build a bridge

Trying to wing the toast at my son’s wedding last May was a horrible idea. Once I had the microphone and looked out at that historic, lakefront ballroom full of cherished family and friends, I felt an uncomfortable lump forming in my throat. When I turned to address the bride and groom, the swelling mysteriously moved up to my eyes and nose and released a fall of emotion that spilled over. I quickly passed the baton to Craig who started out strong, but ultimately lost it in a bigger way than me.  I hugged him from behind, and our kids, who rarely see their even, steady dad get emotional, cried right along with him.

Our family motto when those three were growing up was, “Prathers never give up!” We said it often enough that our children knew, that in the tiny and the big things, they had the ability not to quit and that, God willing, they could undertake whatever they put their minds to or whatever challenge they were dealt.  Once we were vacationing near Mackinac Island in Michigan and were climbing hundreds of little stairs to get to a point where the views were promised to be breathtaking. We got about half way up and I was panting and exhausted. I said to Marina, who was a step in front of me and just behind her dad and brothers, “I’ve had enough. I’m heading back down.”  My five-year-old little girl quickly replied, “Mom, Prathers never give up!” Needless to say, we all made it to the top and oh, what a sight to see!

Craig had a funny saying you may have also heard somewhere along the way, that he would declare at times when the kids were whining about something they didn’t want to do or that seemed unfair to them.  He’d say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge – and get over it!” It was all in jest, of course, but spoke bountiful truth. I’ve been thinking of that silly phrase lately while coming to grips with the fact that our married son and daughter-in-law are moving to San Francisco, our oldest will be getting married this September, and our daughter’s high school years are dizzily flashing by.  Our “job” with them is almost done.

God makes our maternal instinct exquisitely and painfully strong and it feels a bit cruel that a day must come when moms and dads have to open their arms immensely wide and let their “babies” go.  I realize my struggle with entering the empty-nest season is universal and it’s time for me to build a bridge. I know I’ve already cried a river.

On a front table in that lovely, waterside banquet hall, a match was lit and a sign nearby read, “This candle burns brightly in memory of those loved ones we remember.”  One of the framed photographs was of my beloved dad who passed away almost thirty-four years ago, when I was a seventeen year old preparing to graduate high school, and he’d been a forty-two year old man, romancing my mom, raising four children, working hard and, before the tumor was found, in the prime of his life.

We all cried buckets back then for what seemed like and for what very well could’ve been, months on end. I recall that once our tears ran dry, a good amount of anger and bitterness crept in. “Why God?!” was the question we all asked. We shook our fists at the sky and said, “It’s not fair!” But as time went on and we grew and matured, we realized that it wasn’t our place to question God and why He allows bad things to happen. Our understanding and logic is minuscule compared to that of our ever-knowing, ever-powerful, all-sovereign heavenly Father. He is good and trustworthy and just, and someday, I believe, He’ll give us the answers.

Bridges come in different forms, styles and lengths.  Mine was concentrating on my university classes, attending grief counseling and eventually entering into my own blessed marriage.  My mom’s was diving into a new profession of selling real estate, focusing on getting her children into and through college and spending time with friends that nourished her soul.  The look and type of bridge for my three siblings was as unique and individual as each one of them.

At the reception, the moment I looked out at all those expectant faces, I thought about how we can go through weeks and months (even years) of mediocre days, but then during times of weddings and celebrations of many diverse kinds – we can be filled to the brim, with delight and gratitude, and be reminded of how good it feels to be alive.

Why don’t we celebrate abundantly more often?

What holds us back from making every single day a gala of glorification to the God who gave us our providential lives?

We’ve been given one life to honor and glorify Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  What better way than to choose joy in ALL hours, all moments, and all situations.  To trust that the one that created us knows what’s best for us and that He’ll work out every last detail for the good of those who love Him.

So when we’re inevitably faced with unexpected circumstances … demanding, wearisome seasons or the enormous multitude of heartaches that arise from living in a fallen world, we can commit to NEVER giving up because with Jesus we can do all things and He’s committed to staying firmly alongside us.

We don’t need to worry or fuss or complain, but we may need to cry. And after the rain has stopped, we must make a plan to build a suitable, secure structure to take us over and beyond what has weakened, saddened or bewildered us; made us fight for air; or caused us to stall or retreat.

Because once we take those exhilarating steps, we can look over our shoulder in appreciation for where we’ve been, look down at the flood that has cleansed and renewed us, and look ahead to the horizon, in jubilant anticipation of the beautiful, God-given moments still in front of us.

Joshua 1 : 9   “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”


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