting for the other shoe to drop. To wake up wrought with angst because my chicken isn’t here or to find myself crying for no apparent reason in the grocery isle. But, I’m surprised to report, it hasn’t happened… Have I processed? Yes. Sorted? You betcha! Wished I could climb through the phone to hug him a time or two? Don’t doubt it for a second. But the thud of the cement laden shoe? It hasn’t happened… And I’m not even going to add the word ‘yet’ to that last sentence, even though I said it out loud while I was typing those three dots.
What I have experienced has been some kind of alternative adjustment disorder – the technical psychological term for trouble coping with major life changes. I say alternative, because my diagnosis has been more akin to an adjustment order. Like a background orchestra is playing behind my life at weird moments inviting me to notice a new order being born around me. My description of this experience owes its inspiration to my Jenny.
Jenny, like a daughter to me and young enough to be mine, was in the middle of a major move across multiple states with her two little girls and husband as I moved my son four states away. One of my transition confidants, she bubbled over with delight one day on the phone after attending a lecture on transitions in her new hometown of Kentucky. Her joy was so deep and her description so full, I felt as if I had attended the lecture myself. It went from the speaker’s mouth to her heart to mine. Don’t you love it when people grow out loud in real time? Not waiting until it’s all perfect and polished and gussied up. Just raw revelation spilling out of a newly seeded heart?
Anyway… The speaker was wildly visual, so he painted a word picture to capture the essence of the time just after the dreaded T has happened — major life transition. He told her to think of her life planted in the middle of an ice rink. Yep, you read that right. Ice rink as in ice hockey, as in Panthers, as in controlled frozen tundra. Imagine, the ice is frozen around the base of your couch, your desk, your refrigerator, your routines, your friendships, your relationships. The manager of the ice rink has decided to turn up the temperature in the arena for a month or so. All the ice holding your life in place is going to melt loosening its hold on your stuff and all your patterns. But don’t panic as you imagine this. You have a rare and wonderful opportunity during the thaw. You’ll have a few months to rearrange your life however you wish. After that, the manager will turn the temperature down again and the ice will freeze around your new order holding it in place until it’s time for another transition.
It was the perfect artsy analogy for my picture loving mind to grasp as I returned home to the ‘empty nest.’ Expecting the orchestra to play an ominous da da daaaa daily when I arrived to notice the things missing since my son left, I heard quite a different song. It was more like the one in a romantic comedy when things are about to get adventurous. Hearing that music more and more, I started to question the furniture of my life. To see the possibilities in the new order. I started to ask bigger questions like, how much of what I do is patterned around the season that has just ended? How much of this do I continue to do because of past seasons? Some patterns just carry over and over and over with little thought as to why, don’t they? What do I continue because I’ve always moved this way? What if I really had the freedom to create whatever pattern I wanted in my life? What would that look like? What if I made it an adventure and thought wildly outside the box? What if I moved things around and around and around until I found a pattern that was wonderfully fulfilling? What if I wasn’t so anxious for the ice to freeze around it again? What if I gave myself permission to slosh around in the liquid arena and enjoy moving furniture? What if?
All I can say is… ya’ll pray for Spencer. He arrived home one evening last week to find most of the furniture in our house reconfigured. Rug from the living room in the bedroom, chairs from the patio in the master bedroom, lamp from the family room God knows where… He loved it. Most of it. And so did I. Oddly, It feels like an entirely new house, and our taxes didn’t even go up! This has been a wonderfully revealing exercise and I gotta say, I’m not ready for the thermostat to change quite yet. I’m still smack dab in the middle of transition soup and I’m starting to like the daring re-constructionist attitude that has invaded our spirit. It’s as if someone needed to give us permission to move furniture in our very own lives! Oh Jenny, do you have any idea what your little bubbly fit birthed in the Silverglates? Thank you for sharing that speaker’s wisdom. Truly, wisdom knows no formulaic delivery system, no age ceiling and definitely, no floor. You know it when you hear it because it penetrates to the fleshy portions of your system and it transforms something in your heart causing you to move differently without thinking. I can’t imagine missing this experience.
I’ve realized a few important things as I’ve sloshed around my life in galoshes. Mostly, I’ve started to wonder about the manager of that little thermostat. Who gets to decide what to freeze and when to freeze it? God certainly allows a great many things that thaw the ice of life and move us — some of them wonderful, like a pregnancy or a new job, and some of them really difficult, like a death or an illness or the loss of a job. Often we wait for these major life events to evaluate our patterns. To move things around. Forced adjustments really leave us no choice, do they? But do we have to wait for these monumental T’s?
Part of me sees more clearly that God isn’t a God who freezes as much as we are a people who freeze. We become entrenched and set in our ways. Filled with “should’s” and “have to’s” instead of “get to’s” and “let’s do it’s!” Frozen in something translucent like ice that holds us in patterns that are falsely hemmed-in. Keeping us from the joy of growing and living all-out, full-throttle, why-not lives. God is fantastically mobile. Always transforming. Always creating. Always restoring. Always waking us up to the question, will you follow Me today! Will you arrange your pattern around Me and where I’m going? Will you notice Me, delight in Me, go when I go, stay when I stay? Will you submit to the rhythm of My Spirit?
I realize that patterns are important. That we need them. That there is a great reduction in chaos and waste and inefficiency when patterns are set and healthy. But do our set patterns have frosty rigidity? Do they leave room for surprise? For mystery? For joy? For the divine rhythm we can’t see but come to know? Are we mismanaging our thermostats freezing things God never intended to be frozen?
I’m learning to enjoy the liquid summer of the glorious T. To keep my hands off the thermostat. To wait to freeze something into the pattern of my life until it is apparent that freezing is both healthy and necessary, not a default setting that I imagine exists in the control box of life.
Spending time with Spencer, grocery shopping, making meals. Set. Healthy. Good. Paying bills, tending my business, writing papers, taking tests. Set. Healthy. Good. Meeting weekly with my small group, attending worship on Sunday, praying, calling my mom and my sisters. Set. Healthy. Good. There are so many good healthy things to set regularly in life. But set doesn’t mean frozen and it doesn’t mean boring or rote or rigid either. I’m thinking differently about all of these things. And about how I live in the space between the healthy items wisely set firmly in life’s rhythm. I’m learning, you can keep a pattern and wildly transform how you move in it. But more importantly, I’m embracing the truth that you can fill the space between the set things and adapt in the middle of the set things to the constant breath of heaven.
I don’t know what the next 50 years will offer. What God will allow that changes my course — both the awesome and the difficult. Heck, I don’t even know if I’ll get more than just today. That’s not my call. What I do know is I have a choice to leave the thermostat alone and to refuse to freeze things God never intended to be frozen.
And yes, just in case you were thinking it, Cameron still has a bedroom. And no, reconstruction does not include plastic surgery… Yet! :) Happy thaw people. You have permission to move! Hallelujah and amen.