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My backyard. The caption was Eli’s idea that he posted on Instagram. He was about to start the second semester of 8th grade, the new kid in our small town. He was still a clumsy boy, chunky in the middle, shorter than most at school. A boy embracing a new start.

I took the picture a few weeks after we moved to Wyoming on a snowy December evening, when we were enamored with the short winter days and long frigid nights, excited to open the curtains and look outside to see how much snow fell while we slept. The days when I’d stop loading the dishwasher and the kids paused Netflix and we’d gather outside to watch the sun set into the mountains, the evergreens lined up in their neatly knitted snow scarves.

Four years later I came across this picture on my phone. The foreshadowing captured in one simple pose hit me hard. It was as though Eli raced through puberty after moving here–he shot up to 6’ tall, grew hair under his arms and his voice deepened, all while barely weighing in at 120 on the day he enlisted.

I studied the picture one day when I had nothing else to do. Besides, it was of him and he wasn’t here and I longed to remember the days he roamed our property and would come in for dinner. In the picture, he is walking away from me, headed towards the sunset, like it was calling to him. Follow me and make your own path. Don’t stay put, trust your instincts. 

Did I know there was a voice speaking louder than me? Perhaps. He’d always been the one to follow his own lead so I had to let him go. I had to allow him to carve out his own path even if it didn’t meet my expectations or hopes. But it didn’t come easy, this letting go.

“Son, be careful! Not too far! Turn around! Come back!” I tried steering him towards the driveway, where the snow wasn’t so deep, so that his walk home wouldn’t be so time consuming. But no, he wouldn’t listen. He took the long way, the route no one else had walked, like he was captaining his own ship, trusting his gut on this road less travelled.

I’ve learned a lot from this kid. I’ve had to let him go and allow him to find his own way. I’ve had to trust him to a Father who has plans so much bigger than any I had for him. I’ve had to step away and allow God to shape his dreams and intentions rather than me deciding what’s best for him. Kids have to learn to fly on their own, to make their own footsteps in the fresh snow.

Then, sit back and watch what God does in your kid. You’ll be amazed.

Eli, I’m so very proud of you.

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