Stripped in Las Vegas.
Ok, not literally. Stripping does not have to be literal to leave you feeling naked.
I’ve been in this place before, though it has been many years. I can barely remember.
The memories are returning and I am surprised that I forgot how it felt back then. Like a mama holding new life… slowly a window opens to scenes from moments gone by with babies before. How do we forget? The memories pour into the window like a rogue rainfall… streaming sideways, soaking the sill and everything in its path.
We forget… until, suddenly, we remember.
I remember feeling the loneliness that comes with the solitude of mothering children far from family… far from friends… far from anything, and everything, that feels like home.
It is different this time. There are… more children. The change is not in the numbers.
The change is in their awareness of the same loneliness mama felt years ago, when just mama was enough to fill their young hearts. When just mama was enough to keep the days full, the tummies full, the hours full, the arms full. When daddy’s evening arrival brought booming shrieks and wild, flailing arms. Thankfully, that has not changed with the years. Daddy’s arrival floods those young hearts with joy… maybe even more than back then.
It is different this time. There are hearts feeling this stripping for the first time. Much younger than this mama ever experienced it.
My oldest son… those blue eyes gazing out the window. The sun blinding. The rays blurred by the silent tears rolling down his smooth young, freckled cheeks.
My arm on his shoulder wishing I could keep the weight of all this from bearing down.
Are you ok?
Are you sad?
The blinking of tears, nodding. His jaw clenching in hopes of tightening a heart to this new place.
If you could be anywhere, doing anything, where would you be?
The hard choking of words from the boy growing up just too fast.
Um, I dunno, I guess I’d be hanging out with my friends.
That feeling. I know that feeling.
There are many things a mother can bear and hold… but this.
I know this one. There is nothing a mama can do to get around this one. This one, this time… I have to teach him how to go through it. Teach him to square his shoulders, cry without shame, pick his head up, and find joy.
This joy that does not come from friends spilling in the front door at all hours. This joy that does not come from endless summer days spent swinging on hammocks engrossed in conversations that only 11-year-old boys can truly appreciate.
This joy doesn’t come from the ease of childhood we long to give our kids.
This joy doesn’t come from the cushion of security that comes from the familiar. It comes from the hard step onto the path of uncomfortable. The rocky road filled with obstacles.
I recently read an obituary of a woman who knew she was dying. She had this to say…
…And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.
(Jane Catherine Lotter)
The obstacles… they are the path.
Stripped of family. Stripped of friends. Stripped of familiar routines. Stripped of the go-to-girlfriends. Stripped of waves from familiar passing faces. Stripped of the moments when a look between friends is more than enough. Stripped of walking through children’s bedrooms at night, without needing one single light to guide the way.
Stripped of the paths that are worn and smooth.
We had comfort back there. We had a place where the seeking was easily met with the busyness of schedules. We had a place where we grew to rely on our friends. We had a place where we knew everything by heart. We had a place we left pieces of ourselves.
We had support and a good life. Maybe… maybe, we grew too comfortable… and maybe we forgot, just a little bit, to find our comfort in God.
The journey to this new place was filled with schedules and the go. go. go. of moving.
Here, now, the moving is done. We find ourselves in this place of sitting still. It is in the stillness that you can find yourself feeling stripped. Feeling naked without the clothing of the security blanket. Still and alone.
This time is different. The times that ring in my memory remind me of what was missing back then. The joy I could not find in the stillness all those years ago. The One I didn’t even know was there. Not floating up high, but right… there.
He is still right… here. Here in the stillness.
I held my boy’s chin in my hands, wishing I could take the sorrow. Knowing that this way is better. My dear sister reminded me…
They have to learn this sometime.
The places will change. The faces will change.
Our hearts will break. Our tears will fall.
The loneliness will come. The solitude will appear.
But, He is here.
I held his chin,
I know this is hard. It will get better. I know this.
We need friends. God will give us friends.
We have to stay with Him. And trust Him.
He only has good plans for us. For you.
His head nodded slowly. Just to know we are not alone… sometimes that is all we need.
We are not alone. You see, my kids asked Him for friends before we even left home. This day, this day of tears spilling and a young heart touching sorrow and solitude… this day, one showed up.
I’ll be there in 5 minutes to get him.
This new friend, with an 11-year-old son, saw the sadness she had seen in her own children’s eyes just a few years ago.
My son, all smiles when he saw the face of his new friend. Hours later, he came bounding back into the house. Joy.
My tears came later.
My warrior, a helpless look in his eyes shadowed by guilt,
Are you ok?
There is so much a mother can bear, but it is the heartache of her children that renders the mother heart… wounded.
I am ok, it’s so much harder when it’s one of my babies.
He nodded understanding.
We moms, we sneak grief into a closet and drop tears into plush carpet. Only One sees them. Only One wipes them away.
How am I going to learn more?
Who is going to teach me?
Whom am I going to depend on?
Whom am I going to go to?
Pleading heart behind the we-are-gonna-get-through-this and there’s-a-reason-for-this-place facade that slowly began to crumble.
Then, the whisper…
His words whispered to this still heart,
You have Me.
Maybe sometimes we have to strip off the worn, comfy, rubbed-bare silk we have clothed ourselves with through people, tasks, schedules, well-intentioned missions… just to get back to… Him.
Stripped. Wholly naked… to become Holy clothed.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.