Water splatters on my shirt as I scrub the last bits of garlic, tomatillos, and cilantro from the Cuisinart with intensity. The crunching sound of a key pushing into the lock pulls focus from the kitchen sink to the front door. I quickly turn off the flow and before I can dry soapy hands on a dishtowel, she walks into the house. Glowing.

My daughter, Murielle, is home for a long weekend from an art and design college a few states away. I haven’t heard that sound of a key turning in the lock for a month. In a matter of moments, our arms intertwine, embracing.

“Are you happy to be home,” I whisper in her ear.

“Yes, I’m so excited,” she replies.

She didn’t pack a suitcase because every garment was scrunched in the vast recesses of a laundry bag. And I’ve never been so happy to wash clothes and fold them in my life.

As she walks into her bedroom carrying a backpack of art supplies for homework, she exclaims, “Whoa, it’s so empty in here. This feels weird.”

Almost as weird as her absence on the couch, at the dinner table, and the driveway.

I swipe a soppy dishrag into stray pieces of lettuce on the counter top while she and her Dad unload the last bits of luggage from the car. Walking past the bar with a blanket draped over her shoulder, she looks at me and says, “This doesn’t need to be washed, I brought it with me because I want it to smell like home when I go back to my dorm room.”

That first weekend back into the familiar rhythms of family life, her bedroom was a sparse collection of what was once previously a mural of souvenirs from adventures; a menagerie of artwork created on weekends while sprawled out on the carpet. Decades of childhood memories had to be boxed up in preparation for a move across the Atlantic to London, England.

If I thought the absence of my first born was odd three years ago, time has sobered me into a concoction of vague grief and consolation. Now, it’s not just stretches of pavement that separate us but an entire ocean lies between our hearts.

Letting go of our children is perhaps one of the most offensive things God asks of parents. The same kind of surrender required when God decides rescue isn’t what is best for us.

When we feel desperate and out of sorts, waiting is God’s big ask. Will you wait for me to work all things together for your good or assign waiting as permission to control details into preferred outcomes?

Yesterday, on Mother’s Day, we talk to Murielle, her rosy cheeks and bright green eyes front and center on the flat screen. Her Dad and I are seated in the wing back chairs in the living room while she snuggles under that same blanket; the smell of home starkly different yet still comforting.

Holding up pieces of artwork in the camera, she reveals the latest art created in short snatches of time between long work hours and sorting laundry.  She’s glowing as God’s face shines upon her.

She asks questions about purchasing new brake pads and debates on how to approach her boss about a question. And I vacillate between grief over not being present to help her practically and the consolation of maturity I witness due to the physical distance between us.

Rebirth takes place the moment you realize that what you wanted all along happened at the worst possible moment. Become helpless in controlling the destiny of your children and discover how God is helping them become the people he envisioned first. He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

 

“The face of Jesus is a face that belongs to us the way our past belongs to us. It is a face that we belong to if only as to the one face out of the past that has perhaps had more to do with the shaping of our present than any other.” ~Frederick Buechner

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Shelly Miller / Posts / Blog

Shelly Miller is a veteran ministry leader and sought-after mentor on Sabbath-keeping. She leads the Sabbath Society, an online community of people who want to make rest a priority, and her writing has been featured in multiple national publications. Her first book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, will release with Bethany House Publishers in the fall of 2016 with a second launching in 2017 with Lion Hudson. Find more of Shelly’s writing on her blog, Redemptions Beauty, and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where she loves to share photos of the beautiful places she visits while living as a committed immigrant in London.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Oh Shelly, such a lovely, poignant piece the day after Mother’s Day (American style–not Mothering Sunday, English style 🙂 ). I can’t imagine what it is like not to have Murielle physically with you. Sheridan, at twenty-four, is still at home, attending graduate school. But absence from parents, as you suggest, is used by God to help our children mature (and truth be told, I do worry about that…. will Sheridan be able to handle the real world as easily since she is still living with us a young adult). But just as you have waited on God to work so many things together for good in the lives of your children, so must I, and trust Him that this is His plan for ourdaughter for now, and appreciate the gift of having her here. And I’m so grateful that Murielle is able to visit you in London, and for these amazing technological advances that allow for such easy communication in between!! Sending you much love and a belated Happy Mother’s Day greeting!
    xoxo
    Lynn

    May 15th, 2017 11:47
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    • Shelly Miller

      Lynn, thanks for being here. I think the struggles of parenthood are common to all of us. While our scenarios are different, what we fear and celebrate is a kind of shared sisterhood. That’s why I appreciate your perspective, it helps cast some light where there is darkness in my own.

      May 17th, 2017 3:15
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  • Nancy Ruegg
    http://www.nancyaruegg.com

    The title of your post caught me up short. God can do something offensive?! But upon reading your explanation, I heartily agree. The empty nest certainly is a quiet, aching, memory-laden place where we have no choice except acquiesce in surrender. However, a most worthy goal is met as a result: in surrendering our fledglings to God as well as our concerns for their welfare, we become more like Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2).

    May 16th, 2017 12:51
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    • Shelly Miller

      I’m not quite experiencing the full empty nest yet Nancy, I still have my son at home but the clock is ticking swiftly and my heart is anticipating his flying away soon. I think God is so good to allow us the time to transition, first in the nine months of carrying a child before they enter the world and then the slow surrender of letting go with each stage of maturity. It’s not easy but the timing is always perfect. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      May 17th, 2017 3:18
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      • Nancy Ruegg
        http://www.nancyaruegg.com

        We humans do enjoy an empty-nest blessing that other creatures do not. Our fledglings come home to visit. Hallelujah!

        June 1st, 2017 19:37
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  • Terri Conlin
    http://www.whitepitchers.com

    Shelly,

    I am in all the seasons right now! (2 married with kids of their own, 2 home from college, 1 of those getting married). You captured the transitions that come when our children are in and out and in again like the tides on the shores of our homes and marriages.

    I love it, but it is bittersweet.

    Keep writing, Terri

    May 16th, 2017 12:53
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    • Shelly Miller

      Terri! Lovely to see you here. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree, bittersweet is a good word to use. My, you really are in all the seasons at the moment. Life is full and rich!

      May 17th, 2017 3:19
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  • Patricia Willoughby
    http://patriciamwilloughby.com

    What a beautiful heart you have and a willingness to let God work not only in your life but also in your daughter’s.

    May 16th, 2017 16:56
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    • Shelly Miller

      Patricia, that’s lovely of you to say. Thank you. The truth? My heart hasn’t always been so beautiful especially when I am trying to control outcomes. But grace! Amazing grace.

      May 17th, 2017 3:21
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  • Shelly Wildman
    https://www.shellywildman.com/

    Oh friend. I so get this. The empty nest socked me like a punch in the gut last fall, then this spring our oldest moved 2,400 miles away. I now have one child on each coast and my youngest in college. This month, in particular, grief has hit me so hard. But I still believe that letting them go is the best thing, not just for them, but for me. I read a great quote by John Piper the other day: “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.” This is where I’m at–the grieving part. Hopefully one day soon I will be able to get up, wash my face, and embrace this new life I have. Praying for you today.

    May 17th, 2017 8:20
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    • Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com

      Oh Shelly, I know you get this and I’m so glad I have you in an empathetic shoulder. I love the mindset of embracing the new life we have — great perspective.

      May 18th, 2017 9:31
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  • Trese

    How I wish I could talk to my first born by photo or computer. How I wish I could travel long distances to see him. Watch your child being lowered into a grave and then you will know what “letting go” really means. Then you will know what “some day you will see them again” really means.

    May 18th, 2017 8:46
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    • Shelly Miller
      http://redemptionsbeauty.com

      Trese, as I wrote this post I did have in mind those like yourself, who have experienced a letting go at a much deeper level. My brother died a few years ago so my stepmother shares your viewpoint. I try to put myself in her shoes every Mother’s Day knowing that the day is a reminder of loss. Grief shared is grief diminished. Thank you for sharing your story here because we need broad perspective. I’m sorry for your pain and pray you feel God’s comfort today.

      May 18th, 2017 9:41
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  • Sue

    Thank you for this, my oldest daughter graduates from high school and will head off to college this fall. This well summarizes the truth I am facing, thank you for grounding me in spirit while I face this next chapter in life!

    May 20th, 2017 9:46
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