It’s bright this morning, crisp and early.
The kind of morning you feel that something new is trying to get born.
Last night, we rifled through the backpacks at Wal-Mart and after much deliberation, picked out four of them. They are still stiff, smelling of that unmolested plastic, like everything smells those first few days of school before the thin film of habit settles over them. Before the first pencil snaps and the scissors get all gummy and the markers lose their caps.
I have already imagined my four oldest children lined up for the bus, backpacks strapped on tight. It’s a morning like this, in my imagination, bright and crisp and early. Maybe they kick rocks at the end of the driveway, eyes scanning the southern horizon for the first glimpse of the bus. Maybe their palms sweat. Maybe anticipation dries out their mouths. They are a mix of trembles and giggles, of timid and excited.
And so am I.
For you see, until this year we have chosen to educate our children at home. They have never ridden a bus with other children, soft country music dancing on their ears from the speakers above their heads in the quiet morning ride, before anyone’s awake enough to have a real conversation. They have never wrestled open a milk carton at lunch, finally learning how to peel back the sides and then pop open the spout with expert hands. This year will be full of firsts.
Something new, indeed, is trying to get born.
And when something is born, it is right and good to give it a name. This I will do before that first day of school dawns bright and early, gathering the little smatterings of hopes and fears in its arms and stuffing them safely inside the gym shoes. Not giving them names they have never known, but reminding them of the names they have been given. Because the world they are heading into is a world that may not always call them by name.
It may give them, instead, a label.
Labels are the opposite of names. Where names specify, identify, and empower; labels diminish. Labels are dismissive. They are confining. They lack creative process and imagination. Labels reduce people to what they seem instead of plumbing the unfathomable mysteries of all that they are.
And I’ve lived long enough to know that even if the teachers and the administration, the janitors and the lunch staff, are friendly and warm, the kids will not always be. There will be categorizations. Ugly labels will be handed out like locker assignments. Judgments will be made – fair or unfair – and you and I both know that even though those are not sticks and stones, boy, can they hurt deep into the bones.
So before that bright, crisp morning dawns early, I will speak to them of who they are. I will remind them of the names they were given in love by the people who would turn the world on end for them. The people to whom they belong. Because belonging is so different than fitting in. Children belong to a home where they can be the uncensored version of themselves and know that they are part of a meaningful whole. They can be silly and immature in their playfulness or vulnerable and angry-honest as they work through tattered emotions. They can reek with body odor after mowing the lawn and then come in for a snack and forget to put away the peanut butter. They can stumble over a joke and slaughter the punchline. But in all these things, they will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved.
Belonging means that they are safe.
But part of growing up means to learn that not every place or every relationship is like this. I will tell them of the pressure to conform they may feel, the desire to want to edit themselves for the sake of “fitting in.” In my day it was jeans with a triangle on the pocket and loads of hairspray and Keds, but here, in their day, it will likely look different. They may feel that the way out of being just a label into being named is to follow along, to do things they don’t believe in, to adopt values that are imposed upon them. And that might grant them a name … for awhile.
But it won’t be their name.
And so, in the cusp of the year before us, I will remind them again of who they are. We will stand together in the driveway and wait for the bus and I will try not to cry for the beauty and the risk of it all. Maybe I’ll even quote those glory words of Buechner’s, as a benediction whispered into trembling ears: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Maybe I’ll think of all the ways in which the world will shatter and shelter them, often both within the measly span of a seven hour school day. Then, I will tell them how much room there is in the sacred space called acceptance for all the ways they are still becoming. I will hold close their unwashed hair and smile at their morning breath and know that very few relationships in their life will be as safe and nurturing as home. But there is no better preparation for the labels and the ugly they will face than to know they are loved.
To know the names that are theirs.
To trust that although the giant step through those wheezing bi-fold doors into the unknown wears vestiges of danger, that is not all. It also wears the promise of something beautiful.
It is a brave step toward growing up.
Like something new trying to get born.
Kelli, this is tender, wise, raw and SO full of courage. “. . there is no better preparation for the labels and the ugly they will face than to know they are loved.” There is so much hope and security in that for a momma’s heart!
I admit that some days it feels like a meager offering at best, Kim. But perhaps Scripture is not the only thing that never comes back void, eh? Perhaps the same can be said of a mother’s love.
Thank you for reading and engaging, friend.
Oh, Kelli, you’ve laid this out so well–the difference between belonging and fitting in, labels versus names. And as one who’s now seeing her grandgirl navigate these wild, rough, and wonderful waters, may I stand next to you at that bus stop and whisper in *your* ear, “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Yes! Oh yes, you may.
Please do, in fact. I will need to hear it over and over and over, I suspect.
Thank you for your perspective here, Sandy. I appreciate your heart.
I need it yelled in my ear, I think. And in the other for good measure! Thank you for your encouragement to us all!
Thinking of you and your kids this morning as you all prepare to navigate uncharted waters. Now I know why that post I wrote resonated a bit. *wink* They have wise, loving parents to come home to and that matters more than anything else in their day. You’ve written your heart for your kids and its beautiful.
Thank you, Shelly. I feel those prayers – even the ones that only seem like random thoughts.
And I consider you one of those who has gone before me and turns around to breathe courage into my trembling.
I am right there with you, friend, trembling at all of the unknowns as you stand on the edge of your nest. You have articulated the perspective we have of the world so perfectly–the desire to both shelter and empower is great as parents and it’s so very hard to stand on the edge of all the unknown, smile, and know that our love goes with them, always. But I can see your kids now, standing there as the bus slowly rolls to a stop and those crazy doors open and I know that they will have the ability to see all that is beautiful in the world. Because that is what you have been to them. May grace and peace wrap round your heart this week, friend.
Yes, to both shelter and empower. What a paradox it seems, yes?
Thanks for hearing me and for standing with me, Holly. I’m so glad there’s no formula for perfection in parenting (or life, for that matter), but that in the very process itself we learn the strength of trust and to throw ourselves daily at the feet of Grace.
Kelli, friend, this is beautiful. I love how you put words to this difference between labeling and naming and how with your every word, you proclaim that which is true. About your precious children, about yourself as the woman and child of God you are and about this Jesus of ours. That our permanent place of belonging and identity is in him is something I need to hear today and every day, over and over. I am praying for your kids and you right now, that you would know the depths of this love that grounds and frees, as your mama heart beats love, love, love. Bless you.
Thank you so much for your prayers. Thank you for being an ardent encourager to me, dear Ashley, and for hearing my heart God-ward, child-ward, and even me-ward.
Loved this post. School starts Wednesday. My last one will be leaving the nest. This one is hard, because it is the son I fought so hard for. Letting go will not be easy.
Then you and I will be there together, won’t we, Tessy? With our eyes wet and our hearts walking around outside our bodies.
I’ll be praying for your little guy and for your empty arms, friend. Remember me, too, will ya?
Gorgeous and real and wonderful and oh! I’m so glad you wrote this. May you live it as well. (Sometimes that’s harder, you know?)
So very true, friend.
Thinking on this very thing today … watching hope rise and feeling myself in a spacious place.
Thank you for being here, Diana. Always, your words are welcome.
What a blessing of a mama you are…
Why thank you, friend! So glad to see you here! 🙂
Oh, the courage of mothers. I see how brave you are as you name your children one by one, covering them with love. I will remember this post as my boys start school this week. I need to remind them of who they are.
One by one. Yes.
This might be part of the secret to that courage we all taste from time to time, eh?
Thank you, dear Laura, for reading.
Oh Kelli. Oh my. This is so beautiful and tender. I can see it all, and imagine your heart as these children of yours head out into the world. Just know I’m sending hugs and prayers. This is precisely what they need–to know who they are, and where they will always belong.
Yes. “Where they will always belong” – however imperfectly we portray our Father to our children, my prayer is that they know they always BELONG.
Thanks for these words, Kris.
Oh, man, this brings back such memories! The days so long ago when I stood at the door and prayed for you and Liz as you left for school. So many of the very same prayers. And the journey continues, as do the prayers, even to this day. Because our enemy, the Accuser, still prowls. And I still believe that God knows, and sees, and always loves us into His grace!
Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Kelli.
Thank you for all those prayers waaaay back then, Mom. And thank you for them now, too.
I love you.
Kelli, I loved this for so many reasons. I had mine at home for the time that God allotted. I was coming out of the darkest year of my life when I sent my oldest two to school and my little one to a sitter. I was at home, taking my meds, walking my miles, reading my Bible, and seeing my counselor, disciplining myself to eat (yes it was that bad.) Yesterday, almost 13 years later, I sent my youngest boy out the door for his senior year. Your babies and mine are right where they belong— walking in the path laid out before them.. God bless them all..and you sweet momma..
I have so much respect for your story, Dea – even the little bit of it that you have shared here. Thank you for being a voice of grace.
Wow. Courageous indeed. And to remember & remind ourselves & our children of who we are & that we belong & we are safe is such a gift! What a sweet anchor for them as they set sail into the adventures ahead. And I’ll be praying for you too friend as you wave them off.
Thank you for walking beside me on this road, Paula. Your thoughtfulness lifts me in all the right ways.
I remember being a homeschooled kid getting on the bus for the first time. I guess I’ve gotten lots of labels since then, but never really cared. God is Good and has blessed me with the most wonderful friends and such beautiful memories! I can’t say I’ve ever been popular and I can’t say I’ve never been lonely, but, oh, He knows what He’s doing! I’m sure this transition won’t be easy for you and your family, but I can see that you’ve taught your children very well. There truly is a promise of something beautiful just around the corner. Praying for you and your family. God bless and thank you so much for sharing!
I hope you know how very much those prayers are appreciated, Mary. And the bit of your story here? Such a gift.
Kelli, I love the mom that you are, the ways that you continually build up and affirm your kids of their identities; the ways you love in the messiness and childlike immaturities and create a safe space for them to be loved as they are, as they are becoming. You are so courageous with that big, open heart of yours. Love you.
Funny how you never know where your words will go. I needed your words just now, Amber. More than you could know.
Thank you. Love you much.