Angsty aging and accepting surprises, happy or not so happy

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My daughter turned 18 last week, making me the official parent of a legal adult. (Also making me officially old.) She wants to believe her new age changes a lot of things for her, but I have no trouble tenderly reminding her that as long as my financial responsibilities for her and her needs remain the same, her responsibilities within our household and our relationship remain the same. That’s how that works.

When she was younger, she enjoyed a few quasi-epic birthday parties. Five was celebrated at Chuck E. Cheese. Ten was a cupcake decorating party with a piñata. Thirteen was a covert mission with my daughter’s best friend to pull off a pretty awesome surprise party. For the Sweet Sixteen, our party attempts were a flop. It was the casual gathering our daughter had requested, but the entire high school band had been invited and maybe 8 of them showed up. Great for the parents hosting the party, perhaps, but not so great for the birthday girl.

This year, our daughter opted for some fun that didn’t require a crowd – dinner out with her boyfriend and her parents. And part of our gift to the new adult? No younger siblings on this outing – 18 and up only. Our daughter chose a high end establishment where Kool-aid is served in Ball jars and the boasted entrée is fried chicken and waffles. Chicken gizzards, grits, and biscuits and gravy were on the menu, as were fried green tomatoes. Yes, I was tickled and yes, I ordered the fried green tomatoes. A DJ sat in the back corner mixing up all kind of throwback jams. Our southern roots – nearly withered by the ways of the West – found nourishment at that restaurant that went deeper than delicious meals. Needs were met and we had a blast.

I’ve had 18 years to prepare, but I still find myself surprised by my new parenting status. If I reflect on all the living that’s been squeezed into my daughter’s lifetime, it’s suddenly clear how I became the parent of an adult. I remember my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, her first day of Jr. High, and her first driver’s permit (there have been several). A few weeks ago I paid for her cap and gown, which should have at least clued me into the fact that I have a child who will soon be graduating from high school. But as all parents say – and I confirm it to be true – kids grow up so fast. Maybe the unsettling part for me as the parent is the question, “How did I grow up so fast?” Aging is the logical progression of living; if you continue to live, you will get older. Being old is something we know will happen to us, but always sometime in the future – never in the present.

During His life on earth, Jesus invited people to follow Him into a life full and real. If you call yourself a Christ follower, you’ve accepted this same invitation. Life with Jesus is good, it’s better, it’s real living, but it’s no cake walk. And Jesus never promised it would be. He actually talked quite a lot to His disciples about the suffering they would face. He prepared them – no surprises.

Many encouraging letters of the Bible were written by people who were in the midst of unhappy circumstances, but even after reading these letters a thousand times, difficult times always seem to take me by surprise. It’s usually the unpleasant kind of surprise; the kind that quickly reveals my selfish expectations. I know faith living will be a challenge, but do I have to struggle today? Do I have to face troubles in the present? I’d rather postpone it…for a future time. My Savior chose a cross over a crown and yet I seem to believe following His example should be easy and painless.

Whether you love Jesus or not, suffering is part of living in a broken world. Hurt and heartache are unavoidable. We will endure sickness and aging, change and loss, obstacles and conflict. Things will break and wear out, friendships will end, and daily nuisances and frustrations will continue to pester us. The secret is learning to be content – in the good and the bad. Our example of faithful endurance – even in our struggles – encourages others who love Jesus. Tough times strengthen our faith, making us more like Jesus, so that we’ll be ready to meet Him one day – the wonderful day we’re living for.

So take heart and be encouraged. You may have a ‘time for a new transmission’ day or a ‘the IRS made an error in your favor’ day, but either way, live it to the fullest. And keep looking ahead.

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