Upward and onward

This week marks the end of an era for us. Marjeta has handed in her last lab report, written her last paper, and taken her last exam. Our youngest child is graduating from college.

It's funny how a student's college years feel both interminably long and over in the blink of an eye. Flying down to New Orleans to move her into the dorm feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at once. She was certainly prepared -- but not necessarily for everything she'd encounter along the way. That's why the freshman mix of confidence and fear, excitement and anxiety can be so intense.

When Andrew and I look back, we're not just thinking about the past four years. More like the last 20, and the 15 before that, preparing for it all. It's been a long haul. Don't get me wrong: our kids' successes are theirs -- not ours. They do the work, and they earn all they accomplish. But riding along for the educational and developmental ride and doing what we can to support them is an adventure, too. It just doesn't end with a diploma or "Pomp and Circumstance." Probably for good reason.

I'm convinced that no matter how prepared a student is academically, personally, spiritually, and financially, college is never easy. There is always the sense that getting through those four years is like walking through a minefield. You can do everything you know how to do to avoid triggering a disaster, but you don't know where all those explosives are hidden. So, you walk on eggshells and hope nothing will blow up, praying that if it does, you'll be able to recover somehow and move on. It doesn't have to be college either. I think that's the common experience of everyone who ventures out into something new and unknown.

I think that's how the apostles and disciples must have felt when Jesus ascended to heaven. For 40 days after he was raised from the dead, they had seen, and heard, and touched him. They had eaten with him in Jerusalem and once again along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Then gathered on the hills just across the Kidron valley from the city gates, they saw him rise upward on a cloud, leaving them to return to the Father in heaven. It must have been nearly impossible for them to separate the wonder from the grief.

As they walked down the Mount of Olives back into Jerusalem, I can imagine the weight of the question hanging in the warm air: Now what? All they left behind, all the hard work, all the moving from place to place to place was over. But so were the teachings, the healings, the miracles, the competitive squabbles between them, the loving companionship among them. Jesus would no longer be with them, at least not in the same way.

It was the end of an era. Jesus was gone. Something that had started small just a few years prior had grown big enough to take center stage in all their lives. But they had no idea how this same thing was about to become not just their focus, but the substance and source of their lives. They had answered the call to follow him and had seen it through to the end. Their adventure was, for all intents and purposes, over. What they did not yet understand is that something new and even more wonderful was about to begin. And that Jesus had moved upward so that they could move onward. Onward to Pentecost. Onward to the world. Onward to the cross. And onward to be with him once again for all eternity.

- 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 provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.