Letting Go

She was afraid to let go of her daughter until a car accident showed her that God is utterly trustworthy

In the Fall, my oldest child, Anna, will be leaving for college. I have already begun to mourn. We similar personalities and are very close. My favorite Christmas and Mother’s Day presents are the ones she gives me. We both carry our stress in our necks and back and Anna gives great back rubs, the kind that work the knots away. I’ve teased my husband about learning to improve his back-rub technique before Anna takes flight but he is a Virginia farm boy,with muscular arms and back, and his attempts are not relaxing.

The spring of spring of her junior year, we left Virginia on a circuitous tour of potential colleges. None of her top choices are near our home in northern Virginia. The drive made me realize just how far away these colleges are. Many of Anna’s older friends attend a state school two hours away. They are home frequently on weekends and for minor holidays. Anna’s top choices are very far from home–too far to drive for a weekend. As we drove on into the night, it hit me: When she leaves, she will be gone for a very long time.

It is hard to let go, hard to trust that God can take care of my daughter without my help. When I was pregnant with Anna, a pediatrician who visited my Lamaze class joked that “the second-hardest adjustment a woman makes is the adjustment to caring for an infant. The hardest,” he added with a smile, “is letting that child go eighteen years later.”

I find the task daunting, especially when I think of all the trouble an older child can get into. I am prone to worry, but the problems of an eighteen-year-old seem potentially much more serious than the problems of a toddler. Older kids can have car accidents, get pregnant, or flunk out of college. They can become enmeshed in unhealthy romantic relationships, or even worse, turn those unhealthy romances into marriages.

Even though I have raised my daughter to be independent–I haven’t reminded her to do homework or told her when to go to bed for years–I still worry about how she will fare beyond my reach.

I am a careful person. We drive Volvos, lock our doors at night, eat healthy food, and get lots of sleep. When I run on the path through the woods behind my house, I take Buster, my 50-lb dog.

During spring break, Anna wanted to go with a friend who was visiting a prospective college in Kentucky. The trip met all my criteria: Her friend’s mom would be going along, and although the girls would be staying in the dorms, the visit was to a Christian college and the two girls would be together.

My husband left with Anna while it was still dark on Monday morning so they could meet Anna’s friend and her mother on the road near my husband’s work. By the time I got up, they were already on their way.

I had a relaxing day ahead of me–the first day of spring break. I spent most of the day outside enjoying the balmy weather with my two younger children. When I came in at 4 p.m. to start dinner, I listened to phone messages.

There was one that nearly made my heart stop.

“Hi Mom, hi Dad, it’s Anna. I just wanted to say that we aren’t going to be going to Kentucky. We got in a car accident and everyone is totally fine–nothing to worry about. The car is in pretty bad shape, so we’re going to come right home. We are waiting for Danielle’s grandfather to come pick us up. I am at a pay phone in West Virginia. If you want to call me the number is . . . ”

I immediately dialed the West Virginia number. A man answered. After I described my daughter, tiny and blond, he ran to fetch her. When I heard the details, I was even more amazed. Danielle had been driving on the freeway when she lost control of the car. They plunged down an embankment, then up the other side toward oncoming traffic, when the car flipped over twice, leaving them hanging upside down by their seat belts.

Anna can barely see a foot in front of her without her glasses, and they had flown out the shattered window as the car tumbled down the road. When the car stopped she couldn’t see well enough to know if anyone was hurt, so she called out, “Danielle are you okay?” “Yes,” said a shaken voice a few feet away. “Mrs. Smith, are you okay?” Yes, came an answer from the back seat. Then Anna burst out, “Praise the Lord! Thank you, Jesus, for protecting us.”

They were still hanging upside down. Anna’s shoes had flown off along with her glasses. She could see well enough to know that she was surrounded by broken glass, but not well enough to know how to get down without stepping on it. Carefully she unfastened her seat belt and lowered herself onto the ceiling of the car then crawled out the shattered window–the only window large enough to climb out since the others had been rolled into narrow openings. Once out, she stooped to help the other two climb out her window.

Anna didn’t have a scratch or a bruise. Danielle had a tiny piece of glass in her finger. Her mother was also unharmed. By now people had pulled off the highway to help. The crowd gathered up shoes, books, and AP history homework. Someone found Anna’s glasses, a bit bent, where they had landed in the mud 200 feet down the road. After a bit of searching everything was retrieved, save one page of history homework that was never found giving Anna the ultimate excuse for missing homework.

They had been driving an old Honda sedan at 70 mph, the legal speed limit in West Virginia. They had flipped over twice, but no one was hurt.

When I heard their story, I was overcome by a sense that someone bigger, more powerful than I had protected my daughter and her friends. Yes, I was still shaken to the core. One can’t help thinking of what might have been. Life can be so fragile. At the same time, I knew that if my daughter could roll down the road in an old Honda going 70 mph and emerge unscathed, then surely God is watching over her and I can trust him to protect her while she is out of my reach in college.

It is not that I expect her life to be perfect and pain free. In my own life, I have learned the most from times of suffering, but Anna’s accident strengthened my belief that God is in control. Although for years I have said that I believe He is in control, now that knowledge has moved from my head a bit closer to my heart. I am able to accept in a new way that our lives are in His hands, that nothing is accidental. In some ways this boost of faith makes even pain easier to bear, for if God can stop the pain, then surely He has a reason for allowing it.

When Anna leaves for college, I will miss her. I will pray for her daily, but when I am tempted to worry, I will remember her accident on the way to Kentucky. Her life is in His hands. He is all powerful, all knowing, and, best of all, he loves us both.

© Elizabeth Moll Stalcup

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