When a child graduates from high school, it is a monumental occasion for both the child and the parents. When it is your first child, you hardly know how to act or feel about it all. The emotions surge. Erratic. Confusing. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Exciting. With our first daughter, Michelle, I started counting the days and dreading the goodbye at least a year in advance. The last time she will do this...the last time she will do that.
In the midst of a challenging ministry in the West African city of Bouake, Ivory Coast, the days passed way too quickly and Michelle’s high school graduation was upon us. A few days after her graduation, our family of five traveled to Abidjan (the capital city of Ivory Coast), and put Michelle on a plane all alone. She would fly from Ivory Coast to the United States. Alone. What were we thinking? My mother’s heart was screaming for one more week, one more year! But the time had come for her to flap her wings and fly. I was helpless to change it. The five of us would no longer be as we had been.
The goodbyes were painful for all of us, though I personally held on to the knowledge that at least I would see her in six weeks time. Arriving in the states, she would be staying with her grandparents for the summer, and then I would fly back a couple of weeks before she was to start at Liberty University. I would then remain in the States for the first month so she would know that I was not too far away as she transitioned in this new phase of her life. We hoped that this would help her adjustment into college go a little smoother.
After watching Michelle's plane ascend into the dark sky, I felt that I would never breath again. My girl was all grown up and excited about her adventure - solo, but she was still my little girl. When did that change? When would I be okay with her growing up? Oh, little did I know! We always hold on to those memories of our children being small and under our care.
We returned to Bouake as a family of four. Minus one. My heart literally ached. It was the quietest trip that we had ever taken as a family as each of us remained locked in our own thoughts of days passed and of trips taken with all five of us. Of how everything had so quickly changed. I had just about had it with change, I thought, as I tried to embrace the reshaping of our family.
The first week or so after her departure, I would go and lie on Michelle’s bed and cry. Sometimes I would find Stefanie in there or maybe Lauren. It soon became evident that we needed to redo Shell's room before we made it into a shrine, so we repainted it, changing it into an office. For me, it helped to redirect towards the future. We had to choose to make the best of how life was NOW.
Things would never be the same and that needed to be all right. Time would bring a new "normal" to our family and we needed to accept that was "normal".
Since that killer transition almost ten years ago, our family has experienced many new "normals". Stefanie graduating three years later, Michelle's marriage to Frank, Lauren's graduating from high school, the birth of our first granddaughter, and now the reality of empty nest and another daughter getting married before the year 2012 arrives. In the past ten years our family has changed like a chameleon on steroids! But we've survived. And adapted. Just as we're supposed to do.
Every one of these transitions have taken energy, effort, and a determination to live beyond the sadness, the pain, and the reality of change. It's a choice, true. But God's grace is more than enough!
There are many of you out there that are in the throes of packing your son or daughter for their first year of college. I want to encourage you to enjoy every second of this transition. Look it straight in the eye and embrace it.
Beyond the transition, things will not be as they have been, that is true. But that doesn't mean that life won't be amazing....in a completely different way!