I pulled out my kids' baby books the other day. (Yes, I have birth-one-year-old scrapbooks for each of my kids. No, I do not have them all completed. You can now cease judging me.)
I was showing them to the kids and we were giggling abut the fact that every single one of them had NO hair until they were around a year old, as well as how fat some were and how many naked shots I had captured of others...you know, the usual things to do when looking at baby pictures.
In all 4 of the books, there is a "Baby dedication" page, which has a certificate given by the church we were attending at the time, as well as a couple shots of us standing in front of the church, holding that particular child, while the pastor and the leadership team prayed for us.
In every single one of those pictures, I am noticeably emotional. I'm holding my baby tightly in my arms, and my eyes are closed...and I'm crying. My husband is standing beside me, with his hand on my back, and his head is bent over my shoulder. It's almost as if he's curling himself around us, me and the baby, in protection.
I looked at these pages in all 4 books, a little bit surprised by how similar the pictures were in each.
I can't remember the exact prayers that were prayed over us and our children on those days...but I can remember a version of my own prayer.
If you've been through one of these times, you can too.
"Help us, Lord. Help us to raise them well. Teach us how to teach them. Guide us as we guide them. Protect them from the enemy. Give them a heart to follow You. Thank You for giving them to us. Give us strength to be good stewards of Your little ones."
You know the drill. We stand up in front of a church and we declare that our children are really His. And we mean it...in theory.
But we don't really know what we are saying, do we?
Until the rubber meets the road, and then...then we backpedal.
And we are totally justified in our concern for them, our desire to protect them, our need to be sure they are doing things correctly. We've been the sole providers or information they need for life...they know all that they know because we told it to them. Every feeling they've ever had has been filtered through us. We've nurtured them, we've coached them on how to respond, we've held them when they were hurt, and brokenhearted, and afraid...we've cheered for them, encouraged them, spoken love over them when we saw how much they needed to hear it, reminded them of verses that have helped us in life...
But suddenly...suddenly we are faced with something, with an opportunity, to take our hands off and let them truly be in His.
And we freeze.
Or at least, I do. Every time.
As new parents we can be grateful for the blessing of small beginnings. Rarely does the Lord present us with an opportunity for something terrifying regarding our children before He has given us a chance to practice on a small scale.
The first time a kid on a playground is mean to your kid, for example...we all think we will handle ourselves with maturity. But I promise you, we all have visions of grabbing a brat by their ear and hauling them away from our heartbroken or injured child. We may not actually intervene. We might restrain ourselves and speak with our child later about how there will always be rude, rough, unkind people in our lives and we will have to learn how to respond, and how to invite them to make better choices...but you can BET we have internal dialogue with that horrid child AND their inept, useless parents for hours and days after the incident.
We will usually harness our worries and do the things that are socially acceptable. We send our kids to children' church, or school, or a friend's house to play. We allow them to get into disagreements with other kids and we don't step in unless its clear that there is no headway being made and the situation is becoming toxic. We give them picture Bibles for their birthdays and encourage them to read them, but don't force it. (They have to become people who love His word on their own, after all.) We swallow our terror when they go on hikes or to concerts or even just bike rides to the end of the street, taking them out of our line of sight for several moments...
But we learn to adapt, as they grow, don't we? We start out protecting them from every germ, but eventually we allow them to venture into the germ infested world, and we pray that we've given them enough healthy immunities to withstand what will come their way.
I have never been a helicopter mom. I'm not saying that makes me cooler than anyone else. Far from it. I'm actually the mom who is like "meh...go ahead and play in the deep end of the pool. Just don't drown while I'm not looking, okay?" Which I realize is rather unacceptable from a loving mother point of view...
As they grow up, and begin to (gulp) drive, and have (gulp) crushes on people, and go to (gulp) prom, and on (gulp) missions trips...I become aware of the fact that I may not outwardly express helicopter mom tendencies...but I totally have them.
"You want to go on a missions trip? Fine. You dad will go too. Or me. Or one of your grandparents."
I'm not saying its not scary to let your kids go to another country for missions work...but I AM saying that sending them without one of their lifelong protectors along for the trip...that is a new level of terror for this mom.
I've spent WEEKS helping my 17 and 15 year-old prepare. Packing a literal pharmacy of things they might need. "If you can't poop, take this. If you can't stop pooping, take this. If you're sneezing repeatedly, take this. If you get scraped, put this on it. If you get bit, put this on it. EVERY DAY, brush your teeth and wash your feet and armpits, even if you don't get to take a shower. Here are the things you'll need to do that in the absence of a bathroom."
So many plans, so much intentional, careful packing, such an abundance of coaching and advice.
They have indulgently listened to me, and laughed at me, and nodded in response to me, for weeks. I've pounded it into their skulls, and told them to remind each other, of everything to do and not do for the next two weeks. They zipped their luggage and we hauled it all to the airport, and I knew they were entirely prepared.
But I was not.
Because suddenly, without my conscious consent, I had arrived at a moment in parenting that I was not ready to face.
I stood there watching them holding their passports and boarding passes, their pillows and backpacks...and I could not breathe.
"Don't go. Come back. Be my babies again. Climb onto my lap so I can shield you from sickness and hurt and hardship."
I had literally screamed it to my empty car while running last minute errands for them the day before.
"God...I cannot do it. I cannot. I'm afraid. You're asking too much. They're my children...don't make me send them."
And He wouldn't have, I know. He would've loved me even if I had told them they couldn't go. Even if He asked them, and my husband and I, to say yes to Him, but we chose to say no...
He remains faithful even when we are faithless.
But...every time I wanted to tell them not to go, the words stuck in my terrified throat.
I gasped for breath. I cried. I squeezed my hands into fists so tight that my nails bit into my palms...
But when it came to that final moment...we let them go.
We told them we were so proud of them for saying yes to the Lord, despite their own fears. We promised to pray for them every day. We encouraged them to pray and read their Bibles. We reminded them to be on the lookout for what the Lord wanted them to do and say. We told them to look out for each other.
We did our best to hide our panic from them, and we sent them to obey the Lord.
And somehow, in that last moment when I watched them walking away, I could see into their futures. I saw them as parents, standing in airports, waving goodbye to their own missionary kids, swallowing their own fears...
If I stopped them now...I would be teaching my children to step back when they were afraid, instead of forward. I would be training them wrong.
I saw the picture of that moment of dedication, and I remembered that we said they were really the Lord's...
So I waved, and held up the "I love you" sign, and watched them respond the same...until they were out of my sight.
And then I had a meltdown in my car.
Because letting them be His is HARD. The hardest thing ever.
But I had good teachers. My parents sent us on missions trips. They stood in airports and waved. They prayed through sleepless nights. They smiled when they wanted to beg us not to go.
And if they hadn't done it...I wouldn't know how to.
They sent their three oldest grandchildren to the mission field this week. And I'm not sure it wasn't just as scary for them as it was for my brother and I. But they smiled, and they gave them snacks, and they laid hands on them and prayed for them to be strong and courageous and full of the Spirit.
And they will be. I know it. Because my parents said YES when they wanted to say NO WAY.
And it gave us the courage to GO. And someday, when I send my grandchildren on missions trips...I'm going to remember those pictures of my babies being dedicated to the Lord. And I'm going to remember these pictures, of us as parents putting into action what we said...but didn't know we would have to one day DO.
"I see YOU, Father. Thank You for inviting me to live with my hands open, even though I so often clench them tight. Thank You for being patient with me as I kick and scream against the path, and for giving me a new opportunity to trust YOUR children into YOUR careful, capable hands."