My 21-year-old daughter, a college student studying abroad called from her destination, and shared her first view and impression of Europe.
“I was sipping my coffee and eating a croissant as the plane approached London,” she whispered to me over the phone quickly, “we were not allowed to land right away so we were circling the city. The sun was just coming up over Big Ben and London Bridge in a slight fog. I felt like I was in Peter Pan!”
Peter Pan. Wasn’t I just reading “Peter Pan” to this precious girl? Wasn’t she, just a moment ago, snuggled up by my side in her Pooh Bear pajamas and looking at the Walt Disney Golden Book as I shared about Wendy and Michael and John Darling? My darling. My sweet, sweet girl. Think of a wonderful thought … any merry little thought … off you go … you can fly. And — sniff — she did.
Caroline didn’t leave home to go to school like many children do at age 5 to investigate kindergarten. She stayed at home eight years past five as we explored homeschooling and she burst into a studious little pupil. She taught herself to read when she was three and threw herself into every book she could find. She was my kitchen buddy, my reading buddy, my planting-flowers-along-the-front-walkway buddy. She was interested in anything and everything and was my happy little shadow. It seemed like Caroline’s childhood would go on forever. And now — just like that — she was all grown up and on the other side of the world.
When Caroline boarded the plane last weekend she had been fighting a virus. She sounded sniffly, and I was nervous with her traveling so far for the very first time since she was feeling so under the weather. But she insisted on keeping her plane date, seeing as doing otherwise would have necessitated that she travel alone instead of with her college group.
And so, I prayed and waited for that “S” sign for Skype at the bottom of my computer tab to signal to me that a message was waiting, and that she had made it to London, and then Ireland safely. As I waited, and checked … and rechecked, I poured my own coffee and piddled about the kitchen.
My thoughts turned to her high school years, which, I reminded myself, were not unlike the present, when I waited for her to phone or text to let me know she had safely made it across town. And now she was across the world.
Finally, the “S” sign with the red “1,” signifying one message, danced on my computer screen. Caroline had arrived. Not just in London, but in Ireland, which was her final destination for study. I could breathe again.
It hit me then, this whole “life is a journey” thing.
Figuratively and sometimes, quite literally, life is definitely a journey and a bittersweet one, as we say goodbye, say hello and say goodbye, over and over. Sometimes we plan these journeys — like Caroline did. And sometimes — let’s face it — they simply come upon us.
In 2005 I found myself on a journey I did not want. I was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkins lymphoma to be exact. It was just two weeks after the birth of my ninth baby when I discovered the hard lump on my collarbone — and days after my youngest brother was killed in a car accident.
At the moment my surgeon brother-in-law handed me a bag of bagels, hugged me and said, “I’m sorry it’s cancer,” not only did I fully and totally understand Jonah not wanting to go to Ninevah, but I would have run away myself if I’d have had a place to go. The belly of a whale didn’t even sound so bad.
And yet, through the journey of cancer, one I might even characterize as traveling “through the valley of death,” I learned so much. I learned how to trust. I was forced to strip myself of pride. I found a faith deeper than the theoretical one I had before and thought was real. I learned how to receive instead of give, which is harder than one might think. And, I basically, through suffering, found God.
Trips tend to do that — show us things we never have seen before then wonder where they were all along. They open our eyes.
Caroline is learning a new culture, new people, new food and new ideas. I learned a new culture, new people, even new food, and yes, new ideas from my unwanted journey as well.
These journeys of life, good or bad, planned or not, are always opportunities for this, and for finding truth, beauty, goodness and God.
We all have to let go — it is the nature of life. Can we reach heaven unless we die? Can a plant grow unless there is demise of a seed? Can we really move forward if we refuse to move our feet and stay firmly where we are?
How frequently have we, in our lives, lamented the ending of one thing, only to see that it is the beautiful beginning of another?
Today, I just want to encourage you to look at the changes occurring in your own life, good or bad, chosen or unchosen, and to watch very carefully for God’s hand in those things. Be open. Trust. Have faith.
Please, please, don’t be afraid to move forward. Life may not be a Disney story where we can travel to Never Never Land and stay young forever. But with God’s help, we can learn to embrace every single journey. We can fly. Now be off!
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