Milestones. In a way, they’re like speed bumps in the road of life. Not in the negative sense, of course – speed bumps are generally irritating. But on the positive side, they get our attention. They call us back, sometimes from deep reverie, wake us up, and remind us of where we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.
In my youth, I encountered several milestones, some more and some less important. The day of my birth and my birthdays, holidays, turning of the years, my salvation, my baptism, high school graduation, entry to and exit from the military, my wedding. Since that day there have been the births of my children, our anniversaries – including the silver one 2 years ago – moving to new homes, job changes. Among the most sobering milestones was the cancer death of our son, Josh, who went to Heaven in 1997 at age 17. That was a big speed bump.
We’re coming up on a new milestone now; in fact it will be history by the time you read this. It is the marriage of our son, Nathan. Nate is 22 and the third of our children. He’s the first of our kids to get married, so this wedding is an extra big deal. His two older brothers appear headed in the same direction, so I guess we’d better just plan on a wedding each year from now on. That is, until the grandchildren start growing up. Then it may be one per month. And that’s if I don’t starve before then. As the father of eight daughters, a couple of whom are close to the age their mother was when she married, I may have to start sending out offering envelopes with our newsletter to pay for weddings.
We’re all very happy for Nate. He’s marrying a wonderful, Godly girl from a wonderful, Godly family and we just don’t see how he could have done any better. Tina is the daughter of missionaries. Her parents are marvelous people who raised four kids, all of them exemplary Christians. This, as I say, is our first such experience but still it occurs to me how blessed we are to have not an atom of hesitation about our son’s decision to marry, or his choice of life partners. And we don’t have to worry about their making ends meet either; Nate is a successful young business owner who through responsibility and hard work is now earning more money than I was making when my 9th child was born.
So we’re approaching a milestone, but a happy one. It’s a milestone as joyous as Josh’s illness was difficult.
All of which reminds us that there are more momentous turning points to come, milestones ahead of us as well as behind. And of course that goes for every other family as well.
No doubt most of you who read this are chronologically behind Marilyn and me. You’ve been married a shorter time, you have fewer children. Perhaps you have passed fewer events that you see as milestones in the life of your family. But in any case you’ve had some such experiences and you know there are more ahead. They’re waiting for all of us.
Like punctuation marks, milestones break up to a degree the continuity of daily experience. And like those little black marks, they add dimensions to the text of our lives, extra meaning that otherwise we would fail to read.
Nate’s upcoming wedding day, like a speed bump, to some degree sneaked up on us despite the fact that we’ve been looking forward to it. What is it about weddings, anyway? You have one marked on the calendar for perhaps a year or two, yet two weeks before the event all is madness and pandemonium as both families scramble to get ready.
So it is now. I’ve escaped the rush to some extent, thanks to my gift of disorganization which makes me less called upon than I might otherwise be for assistance. Ah well. It allows me time to write articles about the event.
Our coming “big day” reminds me that milestones – those punctuation marks of life – are liberally dispersed for all and that life is not one uninterrupted stream but a book with a beginning and an end. It has sentences and paragraphs, set apart by punctuation marks, that add up to chapters which sometimes we don’t recognize as such until looking back later over the nearly completed manuscript.
So we all encounter milestones. Some make us happy, some sad, some both. My advice, should anybody want it, would be to anticipate them, prepare for them when possible, enjoy them. Some, of course, will be so momentously joyous or hard that they slap us in the face. Others we are in danger of missing and thereby failing to benefit. Some men travel a lot in their work and so miss Baby’s first words. And sometimes moms are so pressured by their responsibilities that they forget to take their hands out of the dishwater long enough to applauds someone who’s finally learned to ride without training wheels. And sometimes all of us parents forget that some things that mean little to us are in fact milestones for the little people in our lives. They need us to notice those speed bumps.
When you’re in the midst of your parenthood career, it’s awfully easy to feel so overwhelmed that you just pace along from day to day, struggling to maintain the momentum and get all the necessities covered. But from time to time God sends you a speed bump. A milestone. A punctuation mark. A reminder to stop and smell the roses, especially a rose held out to you by a thorn-scratched little hand.
For life really is less a highway than a book. Sentences and then paragraphs and then chapters appear upon the pages, and then chapters are over and the page must be turned. Marilyn and I are about to turn the last page in a chapter in Nathan’s life and watch as God writes the next one. I pray that the speed bumps will keep me awake; that I’ll pay attention to all the punctuation marks to extract all the meaning from the pages of my life with my family. Because someday I’ll come to the end of the highway, the last page of the last chapter. I want to re-read the manuscript with pleasure, not regret. I hope when that time comes, that my God and my family will agree that the last sentence of my life should end with an exclamation point and not …