Lessons from a field of flags

Over the weekend my mom and I took my children to a local cultural center which had rows of American flags on display outside.  It was a beautiful evening and hardly anyone else was around.  And so my children did what children love to do in open spaces, they ran around.  They had a grand time running through the rows and rows of flags.  They played hide and seek.  In the midst of their fun and chasing after them, I found myself learning lessons.

When I’m out with my children, I like to be able to have my eyes on them pretty much all the time.  You might say it’s a control issue, but mostly it’s a mom instinct that has me wanting to watch them like a hawk and keep them safe.  I don’t necessarily think kidnappers are lurking at every corner.  But I know they’re out there.  I also want to be aware if they get hurt.  I have tripped and hurt myself in so many places and in so many ways that I sometimes project that onto my children — both justly and unjustly so.  Somehow I think that if I can see them nothing bad will happen to them.  I’m pretty sure I’ll get over that a bit as they get older, though I make no promises.

A local journalism student, Samantha Blankenship, happened to be visiting the display when we were and caught my son and I walking through the flags. You can find more of her work at http://sablank2.tumblr.com/

As they were running through the flags, however, there were times I couldn’t see them.  At 19 months, my son couldn’t be trusted to not wander out of the flag area and into the road or parking lot or over the edge of the garden wall down onto the walking path below.  My mom and I made sure that one of us was with him and often holding onto his hand at all times.  My daughter, at almost 5, was more advantageous and more trustworthy.  I knew if I told her not to climb on the stone wall or leave the area then she wouldn’t.  I still wanted to keep an eye on her, though.

A few times she was completely out of my sight thanks to the flags whipping through the breeze.  In such a large space, she could also get out of the range of my hearing.  I had a few moments when my mom and I were together with my son and I couldn’t get eyes or ears on my daughter in any way.  Though she faced no real danger, my heart still skipped a beat and my stomach knotted.  Within 30 seconds, I’d spot or hear her again.

She was having a grand time.  I knew the issue was mine alone and she needed no admonishment.  I began reflecting a bit then and continued to later on when I wasn’t chasing children about.  I realized a few things.  First, it was a lesson in trust.  I like to think that if I can see my children at all times I can keep them safe.  That’s 100 percent false.  I don’t have that kind of power.  Yes, I can do everything I can to keep them safe, but at the end of the day my best efforts are only that — efforts.  There are no guarantees.  I felt God reminding me gently the importance of entrusting my children to Him, the only One who can actually protect them.  I am blessed and immensely grateful that I’ve only had one other time when I had to completely trust Him with my child’s safety when my son was born not breathing.  However, I know that in many ways every single day He is protecting them in ways I cannot see or fathom and I’m thankful for that.  I’m beyond thankful for that.  I need to always remember that.  He is in control.  Any sense of control I think I have is really nothing.  There is not much I can truly control.  When my daughter disappeared a few times on me, I had to trust that He was watching out for her as well.  When she is out of my sight at preschool or children’s church or with her grandparents, I have to trust in others taking care of her and in God watching over her.  While I think I am learning to let go in little ways many times over, I’m really just slowly learning how little control I truly have anyway.

The other thing I’ve been pondering is the symbol of the American flag itself.  The timing coinciding with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks was no coincidence.  My son was clueless as the flags that were flapping around him and what they stood for.  He just liked to watch them moving in the breeze and feel them gently caressing his skin as he ran by.  My daughter has a small understanding of the flag.  She knows it represents her country and she can recite the pledge of allegiance, but she doesn’t know much more than that just yet.  She doesn’t know, as my mother did walking through those same rows of flags with us, what it is like to send a new husband to war in a jungle on the other side of the globe and pray every minute for his protection after he was drafted to represent that flag.  She doesn’t know what happened 13 years ago in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., when our feelings of safety and power came grinding to a halt.  She wasn’t born.  She won’t remember that firsthand.

I am thankful for my country.  I am thankful for all the sacrifices those flags represent.  I am thankful that while God is ultimately the protector of my children and me that there are also men and women who have and continue to sacrifice so very much to protect us as well so that my children can run carefree through a grassy field of flags and not have to worry about being attacked or stepping on a landmine.  I am thankful that my mom and I can take them on our own and enjoy them without having to have a male escort or be weighted down with clothes we must cover ourselves from head to toe with.

I must say I didn’t expect a field of flags to have that many lessons for me.  I expected that we’d go and have a good time and let the kids play.  Who knew what insight awaited me?  All I can do is give thanks to my God and to my country. I am blessed.

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