It has been a day of disarray, and each of us in our family has felt it. I felt it when I left the office early to do a few errands in a nearby larger city. It's not what I usually do on Tuesday afternoons. And when I picked up after school our fifteen-year-old son who currently resides at a Boy's Ranch, I felt it. Arriving home thirty-five minutes later I was barraged with questions about what clothes we would be wearing and, since I am the self-designated family presser of clothing, took a mound of shirts and pants to care for. I don't usually do that on Tuesday afternoons. By 5:00 PM when nearly all of us were together from various destinations, we all began to feel it. From the shrill, screeching, "No, I'm not going to wear a white shirt, and you can't make me," to "I hate this; why do we have to do this?" our late afternoon moments continued to fragment into early evening frustrations.
We changed our regular norm of life, and we are all paying. A typical evening in our home goes something like this. At three o'clock the first of the kids come flying through the door, with a muttered greeting, "What's for snack?" I'm usually home by that time, but if not Claudia handles the initial onslaught of post-educational frenzy. Snacks are distributed, the school day's stories recounted and I answer, "What's for dinner tonight?" at least eight to ten separate times. The kids settle in to finish their homework, their chore and to spend some time in electronic stimulation (email, Playstation or television). We eat promptly at 6:00, begin to clean up by 6:30 and by 7:00 find ourselves occupied with individual interests until bed time, which begins progressively at 8:45 or 9:00. By 10:00 we are all typically in bed, in various states of rest for the hours ahead.
But not tonight. Tonight, you see, it was time for our family to gather at the church for the church directory pictures. And this small change in our family's routinized life has created paroxysms of chaos.
Six years ago we did a similar thing. It was our first fall in a new pastoral appointment, and our kids were so much younger. Our youngest son was three, and our oldest son was twelve. Tonight our youngest son is nine, our oldest son is nearly nineteen, and we are missing our sixteen-year-old son completely. (He is currently "on run," which is social services jargon for "absent without leave," from his most recent residential placement).
It's funny how similar this experience is to that of six years ago. In spite of our children's age changes, the chaotic stressors related to changing the routine are as real tonight as they were then. There are similarities, but the mos glaring reality of all is that we are no longer complete as once we were. In a strange, paradoxical way, we are no longer and (yet) more complete tonight. We are missing two of the sons who were with us six years ago; they will not be in the picture this time around, and in years to come, we will always know exactly why. Ironically, they are birth brothers, though at this time in their lives, in very different places. Kyle, our second-year collegian, is pursuing a future with hope, while his birth brother, Mike, our familial renegade, is pursuing an unknown future riddled with the possibility of devastating failure. But I digress.
We are no longer and (yet) more complete tonight, because in the picture this time around there are two children standing with us who were not ours six years ago, our two sons from Guatemala, and our second-oldest son who was born in Minneapolis. So, it is a night of mixed emotions for me. Knowing that we will never again be complete in the same way we once were, and yet acknowleding that we are more complete than we have ever been is a strange realization. It is similar to what Christian theologians call "realized eschatology," the sense that in Christ all of history has been changed dramatically, but even the Christ-event has not yet been fully realized by humanity.
I yearn for the day when once again we might be fully complete as a family once again, but I am enough of a realist to know that day may never again come. The muddled ambiguity of a continuously changing family system is a painful reality. And I'm not sure what to make of it.