Letting Go … My Son Leaves the Nest

Theme 6I can see my rocking chair again, even sit in it – if I want …which I haven’t in a long time. Until about two months ago, it had gradually disappeared under a rapidly growing pile of things … things like pillows and bedding … surrounded by furnishings like a hamper, lots of hangers, laundry detergent and toiletries … boxes with furniture, a desk and a chair, waiting to be assembled … later … after they were delivered to their real destination (which was not my rocking chair). The growing accumulation of stuff was destined for a room in a fraternity house at a university some three states away. Just over two months ago, the whole pile was loaded up and delivered to the intended destination … along with my son, who’s starting a new chapter in his life.

pI suppose it’s fitting that all this stuff for him piled up around the old rocking chair. I’ve had that chair almost as long as I’ve had him … a gift from my own KSU Journey 2parents to honor their first grandchild. Originally, they planned to give me the rocker in which I’d been rocked as a child. But that was broken in their own move more than a year before my son was born. So they gave us funds to buy a new one. It was a good investment. There’s no way to calculate the hours I’ve spent in that chair … nursing my babies, rocking them to sleep, reading to them.

That chair has been such a symbol of nurturing in the house that even our late cat Yeti recognized it as a place of nurturing. Years ago, when I was in seminary, our house in Blaine became infested with mice. Yeti would dutifully hunt down the mice that came out of the attic into the living space. In the morning, I would find his kill from the previous night left near the rocking chair in the family room. I imagine he considered it to be doing his part to provide and care for the family.

Unlike the old rocker my parents meant to pass along to me, my rocker has survived every move we’ve made so far … the move from Mesa (where the kids were born) to the Twin Cities (where they started school) to Kansas (where they both attended middle school), back to the Twin Cities (where my son graduated and my daughter will soon graduate from the same school district in which they started elementary school). And although this chair was never even considered to make this big move with my son, it served as a gathering point for the things he would be taking on his first big move.

Having his new stuff surrounding that well-loved chair was a way of blessing them, I suppose. The chair was so much a part of my early nurturing of him, maybe it was fitting that it played a central role in one of my last acts of nurturing for him: providing him the things he would need as he stepped out into the world (mostly) on his own.

thCA1MOAC0Oh, he’s not totally on his own. He’s in a fraternity with a band of brothers all around, some of whom may come to be as dear as brothers he might have been raised with (if I’d had other sons). There’s a house dad to keep an eye on things and a cook to prepare dinner most nights. I send care packages with food and other things he may need (a wastepaper basket and, most recently, his Harry Potter wand). But he is making his own nest now, someplace else. He no longer resides under my roof, in my nest … and likely won’t on a full-time basis ever again.

It helps to know that this is making a dream come true for him. He’s known what he wanted to study in college and where he wanted to study it since a Boy Scout merit badge clinic at that very same university years ago. Glad as he was to leave Kansas and come back up to Minnesota (and especially the cold), his heart was still set on that university back in Kansas. I wasn’t sure how that could happen, but it’s worked out. He’s there, living his dream. And I am very glad and happy for that.

Chelsea Hts 2In many ways, taking him to college was much like taking him to Chelsea Heights on that first day of kindergarten. Fourteen years ago, with a mixture of pride and grief, I pulled up in our minivan in front of that school house. I helped him out, gave him a hug, and sent him on his way into his classroom for his very first day of school. While I stood and watched, he walked up the sidewalk, through the open doors and turned left to go into his classroom, never once looking back.

Maybe it was a good thing he didn’t look back so he didn’t see the tears in my eyes. Yes, some of them were tears of sadness that a chapter in my life, a chapter in which I was his main teacher and was present with him for most of his waking hours, was ending. Chelsea Hts 4He was growing up and there was no turning back the clock. That first day of kindergarten was the first rung on a long, but limited, ladder that would lead to graduation … college … and then life on his own as adult. But for him to have all the wonderful experiences and the life I’ve been hoping for him since I knew of him, he would have to take those steps up the sidewalk and into that school.

But some of those tears that day flowed from a heart full of pride – pride in how he’d grown and developed … that he was now ready for the learning adventures of school and excited about going … at the way he walked up that sidewalk and into that school, never once looking back. I was thrilled for him and the experiences he was about to have.

When I saw him the last time two months ago, it was much the same thing. It grieved me to let him go into that house that evening … to drive back to the hotel … knowing that we would leave town the next morning without him. After the pledging ceremony the day before, a mom sitting next to me confided she didn’t know how she would make it until family day, a month away. I said I would have to wait until Thanksgiving. She asked how I was going to make it; I said I didn’t know, but I’d have to somehow.

imagesAnd just like that first day of kindergarten, I was also proud of all he accomplished and excited for the adventure that was about to begin for him.   If he’s going to have all that I’ve hoped for and dreamed for him all this time, this is another step he has to take. So there was pride and happiness mixed in with that grief once more. I tried to focus on that as I gave him a hug that somehow had to be big enough to last three months.

Of course, just like that first day of school, he walked up the sidewalk into that big brick house and never once looked back.

Since we’ve been back here, things have been quieter in the house. The foolish fighting he and his sister would frequently engage in has stopped. His room is clean, with much of what he’s left here packed away. The bed has been made every single morning since I last made it after washing the sheets a month ago. Such wonders rarely happened when he inhabited the room.

Still, I do miss him. I miss having an eye on his comings and goings … hearing the few things he might say about his classes and how things were going … discussing current events and sports news. So I send him things I find that we might have talked about whether it’s links to articles that I email or comic strips clipped from the paper. I write letters; I send emails. I put together care packages to send out … sometimes surprises … sometimes things he’s requested – with a surprise or two or three tucked in with what he asked for.

thCAYQ1BISI don’t hear much in return. That’s to be expected, I suppose. He’s a busy guy these days with a full load of classes that take a lot of study time. He’s a pledge in a fraternity with tasks to complete in order to become a full member as well as social activities. He’s now completely responsible for his laundry, assigned house chores, and arranging his own meals (except for weeknight dinners).

So I learn to live with the “no news is good news” approach. If something bad were to happen, I would hear from someone. If there were a major problem, I think he’d ask for help. He is developing the habit of dropping us a sentence or two by email once a week. At least we know he’s still there. That helps.

In time, I’m sure I’ll get used to the infrequent contact. This is what the future holds. For the next few years, he’ll spend more time there than here … and the time spent here may gradually diminish before he graduates. Then he’ll find work somewhere … maybe close to here, but maybe not. Either way, once he’s working and has his own place, we’ll likely hear from him even less frequently … no more often than I call or write or have contact with my own parents. That is what it means for him to grow up and I never did want him to stay little forever.

But I’m not quite ready for that yet. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a month from now when he’ll be home on Thanksgiving break and I’ll have him back in my nest for a little while.

Dear God … It’s The Good Wife

 

The Good Wife 2When I saw the title (“Dear God”) and the briefest of plot synopses (Christian mediation) for the episode of The Good Wife that aired on CBS on Sunday, October 5th, I wondered. It’s not very often that television gets this stuff right. Sure, The Good Wife is reliably one of the best dramas on TV (especially broadcast network TV) right now. The writing and directing and acting are consistently top-notch. Many weeks the guest cast list includes at least one notable name. While faith has come up from time to time throughout the seasons, it’s always been a sideline part of a story, not the main focus. Usually it involves mother-in-law Jackie sniping at Eli Gold (her son’s previous campaign manager who is now his chief of staff) about his Jewishness … or more recently daughter Grace and her burgeoning Christian faith.

 

thCANZLH9NBut overall, far beyond The Good Wife, television has a long history of getting faith more wrong than right. I still regard TV’s best portrayal of Christian faith and life (at least as I’ve experienced it) as the short-lived series Nothing Sacred, which aired from the fall of 1997 until early spring the following year. Set in Chicago (like The Good Wife), the series centered on the staff of fictional Saint Thomas Catholic Church. Characters wrestled with faith and doubt and questions for which there were no simple, clear, easy answers. Angels never showed up to explain anything; this was no Touched by an Angel (a much more popular program that started a few years earlier). Viewers, it seems, prefer fantasy to reality again and again … a dynamic that does not bode well for those seeking honest, realistic portrayals of people of faith on television. So back to The Good Wife and “Dear God” (Episode 3 in this sixth season)

 

105162raw-95bThe primary story for this episode features a client named Ed Pratt (Richard Thomas), a sort-of John-Boy Walton who went to business school and then into agribusiness rather than becoming a writer. (Yes, it is a bit of type-casting; however, few actors can convey earnest sincerity and have it seem natural and unforced like Mr. Thomas does.) Ed is a client of attorney Kary Agos (Matt Czuchry), who is on the sidelines due to pending criminal charges. So Alicia (Julianna Margulies) takes over arguing his case, assisted by newcomer Dean Levine-Wilkins (Taye Diggs). The courtroom sparring between Alicia or Dean and the defendant’s attorney, Carter Schmidt (Christian Borle), does not sit well with Ed or with the defendant, Wendell Keller (familiar face Robert Joy). As it turns out, not only are Ed and Wendell neighbors, they are also Christians. So they decide to try a different approach to resolve their dispute: Christian mediation by what is called “the Matthew Process” and appears to draw from instructions in Chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel.

 

Now here we go … but in which direction? What variety of Christian behavior and practice is going to be on display?

 

Enter Robert Sean Leonard (more recognizable here than in his recent turn as Dr. Roger Kadar on TNT’s Falling Skies) as the mediator, Del Paul. His mediation sessions take place at a conference-style table set up in a church sanctuary. thCA2YNURYIn the hands of a lesser writer and a lesser actor, this character could have easily become a buffoonish compilation of clichés that the entertainment industry frequently associates with Christians … which is what I feared would happen. But that is not what happens at all.

 

As the first mediation session begins, the lawyers attempt to recreate the same arguments and strategies we just saw them using in the courtroom. Del, however, is having none of that. The rules and procedures to which the lawyers are accustomed don’t apply here. Instead, Del’s primary concern is what is going on with Ed and Wendell – what is the issue as each understands it? … which is where any mediation process generally begins. This being a Christian mediation process, Del is also concerned about Ed and Wendell’s on-going relationship as neighbors and as fellow believers, their personal integrity and the role their faith has in their interactions. Hence, it is quickly made clear to the attorneys that scripture is to inform their arguments – not legal precedent.

 

This sends Alicia home to consult with her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) for a crash course in what passages from the Bible would be appropriate for her to use. As Alicia lines up the passages to use to support her case and then to argue against what the opposing counsel is likely to say (yes, “Bible bullets” to shoot back with), bibleGrace explains that the Bible doesn’t work that way. This leads to Grace explaining how things in the Bible can be true “the way poetry is true.” It’s a great moment for the characters and a realistic explanation that most pastors would love for a member of the youth group to be able to articulate.

 

Back in mediation, Alicia and Carter give working from Scripture their best efforts, but they are still attorneys. Del acknowledges that they have done their homework … while at the same time subtly conveying his awareness that their use of scripture is utilitarian … in a manner that is not condescending or insulting. And when Del states he will pray and reflect on the points that have been raised, inviting the others to do the same, he comes across as genuine and conveys an openness to possibilities rather than a mind that is set on a foregone conclusion. When the next mediation session convenes, Del has reached an understanding that opens a safe place for one party to confess … and to explain why he felt he had few options other than to act as he did … and for both parties to work out a means of restitution that honors their relationship as neighbors and friends by not forcing the party in the wrong into destitution.

 

Also during the back-and-forth of dueling scripture passages in the second mediation, as the Alicia and Carter attempt to use scripture much as they do case law, the heretofore quiet second-chair Dean spontaneously cites a very relevant passage of scripture. That leads to a conversation with Alicia that exposes some backstory for Dean’s character … 9781435132412_p0_v2_s260x420that he considered going into the priesthood before To Kill a Mockingbird drew his interest to what legal practice could accomplish … and, like Alicia, he didn’t consider himself to be “genetically built to believe in God” … until he did. Without this bit of self-disclosure, who would have guessed – or even wondered for a moment – that this character might also be a Christian?

 

What makes Dean different now that we know he has faith in God, that he considers himself a Christian? Maybe nothing really. After all, what did we assume about this character (or any other character) initially? Do we expect characters we encounter in stories, whether on TV or in film or in books, to be Christian (or have any kind of faith affiliation)? Do we assume, if it isn’t made clear and expressed in a specific way, that some form of religious faith is, therefore, absent?

 

thCAEZIQQOWhat about the people we meet in real life, day to day? What do we expect or assume about them? If they don’t say they’re Christian … if they don’t throw the word blessed around … if they aren’t given to spouting phrases like “praise the Lord” or “the Lord laid it my heart… if they aren’t constantly putting it out there, do we imagine they might possibly be Christian? Statistics indicate that most of the people we cross paths with (except for those we did see at church on Sunday – if we were there) were not at church the previous Sunday. But is regular church attendance the definition of a Christian? Or is it attending Bible studies? Or does some indication of devotional practices or a prayer life prove that one is a Christian?

 

What do we expect of people? What do we take as a given to be true of them? And how do our expectations change if we know they are Christian … or if we know they are not?

 

Looking at this episode of The Good Wife, what evidenced the characters as Christian wasn’t necessarily what they said or the way they said it. What made the mediation process Christian was not the role of prayer (at no time did any of the parties clearly pray during the mediation) or the use of scripture — the non-believing Alicia and the who-knows-what-he-believes Carter cited scripture the most. What marked the characters identified as Christian – Ed, first, and also Wendell and Dean as well as Del – was a sense of integrity.

 

thCANUXXLCThe dictionary defines integrity as soundness or completeness, honesty and sincerity. The word shares a root with integrate, meaning to bring the pieces together into a whole. It’s not that having religious faith, whether particularly Christian faith or any faith at all, is essential to having integrity. People without religious beliefs can – and do – have integrity. But for those who do have religious faith, that faith is a part that must be included in the whole-making necessary of integrity. The faith has to be expressed in how you live … the way you look at other people and life and things … and how you do what you do in the world.

 

“A Christian cobbler,” Martin Luther famously explained, “makes good shoes, not shoes with little crosses on them.” Faith isn’t lived out by putting a pious gloss on something, whether it’s little crosses or fish symbols or a “blessed.” Faith is lived out by doing our best work consistently because it is the right thing to do, not because we’ll get a bigger reward (this life or the next … take your pick). Faith is lived out in relationships marked by care, respect, honesty, a concern for the well-being of the other equal to one’s own. “See how they love one another?” remarked a confounded critic, observing the early Christians. This sort of faith made visible in relations with others, how and why we do what we do, is a key piece in Christian integrity.

 

Kudos to The Good Wife for getting faith right (at least in this aspect). Can we do the same?

 

"The Lyons" Opening NightAnd, speaking of people doing their best work in whatever role is given, also check out Linda Lavin’s work in this episode. She has a significant role in this episode as part the on-going story line involving criminal charges against Kary. As Joy Grubick, Kary’s Pretrial Service Officer while he’s out on bond, she hits all her marks as a dedicated, hard-working, probably underpaid, clearly underappreciated public servant. Ms. Lavin’s performance in her last scene in this episode is as real as it gets.