Seven years. It’s a fitting number. Biblically, it represents completion. However, the number four was what was on my mind when I launched my first child to college. But things didn’t turn out as expected or planned. As I type, I’m on a flight returning home after my son Nate’s graduation from Boston College. Seven years have passed. While I stare out my window into the deep, dark sky thoughts toss and turn, questions linger, but one thing seems clear: I feel this is how his story was meant to unfold. It’s not one I would replay – for certain – but it’s one in which we all grew, far beyond knowledge acquired in books or in classrooms.
When Nate began his college journey, no one would have predicted his extended collegiate experience. You see,
Nate was a superstar – not only in my eyes but in the eyes of all who knew him. He was the kid whose high school graduation included several honors, including the final Jesuit Secondary School Education Award – affectionately called the “Jesus Award.” He was a high achiever with a huge heart, deep faith, and endless curiosity about the world around him. “Nate the Great,” as I called him, was teed up to continue to soar through his college years.
So what happened? I wish I could sum it up in a few sentences or better yet write a best-seller on the stories of the past seven years, including a template with specific instructions on how to avoid a similar beyond-five-year experience. From where I’m standing Nate’s struggles were ushered in by a potpourri of overthinking almost everything (he was a philosophy major, of course), abandoning his faith foundation, and attempting to conquer his depression on his own. This Crockpot of factors resulted in a loss of purpose and times of wandering. The stories are endless and many are humorous – but those are Nate’s stories to tell.
What I can share is what I learned about myself, especially as a parent. This experience revealed to me how tied my happiness and life have been to my children’s success and well-being. If you’re a parent like me who values achievement, especially when centered around your child, then we have something in common. My children are both high achievers who have excelled in school and have also used their gifts to serve their communities – here and abroad. Even as my fingers leave the keys while I brag about my kids, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride – I succeeded as a mom. It was my job, and my kids’ achievements proved that I was good at it by the markers society promotes and those that set young adults on a path to success. Being a mom had become my purpose and the reason for my existence. It was more than a role, somewhere through the years it had become my identity. So when Nate’s struggles arrived, I struggled too. If the ship was going down, I was going down with it. And we did – until we both sank to rock bottom.
Mine was actually more of a gravel pit that I waded in for a while. It took me years to get out. But through spending time daily with the Lord, meditating and praying over God’s Word, and surrounding myself with an incredible network of Christian friends, I was gradually lifted out. Yes, I said “lifted out.” I couldn’t get out by myself. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed. But each day as my faith slowly grew, so did my trust in the Lord – and He assured me that all would be OK.
And it was. It is! It’s actually better than OK. The entire experience became transformative – for both of us. In fact, on Easter, Nate went “All In” and was baptized. Since then, he has been reignited with the Spirit of God and is on fire for the Lord.
Academically, he also finished his last semester strong. I smiled when he shared that he ended up with an A in his final 400-level philosophy class. The icing on the collegiate cake was complete when he added, “And I took it pass/fail!”
It was a perfect ending to a not-so-perfect journey that now continues back home in Indiana. And I know God is just getting started – with both of us. To God be the glory!
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NRSV)