It’s the first day of school ’round these parts. We have spent the past week getting new haircuts and new inside shoes, new jeans and new permission slips. The tinies-who-are-no-longer-that-tiny humoured their mother and stood dutifully for pictures. Anne is off to middle school – a whole new world, Joe is headed to grade four, Evie is ready for grade one, and Maggie has just one more year at home before preschool next fall (not that I’m counting down…).
We loaded into the minivan for the drive to school, everyone buckled. I’ve learned the hard way to do a call-out checklist before I pull out of the driveway: lunches? inside shoes? water? home folders? library books? to a chorus of “yes, Mum” and at least one “whoops – hold on, Mum” every morning.
Summer was full here – we’re sending them back to their teachers a few inches taller, tan lines criss-crossing their backs, memories brimming with starry nights and campfires and cousins, ready for the routine to re-establish.
Our last camping trip of the summer was just a week ago. We had a clear mountain lake practically to ourselves. Me and the big three swam out to the middle of the lake and floated there. It was 55m to the bottom and the sky was endless above us and we were suspended in water together.
We sank beneath the surface to peer up at the sky through the water. We splashed and laughed and hollered, diving deep like mermaids, capsizing each other’s floaties, letting the time pass from the infinite embrace of weightlessness.
We are a lake family – oh, we like the ocean’s power and salt, we appreciate a pool’s purpose, but we’re who we were meant to be in the cool water from the mountains, surrounded by rocky shores. They talked easily of God while treading water, weaving worship with laughter and dunkings and quiet floating on their backs.
I don’t believe in ghettoizing God in my children’s lives: like we only talk about God at an official family devotion or we only pray at bedtimes or only read the Bible at church. There isn’t a dividing line between God-time and Regular-Time. I believe God is just as present in the mountains lakes and the minivans of our lives.
When we pulled out on the streets to head for the drop-off lines – middle school and elementary school now! – we began to pray for their year ahead. We prayed for their teachers, for their friends. We prayed for their brains and their hearts. We prayed for every worry and insecurity, every victory and hope we could imagine. My children rest in my prayers in the way that I rest in the prayers of the ones who discipled me in the ways of Jesus. I am forever teaching them that it’s worthwhile to pray in minivans and in the middle of the lake.
Eyes open, shoulder-checking, in-the-midst-of-life prayers are just as meaningful and powerful, I think, as any in a church altar call or a monastery. The ways we pray for our children are as deep as a mountain lake – sometimes we use words, sometimes it’s a prayer we’re carrying in our hearts. But minivan prayers are mighty prayers, I believe. I believe in declaring truth, in building the words of prayer in their hearts, from the middle of our life, not just the elite edges.
I walked each of them to their classrooms, met their teachers, got them settled. Just Mags and me in a quiet minivan for the first time in a while. We celebrated with a pumpkin spice latte (for me) and an ice water (for her).
I remember before they went to school, those three big kids sitting at desks at this blessed moment: those three kids came to us in four and a half years. It felt like those days of chaos and joy, nursing and diapers, tears (sometimes mine) and velcro shoes were endless. I remember going for walks in places like that provincial park with them: holding hands with two toddlers, one baby strapped to my chest in the Ergo carrier. Me, feeling like the axis upon which they spun through the world, unsure and unsteady and brave enough to try.
I remember looking longingly at the lonely middle of the lake as we stayed at the noisy and crowded shore together. But just a few turns around the sun and here we were swimming in silent deep water together and praying like a van-full of Pentecostals at the stop sign: praying we would be strong and kind, smart and wise, the head and not the tail, tender-hearted and brave. We declared ourselves peace-makers and everyone remembered their lunch. At least for today.