Jul 25, 2017

Summer Camp, Sons, and the Coming of Age

By Rebekah Thielen

Let not the world’s deceitful cares
The rising plant destroy
But let it yield a hundred fold
The fruits of peace and joy
Almighty God Your Word is Cast, LSB 577

Suddenly it all makes so much sense.  In the experience of one child psychologist, the two most common times for parents to seek his help with their sons are ages four and fourteen.  It would’ve been nice to know about this supposed testosterone surge that passes through a boy’s body sometime between the ages of three and four, and then of course again about a decade later, give or take a year or two, depending on the child’s unique makeup, and, I might add, the Lord’s divine timetable.

Time now past begins to flash before my eyes.  The toddler years were physically demanding, especially when bathing them or changing their diapers.  But it wasn’t the terrible two’s that would test and reveal the weakness of my mental wit and emotional strength. It was the exasperating threes, extended out through age four for good measure.  It’s the perfect training ground, really; walking through an emotionally charged mine field while operating on one to two years of sketchy sleep.

It’s the perfect training ground, sure, and a recipe for total disaster.  I chew on the recent podcast interview for several days, reliving my dark hallway horror stories of testosterone filled four year-olds and rage-filled mothers.  I engage the great and powerful Google with more questions, this time coming up with varied answers.  According to eight years of extensive on-going Internet research done by one mother of three sons, the testosterone surge in young boys has turned out to be a myth, something too often used to excuse bad behavior.   “Whatever,” I think to myself. I let out a sigh, roll my eyes, and close the browser.  One says this, another says that.  It’s so typical of everything you read about parenting.

There’s an app for anything you can set your mind to.  You’ll find more information on Google than you would ever think to search for.  No one is there, however, to answer our questions in those insignificant moments that mean so much, those times when conversations take a turn for the awkward.  Before my oldest son left for camp this summer, we needed to have a talk.  We needed to have a talk about all the things we needed to talk about before a son goes away to band, sports, or church camp in the summer.  I have, after all, heard stories about what can happen when curious, growing boys are left alone or get together; stories from a different time, before the present day digital ravage of snap-chat and smartphones.

I call the boy in so we can talk. He’s not a boy anymore, and I know this, but something inside of him is and always will be. He’s stretched out on his stomach, playing with the dice he carries around wherever he goes. I’m sitting on my bed folding towels beside him, fumbling my way through the second chapter of Proverbs, words written down “to give prudence to the simple, and knowledge and discretion to the youth”. This isn’t at all how I imagined our talk going.  I have, after all, been thinking about this for years. I envisioned a night excursion around the lake, or the cemetery where we used to walk together, or a minivan escapade into the countryside, where I’d take him on a ride he would never forget.  But life happened, and I put it off, and I kept telling myself I had more time, and then, well, here we are, three hours before camp. 

The time has come to let him go again. Three hours later, I stand at the door of cabin Jonathan, and this year, I don’t go in. Last year, I went in. Last year, I helped him make his bed, watched him situate his flashlight, and showed him where the clothesline was to hang his towel after swimming. I took his picture and hugged him anyway and told him I loved him before walking away to shed my tears. This year things were different. This year, things were different, and all year long I’d been feeling the changes. This year, I left him to make his own bed. I didn’t say a word about the ridiculous towels I’d been folding only three hours before, and I didn’t hug him in front of the others. I would have, but he didn’t hug me. Tears came to my eyes, then retreated.

Man makes plans, but the LORD determines his steps.  Lord-willing, for five weeks this summer, my 12-year old son will venture down the hill to the Lutheran camp we now call home. I know, I know--he doesn’t have to go very far.  He didn’t have to go very far to be birthed from the womb either.  It’s all part of the process, this mysterious growing up into salvation.  There was no guarantee either of us would survive childbirth, and even if we did, as his tiny hands and feet made clear, there was no guarantee my son would even survive the mercifully smoother-sailing years of middle childhood. There’s no guarantee he won’t drown while creek-walking or stumble across the preying horrors of pornography in the haunted woods or darkened cabins.

Here are the guarantees I have in this life: Neither of us will get through this unscathed.  The point is not for us to survive. The point is God making all things new.  He needs to keep on being born, as do I. I needn’t get stuck in my painful rut of deficiency or circumstance, instead, I stay the course, and carry on in Christ’s strength.  I needn’t obsess over the mistakes we’re all making and remaking, instead, I fix my eyes on Jesus, the bearer and forgiver of our sins, who is leading us on with a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. I needn’t stall over all the what-ifs. Even death itself stands not a chance against the risen Lord of Glory.  I don’t care if it sounds clichĂ©’, that this is what everybody always says. It’s the truth. My guarantee is in Christ Jesus, that I have nothing more to fear.

The boy came back a few days later.  It was mid-afternoon, and I was still in my pajamas,  my hair in yesterday’s braid, sweeping cat food into piles on the mudroom floor.  The door flew open and he immediately started digging through the entryway coat closet.  He’d forgotten his tennis shoes.  His cabin was getting ready for creek-walking--I remember the joy from when I was a counselor--and he needed a pair of old shoes he could ruin. I stood there watching, a mere two feet away, holding the broom.  He stood up to leave, but before he did, he reached through the statue-like stillness and hugged me. He waved goodbye and left and I was happy again.  I was happy again, like the moment of his first appearance, untouched by the pain of love and loss. 

He must increase, I must decrease. This has been the lifelong lesson. In all these presented and unfolding conversations, there are certains times in life when words are better left unsaid. You walk the path that God has laid out, and forget the rest.  You do your best with the strengths you’ve been given, and don’t worry too much about what everybody else is doing.  Love is going to hurt, and when it does, there’s no other way but to trust your way through, falling down and getting back up, giving up hope and then finding the courage to hope and love again. And I’m beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, certain things are awkward for a good and holy reason. I’m convinced certain parts of us were never meant to be spoken, only experienced. 

We walk by faith, not by sight. God is able to do the same redeeming thing for my son that He has always done for me.  So I count it all joy, this summer rite of passage, where my son can make new friends, kayak in the lake, build lean-to’s in the pine forest, search high and low for the underground church, and witness to the Roman guards. I remember when I was pregnant with him, the only time I loved being pregnant in the summer, looking down at my belly and thinking on the path that was to be his only freedom. I still wonder, when I get to the impossible place, the end of my rope, the end of an era, the end of my life on this earth as I know it, the place where I can’t go on anymore--but this I know for sure about wherever it is we're going. 

I know the Lord will meet me there. 


Rebekah spends her days living life alongside her husband and children. She enjoys reading, homeschooling, and every once in a great while, chasing after the wind.   

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Needed this. Needed the reminder that our Lord comes and meets us with his comfort and aid.


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