The table is tidy with a turquoise windowpane tablecloth, a bouquet of flowers from Farmer Larry up the road, and chickadee salt-and-peppers perched on the edge of a vintage red-and-white quilt square. Overhead swings the Celebration Branch.
This one is simply a bare fir branch (no needles) wrapped with burlap and ribbon and currently decorated for summer with crayon resist flowers, frogs, and butterflies, mostly made by the grandkids. It’s all very pretty, but I ache over what’s missing.
What’s missing is the leaf in our kitchen table. What’s missing are our daughter, son-in-law, and four children, who left this morning for their home and ministry to the Ojibwa in Ontario’s far north. Our family table has shrunk. The house echoes. My heart echoes.
What do I do with the sadness?
For two splendid weeks our home has been abuzz with six grandchildren, sprinklers, water squirters, arms outspread in soaked clothing, giggles, foil packets of campfire stew around the bonfire, tea with sugar cubes, Kung-Fu Panda, backgammon, and popcorn.
For two wondrous weeks I’ve listened to my earnest daughter instruct her children with the teachings of kindness on her tongue, my patient son-in-law lead bedtime prayer and songs, and the kids jockey to pick and eat garden blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans.
For two humbling weeks I’ve been enfolded in the holy ground of hubbub--gooey fingers, cranky naps, and bright mornings. I’ve slowed down, sped up, whirled dizzily, and sat in a heap to soak it all in, confess my selfishness, hear God’s voice, and see His face in the faces of others.
I’ve slowly unclenched the fists of my normal two-grandchild daycare routine and settled into the rolling back seat of a speeding satellite sent to unlock the secrets of love and forgiveness in the eyes of six tumbling, grubby, priceless children. My heart is full.
Which was why today, carefully orchestrated as it was, was hard. Very hard.
The adults decided to sweeten the bitterness with a trip to the bakery this morning. It didn’t fool the kids. All the children in my car said they didn’t want to go to the bakery (and that’s a first) because they knew the goodbyes would follow.
Goodbye for a year–maybe longer. I’m with them.
My heart aches at going back to ceramic plates instead of paper–paper having been faster to clean up so all of us could squeeze in rides on the Green Machines, wading in the creek, and making crayon resists on the kitchen table.
I know goodbyes are necessary. My children have a God-breathed calling and so do I. For them, it’s clinging to Jesus while balancing family and friends as well as running a Christian school, church, and Bible study in a remote town to which there are no roads–only twin-engine planes or trucks when the lake freezes.
All holy ground. So what to do with the weight of good-bye?
I remember the happy faces, shared activities, and time spent wrestling with and resting in, God. With each memory, I feel the restoration of the visit, the touch of my daughter’s skin, the sound of her hymnal voice, the strum of her donated guitar. I remember.
Family visits are like that–for helloes and I love yous and renewal and strengthening of bonds, for making memories last until the next time God grants us leave to see each other again.
How about you? How do you make memories? How do you make them last?
In the next few weeks, I’ll share fun activities that made this family visit so wonderful. Watch for these upcoming posts: How to Make Custom Packets of Campfire Stew the Kids Will Love, How to Make a Celebration Branch, and How to Do Crayon Resist.
For now, I sit at the kitchen table and gaze at the Celebration Branch. I watch the crayon-resist flowers, butterflies, and frogs twirl in the breeze. I’m so happy for the time we spent making them. I guess that’s why, amidst the tears,
I have a big smile on my face.