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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paradox Parenting

"Exclusion and Embrace" is the title of an excellent book and a description of the paradox of parenting at this stage of life.  This week we celebrated Julia, and her graduation from high school.  A lot of embrace.  Photos, parties, last events.  Special food, dressing up, hugs.  And the beginnings of separation, the inevitable sending out.  Throwing out old clothes, papers, mementos.  Plane tickets and health insurance and bank accounts without us.  One thing we have learned about paradox in the last few years is that both polar ends are true and to be fully lived.  Seeking a middle, a compromise, is not the way. One might image that being less attached would make the goodbye easier.  Or that holding the child closer to home might blunt the parting.  Not so.

Instead we have to jump in, both feet, full immersion, in the love and the leaving.

Wednesday night Karen hosted a birthday party for Liana (15!!) which started with a short recognition of Luke and Jhamat's graduation.  She baked a Davenport (their Yale residential college) cake and we sang "How Firm a Foundation", a hymn that has bookmarked my experience of Luke's life from a troubled pregnancy I trembled to believe could result in a hold-able baby, to the day we dropped him off at Yale and heard the organist practicing in the chapel.  Karen knows me so well.  Her parties and Bethany's slide show (see here and have your tissues handy) have been beautiful, meaningful ways to soak ourselves in the poignancy of graduations.  I am so thankful to have friends here as we walk through these milestones.

That evening, the entire school and parents gather in the auditorium of Downing Hall for "Senior Night".  The seniors themselves had prepared a program with four sections:  elementary, junior high, 9th/10th grade, and 11th/12th grade.  Each section had funny skits, musical numbers, reminiscences, letters from old teachers read aloud, and a slide show.  It was beautifully done.  We did not enter this picture until mid-9th grade for Jules, but it was sweet to see the kids who went all the way back to Kindergarten together (and Julia had known them when we were evacuated here and she was a baby, though she doesn't really remember that).  At the end of the evening, everyone but the seniors and class sponsors left.  We stood in a slowly growing circle whereby each person greeted/ hugged/ farewelled every other person, ending in a dark room with candles being lit around the circle, then a symbolic turning outward to cary the light into the world.

I think that night helped me see that depth of embrace, how this community is a bit unusual.  We have deep ties, whether they are 2 years or 12, because of shared vision, isolation from other supports, shared faith in most cases, similar life experience.  And we have a perhaps a depth of loss that is more ripping, because these kids come from disparate countries and continents.  They won't be "home" for Thanksgiving and happen to run into each other.  This goodbye is one that may be forever.  It hurts.

Thursday was graduation day.  Sunshine, laughter, greetings.  As we arrived early for great seats, we listened to multiple senior musical ensembles.  What talented kids.  Julia sang with Small Group.  Then pomp and circumstance, the seniors marching in in pairs and sitting up front.  Mugisha, whom we visited in Rwanda, gave the senior address with a great story about fear from his childhood, and being carried home by a stranger, with the message that God is always present in the moment of greatest need.  There were a few awards, hymns, choir numbers, and then the presentation of diplomas.  Our whole row stood on our chairs and yelled "We LOVE YOU JULIA" which was the most dramatic of the claps.  As the kids march out, paired according to the alphabet, they jump to slap a sign board over the back door.  It is a tradition.  Some get a running start and really smack it loudly, some barely get their fingertips that high.  This year I watched to see what would happen with the one girl in the class who is paralyzed in her legs.  She walks with crutches from a childhood spinal tumor.  She was paired with a star basketball player and all-around great guy.  Sure enough, as they went out, he and another boy lifted this girl up to slap the sign.  It was a beautiful moment that typifies this class.  Thoughtful, solid, caring for each other, lifting each other up.

The graduation was followed by milling about, congratulations, and photographs too numerous to count.  The kids gathered to throw their hats in the air, then all went for lunch in the cafeteria.  Soon the buses were loading and leaving.  We hosted a pizza night for a few families of kids we were guardians for, or who weren't leaving yet.  It grew into quite a large party.

The next day we took Luke and Jhamat to the airport, leaving here at 4:30 am.  Then Karen and Bethany had organized a group hike up and around Longonot which took most of the day.  Strenuous, dusty, full sunshine, spectacular views, gasping breaths, fellowship, and a good way to say goodbye to a landmark spot.  The weekend has involved work and packing, packing and work.  Going through every closet, sorting shoes, throwing things away.  Gathering gifts, making piles for packing.  Washing sheets to catch up from 5 guests.  Hugs, goodbyes, last brunch, last AIC church service.

So that's where we are.  Saturated with the beauty and love and celebration of a remarkable 17-year-old girl whose academic and athletic and service and leadership records are nearly perfect.  And drenched with the sorrow of letting go, of sending out, of walking by faith.  The first separation was birth, and since then we keep pursuing that bonding love and that freeing independence, both extremes, not letting one blunt the other.

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