Today I dropped off my eldest child at the airport. She's bound for Ottawa, where she'll begin training to be a missionary for NET Canada, and we won't have her back until May of 2020 (excepting a short break at Christmas).
This has been a dream of hers for years. She applied this last winter, went through a handful of phone & video conference interviews, and waited seemingly forever to hear back whether or not she'd been accepted. I remember the day she got the news. She quietly slipped into my room as I was tidying up, and when I turned around, there she was with this big goofy grin on her face, and tears in her eyes. "I'm going on NET!" she proclaimed, and her grin erupted into a miles-wide smile that melted this daddy's heart.
A year like this can revolutionize a young person's life. It was on a similar tour that I met the people who introduced me to genuine Catholicism, and also where I met my wife. So I know there's a good chance that the experiences she'll have and the people she'll meet will open up a world of new possibilities to her. And of course, I know that her journey is her own; it won't be a duplicate of mine or her mother's.
She graduated high school in June 2018, and has spent the last year still living at home and working to save up some money to do mission work and post-secondary school down the road. As I've been emotionally preparing myself for this day when I'd bid her adieu, I have been gradually awakening to the realization that I don't raise kids to keep them. I raise them to send them out into the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ on their lips and in their hands.
Daughter #2 is off at a summer camp program this week, and had her own tearful goodbye with #1 on Sunday. Observing that was a foretaste of the emotions I'd experience today, and even last night. As we said our family rosary, I could barely whisper the final Hail Mary, knowing it would be the last one I would say with her for many months.
Seeing #1 give a farewell embrace to her brother, #8, our four month old who will be double his age when she sees him next, sent tears streaming down my face like water down the outside of a leaky garden hose. She sobbed too, and I know he'll be the one she misses the most.
As I write this, her plane has landed and she's doubtless already begun making new friendships with her team members. She sent me a quick text during her layover that the excitement is finally hitting her. The goodbyes were hard for her too, but she's got an adventure ahead of her.
So with that, the first bird is out of the nest, but I've got at least another eighteen years of these hard goodbyes ahead of me. It's so easy as parents to define ourselves by our children, and then when they leave we can forget who we are as husband and wife. As strange as it may sound, I'm feeling convicted to invest more energy and attention into my wife and our relationship these days, so that when our nest is finally empty, we'll know we still have each other.
And when death separates us, the prime relationship we have with our creator God, the one unchanging constant in life, will be the rock we cling to. That ties right back into the missionary work that #1 is now embarking upon, for nothing matters if you don't go to heaven.