Have you ever seen a train switch tracks?

It’s not something I’d recommend for regular entertainment. But…when you’re sitting front and center as the first car behind the blinking striped railroad crossing barrier, trapped between that and 4 minivans with a carload full of hungry angry kids…it becomes a painfully fascinating process to watch.

The train sloooooowwwwwwllllly pulls to a stop. Usually directly in front of my car. Then it goes back a little, forward a little, back some more and forward again….with a lot of long pauses in between.  As it’s doing all of this, somehow the tracks under it are sliding over and reconnecting to another set of adjacent tracks.  Eventually, after many clunks and squeals and awful zombie-like screeching noises, the train car ends up on the new rails. Then it slooooowwwwwlllly creeps forward, gradually picking up momentum until it pulls the rest of its cars onto the new track, past the waiting minivans and off into the sunset.

It’s a really really long process. There isn’t a lot of gracefulness in it, and it’s often accompanied by some pretty awful sounds of extreme effort.  At the end however, things get going in a new direction….which I guess is the whole purpose anyway.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about changes lately as I watch my life whirl and swirl around me. I know that change is necessary for growth….and that growth is necessary for life.  I know that God directs the earth’s pathways, and that change usually ends up being good.  I know I know I know I KNOW!

But you know what else I know? Change is sometimes awkward. It’s lacking in gracefulness and takes a whole lot of effort.  And honestly?  Sometimes it hurts.  Even when I can see that the end result of the new direction is going to be good….there is sometimes pain involved in getting there.

For example: sugar.  Darn refined granular bits of angel dust.  Perhaps we know we need to remove it from our diet. Logic and science tells us that our health will improve greatly if we head down the “no sugar” pathway instead of the “twinkles and frappuccino” trail.  So we make the change and….instantly feel awesome?  Yeah….NO.  Headaches and crankiness and cravings take over our every waking moment.  We learn what the word “Hangry” means and savor our mint toothpaste way longer than we should. Dinner invitations are turned down in fear of having to say “no” to splitting a dessert and we hide behind the couch in tears when the Girl Scouts knock sweetly at our door during cookie season.  But gradually, eventually, our head clears and we find ourselves in a pretty decent new state of mind.  The change of mindset isn’t easy…but the end results are a good and better place.

How about moving houses? Changing churches or schools? Starting a new sport or hobby? Even figuring out how to use that “awesome higher-tech” new computer/phone/ipad thingy you have? What about learning to live with a new person in your life?  Or learning to live without someone? Sending your baby to kindergarten? Learning to stay quiet rather than fight back?

So many changes have to happen for us to become the eventual end result that God picked for us when He created us. So many times I’ve found myself noticing the blessings on my new track, even though the switch had been pretty hard. So many times the only thing that gets me through the painful transition is knowing that God planned for something good on the other side.

My kiddo went to his first school “dance” this weekend.  He was going with a group of friends and I was excited for the fun night I knew they would have.  Then…oh then….he asked if I could pick him up at 12:15.

12:15 AM.

As I acquiesced my head was full of a thousand things.  Seriously? That’s too late! That’s nuts! I can’t wait until he can drive! I have to set an alarm! How many days until he can do this without my participation?!!?

And it hit me.  These days are numbered.  There is a change coming quickly in my future.  When this change happens…I will not have to go pick him up.  Ever.  He will drive himself and his buddies and be independent.  Totally. Independent as in: I don’t need my mom to take me or pick me up anymore.

And….Yay? Yay for no shelpping across town 3 times because there’s an extra practice? Yay for not having to drag other kids out of bed for early before school meetings? Yay for no more super late night pickups?  Yeah.  That will be kind of good.  I mean…it will be somewhat easier, and he will be learning how to manage his own time and his own life like he is supposed to be doing.

But…ouch.  No more of that one-on-one time in the car where I get to hear about his life.  No more watching him march off into school early to conquer the world and then sneaking in some special Starbucks time with the other two.  No more waiting and anticipating a story-filled ride home…maybe stopping for an ice cream as a fun late-night treat with just us.

Yay and ouch.  It’s painful, really.  For so so many years I’ve been needed in this capacity….and it’s almost over. Sure, his new mobility will be very helpful and convenient in many ways.  He will be happier and one more important step closer to becoming the independent young man God created him to be. I know this, and I’m excited for him.  But selfishly….in my “all-about-me” mind,…I don’t really know how to make the switch.

I have a vivid memory of trying to strap my preemie into a too-big car seat and sitting beside him to hold his head upright while we drove him home from the hospital the first time.  I remember teaching him to buckle and the pure joy he felt when he was finally big enough to sit in the front seat. I can replay countless life-conversations we had as I drove him to a billion different places he needed to go.  I can still hear the cacophony of him and his three best friends singing  “Who Let the Dogs Out” and “Car Wash” at the top of their lungs while I blared the CD and drove them across town.  How do I switch from that too-busy chaotic blissful mess to….standing at the front door in the too-quiet house and waving as he drives away?

I don’t know really know how to transition from the old way to the new.  I don’t understand how the rails and levers switch my tired mom-self from one track to another…but I feel them slowly moving me toward a new direction. So I will groan and moan…probably do a lot of sniffling and shed way too many tears…and eventually changeover to the way it’s got to be.

The new track? It will be good.  It’s what God intended.  I know that…..I just know I’m going to miss some things from the old ways too.  But we couldn’t stay in that stage of life forever….because it’s not life without growth and changing.

The transitions aren’t always easy or seemless. They can seem insurmountably awful…..or actually happen way more smoothly than you expected. Either way…they will happen.  We can’t stop them.  Thankfully we know that God has promised us the end results of all changes….even the most painful….will be good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   –Jeremiah 29:11

Life changes, and like it or not, we’ll be changing right along with it.  When the switches go smoothly?  Enjoy the ride.  When they aren’t so easy?  Take heart in His promise.

I will remember and be grateful that I still have a few more months before I have to let him drive away….and that he still has to learn to parallel park before that happens.  Oh…and that when it does come to pass?  I can send the chid for frozen custard.  And I will.

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