When I read your letter to me last week, my heart swirled with a flood emotions. Ok, so maybe I do have a few more years on you, sister, but more years haven’t made saying goodbye any easier for this fragile-hearted mama. They’ve just given me more practice.
As I read along, following the beat of your heart with every word you’d written, one phrase kept playing over and over in my head…
Life is a series of letting goes.
As soon as we let go of one thing, life asks us to let go again; and then again, and again, and again. And you’re so right. Motherhood isn’t shielded from this continuum of letting goes; in fact, it only intensifies the agony of it.
And if there’s one secret I’ve learned to bearing the letting go, it’s daring to let God.
Your beautifully raw letter reminded me of this profound truth - that as mothers, woven into the very fabric of our femininity, is the ever-present invitation to receptivity and release.
The conception of a child is the fruit of a woman’s receptivity to her husband; and the birth of that child into the world is the fruit of her release.
And let’s be straight up here, Stef - we experience intense pleasure in the process of receiving, and agonizing pain in the process of release. “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come...” (John 16:21, NIV)
What a foreshadowing of the agony of the heart every mom will experience - for throughout the span of our children’s lives, we will face many painful moments when “our time has come” to release and let go.
Your time has come, dear Stef - for your sweet Felicity to close the chapter of her very first year in elementary school. And my time has come as well - for my precious Clare to close the chapter of her very last year of high school.
When you described your walk with Felicity, I felt like I was right there with you; as you held her little hand and looked down into those sparkling brown eyes gleaming up at you.
Your walk that evening with little miss Feliss took me back to a different kind of walk I made with little miss Clare years ago - the day she started school for the first time. Only for Clare, her first day of formal school wasn’t kindergarten. It was third grade, because she had homeschooled for K-2nd grade.
Clare’s time had come to start school, and my time had come to release her. What was most heart wrenching about this release was the fact that not only was Clare starting her first day of third grade, but Kolbe was starting his first day of 4th grade - on the very same day. These two had never been apart. They'd never been to school before (not even preschool), and I had never been without them.
On that very first day, as I walked Clare down the hall to her new classroom, the little hand I held gripped mine for dear life. Instead of sparkling eyes, I looked down into frightened eyes fighting back tears. Clare was terrified to leave me, and I was terrified to let her go. But I couldn’t let her know it.
After settling Clare into her desk and giving her a tight squeeze, I fought back my own tears, flashed the best plastic smile of confidence I could muster, and bravely walked toward the classroom door. When I turned back to wave one last goodbye, Clare still had her bright yet watery eyes desperately fixed on me. To this day, she remembers barely being able to see me through her blurry, tear-filled eyes. And through her own fabricated smile, I could hear her silent plea, Mommy, please don’t leave me here!
I forced my body to walk away, but I left my heart in that classroom. It went against every motherly instinct within me to walk down the hall and out the door. I managed to maintain my composure until I got to the car, and then I simply lost it. I sobbed like a baby. I could hardly breathe, and my heart ached with a pain I had never felt before. My time had come to say goodbye; closing a chapter of childhood and a season in our family life that would never be again.
I have tears writing this, because I remember the pain like it was yesterday.
The time to say goodbye has come for me again and again, Stef. Countless times, in countless ways, I’ve had to let go of each one of my children.
It happens for all of us. Whether it’s letting go of a season of their life; dying to a dream for them that will never come to be; watching helplessly as they choose a destructive path far away from God; or even our greatest fear - the unfathomable agony of losing our child to death.
There is absolutely no way to prepare ourselves for this series of letting goes.
Last year, during Kolbe’s senior year of high school, I tried to prepare my heart for the pain of letting him go. I tried to brace myself to say goodbye to my firstborn son when I dropped him off at college. When August rolled around, and the days of summer dwindled down, reality hit me. This was it. We neared the end; the day we would be forced to draw all those growing up years with Kolbe in the security of our family and home to a final close.
And now the time has come for me, yet again, with Clare. The path for Clare is new and different; and so is the pain of letting her go.
As moms, the agony of releasing our children is something we simply have to experience; every ounce, of every part of it.
I’m suddenly laughing to myself, because I am such a wimp when it comes to pain. With every one of my deliveries, I begged for that epidural - demanded it - EVEN when the doctor said it was too late and wouldn’t work. HA! I wanted no part of the pain. But then there’s Stef Blackwell. With every one of your deliveries, you said, Bring on natural labor. No epidural for me. I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me. And not only did you endure the pain like a warrior, Stef, you offered every second of it up for everyone you knew who was suffering.
How do I say goodbye, you ask? You already know, Stef.
You do it. You say it. You feel it. You endure it. You surrender it. And with each new letting go, comes a new and unpredictable kind of pain. I can’t tell you it gets easier; because every new birth brings its own pain of labor.
But at the end of the pain is the new birth. And that makes it all worthwhile.
What I’ve learned about letting go, my friend, is that nothing can prepare you for it, and nothing can protect you from it. But there is a purpose in it, and a Person allowing it, and He is present with us through it all.
THIS is the GOOD NEWS Jesus offers us, Stef! With every goodbye is a new hello. With every new birth comes the HOPE of new life! And beyond the pain is JOY! “... But when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21. NIV)
This HOPE and this JOY is only possible if we let go and let God.
“I’ve learned that for both my son and me, surviving and thriving in this season of ‘letting go’ simply means ‘letting God’. (Kami Gilmour)
I read this in a book a dear friend shared with me last year, as we both braced our hearts to send our firstborn sons off to college. It’s called “Release My Grip" - Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly.
We can’t control the letting go part, Stef, but what we can control is WHO we let them go to. When we release our children into God’s hands and allow Him to receive them, what He releases back into our lives and theirs is BEYOND anything we could ever fathom!
If we let go with courage and let God with confidence, He will blow us away by His faithfulness. As the pain subsides and the joy rises in our hearts, we will be able to say,
“He still held them in the palm of His hand, even though they’d let go of mine.” (Kami Gilmour)
I am also blown away by God’s faithfulness - in this letter exchange with you, Stef. You wrote to me about how God’s providence amazes you in the way He has woven our lives together. Girl, it amazes me too!
When I read your words “God has placed you in my path” , I thought, Damn, He sure did! I too got the chills when I thought about God’s mysterious providence - how He placed YOU in my hospital room 19 years ago. How right after Kolbe was born, you came to visit me - as a teenager in high school. You held him as a newborn baby - when I was just a “newborn mom”. You were there to celebrate with me when I first received Kolbe into my arms; and then 18 years later, you were there to comfort me when I released him back into God’s.
This is what true, authentic sisterhood and friendship is all about - to be present to each other in our greatest joys and our deepest pains. I am so thankful for you, Stef, and for all my dear friends who aren’t just friends - but sisters and prayer companions - moms who allow me to peer inside their real mama’s heart - without masking their real mama’s pain.
What a pure gift.
In fact, even the pain itself is a gift, Stef. Because to love is to suffer. And as a wise woman once told me, “You know you’ve loved, when it hurts to say goodbye.” (Laure Krupp)
Nothing can prepare us for what we’ll feel when we watch our sweet girls walk across that graduation stage in just a few short weeks, except to draw close to the only One who will see us through it.
Thanks for drawing close to Him alongside me, Stef. I’m clasping your hand, and I’m calling you onwards. We will survive and we will thrive - so will those beautiful girls - if we let go, and let God.