Emma Joy graduates from high school today.
For the past few weeks, nearly everything she’s done or said has provoked a flood of memories: holding her for the very first time, unable to take my eyes off of her as she slept, weeping at her miraculous presence in my arms, at my breast, in my life. I remember her first laugh (and how I repeated my same actions over and over again, just to hear that sound one more time), her first steps, her first day of school, her first time on stage, her first solo, her first heartbreak. And by the time this week is over, I will remember her cap and gown, her honor chord, her walk across a platform, her handshake, my tears, her smiles, her photographs with friends, her presents, our celebratory dinner, and her diploma in hand.
As glorious as every one of these moments are, not one of them cancels out my memory of the agony from which she came.
Our proclivity is high to only focus on the good, to fix our gaze on the beautiful, to disallow anything that darkens our mind or heart’s door. I feel that temptation and lure, believe me, but somewhere in the mix of my life I have learned something else, something more.
It is the embracing of the complexity of life that makes it that much more glorious to behold.
My experience of becoming a mother was preceded by nearly five years of infertility. Nearly 60 cycles of hope, waiting, disappointment, despair, and summoning-up hope yet again. It exhausted me. It shut me down. And it pulled me apart. I held firmly to my faith on the one hand – longing for a miracle, and threatened to throw the baby out with the bathwater on the other (only there was no baby) – wanting to walk away from a God that so blindly turned away from my heartache. Every 28 days I transitioned. Every 28 days another emotional rollercoaster ensued. Every 28 days I bargained again, prayed more, promised everything. And every 28 days I raged.
Admittedly, I was filled with ecstasy beyond-compare when I found out that I was pregnant. But way beneath the surface (and not revealed until some time later) was an awareness of loss. That pink bar on a home test meant I would no longer be able to say, “I understand” to the women in whom I’d found such profound solidarity and respite. The doctor’s eventual confirmation meant that I could no longer question God’s faithfulness or care. Both of these realities disturbed me. The honesty I’d been able to express – with women who shared my pain and with a God who allowed my anger – was raw and strong and powerful. I didn’t want to let go of those experiences or the woman I’d birthed into being through what was one of the hardest seasons of my life.
Emma’s presence in my life and every bit of joy she’s ushered into my world is made that much more glorious because I feel (again and again) the grief, the sadness, the lost-solidarity, the rage and the over-the-moon pride and happiness and glee and satisfaction of watching her this very day. Nothing is taken away from the goodness because the struggle coexists. Nothing.
This is the stuff of life – recognizing, naming, allowing, holding all of it – not just the parts we prefer.
Even Emma’s graduation is complicated. It’s joyous beyond-belief and it means that soon, very soon, she leaves me. Goodbyes are imminent. Separation and growth are inevitable. Risk and challenge and trial and error and failure and learning and heartbreak and celebration will be what both of us will step into in the weeks, months, and years ahead. In truth, this very day, Emma’s graduation day, sits me right smack in the middle of all my emotions, all my memories, all my hopes, all my fears. To run from the harder ones in the hopes of only experiencing the good ones is not only naïve, it lessens the depth and poignancy of all that’s worth honoring; it lessens my honoring of her. Every bit of this day is worth cherishing. Every bit of it is what makes it so real, so true, so alive (which is sometimes painful and always perfectly fine).
This post hasn’t gone quite where I expected – wanting it to wildly-affirm Emma on her incredible accomplishment, milestone, occasion. And I hope I have honored her by recognizing that in all the complexity of my story and hers, she has made it to this day with complexities of her own (and more to come). These are what make this day and this young woman so incredibly glorious. In mere hours I will behold her in awe, in gratitude, and in the profound awareness of all that makes her who she is, all that has happened to get us to this day, all the messy, brilliant, excruciating, blissful stuff – past, present, and future. This does honor her: every bit of me showing up – rife with feeling, fully aware, and real-true-alive (which is sometimes painful and always perfectly fine).
Step bravely and beautifully into all the life that awaits you Emma. Let yourself be real-true-alive (which is sometimes painful and always perfectly fine). And remember that you are loved and loved and loved for all the complexity that makes you, you: glorious, magnificent, my very heart.