Five mornings per week, excluding torrential rain or icy roads, I take a long, looping walk. I could choose to vary my path, but that would mean severing ties with my habits, of which I am terribly fond.
While my walking course might not change, the nature around me does, little by little, and I find it exquisite. I worship on these walks, my heart silently bursting, thanking God for the beauty of his great outdoors, and another day to live, to breathe, to move.
Isn’t our Creator creative?
Today I spotted several things on my walk–a brilliant cardinal and his less-vivid yet lovely bride, chirping amongst the evergreens, shining lake waters sparkling beneath the sun, bare wintery branches swaying in the breeze, chunky squirrels digging up their hidden acorns, nibbling their meal between slender paws. A hawk descended from the heights, swooping in front of me, wings spread as he soared, gliding to a higher treetop.
It was freezing this morning, frigid enough to keep most morning exercisers indoors, an occurrence which will change drastically in the coming months as we round the corner toward spring. Our neighborhood is certain to brighten–floral buds glowing and dogwoods blooming, scattered amidst the emerald grass and sprouting leaves.
Life, springing forth from death.
In due time the high, wilting heat of summer will burn, and months later, when everything feels hopelessly scorched? Just then, whispers of autumn will dance by on a welcomed breeze, vivid colors erupting.
God ordains seasons in our own lives, too.
I was recently sorting through textbooks to either sell or donate, sitting cross-legged on the floor, utterly lost in bygone days, when I received a text: It’s official, Brady has retired.
I thumped a history book on top of my growing pile, and closed my eyes, allowing myself the deepest of sighs. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (and even the Buccaneers, given we once lived in Tampa) are part of our family’s story. To hear that he is officially done gives voice to the end of an era, a finality to something foundational, now etched in the halls of history.
While Brady is hanging up his cleats, I am donating my books–a solemn farewell to my Magnum Opus–twenty-six years as a stay-at-home-mom and home educator.
Seasonal changes? Yes, please.
Life changes? Not so much.
My grief and joy are racing neck and neck. There are so many endings and beginnings happening at once, fireworks blasting simultaneously.
It feels loud.
My heart as a mother is lamenting that Jon and I will soon be empty-nesters, while harboring a simultaneous joy that our children are abiding in Christ. These four treasures have now become our best friends.
Is it possible to hold two powerful and conflicting emotions at once? I think so. Especially when one delightful season is drawing to a close, and a new season, perfectly unfamiliar, is knocking.
Every family has their language, and ours is football.
My husband was once a high school and college quarterback. As soon as our toddler-aged children could run, Jon spent evenings in our humble apartment teaching them to catch a soft, toy football. They squealed in delight, jumping up and down as they watched him pluck it from the toy basket, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized not every one-and-a-half-year-old is able to go deep and actually catch the pass.
Jon made it irresistibly fun, part of the nightly routine before their bath time, and I remember a warm joy enveloping me, while watching them play. By the time our daughter was a first grader, the cutest little pig-tailed girl in town, she grasped the fundamentals of the sport. How could she not?
I recall Jon stepping through our back door late one Sunday afternoon, and Lauren racing to greet him with: Daddy, guess what? He coughed up the ball! quickly bringing the proudest of fathers up to speed on the game we were watching in the living room.
We have lived in several different states, but regardless of zip code, the New England Patriots have remained my team. As my husband played catch with our brood, I felt it my high duty as their mother to teach Patriot roster names and pronunciations to my little ones: Tom Brady, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Coach Belichick. Can you say that?
By golly, they could.
My husband rolled his eyes, never a New England fan, (sheer stubbornness, I tell you) this man whose proclivity is to follow favorite quarterbacks into retirement–Marino, Elway, Manning, and hang on, now Tom Brady–rather than remaining tethered to a team, which is how I roll. It’s been a lively adventure.
Football is a fantastic sport, a game for the ages. While play-calling and defensive scheming is amazingly complex, there is also so much heart, so much beauty in simple teamwork and dedication. Football is teeming with life lessons.
Love them or not, it is difficult to argue against The Patriot Way. Coach Belichick is unshakably focused, consistent, and strict in his preparations. Do Your Job and Ignore the Noise are not sweet platitudes, but foundational practices in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriot’s culture revolves around building a unified team and executing the duties of one’s assigned position. The coach is the boss. Zero exceptions.
Jon’s living room practice sessions eventually progressed to flag football for our boys, followed by tackle football. Soon, our Friday nights became the playground for some of our favorite family memories. Caleb played tight end, perfecting his bulletproof stiff-arm, catching countless passes from Jacob, who threw staggering spirals, launching arcs of perfection. While fans found it quite remarkable, I had been watching this system unfold for some time, beginning in our tiny living room. It felt as natural as breathing, this powerful brotherly chemistry. With merely a look they were in sync. The end result? Touchdowns, and plenty of them. My husband assisted the head coach, Marcus served as water boy, and Lauren, so small, jumped up and down on the sidelines, proud of the accomplishments of her three big brothers.
Tom Brady and Coach Belichick became some of my favorite examples to place before our children in all types of situations. I taught our four to be on time, practice hard, ignore the noise (of poor, ungodly advice), while owning up to both their responsibilities and mistakes.
Brady clearly had natural talent, but he became the best because of his discipline, strong work ethic, and commitment. He also respected his coach, who emphasized team unity, and strict adherence to team protocol. It worked. The culture became known as The Patriot Way and the results remain exceptional.
In addition to The Patriot Way, I have discovered that on occasion the golden path to learning is swept clean by observing a sideshow entitled What Not To Do. Our family viewed it one year. I should have brought the popcorn.
Our sons were in the thick of tackle football. Their head coach was a strict and screaming man. He certainly had a keen knowledge of football, and although I cringed at his volume, I appreciated his adherence to structure.
One day, a rebellious athlete, whom I shall call Billy, had had enough adherence to structure, and openly defied the coach.
To be clear, the rules were few, reasonable, and easy to follow unless one was bent on doing otherwise.
Billy was bent, all right. He broke the rule once and was warned. He broke the rule again–a grave infraction. The third time, Coach called him out, told him to hand over his jersey, and informed the entire team that Billy was dismissed. No longer a part of the team. Coach threw the jersey into the middle of the field and barked at the players to circle around.
This is what happens when you defy the coach and hurt your team.
A moment of silence.
Billy was furious, but I was thrilled–a mother working judiciously to infuse my sons with character. This whole saga was undeniably in step with The Patriot Way. Every single player had now witnessed the undesirable consequences of blatant disobedience. A life lesson they would certainly carry into their future.
Billy stomped home and whined to his mother, who phoned Coach that evening, and unloaded her fury.
Here we go, I thought.
Our sons came home the next day, telling me that Billy was suddenly back on the team, but would be missing three games.
The next day? He was now only missing one game.
And then Friday night rolled around. Game time.
Other parents were surprised when Billy showed up. Everyone was buzzing, while too scared to ask Coach what was going on.
I knew exactly what was going on. Coach was wilting, and quickly. Billy’s Mom had won, wearing him down, hands on her hips, tearing down not only the coach and the fabric of the team, but also her own son. Troubled Billy desperately required appropriate consequences for his flagrant defiance.
When all was said and done? Billy missed one quarter of game time.
It was an abysmal loss, even though we won the game.
I did not have to speak a word regarding the contrast between The Patriot Way and this weak-kneed culture. Our boys shook their heads, discussing it for days.
That particular season was flush with learning.
The years rolled by, as they always do, and our sons graduated from high school. One by one, they packed their bags for college.
I grieved deeply, each and every time. It was that tender knowing that life would never be the same again.
And now our youngest, our only daughter, will be moving to college in a mere six months. The final baby leaving the nest, which brings me back to the news of Brady’s retirement.
I sat there with my stack of memories and books, just thinking.
I long to live this next season well. I am forty-nine, a grandmother, and nearly an empty-nester.
It was then that I remembered watching another episode of What Not To Do.
My grandmother, who died many years ago, complained non-stop, through each and every season of life. I recall her telling me, as I slipped out the door one Friday night, seventeen-years-old and looking forward to a dinner with friends: Enjoy it. These are the best years of your life. It’s all downhill from here.
She repeated this narrative for my benefit when I left for college, when I got married, and when I became a mother.
It took me some time to see the pattern, but the memory of her discontentment, her lack of embracing life’s chapters with joy, marked me.
Misery loves company, and I will certainly pass on that gathering.
As I continued to stack books, I asked God to help me both process and glorify him through life’s changes with joy in my heart. To be honest in lament while walking in both obedience and thanksgiving.
The Holy Spirit immediately brought two Scripture passages to mind:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (Psalm 145:1-3)
And there it is. My help. God ordains each season of life, and I am to bless him forever, while commending his works to my children, grandchildren, and one-day if God sees fit, great-grandchildren.
The game of football will continue, though it will never be quite the same, given Tom Brady’s retirement. And yet, there are new seasons around the bend, and it is fun to consider what they might hold. We shall see.
As it goes, this soon-to-be-empty-nest season just might be a sparkling new adventure. In fact, my husband has recently informed me that he will be treating us to home-game season football tickets at a nearby university, the town where our sons dwell and where our daughter will soon be. They may join us for any game, if they wish, dinner to follow.
Who knew? This husband of mine is full of surprises.
In the words of Tom Brady?
A new season awaits.