We watch her walk away, laughing and chatting with her travel companions, and her father and I marvel at our beautiful daughter's relaxed confidence as she approaches the airport security area. She is setting off on a European adventure, spending the fall semester at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. We have been planning and preparing for months - dealing with all of the confusing aspects of going to a foreign country. Tensions were high during the last week as we shopped for last minute items (a good umbrella, neck pillow, toiletries etc.), and packed and repacked her two suitcases and two carry-ons. Does she have the right converters and adapters? How many Euros will she need to start with? How can she get minutes for her international phone? (This turned out to be much more complicated than we thought it would be.) In the end we just had to take our best educated guesses, zip up the suitcases, drive her to the airport, send her off, and leave the airport feeling very empty and helpless. It's hard to let go.
But isn't that what parenting is all about? We have to start the process of letting go as soon as our children are born. Remember how hard it was to even let someone else hold our first child? This is quickly followed by leaving them with a babysitter for the first time, the church nursery, preschool, and then the school years. Each year they gain more and more independence, and we have to back off and let them develop their own personalities while keeping a careful watch for problems. In middle school, suddenly they are embarrassed to be seen with us and constantly frustrated by our lack of understanding. In high school their busy lives leave us far behind and we have less and less knowledge and control of their activities. But through it all we have to be available to them for sympathy and advice (whether or not they take it).
As they venture out into a sometimes unsympathetic world we must be the pillar they can hold on to, the sanctuary they can return to. They are our most important purpose in life, but they are not ours to keep. God gave them to us for a little while to nurture and care for, but most importantly to let them go to find their place in this world. In the end they belong to God, and they have to find out what his purpose is for them, regardless of what we want.
We know that Megan will have a great experience, meeting new types of people, seeing a different way of life, and visiting wonderful places. There will be difficulties but she is so capable and determined that we know she will figure it all out, and will be stronger because she did it herself. And a different person will come back to us four months later - a little more mature, a little more independent, and with a different view of the world, but when we look at her we will still see our little girl.