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The years teach much which the days never knew.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson


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The First Seat on the Right Side of the Center Aisle

I wrote the following a few years after our firstborn son was married in 1998.  Thinking back on that day, reflecting on all that’s transpired and all that’s happening currently, I decided to get this out and reread it.  The same mama, similar feelings, better understanding… as plans are underway for another son who’ll marry next week.  I’m so thankful I’ve had a little more time and a few more experiences so this time is not so overwhelming (and, I don’t have a  2+ week old newborn this time).  But the emotions?  They’re very much the same.  And here you have another glimpse of my life — and maybe yours, too.

The First Seat on the Right Side of the Center Aisle

No words could convince or console her that the extinguished candle was not also the snuffing out of the value of her life.  It was a symbol of the closing of one and the beginning of another chapter in that son’s life but for that mother, it seemed  to be a moment in which her life was effectively over.  O, sure, she thought, her life would go on, there would be other such occasions, other days to live.  But for that specific moment in time, grief overwhelming her soul, she thought there was no real purpose for her existence, it was as if the fade button had been pushed and she was slowly experiencing its effect.

Through the years since the day of his birth,  her most precious dreams,  her highest hopes and all her undying love was wrapped around his life.  For him, she discovered a tender place in her heart she never knew existed before his life began and from that beginning, there were times in her life she was so overwhelmed with tender affection her heart seemed as if it would break.  She didn’t know all the while that one day it would, in a sense, break over that child.  That child.  O, that child she once wrapped in her arms,  cradled at her breast,  powdered and diapered, kissed and coddled.  That child, that precious, precious child.

Her heart once welled up with astonished delight as he entered the house with flowers and chocolates and a stuffed bear with the cutest expression on its face.  O, how that mother beamed and how, through the grace of the LORD, she continued to beam with joy and love for him as he asked with a sort of tone that was both an inquiry and a exclamation, “Do you think she’ll like them, mama?”   Quietly and graciously gathering up her dashed emotions,  she told him, “O, yes,  she surely will—she’ll just love them—they’re perfect!”  And she hugged her boy—her boy who’d become a man while she wasn’t looking, the boy who grew up before her eyes and she hardly knew where the time had gone.

She smiled and cried many times through the months of that season; delighted and sad, sorrowful and glad.   Suddenly she had entered the doorway to a passage strangely foreign to her.  She was now the other woman in her son’s life.  Suddenly and with little fanfare she had stopped being his “advisor,” “counselor” and trusted friend.  Suddenly her opinions were not highest priority nor did they take precedence over the opinions of others.  Suddenly his first call was not to the home-phone and his cards were addressed to the other woman in his life.   Suddenly time for lingering at the table grew shorter and shorter as time cultivating his new love, his new dreams and hopes grew longer and more frequent.

She began to sorely miss the boy she’d spent her life caring for.  She missed his laughter and smiles as he related the events of his day to her.  O, sure, he still did that to some degree, and with great enthusiasm, I might add.  But the days had become different and somehow they never seemed like they’d be the same again.  And they weren’t.  I suppose what she probably missed most, but couldn’t articulate at the time, was his need for her—for her help, for her guidance, for her encouragement and for her to hear about his days and his plans.  In her mind, it seemed he’d stopped needing her altogether and she began to feel useless and out of place.  Soon that joy in her heart, the anticipation of his daily return home at dinnertime and his story telling and daily accounts of his experiences with friends and at work, began to wane.  She began to realize that those treasures were slowly being transferred to another woman and the joy in her heart took on an unfamiliar ache; an ache that, she didn’t know at the time, would fade and the joy would return.

“…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Psalm 30.5

So as not to give the impression that all the days of that season were bleak, there were many days of happy anticipation as the wedding drew near.  There were many occasions to gather around the table to talk and laugh and so, in many ways, it seemed like quite a rollercoaster ride emotionally.  One day up and one day down—one day zooming along another day slogging up a steep incline.  In her subconscious, she delighted in knowing that, still at that point, she was the only one who knew how to cut his hair properly, wash and iron his clothes properly and make his favourite meals.  It was actually a blessing that she didn’t know at the time that all that would change one day—but when it did, she could  sincerely smile with gladness for her son and didn’t take personally his change in taste or other changes in personal preferences.  In time she was able to see that she didn’t train him up to keep him, rather, she trained him up so that he could fly on his own.  It never was her intention to harness and hang on to him—she just didn’t know how to let loose of the reins and certainly didn’t know it would be a painful letting go.

There were times in that season where she felt as if she were watching a movie of events in a family and not actually a participant as well.  Scenes would open and close and she was simply a spectator and not the director or manager.  Some days were sort of surreal as she watched their love bloom and grow while her love seemed to be waning and fading away.  She didn’t know then what she would know later: that her love didn’t wane or fade away at all—it was simply in a quiet phase.  Her love was resting and she didn’t know it would be stirred up again as her son’s life was turned into a family and his house into a home.  She soon learned a new way of living, a new way of loving that son.  She soon learned that her value to him, while dramatically different in appearance, had not changed and the value of his life only grew more precious in her eyes.   She didn’t know at the time that love would bloom again and would be stronger than ever before—were that possible!

But that was long after the day she took a long walk to the first seat on the right side of the center aisle.

As the music faded and she stepped up to light that candle—the candle her son would use to light the one in the center that would signify unity with his bride, the one that would symbolize the joining of two into one by the extinguishing of two separate lives forming the creation of one new life—she struggled to hold back the floodgate of tears.  She gathered up all the faith and confidence she could muster and with trembling hands, she carried a candle she would use to light the candle on the right.  And turning around to return to her seat—the first seat on the right side of the center aisle—she extinguished her own candle as a symbol of both acceptance and commitment to that boy… the time had come to say goodbye to that season and to embrace the next.  The smoke that wafted up from the extinguished candle seemed to intensify the burning of the hot tears welling up in her eyes, but her smile was a sincere smile of hope and joy for her son and his bride.  Throughout the rest of the ceremony while she watched the loving proceedings in front of her, in the theatre of her mind played the home movies of her son’s life—still’s and moving pictures passed  through her mind as she saw her little boy… her young man… her hopes and dreams in the groom standing before her pledging his heart to his bride.  As he kissed his bride—his wife—the mother knew it was time.  And she let go of the reins.  

As she took her tiny little newborn baby boy into her arms… she looked into his face and smiled knowing that one day she’d walk that long aisle again and imagined that tiny little baby growing up into a man.  One thing she learned for certain that day: no matter what, she’d not have missed that for anything.  And that night, as the house quieted and the lights were turned out—-her dark ceiling forming a screen, she again watched the story of her son’s life—and replayed the events of the day gone by, an activity that would be repeated many times over the months ahead.

She actually delighted in watching the love between her son and his wife, she smiled at their plans as they gathered things for their nest and as they set about ordering their life.  She really was thankful for the way the LORD had worked, for His provision, for His plans.    She had a new joy and peace in her heart.  In time, she was surprised at how the transition had pained her, how she’d been so sad.  She was amazed at the power of love and the ache of change and what felt like rejection was not rejection at all.   She then became the fan of two who became one that day.  O, now that mother’s heart was more full than ever when she finally welcomed another woman into her son’s life to share that space her son alone once held in her heart.   That tender space in her heart was enlarged when she welcomed grandchildren into her arms.

But that was long after the day she when took, what seemed at the time, like a long walk to the first seat on the right side of the center aisle.

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Thank you for joining me here today, may the Lord bless you and your home.