Saturday, June 24, 2017

Reflections on Matt's Graduation

Blogging has taken a back seat to real life lately, and I think that is the way it should be.  Graduations, celebrations, and vacations have all filled our schedule to the brim, and the planning and mere "doing" have taken up brain space otherwise reserved for writing.  I hate not blogging more regularly, but the posts will come when they come, and I am giving up pressuring myself!

Matt's graduation season, for that is what it truly ended up being, was just lovely in every way.  He was celebrated with more sweets, and more tenderness than we would have ever imagined.  What could have been quite a painful and lonely experience was doubled with kindness from God's people all over the place!  Leaving our church behind a few months before graduation left us sort of "community-less", and we knew that creating a meaningful graduation experience for Matt would be difficult, but it was only faithful to do what we felt called to do and leave, and we all agreed on that. 

So come along with me, and let me share with you what Matt's graduation season was like, and how blessed we were:

First, there was celebratory ice cream cake with Miss Mary, our special friend and teaching companion for 8 years. 

 Then there was cookie cake at our wonderful new church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, where we were so kindly taken in and treated as if we have always been there, and Matt's graduation was recognized despite so few knowing us very well yet...a super kind gesture.

Then there was cake #3, celebrating my best friend's son's graduation along with Matt's, as Billy very thoughtfully offered to allow Matt to be part of his experience as well.  

We traveled to Massachusetts to be present for the high school graduation of Billy, and his sister Christi's graduation from middle school.  While there, Candi's church (she is the pastor) offered to hold a graduation ceremony for Matt as part of their traditional Graduation Sunday service, so that is exactly what we did!  I delivered a commencement address/worship message, and Matt offered a piece of prose he crafted over.  The small congregation who has suffered the loss of their building in a freak tornado recently and now meets in a school library offered their best welcome to us, with special snacks for each of the recognized graduates, including homemade root beer and gold fish crackers for Matt!  The intimacy of the smaller setting was perfectly suited for a family homeschool celebration when the family itself has always integrated faith with real life.

A couple of excerpts from my commencement address, leaving out the more "worshipy" parts which would be of little interest here:

Daily around our kitchen table we were able to live a life few could imagine possible, one where we engaged in conversations that really mattered about life, relationships, culture, politics, and faith.  It was startling to see what integrated learning could look like, and how much more sense the world and our studies made when we didn't have to drop our faith or political beliefs at the classroom door.  Family came first, work was seen as a learning opportunity rather than an interruption, and “school” became something far more precious than merely a place we went to everyday, but was simply part and parcel of who we were as a family every moment of every day.  

Character and moral dilemmas playing out in our daily lives and on the national scene were hashed out and dissected, helping to develop not just the intellect, but the heart as well.  Learning became exciting and grew to include far more than textbooks, essays and meaningless worksheets.  It became practical, and subjects took on new meaning as they became connected to real life.

After sharing a few of Matt's accomplishments, all of which have been read about here before, I ended with:

While all of this is lovely to point toward, what stands out most for me, as Matt’s educator, are not the worldly accomplishments, but the breadth of his love of learning.  Images of him patiently explaining physics and economics principles to his siblings come to mind, his excitement over recently discovering the great works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, his intensity as he mulled over ideas presented in the Tao Te Ching, and his obvious love of great art and philosophy as you scroll through the wide array of images saved on his ipad.  He also has an almost uncanny ability to pluck from his brain an appropriate and applicable quote that adds richness to any conversation.  We have taken to calling him our modern day version of a Renaissance Man, a title that truly fits Matt well.

But what stands out most for me as his mother, rather than as his educator, is his quiet thoughtfulness, his deeply embedded sense of right and wrong, and his well developed faith.  Matt is graduating “whole”, as God intends for us all, he is a well integrated, stable, solid young man with principles and passion, and a sense of purpose in the world.  The exact direction he heads off in may be murky at moments, but who he will be when he arrives is crystal clear.

 We made it!  Eight years, thousands and thousands of discussions, books galore, and a deep and abiding respect that is mutual.  How grateful I am for these past years that bonded us in a way few moms and sons ever manage to bond.

Then Matt shared his writing, titled "Red", in which he reflected upon the impact of his faith on his life in a uniquely symbolic way.:

Part I

I am Beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God

Young-lings need not heed that advice
They live for fun
Their past is short
With a future too big to ponder
They resort to the present
In the here and now they live
Such things like particle physics, computer science or molecular mechanics
They rather jump in puddles
Of the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, Tao and philosophy they live:
          But do so unconsciously
Of their native tongue, science, reading and math
They try to learn
Of their environment they observe,
          The greens of spring
          And oranges of autumn
          White of new fallen snow
          And black of the night
But of being beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God,
          Of the deep blue of the new dawn
          They discard
For they have Mom and Dad
Friends and family
Pets, and Teddy Bears which scare the monsters away
They are already loved

Scales cover them
innocent we say
As they freely live and love in Gods’ own garden
But in do time
          Scales do shed
Sometimes one by one
 Other times, many
          The rarest of all, all at once
And then they see the world as it is;
Of thieves, thugs,
Crooks, criminals
Murderers and rapers
They see evil
          Resentment of man by man
          Arrogance on the entry to Auschwitz
                     “Work will make you free”
          They understand their new found nakedness in the world
          And masterfully construct their shell

Part 2

What is Red?
it’s the passion in your lovers eyes
the dance of the universe
the color of your beating pulse
the energy of the athlete
the reason we are here, together
and the end of the day

Red is everywhere,
for those who seek it
But it is too clever to get caught
Red is the reason that today,
I have left my shell at home

But red is the color of blood,
War, death, tragedy and destruction follow close behind
In the eyes of your angry neighbor,
Abducting innocent children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, relatives you forgot and will never see again.

Red is the color of conflict, of fire, of hate
Red is the color of God

Part 3

I have a fire in my eyes
Charred landscapes are in my wake
As I devour all that is nice

Monsters under the bed don’t exist
If I want one, I look in the mirror
This wasteland has transformed me
To something I fear

I know of the wrongs I have done:
          In the third grade,
          Last year,
Red blood drips from my hands
I still have the fire in my eyes
This fire in me, it requires more
More to consume,
With each new valley my shell gets stronger, my fire gets bigger
But, one day
enough wasn’t enough
the magnificent warm transformed into a pile of charcoal

In my shell cracks formed,
They were quickly tended to
Until it burst
Came out

My shell held more than I knew;
Protection became storage
Everything floated away, my life's work out of my grasp
In the night I had no shell to insulate me,
No fire to warm my body

Red is the color of God
The sky went from black to deep blue
To brilliant red

Everywhere red surrounded me,
Everywhere red became me
Was it the fire that once resided in me, or love which went into hiding?
Red rays radiating heat reach me,
My entire naked body warmed by them

I am beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God
Even me
A blue tear falls
But that’s OK because blue is the color of God.

Congratulations, Matthew!

Yes, I cried halfway through speaking...not because these years passed too quickly, not because he is moving on in new directions, but because of gratitude.  

As I was speaking about the conversations we have had, I literally couldn't go on, as I tried to compose myself and thought, "I have had the privilege with ALL my children of being present every single day, of having the kinds of conversations every parent yearns to have with their kids and seldom gets, and I have had them at a depth and with a richness few would believe or even understand.  There have been no silent dinners, no slammed doors and loud music with pouting faces.  There have been no fights, and no carelessly flung accusations.  Instead, clear into his senior year and continuing on with each of the other four there has been snuggling on the couch and reading together daily, there have been explorations of the heart and soul, there has been laughter, messes, and shared dreams.  It simply doesn't get any better as a mother than what I have been offered by God, it just doesn't."

Now how do you put THAT in a commencement speech???

You simply can't pack all the love, respect, and growth in any speech, as words will never be enough.

And yes, it has truly been that good.  People doubt us every single day, they ask how the kids could possibly get along, they add the dreaded "Oh my gosh, FIVE teenagers?? I am so sorry for you!".

If they only knew :-)  Well....I do and God does, and that is enough.

Do we have  our challenges?  Sure, but we have somehow been given an extra measure of peace and a larger dose than average of love to help us overcome the very real disabilities, trauma, and loss.

We had a party to celebrate and I gave Matt a 50 page "Life Album" to celebrate his graduation.  Oh, was I touched to see how much that obviously meant to him!  Candi created one for Billy as well, and it was a really wonderful thing to see how the entire party came to a halt as each young man simply couldn't move on until they had thoroughly reviewed and enjoyed their albums.  

That photo album and the piece of artwork Matt requested were all he received for graduation from us.  Here is the piece we got him on canvas which now hangs above his desk:

And so I will end this ridiculously long post with the note I created for Matt's photo book, because this blog has been 10 years of love notes to this family of mine and I ought not leave this out!

Dearest Matthew,
Graduation is a time of mixed emotions, of reflecting on the past, and gazing expectantly towards the future.  Parents have to gently let go, and children must boldly march forth...or so the world would have us believe.  In truth, if relationships are solid and caring, and if life has been truly lived well in the years preceding that last day of your senior year, then there is a level of deep love, respect, and interdependence that the world eschews, but that is the ideal for parents and children.  You see, forever our lives are intertwined, bound tight by years of side by side learning, joyful experiences, and walking through difficult challenges together.
 You will continue to live into who God has called you to be, and we will continue to be engaged and present.  This is how it should be in healthy relationships.
You are ready, of that there is no doubt.  We see how determined and capable you are, we see how self-directed and confident you are in your chosen path.  More importantly, your faith is strong, your heart is kind, and your dreams will no longer remain dreams, but will be brought to life by your effort and diligence. fully, speak honestly, walk determinedly, live faithfully.  Chase beauty, Matt, continue to be the Renaissance man that you are.  Let your heart be moved by art and music, read voraciously, and perhaps most importantly, remain pliable and open to new ideas.
But most of all, know that you are always, always loved.                                         
Love Always,                                                                                                   Mom and Dad