Saying Bye to Jess

It’s 5:42 am and I’ve already been awake for three hours trying to keep a lid on the welling sadness billowing about my heart and memories. In a couple of days Nance and I are driving our son Jesse to Victoria. Both he and his girlfriend, Lauren, are going to the U of Vic  this fall – Jesse in music and computers, and Lauren is going into  Law (good call Jess!)

Jesse and Lauren at Winnipeg Folk Festival
Jesse and Lauren at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Somehow I know these kids won’t be back. Their vocations will likely take them to other places. And so this season, like so many other blessed seasons, is over. And, oh my, we will miss them both. Jess hasn’t lived at home for over a year but he still pokes around, keeping our aging souls supple with new music, humour and kooky cultural info. Lauren is light-filled, fun loving and thoughtful. They’ve been together since grade 9 and it’s hard now to think of the one without the other.

Our children are like balloons placed in our souls that over the years get blown up to create sacred space. When they leave, the spaces don’t simply close up again, they remain cavernously open and empty but for the lonely trinkets left behind.  Hyperbole? I don’t think so. Do you remember Jesse the three year old who sang Beatles songs at the top of his lungs? I do. And I’ll never see that kid again.  Or the eight year old who climbed the huge oak in our yard and sat

Jesse teaching his nephew Luca to rock.
Jesse teaching his nephew Luca to rock.

quietly for hours whittling a cross which he gave to me upon descent? What about Jesse the 12 year old fearlessly joining his dear ‘ol Dad on stage to play guitar in front of a thousand folks?  I asked him afterward, “Weren’t you afraid?”   He replied, “I’m only a kid, what do they expect?”  I miss that kid too.    Then there’s the young teenager shyly bringing home girlfriends; who drove us crazy practicing drums for hours… well, years in the basement. I miss the Jesse who became an accomplished volleyball player taking us to national competitions where he kept pace with some of the best players in the country.

As of late Jesse has become a gifted recording engineer.  You might know his work. He engineered much of my “Dinner with Bruce” album, as well as significant contributions to  Symphony Sessions and Solace. He also worked extensively on Diana Pop’s album and almost single-handedly on Rei Hotoda’s 2008 release Apparitions.  And you may have heard Jess sing the lead vocal on 59th Street Bridge Song off my Sons and Daughters album.

This summer, Jess took a job working with a house painting company to make some quick bucks for school. It’s rained all summer so he didn’t make much.  I used to paint for a living when I was his age. So I thought it was kind of cool he was doing this as well. Yesterday he stopped by Judy Ford’s house where I’ve been helping her paint her house. Jess took a quick look at my tools and techniques and quickly advised me of a few innovations since “back in the day.” His advice will save me many hours of work. So now my son is teaching me.  As it should be.

Here’s the question. What do I give him to take into his life? I really don’t have much. I’ve never made a lot of money. Most of the assets I’ve built  up (eg: songs) are not transferable.  I’m not sure what advice I can give that makes sense in a world now changing at breakneck speed.

But since the wee hour of this morning, an old song has been rolling around in my head. I had almost forgotten about it.  I wrote and sang it to Nanci about our kids when our family was very young. In it I wrote, “…and as I ponder what we’ll pass along.  The only family fortune is our God.”

And that’s all I’ve got Jess. It doesn’t seem like much, I suppose, but it’s everything really:

May the God who has gone with me, go with you.

Remember to call your Mama, eat your vegetables, and thanks for the big hole you’ve left behind. I actually mean that. Thank you son.

click song title  below to LISTEN

WHAT A LONGING | STEVE BELL

Many times a day I think of you
And how our family’s grown in just these last few years
What a feeling
And I marvel looking at you
You’re a mama
I’m a papa

And as I ponder what we’ll pass along
The only family fortune is our God
What a longing
To see our children behold Him
Like their mama
Like their papa

For some reason now I’m caused to think of Him
Jesus weeping for Jerusalem
What a longing
To gather under His wings
Like a mama
Like a papa

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Song: What a Longing | Album: Deep Calls to Deep 1993 |

To View, listen to tracks or purchase, click HERE

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28 thoughts on “Saying Bye to Jess

  1. Hi Steve, I’m a longtime admirer of your music (I enjoyed your show in Nanaimo last year and am hoping to make it to one of your BC dates this year) and have really appreciated reading your thoughts on this blog. I have nothing profound to say other than thank you for this piece. A really beautiful reflection.

  2. Steve,

    You ask “What do I give him to take into his life?”. I think you have given him many tools and gifts…I have met you a handful of times throughout my life, first at Simon House Bible camp for a teen retreat ( your daughter Sara was there as a young girl), then at the Lekteman Theatre in Thompson, plus many times as a Barista at Starbucks. Each one of those meetings you always were kind and eager to share yourself with all and individually. I can only imagine that you have shared and given him so many things…the most important being sharing your love of GOD.

    Tavia

  3. Hi Steve
    This message brings my heart to reflect and soften. In order to stay home close with my children I babysit for 2 families. This summer has been challenging but I say this in admiration knowing in my teaching (and preaching) I’m showing God’s heart to them as you showed to your son, Jesse and your other children.
    PS… it’s me and my husband, Bill that is hosting your concert in Creston, BC on Oct 23rd…cannot wait :-}

  4. Hey Steve,

    I’ve never had children, as you know, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have that privilege. Still, I keenly felt every word of this entry. Thanks for sharing.

    JJ

  5. Great words, Steve. But–our experience tells us that they do come back, and sometimes to stay longer than you thought and at times not so convenient. Yet, there is always room in the house and the heart. Enjoy this time.

  6. Oh Steve! You’re out there on the ladder while I’m reading this and you’re makin’ me cry. What a beautiful expression of children and of your life with Jesse! And yes, God and your walk with him all these years is the best legacy along with your great love for Jess that you can send him off with.

  7. I love this song. I love this album too.

    You and Nanci have raised a man of quality and substance. I don’t think there is any greater thing parents can pass on to their children than the ideals of love and justice and the ability to think for themselves. I know I’ve seen all of that in Jesse. I also know I’m not the only one.

  8. As chapter builds upon chapter, our lives reflect the good things God has given us. Your blog today makes me grieve, not as one who has no hope, but as one who has in years gone by grieved the loss of the easy familiarity of our children before they forged their own paths. I love that you said “thanks” for the big hole Jesse leaves. Because that is a huge tribute to the son you and Nancy love and will continue to love! May his education bring him great blessings and joy – and I look forward to what God has in store for him. With warm affection to my favourite singer/songwriter!
    Kathy

  9. Well, I don’t know how you and Nancy have been able to manage all the leaving home that’s been going on lately.

    I’ve been kinda shocked, kinda sad, kinda proud and mostly scared since I caught Serena in the act of choosing a university far away. She doesn’t even need to go for 3 more years and I have a feeling of not knowing what to do.

    Great idea to offer them a ride to the coast though! I may steal that from you when the time comes. Sympathy and congratulations from our family to yours.

    Twyla and Vince

  10. I really appreciated what you wrote. I am struggling with the thought of my little 6 year old triplets being at school all day ! I will miss my “mummy afternoons” with them when they were all mine!!! I love the moments we spend together, and I am having a hard time letting them go!! I’m sure that I will be crying on that first day!!!

  11. Do you ever wonder how we look to God who can see all time as if it is now? So he can see us simultaneously at every age we’ve grown through and left behind … as well as our future…

    I sometimes try to picture my famlly and friends like that. Infant, child, adolescent, young and old adult — all at once.

    Lovely and poingnant article reflecting on some of your son’s special moments.

    Thanks
    Grant

  12. Steve…..just wanted to say what a beautiful note you have written to Jesse. He is a wonderful young man and Lauren is an amazing young lady. They will both do well in their lives especially together.

    When I read this poem it makes me think back on my own life with my kids who are also grown. I too have this wonderful hole and have sent them off with my God. I wish you and Nancy the best. You have taught Jesse well and I know he will remember to call.

    Linda Opalko

  13. Hi Steve,

    Like you, I too ‘lost’ a son to U of Vic some years ago. I also knew then that this was only the beginning of the next chapter in his book of life, which has since taken him to South Korea for the past 5 years.

    The ’empty space’ you speak of is also familiar to me, and like you, I have many ‘trinket’s to remind me of his presence, along with so many wonderful memories of his growing years. How quickly those little boys become men!

    Mark is now 30 and each day I thank the Lord for his gift to me of three baby boys, who have grown into fine young men, Mark being the middle son.

    Life wasn’t always easy for us as a single parent family, but through your ministry of music, you helped me to carry on during some of those more difficult days. Knowing that our God, who can do more than we can ask or imagine, and who brings us words of encouragement through music and the written word, has been my strength and my stronghold. Therefore thank you for being an instrument of peace, comfort and encuragement through your music ministry.

    May the Lord continue to bless you in your ministry and family; may He fill your ’empty space’ with more thoughts of Him, His Grace and words of inspiration and praise, that we might all share in some day when you put them to music.

    Blessings,

    Lynda

  14. Steve, I can totally relate. My oldest moved out of province over a year ago and the void is definitely still there. She texts us daily, but even so when she is having problems you can’t just pop over to fix them.
    They do a lot of growing up quite quickly and that’s a good thing. It just really sucks that you can’t be there first hand to see it.

  15. Steve, my 19 year old has been in Saskatoon since May of this year after living in his own apartment in our block since last August. (Always seemed to make it over for meals, though!)
    As well as our God whom you have so well shared with your family (me not so well), they take our love and we have shared that well enough Now, I know Gus may be back here to live. He actually came for a one week visit, borrowed my car and spent the week at a friend’s house granting his mother one evening and a dinner out (i paid)! But to see the adult he is becoming is awesome and rewarding! You have so much to be proud of you and Nanci. Good on you guys!

  16. Steve–I think the way you have expressed your feelings about your son going off to college is amazing-I too had the same situation a # of years back when my eldest, Daina, headed off to T..O,. for school – for such a long tiem I was sure I heard her call from downstaris and the house seemed so very quiet. We had our second daughter living about 45 mintues away but she wasn’t as devoted to keeping in touch, so all in all it was a very hard time for me. The emtpy nest struck me hard – but like you said, all we can give our children/young adults is our hope and encouragement and God most of all.

    It will get easier. I honestly know that.

    New beginnings, for you and for your son, Jesse. God Bless

  17. thanks, Steve. I really like the way you write – like you talk – good stories and stuff we can relate too.
    We have just had our youngest graduate from high school and she is going to live in the city (Regina) with her older sister, who is in her 3rd year of university, and work for her living until she figures out what to do next. Even though they are both close by (we are in Moose Jaw) they are branching out on their own and our home will just be my husband and I and so it is another new chapter.
    It is a bit hard to let go but very comforting to know that God goes with them as they move into their futures without us – at least with us moved onto the periphery!. They will be fine! (And so will we).

  18. Hi Steve & Nanci,
    My heart goes out to you two for your ” temporary yet timely loss “. My daughter Holly went to Victoria in the early ’90’s for a visit. She had put a year of university behind her in Wpg. and now said what a beautiful place Victoria is and wanted to work and school there.I tried to look at it in a positive way as a way for her to expand her horizons and for me to visit her often in that most beautiful part of our country. She spent the last 13 yrs. there and now is living and working back in Wpg.as a youth councillor at the M.A.T.C It was a tough separation but she did want to come home. I hope Jesse and Lauren feel the warmth of your love and the home fires in the not too distant future. Your long time friend , Rick

  19. Hi, awesome information! Some I did not know about; very interesting and very glad to see that you are coming back to Saskatoon. Thanks for your ministry Steve. I love your music and guitar sounds.

  20. I thought of the following poem by Karen Kingsbury when I read your blog. It is a good reminder for us to enjoy every moment with our families.

    “Long ago you came to me, a miracle of firsts,
    First smiles and teeth and baby steps, a sunbeam on the burst.
    But one day you will move away and leave to me your past
    And I will be left thinking of a lifetime of your lasts…

    The last time that I held a bottle to your baby lips
    The last time that I lifted you and held you on my hip.
    The last night when you woke up crying, needing to be walked,
    When last you crawled up with your blanket, wanting to be rocked.

    The last time when you ran to me,s till small enough to hold.
    The last time that you said you’d marry me when you grew old.
    Precious, simple moments and bright flashes from your past
    Would I have held on longer if I’d known they were your last?

    Our last adventure to the park, your final midday nap,
    The last time when you wore your favorite faded baseball cap.
    Your last few hours of kindergarten, those last few days of first grade,
    Your last at bat in Little League, last colored picture made.

    I never said good-bye to all your yesterdays long passed.
    So what about tomorrow-will I recognize your lasts?
    The last time that you catch a frog in that old backyard pond.
    The last time that you run barefoot across our fresh-cut lawn.

    Silly, scattered images will represent your past.
    I keep on taking pictures, never quite sure of your lasts…
    The last time that I comb your hair or stop a pillow fight.
    The last time that I pray with you and tuck you in at night.

    The last time when we cuddle with a book, just me and you
    The last time you jump in our bed and sleep between us two.
    The last piano lesson, last vacation to the lake.
    Your last few weeks of middle school, last soccer goal you make.

    I look ahead and dream of days that haven’t come to pass.
    But as I do, I sometimes miss today’s sweet, precious lasts…
    The last time that I help you with a math or spelling test.
    The last time when I shout that yes, your room is still a mess.

    The last time that you need me for a ride from here to there.
    The last time that you spend the night with your old tattered bear.
    My life keeps moving faster, stealing precious days that pass,
    I want to hold on longer-want to recognize your lasts…

    The last time that you need my help with details of a dance.
    The last time that you ask me for advice about romance.
    The last time that you talk to me about your hopes and dreams.
    The last time that you wear a jersey for your high school team.

    I’ve watched you grow and barely noticed seasons as they pass.
    If I could freeze the hands of time,I’d hold on to your lasts.
    For come some bright fall morning, you’ll be going far away.
    College life will beckon in a brilliant sort of way.

    One last hug, one last good-bye, one quick and hurried kiss.
    One last time to understand just how much you’ll be missed.
    I’ll watch you leave and think how fast our time together passed.
    Let me hold on longer, God, to every precious last.”

  21. “What do I give him to take into his life?” …..
    …Hmmm….From the day he was born you and yor wife have been there….to teach…to set an example….He has watched…..He has learned. He is his own person. Let him now step out of “the nest”…. Don’t be afraid for him, but TRUST that you have taught him well….and now watch him SOAR!

  22. Dear Steve and Nanci–today at 78 years of age I reacted happily when my grandson Andrew came over for lunch. I had not seen him for awhile and after he left I found myself singing “you light up my life” just think of the many memories you will have as your sons and daughters come to visit! God Bless you and Nanci luv Mom .

  23. hi steve,
    greetings in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth! a great friend let me borrow his car …and created a divine appointment. your introduction cd was in the player and i listened to it. I didnt know before I had heard your music before … the song with the lyrics, “rough as they are ” plays on Shine FM here often. when you spoke about your “fingers being prepared for battle and acts of righteousness ” and “when you sing and play battles will be fought and won that you know nothing about” and “Iits none of your business to know what was accomplished, but its just your responsibility to sing and play.” That rocked my world…we can be so performance wired that it can be so difficult to realize God may often ask us to simply do something that can’t be “measured” the way seem to measure success like earns “x” dollars or earn a degree. God may just ask us to “sing and play” and allow Him to do the “accomplishing” part . Very powerful stuff, very freeing, thank you for sharing your heart and impacting my life. Sincerely,Brandon

  24. Steve, this past Monday, I stood at our local high school and watched my beautiful, graceful daughter walk a red carpet in a formal, black strapless prom gown as she and her friends prepared to spend their last moments as high school students eating and laughing and dancing together. As they all got ready to leave, after hugs and kisses and checks to make sure she had everything that she would need, I hung on the sidelines and tried not to fall into a crumpled mass of maternal tears.

    She’s not even moving out of my home, but still. There is a rip, a separation, an emptiness. My baby Grace, no longer a baby, but a lovely young woman. I could not be more proud, and young lady Grace is a joy to know and love, but it’s true, baby Grace, little girl Grace is gone. I miss her.

    All of her life, I have prayed for these times, for her growth and maturity, and God has answered. As with many of God’s answers, joy mingles with loss. So, in the privacy of my car I cried all the way home and resolve to continue treasuring each day with her.

    Thank you for sharing your heart. It spoke to mine.

  25. Such a beautiful song. I was wondering if you ever added another verse to your songs after another stage of life has passed and you enter into a new one?
    What made me wonder that is, my heart immediately wanted to hear you sing of Jesus longing to return for us “like a mama, like a papa”. No one says your songs can’t grow with you, right?
    Thanks for sharing your gift. It has been a huge encouragement in my life.

  26. You’ve named, it, Steve, that big empty place. Thanks for words expressing what I’m feeling pretty strongly myself these days. And don’t worry about what to give. You’ve given it all along. Love, self, stability of character, great and small memories, many other things not tangible but huge in his (their) heart nevertheless. And you’ll keep on giving these things, though, yes, differently. This parenting thing is not for sissies, is it?

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