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. . .