This morning as my first baby turns 21 and I reflect on his life, I am in awe. I say this every time one of them has a birthday, but . . . where does time go? I remember people saying when the kids were little, “You will never wish you spent more time at work (or more time cleaning the house or whatever equivalent you might put there), but if you spend too much time at those things, you will wish you spent more time with your children.” I think that no matter how intentional you are as a parent, you will always wish you had more time when they were little. You will always wish you could have done something different. As I reflect on James’s life, it is pretty incredible. We were babies when we had him . . . I remember being both scared and overconfident at the same time when he was born, knowing that we were going to do our best to do things right yet wondering what “right” looked like.
The memories flood me . . . the good times and the not so good.
I remember the moment he was born . . . the fear because of how difficult the labor had been, the relief that he was okay, the uncertainty when we were told he had a cleft, the hope we sensed as family and friends rallied around us and helped us find the perfect doctor. I remember holding him . . . I even remember dropping him (only from my arms to the bed, but it was enough for me to deem myself an unfit mom and breakdown into tears, which I later learned was completely normal for a person who has just delivered a baby). It seems like yesterday, and it seems like a lifetime ago.
I remember finishing college those first three months after he was born, my amazing professors who let him come to class with me, my college friends who watched him in their dorm when I could not take him to class, the lack of sleep as I dealt with a new baby and approaching finals, Brent’s incredible help during that crazy time.
I remember planning and preparing for his surgery, the night before when we went to Tulsa early to just enjoy some time the evening before, taking him swimming for the first time, looking at his big, beautiful cleft smile that we knew would get smaller after surgery and wondering if the risk of surgery was worth it while knowing it was necessary. I remember the anesthesiologist taking him from us and wondering again. I remember the incredible peace God gave us throughout the surgery.
I remember his first day of daycare and his first day of pre-kindergarten. I remember his raspy voice and his ability to talk to adults like he was the same age as them. I almost can’t remember when he didn’t talk!!! He could say 30 words at his first Christmas. He wasn’t even 11 months old yet. I remember correcting him a many times because he sometimes came across as disrespectful because of how he related to adults, almost as if he thought he was one of them.
I remember parenting mistakes we made, like spanking him too much when he was a little guy or initially trying too hard to make him fit a specific schedule (that only lasted about two weeks) when the schedule was better for me than it was for him. I have been far too impatient at times and far too emotional at times. There are other parts of parenting that I still haven’t decided about. He argues with us about things we should maybe do differently with David and Sarah.
I remember parenting moments that I think were right. I remember requiring a lot of him, of all the kids, but especially of him being the oldest, to serve others . . . to help with our church plant setting up and tearing down . . . providing resources to people who did not have resources, providing a meal, but more importantly, a conversation to people who did not have food or a home, and probably didn’t feel like they had dignity. We taught him to stand up for what he thought was right but to do so while treating others with respect. I remember when he was being bullied in junior high, trying to work through that with him in all the peaceful ways possible and finally being so frustrated that we told him to just do whatever necessary to stand up for himself, and we would back him . . . then going and asking the principal for help.
I remember the moment he said he loved Jesus and wanted Him to be his Savior. He was only three, but he was able to explain what it meant to us, and he has been dedicated to serving God since that time. I remember many phone calls to Brent when he was at work because James was asking questions from the Bible that I could not answer. Sometimes Brent could answer them, and sometimes he had to get out the commentary and continue the conversation the next day. James kept us on our toes.
I remember (oh, wait, it was only a couple days ago) his stubbornness and his argumentativeness. That also kept us on our toes. One thing I can say about James is that it wasn’t often that he was outright defiant. It was just constant that he was telling us what made our rule or position wrong, and he would argue it vehemently. Sometimes his arguments were valid, but usually by the time we reached the point of his validity, I was so frustrated, there was no way I was giving in. I guess he comes by the stubbornness naturally.
I remember all the emergency room/urgent care visits. I remember crazy stunts that should have landed us in the ER or UC but thankfully didn’t. He was so cautious when he was little. I think Jason walked up and down stairs before James, but once James got over this phase, he was willing to try about anything. Letting go has never been easy for me. From sliding down the stairs on mattresses to cliff diving to sleeping on the beach at night by himself to moving to Haiti, none of it has been comfortable for me. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather not know. But I do want to know because I don’t want to miss out on his life.
I remember his ability to start up conversations with homeless people . . . when he was 12 or 13 . . . and the compassion he showed to other people. Even when he was little, he chose friends from the kids who were often unchosen. It was hard because it has not always been safe and we have had to set boundaries, but it has been beautiful to watch. When he talks about his “friends on the street,” they really have become friends.
Today as we celebrate his life and send him out to continue this mission God has called him to, I ache. I ache to get moments in time back . . . to be able to gaze into his eyes while holding him in my arms . . . to be able to kiss his scrapes and his bruises . . . to even correct him when he touches things he shouldn’t touch or refuses to share with his brother. But I am just as excited about his future. He has such a heart for the Lord. He is such an incredible role model for so many. It would be a waste of everything God has created him to be for me to selfishly hold him here. So I will cry . . . I have cried . . . and I will miss him so very much, but deep inside I am happy for him and with him and proud of him for doing what God has called him to do.
And for those of you with young kids still, I don’t know if you will ever feel like you have truly spent as much time with them as you wish you had. Don’t beat yourself up about that, but do seize the moments and cherish them. More than anything, cherish them!!!! Capture the moments in your mind because you can’t really relive them, but you can remember them. And be ready to set them free to be all that God has called them to be. Remember to love them with everything you have in you, but remember ultimately they belong to the Lord, and you have to be willing to give them back to Him.