Yesterday I left Gemma up to her room in the halls of residence at Queen’s. She is starting her university education and will live in Belfast during the week, coming home at weekends. The place was filled with parents and students doing exactly the same things as us – looking lost, trying to find keys of rooms, then the rooms, then how to work the keys in the doors of the rooms…..all very ordinary really, nothing very extraordinary….
…..except that for each parent and each student it marked a significant moment. Gemma is only going on to the next stage of her education and, after all, she is only living 60 miles away and will be home at weekends. But she has ended one phase of her life and has begun another. She has left home, she has flown the nest. She has begun an exciting, new adventure which will lead her – who knows where?
And we have also ended one phase of our lives as parents. We have had the joy and delight of parenting Gemma for almost 20 years, in our home. Now we will continue to parent her – but from a distance. Things have changed, our relationship with her will change and so will our parenting.
Just as no one and nothing prepares you for the start of parenting, no one and nothing prepares you for this phase either. After pouring your lives into your child for 20 years, how can you suddenly step back and watch her walk away?
Yet that is what every parent must do – and what we must prepare for in those 20 years. Our children are not ours to keep – they are on loan from God. He has given us the tremendous privilege of parenting them for those precious years (it is actually pretty amazing that He entrusts that responsibility to us!) and then we have to give them back – to Him.
That is where I find comfort – for Gemma is not stepping out into a world without God. She is beginning a new adventure – with God. As I drove the 60 miles home yesterday, I expected to be crying. Instead, as I listened to some praise music I started to thank God for His work in Gemma’s life – for the privilege of having her, for the ups and downs we have been through together, for the fact that He has brought her to this place where she has gained a place in the university of her choice after some very rough rides when she wondered if she would ever make it. I decided I had no right to be sad – and every reason to praise the Lord.
As I did so, I noticed a rainbow in the sky. Now this summer has been a summer of rainbows for us. It has been a summer of significant steps for us as we left our ministry in Switzerland and moved back to N.Ireland. It seems that at each step, there has been a rainbow in the sky.As we had a farewell dinner with some very dear friends in Nyon, there was a double rainbow in the sky….as we holidayed in Hawaiii there were many rainbows in the sky….on the day of Alan’s Induction Service in Coleraine there was a rainbow in the sky – and my friend Lisa made this comment: ‘God has many promises to keep’.
So as I saw the rainbow yesterday, I started thinking about some of those promises which God has made and I claimed them for Gemma – He has promised never to leave her, never to forsake her; He has promised to complete that which He has begun in her; He has promised to give her everything she needs to live a life of godliness; He has promised to meet all her needs, according to His riches in Christ Jesus…..
No wonder I couldn’t cry! The only moment I had a tear in my eye was when I saw the rainbow – and realised what God was saying.
So yes, our fledgling has flown the nest – but, as one of my friends here said, we didn’t teach them to fly only to clip their wings!
So fly high, Gemma – for God is with you!