What’s Next?

Smith College MomThis morning, we get in the car and travel to a small town in Massachusetts, which will be over-filled with parents and other relatives gathering to participate in graduation ceremonies at four colleges. Our daughter will graduate from Smith on Sunday morning, and in the ongoing competition for who had the best speaker. Mine years ago was Garry Trudeau at the height of Doonesbury fame; #1 Son had then-Senator Obama in 2008, with Secret Service agents on the rooftops surrounding the ceremony. We all think LP wins with Oprah.

Passionate about her major, Japanese, LP will leave in July to be an Assistant Language Teacher in the JET program for a year. Or two. Or five. Although we still have one child at home, we’re clear that this is a new phase in our family life. All three of the older children are far away, and they are game pieces in motion, one of our sons swapping the East Coast of the US for the West, and the other preparing for the reverse. I keep changing the cities in my Weather app. Maybe it’s a little silly to get alerts about pollen in Los Angeles when I’m sitting at my dining room table in South Central Pennsylvania, but it reminds me that wherever we are, we all live under the same sky. And what do I expect after urging them to pursue the things they love?

A friend who served as a missionary in South Africa once told me that her aim there was to put herself out of a job, to empower the women she worked with to support themselves with the sewing and crafting her ministry helped enable. That feels like the work I’ve been doing as a parent, slowly getting out of the way, trusting that these children – no, these adults – can make their way in the world, as reasonably good members of the human community. It’s both a help and a challenge to have an understanding of call. My children watched me wrestle with my call to ministry, accompanied me through my theological education, gathered at my Commencement 15 years ago this week. Their feelings probably resembled mine now, some mixture of relief and pride and “what’s next?”

What’s next is this: Go out there and be the person God made you to be.

It’s a good word for a big day; it’s a good word for every day.


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader, May 18, 2017.

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Go and come back

This morning my daughter took off on a plane headed to Japan for her Junior Year Abroad. She has been dreaming of this since she was the pseudonymous first Little/then Light Princess on my old blog. She started watching a Japanese cartoon with her brother and when the dubbed episodes ran out, she found the later seasons online with English subtitles. She came to love the language and began to dream of going to Japan.

Each of my children had some dream at a fairly early age. #1 Son started acting at 7 and never looked back. #2 Son followed in his brother’s footsteps but when the choice came in 8th grade between a leading role and an orchestra concert, he chose his clarinet and his path.

LP often lamented that she was not as directed as her brothers, not so clearly called to … something. She loves Japanese language and culture, but to what end?

It may not be possible to know until she spends the school year there.

LP, left, with other 5 College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.
LP, left, with other Five College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.

LP had her first opportunity to go to Japan last summer, for the ten day Kakehashi Program. Never one to take things for granted, she continued to work hard for this chance to study abroad. The Associated Kyoto Program is competitive. Her Dean’s List grades at Smith College, her straight As in Japanese, her (in my opinion) beautifully written essays about why she wanted to go to Japan: all these combined to make her an exceptional candidate for the program. We knew it meant everything to her and listened as she worried while waiting for the results of her application last winter, assuring her that, as kathrynzj put it, “If you don’t get in, there’s something wrong with the program, not you.”

AKP students attend class at Doshisha University in Kyoto. They live with host families, and LP received a very dear card from hers, which includes a father, a mother, a daughter her age, and a younger son. AKP classes include a language intensive and courses in Japanese history and culture, which are specifically for American students. We’re all especially happy that she got her hoped-for elective, a seminar that includes both American and Japanese students.

I am so proud of my LP, who combines wry humor and gentle manners with articulate feminism and deep faith as if those were the most natural combination in the world. The little girl who always knew what was going on socially in the classroom but never remembered her homework is now a woman and a scholar, and I am delighted to witness her launch.

The Japanese have many different ways of saying goodbye, each appropriate to different occasions or levels of formality.  Before she left, LP wrote her farewell in kanji, on our kitchen blackboard. This is the goodbye you would use in Japan if you are heading out to school or work. It translates as “I am going, but I will come back.” Eight months will go by quickly in some ways, although believe me, I write this with tears in my eyes. Eight months for her will be full of new experiences, friends and learnings. When we parted last week as she went off for a week with her dad, I wrapped her in a hug, held my hand on the back of her head and prayed for her safety and for a wonderful year.

But the correct response to her farewell, in Japanese, is nothing so emotional or lofty.

The correct response, in Japanese, is just as matter-of-fact. So today, my dear LP, I say, “行ってらっしゃい” – “Go and come back.”

On our kitchen blackboard,
On our kitchen blackboard, “Itte kimasu” – “I am going, but I will come back.”