One of the odd things about being a parent is that sometimes your children's friends come and go and then take a piece of your heart with them. It isn't intentional, and you don't really think about it at the time, but you begin to form attachments to them because they have been such a large pattern in the fabric of your family's life that you may forget that they aren't your children. It gets even more complicated during the dating years when you meet someone that one of your children is dating and they come to family events or hang out on the weekend, or might even go with you on a trip. You know their favorite foods, their birthday, and you have photos with them in it. They come to dinner, you have the chance to minister to them, and you even wonder if they might be a permanent member of your family.
Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren't.
And when they are, you have wonderful, warm, sweet memories of them as they grew to become a part of your family. I saw this happen when my niece and two nephews on the Mixon side began dating who are now their spouses and the parents of the little people who make us smile. We began to see them as a couple that we couldn't imagine life without them. We stood with joy as the brides walked down the aisle...in two cases to change their name to Mixon...and one to Stillwell (but she will always be a Mixon to us) and celebrated the fact that they were "ours." Part of our family. Loved like it as well.
But when they aren't...it can be a little awkward. Especially if you run up on them somewhere down the road and don't know what to say. It can be a lot awkward when you run into two of the "Ghosts of Boyfriends Past" at the same wedding.
Fortunately, it was a teachable moment. Or two teachable moments, I suppose I should say. I should also mention that these two left us years ago...one six years ago and the other four. I hadn't realized that so much time had passed until I thought about it because I can still vividly remember their presence in our lives. Oh, I had heard about what they were both doing from running into the current girlfriend of one and the mother of the other, but there had been virtually no conversation between "us" and "them" in quite some time. I had gotten pretty comfortable with that, truth be told. Not because I don't care about them...but because they seem to have moved on with the next person that they dated after my daughter, and there's just something a little disconcerting about that. Hey, at least I'm honest.
But then one of them sat behind us at the wedding. I'm fairly certain it wasn't intentional. Since we were seated first, I'm putting that one on them. The other one we didn't see until the reception. But two encounters...and two very different responses.
I won't elaborate on what happened other than to say that one of the young men acted as though there had never been any relationship between us. That we were lumped together with memories of our daughter and that it would be disrespectful to his significant other to speak to us at all...even though he did. He almost acted ashamed to be seen instead of just stopping and saying hello. It was quite odd. The other one stopped and talked to us for fifteen minutes while his significant other was in the other room listening to the band. He caught us up on what he was doing and said that he was happy. It was nice to talk to him and I know that if I run into him with his wife at the grocery store or somewhere else...he'll introduce us and everything will be okay.
I know that you may be reading this and not fully understanding why this matters so much...and that may be because your children don't date much, they don't bring their dates home to hang out with the family, or you may not have children. But for us...but we love the people that come into this house. Some of them understand that and appreciate it. Others are ashamed of it. I don't know if they are ashamed of being associated with us...or the fact that we were good to them and they haven't been in touch. It honestly matters not.
I just know that I quit giving away the healthy portions of my heart years ago to those passing through and have been offering the ones that have come after only a sliver. In one case, however, with my son's current sweetheart, she has taken up residence in our hearts and we hope that someday she'll be a reality and not a possibility. We are still guarding our hearts carefully, though, as we seek out the young man that God has just for Jill. We feel that this is only fair to him.
When you love people that come into the lives of your children...sometimes it is bittersweet. You don't realize how much you miss them until you see them again...even if they were clearly not right for your child. You want the best for them...even if that means that you cannot know how the story ends. It means that you look back into the family tapestry and see their thread woven through...but you also see where it stops and another thread picks up somewhere down the pattern.
I am blessed that there are a few of my childrens' friends that I am still in touch with and that I can walk with as they grow into amazing adults. I consider them my "other daughters and sons" and I want the best that life has to offer for them. But there are some that I have no connection to whatsoever anymore..and it makes me a little sad sometimes to know that I planted good seed on concrete instead of rich soil. That the pearls we set out were trampled instead of valued.
But every so often, you'll be at a wedding somewhere, and one of them will thank you for giving him a bible. He'll tell you that he reads it every day and that he is growing closer to being the man that God wants him to be. He'll still be the kid you knew...but he'll also be a man who is the spiritual leader of his home. He'll be the one that comes back to thank you and not the nine others that take what you give them and never look back. Jesus knew all about this after healing the ten lepers. And I suppose I know in some small measure how real that parable is...and what a blessing it is to know that it was not all in vain.
I know that we typically don't invest in people just to make them grateful and that there are a lot of kids that passed through here that I invested minimal time in for various reasons. I know that there may be a season where I'll have the opportunity to interact with some of my childrens' friends again. When you all live in the same town...you do end up bumping into each other eventually.
Yet one day, I look forward to being able to love a new son and daughter of my childrens' choosing. The training that I had loving other peoples' children has prepared me for this role. I've learned to overlook, speak truth, expect great things, give generously, and know my place...all in preparation for them. And when I look back, I'll see that those that came in and out of our lives were to prepare us for those who were to come.
That's the way I see it, anyway.
I will also say that seeing those two young men again gave me quite a bit of closure. I see that they are both happy and healthy and have moved on with their lives in a positive way. They have significant others that are lovely and they both had the decency to give me a hug at the end of the evening.
I'm a hugger, you know. Since I never got to properly say goodbye to either of them...this was really a nice way to cap it off.
I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that I don't regret any time that I have ever invested in a young person. Our family may not ever cross their mind again, but I know that one day it will. It did with me...and it will with them. When they have their own families, or when they need to know that someone loves them unconditionally...hopefully, they will think of us.
We may never know. Which is fine.
So, go out and invest your time and as much of your heart as you can spare...reserving the best parts for the spouses of your children. That's what we are doing...guarding our hearts...and waiting.
For someday...and happily ever after.