When I was growing up, my family belonged to the local YMCA. Tampa, Florida is hot and humid in the summer, and the pool at the Y was a welcome place to beat the heat and play with friends. As a kid, I thought the pool was the size of the ocean! It was deep and wide with a diving board that was super fun to bounce off into wild poses before hitting the surface of the water with a squeal. Now, as an adult, I realize it was a regular Olympic size pool that met swim team and competition regulations. But that doesn’t diminish the memory of swimming away the days and feeling free in the big, deep, wide water.
Until the lifeguard blew the whistle and ruined it all, that is. At the top of the hour, the lifeguards blew their whistles with such gusto that you could hear the shrill noise even while swimming underwater. Above the water everyone would hold their hands over their ears, bracing themselves for the hourly lifeguard siren. This was the signal for all the kids to get out of the pool. We kids dreaded this forced break. Moms would fawn over us, making us visit the bathroom, rehydrate, and then sit still while they slimed us with sunscreen. It was awful.
To make matters worse, the adults all got to enjoy the pool during our 15 minutes of dry, hot torture. The lifeguards told us the break was to keep us safe by creating space to rest and hydrate. But we all knew that was a lie. The adults just wanted time to swim all by themselves. And it made us kids both angry and super-jealous. I remember thinking how great it must be to be an adult! I would be able to stay in the pool as long as I want. No one would rub me down with sticky, smelly sunscreen. And I could jump backwards off the diving board without getting in trouble and having to sit out until my penance was over. Oh, I could not wait to be a grown-up!
When did you want to jump ahead to a different life stage? Maybe it was in high school when you were staring down an unending line of exams and final papers in subjects that you neither cared about nor enjoyed. Maybe it was during your first job, folding unending piles of T-shirts and jeans for the next throng of customers to raffle through carelessly in search of an elusive size or color. Maybe it was when you were cleaning the bathroom and pining for the days when everyone would be potty trained. Or maybe it is when you sat down to eat leftovers for the fourth night in a row, thinking of the day when you could afford to try that new restaurant everyone was talking about.
Every one of us has longed to move forward to another life stage. It is completely normal look forward to what is coming around the bend. Especially when we are experiencing frustration or discomfort, we look for relief in escaping our life stage. But while dreaming is a good thing, we need to be careful that we don’t miss the beauty of what is happening in the moment.
I learned this when our girls were little and we needed a new car. Those of us who grew up in the 80s swore to ourselves (and made our friends swear to intervene if necessary) that we would never, ever buy a station wagon. Especially one with wood side panels. Nothing said “uncool” like the station wagon. Fortunately, by the time I was looking for a family car, the station wagon had been retired. However, it was replaced by the ever popular Minivan.
Let’s not deceive ourselves: the Minivan is one great car. It is absolutely perfect for a family with small children. The doors open and close with a button. The dog can hop in and out with ease. Goldfish crackers can easily be vacuumed up from under the seats. Car seats are easily snapped into the latch hooks and sit high enough for small ones to easily see out of the seats. The magic TV monitor descends from the roof to hypnotize all passengers during the road trip to Grandma’s house. (Can I get an “amen”?) The engineers and designers have thought of EVERYTHING a family could ever possibility want or imagine in a car.
So why was I struggling so much in buying one? Image. The solemn oath never to own a station wagon was ringing in my ears. To me it meant that I was not cool or fun or had any sense of style. It meant I was practical, purely interested in function without regard to being hip or fun. It meant I was an adult, one of the privileged oppressors who could swim at the top of the hour and impose tyranny upon kids sitting by the side of the pool.
During a visit with one of our associate pastors, I shared my inner struggle regarding the Minivan. She was ten years or so ahead of me on the journey of life and parenting. And she was light years ahead of me spiritually, both more disciplined and wise in cultivating an awareness of the Spirit in daily life. After nodding while I made a rock-solid case why no one should buy a Minivan, she calmly and simply said, “Kelly, embrace the life stage you are in.” She probably went on to share more wisdom, but that is all I heard. It was a smack of grace right across my face.
Embrace the life stage you are in.
Summer days at the YMCA were carefree and beautiful. We swam our hearts out and went home with sticky, purple faces from the popsicles that we shared by breaking them in two and trading flavors. Who doesn’t want to go back and relive being a kid in summer?
Meanwhile, as I thought about the life stage of raising babies and toddlers, I was both happy and terrified. As a woman, I struggled with my identity as I stepped away from work to be present with these precious little girls. Who would see me? How would I be fed intellectually without work and the interactions with colleagues? What would productivity and contribution look like in this life stage?
I was dangerously close to missing the beauty and gift of the life stage of being a young mom. Do you know what young moms drive (or should drive)? A Minivan! We bought a souped-up Odyssey and named it MO. That car was all about about trips to the zoo, singing along with the Wiggles, taking the dog to play at the beach, and trips to Sonic for the afternoon Slushie. No, not everything was perfect. Raising kids is hard, hard work. More than one kid threw up in the Minivan, and it had to be repainted after the incident with the bicycles. But the Minivan was a daily reminder to embrace my life stage and enjoy the moments of childhood that would not last.
And now they are gone. Yesterday my older daughter got her driver’s permit and I can’t breathe. MO was sold years ago to make way for a new life stage and the reality of teenage drivers. As I write this my eyes are filling up with tears thinking about how beautiful and precious was the season with the Minivan. To think that I almost missed it because I was pining for a life stage I wasn’t in.
Whatever life stage you are in has both joys and challenges. It is healthy to look forward to all the moments and blessings that are to come in the next life stage, but don’t miss out on what God is doing in your life right now. Don’t let image or fear get in the way. And don’t let the uncertainty of what might be one day interrupt your ability to enjoy what is happening in your life today.
I was missing out on the special way God had me living out my life call in that season until I heard, “Embrace the life stage you are in!” It’s a charge for your life, a prayer for your heart, and a fundamental in life design.
Send me your Minivan story at firstname.lastname@example.org. #Minivan