Today, my beautiful, fearless, happy-go-lucky 18-year-old baby girl hugged her daddy and me, picked up her carry-on luggage and walked away. We stepped aside and watched as she got in line at the airport security checkpoint. I watched as she stepped through the body scanner, picked up her scanned bags and left us. Just like that, she was pronounced “safe” and she’s gone.
Really? That’s it? For eighteen years this child’s safety has been my daily concern, and one step through an electronic scanner and my concerns are over. Really? That’s all there is? The airport security staff pronounced her safe to go, and I’m supposed to walk away, believing she’s safe? How is she safe? She’s safe to get on one of their airplanes. She’s safe to travel with other scanned passengers. But, is SHE safe? Am I?
Please, God, tell me there’s more. I want more than well trained TSA employees. I want more than statistics that tell me flying is safer than driving. I want more than reports of the spotless safety record of a certain gated compound in Costa Rica where she’ll live for a year. I want more than vague, catch-all Bible verses promising unsurpassable peace if I just pray sufficiently.
When she walked away, I whispered a prayer: “Lord, keep her safe.” There are so many ways He could answer that prayer, and I want them all. Keep her safe from harm when she takes a taxi through the crowded streets of San Jose. Keep her safe from serious illness. Keep her safe from those who would take advantage of her trusting nature. Keep her safe from the cruelty of others. Keep her safe from betrayal by friends. Keep her safe from the memory of her mother’s thoughtless words. Keep her safe from the dangers her mother forgot to warn her about. Keep her safe from always needing to be as safe as her mother wishes for her to be. I want her safe from so many things. But, she’s not worried about her safety. And, I love her for that.
She wants more than her mother’s dreams for her. I want more for her, too. I want her to rise above my not-good-enough parenting. I want her to soar above my fears and hers. I have always felt like she needed to learn so much from me and her father. Ever since we agreed to let her go away to Costa Rica for a year, I have felt desperate to cram into her “the rest” of what she needs to know from me. She needed to know more, and I’m out of time. Did she learn enough? Did I? I realize the truth, now that she’s gone. It was I who did not learn enough from her. Most of my tears today have been for myself—for what I’ve lost. I’ve lost any more opportunities to have my sweet, trusting, shining girl at home to teach me how to be more like she is. The loss is huge. I wasted too many opportunities over the last 18 years. It feels as if someone has died. Someone has. My baby girl is gone. When she returns, she will be my baby girl no more. Can I celebrate that? I will try.
More than anything else, I want to know that her story will go on. Tomorrow, when she wakes up, there will be new characters in her story. I want to know that her “backstory,” which includes me, won’t be a painful memory—won’t be something she needs to recover from. Will she willingly write me into the next chapter, or is she breathing a huge sigh of relief that she’s finally free? I would like to know that I will show up as a welcome character in the next part of her story. I’m not ready to be only a memory.
At the end of this day, when my daughter goes to sleep far from home, I want her strongest memory of today to be how tightly her mama hugged her—how much her mama didn’t want to let go—but that her mama did. I want her to believe without a doubt that her mama loves her bigger than the universe, higher than the sky, and deeper than the ocean. Even more, I want her to know that God loves her—more than I do. I want her to know that her mama loves her enough to let her live her life, trusting in a God Who is big enough to keep her safe. The same God Who will keep her mama safe through this long year. Keeping me safe from fear might be the bigger job.
On the drive home from the airport, my son sat in the back seat. He turned 16 yesterday. I have three years to learn so much more from him before he puts us through another day like today. I won’t be ready then either!
**UPDATE Three Years Later (10-18-13): On the very day we put our daughter on that airplane, she met the man she would marry. He's a fine young man, and we are very blessed. Does God know what he's doing? Always!