There are days that I ask–
Why did we allow our son to go so soon?
He can’t vote, can’t get a tattoo, can’t operate a meat slicer at a grocery store, can’t rent a car, can’t buy spray paint, can’t get a lottery ticket, can’t buy tobacco, can’t serve on a jury, book a hotel room, or get a Costco card. However, he can join the military (with parental consent) and fight for our country, maybe give his life for you and me, and for others who don’t love this country enough to deserve his sacrifice.
We could have said, “Not now. Maybe next year. Just. Not. Yet.” Yet we didn’t question or flinch, we just signed. My eyes welled up with tears on the day we gave permission to his recruiter who put papers in front of Eli and handed me the tissue box. We willingly betrothed him to his new dad, Uncle Sam, then went home, slightly considering that the inevitable wouldn’t happen any time soon. But let me say, the pride of his decision felt like fireworks going off in my stomach. I’d tell complete strangers at the grocery, “My son is shipping out next week,” and I’m certain they heard the fourth of July celebration I was having with myself.
However, the sucker punch didn’t come until a few months later when we waved good-bye at the American Airlines gate. He didn’t look back as he and a couple others sprinted towards the jet bridge. We were busy laughing with the other families about that impending buzz cut that we didn’t hear the gate agent call them to board. There were no last kisses or hugs—just the whirlwind of a few kids who looked like they were headed to the locker room after a Friday night win.
After we left the terminal, we sat in the car unsure of what to do next. Eli was headed to boot camp, end of question: no regrets, no turning back. No telling his new uncle we’d made a mistake. Right then and there, with a knot the size of Texas in my gut, I told myself we’d done the wrong thing.
But had we?
Part of me–oh so glad he went. He was going nowhere staying at home, messing around with the wrong kids, getting into trouble, jumping job to job. The other part? I couldn’t imagine my baby being the brunt of a drill sergeant who didn’t care what he said about this mama and other choice phrases I can’t share with my PG-rated friends.
Finally, when the three months of nervous fuzzies surrounding whether he’d survive boot camp were over, and when our son successfully earned the title of US Marine, my heart started to breath again. He did it. This was it. The crowning achievement of his entire 17 years. The only problem was I hadn’t thought of anything beyond graduation, his visit home for two weeks, hugging him tightly, and showing him off to my friends at church.
I hadn’t thought about our next good-bye or how difficult the real letting go would be.
Fast forward to ten months on the other side and everything has changed. He talks differently, careful of what he does and doesn’t tell me. He walks into a room differently, his head held high and shoulders square, which has added a couple inches to his previously lanky stature. Yet along with his perfect posture comes the reality that it’s only a matter of time until he deploys. Even though we aren’t in a time of war, the fact that he will be half way around the world in places where the political scenery changes on a daily basis has brought me to a new understanding and appreciation. Oh yeah, I can be heard belting out Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue with Toby Keith on most days, but in the middle of the night I’m begging God to watch over my kid since I’m not close enough to personally hold on to him with my bare hands.
I’m not in control any longer (as if I ever were). I’ve had to stop talking about letting go–biting my cuticles ’til they’re raw, overthinking where he could go, and all the ifs, ands and buts. I can’t track his phone, question how late he stayed out, or argue about what he does with his money. Those days are over. With the letting go comes a relief that I can’t do anything else except pray and trust God. Almost like it’s time to find a hammock on the beach somewhere and rest in the knowledge that in good and bad, battles and calm, God has Eli square in the palm of His hand. After all, he is a good Father who knows my thoughts, and knows my son, and loves us each so very much.
And so, my simple but difficult prayer has become:
God, he’s yours. Whatever he does, wherever he goes, let it all be for Your glory.
Amen. Amen. And Amen.