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Living the Letting Go’s

People keep telling my wife and I we’re “empty-nesters.” Last month our fourth and final child was married. Alayna and Martin rent a little house about a half-hour drive south of us. Despite being a bit of a scatterbrain, Alayna’s managed to pay her own way through college, hold down two jobs, and start her own business. She still has to learn how to cook. And she’s still scatterbrained. But she’s making headway. We have lots of great memories with her. But it was time to let her go.

It made me think back to the beginning…

* * *

Melody was our first, and Lisa and I were just giddy. But the joy of Melody’s arrival was quickly tempered. I still remember the day we sat in the doctor’s office and were told something was wrong with our daughter. Wrong? Only a week old and something was wrong? Didn’t they know she was God’s gift to us? Perhaps, but the baby wasn’t growing; she was losing weight way too fast. They would have to admit her to the hospital and start running tests. Lisa and I sat together, holding hands, crying, as the nurses whisked our first child into the sterile, pitiless halls of medicine.

Welcome to parenthood.

So they put Melody in isolation — she was such a little thing — and took a spinal tap to test for meningitis. We stood helplessly outside the glass watching her wail. Next, they shaved her head — two rectangular patches around her temples where they inserted an IV. At that age, the easiest place to find a vein is the scalp. Surrounded by all the gadgets, they tucked her in an incubator. . . so far away from her mother’s breast.

Eventually, we were allowed to visit. Gown. Cap. Gloves. Booties. Mask. We waddled into the isolation room looking like something out of The Andromeda Strain. Lisa and I stood on opposite sides, reaching into the incubator, to caress someone we’d barely met. Melody slept fitfully, unaware of her anxious parents. We prayed, and cried, and prayed some more. And in the end, there was only one thing we could do: Trust Him and let go. . .

* * *

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. So true and so awfully hard to concede.

After high school, Melody came out of a very hard time in her life. Are the teenage years anything but hard? She was 19 or 20 and went with a mission team from our church to Thailand. It was a HUGE step of faith for her, but God provided and protected, as He did way back when. She took with her a stack of letters from friends and relatives, which she would open only after takeoff. I wrote her a short letter and reminded her of that story — of how she was poised on the edge of eternity and we stood there powerless, with only one option: we must let her go and trust God. And as she flew across the ocean, it felt just like another letting go. . .

* * *

I have a plaque over my desk with this verse inscribed: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Eccl. 11:1 NIV). It came to me in a dream one night, forced its way into my psyche challenging  dismissal. I was at the forefront of a writing career, anxious and stressed out. I’d not published anything of significance and was pretty sure I never would. I was wrapping up my first novel. Insecure and unagented. But there I was again, needing to let go.

I’m not sure what your “bread” is, but the “casting” part is inescapable. Whether it’s children, education, a career, an aspiration, life is about “casting bread,” a series of “letting go’s”. We toil over that story and the dreaded query, hit the Send button… and let it go. We invest in that house and fill it with love and memories… and then we let it go. We watch a loved one wheeled into the operating room. . . and we let them go. We pack our baby’s lunch, straighten their collar, drop them at the kindergarten doorstep for the first day of school. . . and let them go. We stand and applaud as they mount the stage for that diploma. . . and we let them go. We watch as they are pronounced husband or wife, and aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. . . because they are leaving. It’s all so bittersweet.

We want to possess, to cradle, to control. But do we ever advance without letting go?

* * *

The doctors didn’t find anything wrong with Melody. Nope. No meningitis, no exotic virus. They poked and probed and scratched their heads. She just wasn’t eating right, hadn’t learned to “latch on,” as Lisa called it. But, believe me, she figured it out. Now Melody has two children of her own; the first is even preparing for kindergarten! Chris and Krystal are teachers and wannabe jet-setters. Jon and Trish are already planning their second child. I’m published and agented. And Lisa and I are empty-nesters.

We’ve all come so far, but I can’t help thinking about all the letting go’s in between. . .

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Susan July 2, 2012, 6:19 AM

    Indeed. Our last chick left the nest in 2009. It was devastating for awhile.

  • Jonnia Smith July 2, 2012, 7:00 AM

    Even knowing this, even with my own long list of things cast on the waters throughout my life, it still isn’t an easy thing to do. Beautifully written.

  • Melissa Marsh July 2, 2012, 7:49 AM

    Beautiful. My daughter turned 12 this year and when I look at her, I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. There are so many times when I drop her off at school and wish I could follow her around, protect her. But you’re right – even in daily life, we have to “let go and let God.”

  • Katherine Coble July 2, 2012, 8:12 AM

    I had to let go of my children before they were ever born. Hard, but it was what God asked. I’ve let go of other things along the way as well. God’s grace is made perfect in weakness.

  • Aubrey Hansen July 2, 2012, 9:29 AM

    This was a very encouraging and edifying thing to read on Monday morning. 🙂 May God bless your week!

  • Sherry Thompson July 2, 2012, 9:50 AM

    I’ve let go of even anticipating many life experiences over the decades. Recently I’ve had to let go of a 10 year relationship with a group of local writers. Writing aspirations I’ve held on to since as early as 1979–when began “Seabird”–are escaping me like tiny beads of mercury through my fingers.

    There’s little of the traditional letting go left for me to do. My “nest” has been empty since I moved out of my parents’ home. All I have left is letting go of the ever-decreasing hopes that a longed-for “it” or two might yet happen

    One painful letting go is in progress. A young man in my church & I have become good friends & confidantes over the last two and a half years. (I’m just about old enough to be his grandmother.) He’s getting married in just over a month but the expected and appropriate drifting apart between us began months ago, as he & his fiancee slowly began knitting themselves into “one flesh”.

    • Sherry Thompson July 2, 2012, 9:52 AM

      I meant to say that that was partially in response to Katherine.

  • Jill July 2, 2012, 10:35 AM

    I’m so resistant to letting go, too, even of negative things. But life forces it on me. Or God does. This is a great post. Thanks.

  • Jason Brown July 2, 2012, 11:44 AM

    At my age, I guess it’s expected that I wouldn’t have that much to learn to let go, but since this note also deals with nostalgia, I’ve already got so much to look back on… and feel like shaking my head at all the asininity of today’s generation where everything’s expected. Though I imagine my mother’s still feeling the empty nest syndrome all these years after I graduated and prepared for college. Since ’06.

  • Lori July 2, 2012, 2:45 PM

    First time visitor, my sister in law sent me this article. I just “let go” of my first child and sent him away to work in a different state two days after high school graduation and then in August I “let go” and he is off to college. My 3lb baby, born two months early, I am learning to “let go.” Did you write this article just for me? ha. Thanks! (hey does it get easier with other kids….I am fearing not. I do this all over again in two year).

  • Bob Avey July 2, 2012, 5:20 PM

    A touching post, Mike. I’m nearing retirement age, and I often look back and wonder if any of us would have the courage to continue, if we knew what life had in store for us. I had to let my daughter go, but our son will always be with us. He’s a nine-year old living in a forty-two year old body. It’s both a blessing and a hardship. But if I had a choice, I’d choose to let go.

  • sally apokedak July 3, 2012, 6:52 AM

    A lovely post.

  • Melody July 3, 2012, 2:51 PM

    That was good. I have to prepare my self for the letting goes.

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