In a few weeks, my husband and I will get on a plane with our youngest daughter and help her move into a dorm room to begin her freshman year of college. Now that it is finally happening, it's hard to believe that our years of active child raising are essentially over. I expected to be very sad when this moment came, and have waited its inevitable arrival with a good deal of apprehension. But now that it is here -- even though our children are my very favorite people -- I feel ready for the changes ahead.
Sure, I'm relieved that practically all of the hectic day-to-day activity we've lived for over 30 years will end. But like many parents of "adult" children, I have my share of regrets, too. In retrospect, it's easy to see not only the missed opportunities, but times when my own baggage, imperfections, and choices impacted our family's life together in a negative way. But, it is also possible to see the goodness of God in his innumerable blessings over the past three decades, in every circumstance and despite any shortcomings.
Our children are leaving home, pursuing their educations and careers, developing lifelong relationships, and starting new families. When you are young, every path is full of new experiences. But that doesn't really end for any of us. The path ahead of Andrew and me is one we haven't traveled before. It is quieter, perhaps a little lonelier, than what we've lived until now, and I'm sure I'll try to hold back the tears when we return home without Marjeta. But life without children at home will come with its own gifts and challenges.
Come September, we will have the freedom to determine how we live. We can go to sleep when we are tired, and get up without worrying about getting out the door in time to drop someone off at school or work or the train station. We can travel for our jobs, have dinner anytime we please, pursue an interest, volunteer, and spend time with friends. Our availability will be determined by our schedules, and pretty much no one else's. In short, with the departure of our youngest child, we will no longer have any excuses for failing to live out the values we claim to have. If we don't pray, don't serve, or don't live up to our responsibilities, we will have nothing and no one to blame but ourselves.
I'm sure I won't be any more perfect in the days ahead than I've been in the years behind. But God will continue to be faithful, even when I am not. He won't suddenly stop offering his mercy or his grace. But perhaps now, at this stage of my life, I'll know without a doubt or second thought just how much I rely on God's ever-present help.
I'm looking forward to a fresh start, one without all the angst of youthful expectations. (I've lost at least a few of those delusions, anyway.) I suppose the great gift of life at this stage is the chance to live penitently. What I mean by that is taking advantage of the opportunity to add a bit more weight to the positive side of the scale whenever that's possible. It means exchanging what I can't change in the past for what I can change moving forward. It involves forgiving all the hurts I've allowed to accompany me through life and finally letting go of any lingering resentments or bitterness. It's refusing to lose another day to anger, justified or unjustified. It's trading in productive compulsiveness for the self-discipline I always wished I had. And it's taking responsibility for myself -- body, mind, and soul.
As strange as it may sound, Andrew and I aren't any more finished becoming who we were created to be than our kids are. As we transition to a new phase of life, we realize that whatever time we have left is time that God has chosen to give us so that we might fulfill his purpose and plan for us. Each day is a new chance to work out our salvation, to begin again, to grow, to change, and to redirect our hearts.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.