This morning, I put my 18 year old daughter Anna on a plane to Cambodia, where she will serve with Iris Ministries for 6 weeks. The whole family got up early, grabbed donuts and Starbucks (because what journey doesn’t begin with a latte?), and took her to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. As of this writing, she’s about halfway through the first leg, which will take her to Seoul, Korea. I’m watching her flight’s progress on my phone. A lot.

We got her checked in, got her luggage sent off, then headed for the security line. We snapped a couple of pictures, and then it got real.

Weeks and months of planning and preparation, fundraising, packing, shopping, more packing, more shopping–and then suddenly the day was here. The time was now. She needed to turn away from us, and walk through the security line. Alone.

She’s ready. If you ever have the privilege of meeting her, she is one of the most self-assured, poised, competent, and downright delightful humans you’ll ever know. At 18, Anna is sometimes more of an adult than I am. It’s pretty amazing. In so many ways, I know she’s more than ready for this adventure; we (and by “we” I mostly mean “she”) have planned, prepared, scheduled, organized … in short, we’ve set her up to succeed. She had all the documents she needed. She had her prescriptions. The appropriate (I hope!) amount of hair products and makeup. Clothes. New socks. Essential oils.

At the entrance to security, there were hugs, prayers, and not a few tears. We watched as she went through the line until we couldn’t see her anymore, and we left.

I have a phrase I use to describe motherhood: “Catch and release.” We “catch” them for a while, nurturing, shaping, helping them grow into adults. And in due course, we “release” them, nudging the little birdies out of the nest so they can fly all on their own. The “catch” part means lots of diapers, scrapes and boo boos, riding bikes and reading books, algebra and hugs. It’s shaping little minds and hearts, providing a safe and nurturing place for our little humans to discover life.

It also means teaching them how to clean up messes, to make plans and dream dreams. We give them more and more opportunities to try out their wings and feel the air. They start tasting freedom, and hopefully we’ve taught them what to do with it. I’ve always said I loved every age and every stage of parenting, but these teenage years have been my favorite. They are truly three of my very favorite humans on the planet. Watching my kids grow and become compassionate, kind, intelligent thinkers who love big and laugh big has been one of the great joys of my life.

Until now. Because today, I did the hardest thing to date. I put my girl on a plane for the other side of the world. I watched her walk away, with my favorite backpack on her back, my kiss still fresh on her forehead. She caught my eye at one point, both of us teary at the sight of the other. Anna stands around 5’10”, so I could watch her as she made her way through the process. Lauren, 20, stood behind me, her arms around me and her cheek against mine. And I cried.

I cried because I am going to miss that girl like crazy. She’s become not just my daughter, but my friend. I cried because this is right. She is ready. She is meant for this. And I cried because I felt the urge to nudge my not-so-baby bird out of the nest–while wanting to wrap her up in my arms and take her out for more coffee. I want to keep her safe and I want her to live this grand adventure, all at the same time.

This parenting thing is not for the faint of heart. For the past three days, it’s as if all of my emotions were right up under my skin. I’ve felt everything. The pain of letting her go, and the sheer joy of watching Anna step into her destiny. The grief that things will never look the same, and the delight of what’s on the horizon. The tears are flowing pretty freely today; I’ve wondered if I get to spend the next six weeks with a tissue in my hand. I guess the answer is no–that it may be longer than that. And the tears will be a mixture of separation and joy, grief and delight.

This is the “release” part of mothering. And it’s the hardest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever had the privilege to do.


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