this one is all about my son (men appreciation series, continued)

Posted: August 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was spring of 2003.  We were preparing for my daughter Julia’s high school graduation and her exit from home, bound for college.  In the midst of it, my son Caleb, who was 13 at the time, turned to me with some degree of humor but also real alarm in his eyes.  “Julia is leaving?  Who is gonna take care of us?” 

I thought of that a couple of nights ago, as I sat with Caleb and his girlfriend over supper.  Caleb was leaned back in his chair, a broad smile on his face, telling her with humor but also absolute sincerity, “My mom and I grew up together.” 

We all three lived with my parents that summer before Julia left for college, as it was a strange time of transition that I won’t try to explain here today.  And then Julia left us for the next natural phase of her journey, and Caleb and I got a tiny apartment, and we commenced the awkward work that really in a lot of ways was, as he said, growing up. 

I didn’t grow gracefully.  While I had certainly made more than my fair share of mistakes and regrettable choices before that, the passage that was just Caleb and me contained some of my more awful parenting decisions.  I gained a heart for ministry and threw Caleb under the bus in the process, filling my life with busyness and other people and essentially leaving him to raise himself for the most part.  He often did not get treated as a high priority in my life.  Some stuff happened that was really just irrevocably bad and hard in a way that left me facing the fact that I had caused pain and messed up in ways that couldn’t be fixed.  It is a stark place of horror, knowing you’ve wounded your kid and are mostly responsible for him giving up on God, and nothing you can do will take that back. 

It wasn’t all only terrible.  We had a lot of really great times together and connected in deep ways.  We laughed a lot and shared adventures.  I followed him as he toured in bands (one of the best parenting decisions I made.)  We made the strong and unified decision to kick television out of our lives – I’ve been glad and proud of that ever since and have seen the positive result of it in both of us.  We invited bands that he booked for shows into our home for overnight stays and beau-coup hospitality, and I am so glad I didn’t miss the beauty of those experiences.  I had him forcibly and somewhat violently kidnapped from work by his friends on his 18th birthday for a party at our house, which was one of the funniest bits of the journey.  And I walked with him through the valley that was his difficult re-entry to regular life after his summer of basic training and AIT.  I got that right, which makes me glad to the point of tears after having botched so much else.  

Caleb has been grace personified in my life.  In 2010 when I was walking out the 12 steps and came to the “making amends” part, we met one night and sat in my car, watching the Mississippi roll by as I owned all the pain I had caused, all of my selfishness, all of my wrong thinking.  I cried a lot while I talked, which kind of made me mad at myself – this was not about ME but HIM.  But sometimes not crying is just not even an option, you know?  And these were not “feeling sorry for myself” tears.  They were tears of genuine repentance. 

He let me talk until I was all talked out.  He was not in a hurry and did not try to short-circuit this important process by cutting off what I needed to say.  And every word he spoke after that was life-giving and loving without a trace of bitterness, rancor, or any kind of, “Yeah, you were really a screw-up, Mom.” 

We have continued to grow up together – it is happening even now.  Our worlds are continually expanding in separate realms, and when we come together we always grow each other, challenge each other, expand each other’s understanding.  I know when he starts pursuing some new avenue of learning and exploration and change, something like it will probably follow in my life, and vice versa.  We’ve been learning about food and exercise and general care of the body.  We’ve been exploring world views and the terrain of relationships and stewardship of the earth and politics and on and on and on, and there’s not much I love more than the hours we spend in the car as I drive him to drill and we talk all of these things through.

He is still not all about God.  I think he wavers between atheist and agnostic with a sometimes dose of belief thrown in that is pretty unconfined, and it is a mark of the tremendous growth in both of us that this is not an item of contention or separation between us.  He easily lets me be Jesus freaky and I am at peace with letting him be on his own journey about God, and perhaps you have seen enough of the ugliness of the damage done when there is no peace on that front to understand my great gratitude both to Caleb and to God, that we navigate it as well as we do. 

When my kids were babies, I felt sorry for people whose kids were bigger and REALLY sorry for people whose kids were grown.  It didn’t look as great as raising babies.  I am happy to report that it is AWESOME having grown children…not a bit “lesser than” raising babies.  Not a bit.  And today I am abundantly grateful that one of the MEN who has blessed me and continues to bless me is my son.

Mercy and grace beyond measure.


  1. Pam Spangler says:

    another wonderful writing-I look forward to these you know I can relate in so many ways so thank you Karen for blessing me!

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