We just dropped Chelsea off at college. I've only called her twice in the two hours since we got home, so I'd say I'm holding it together remarkably well.
She's ready, though, even if I'm not. In the past year, Chelsea has metamorphosed from a teenager into a woman. She took care of all the planning for her move, occasionally taking me along for shopping trips. She ordered her pink bike on-line and even assembled it herself. (All right, so she put the fenders on backwards, but who's perfect? We had the bike shop do a "tune up." Not that we thought it would fall apart or anything.)
It goes without saying that I miss her, but the strangest part is permanently giving up the illusion of control. I say "illusion" because nobody ever controlled Chelsea. She grew up to be a wonderful young woman with far better judgment than either of her parents at eighteen (and arguably either of us now), but only because she chose to be.
Until Chelsea was eight, The Strong-Willed Child by James Dobson was my child rearing bible. He said that strong-willed children take comfort in knowing that their parents are in charge and that there are consequences when they step out of line. The problem was that Dobson had never met Chelsea Acker. "I shall never surrender!" was her battle cry. And she never did, no matter what the consequences.
One night, Chelsea and I had just finished locking horns about something when in desperation I asked God for guidance. (Yes, it's typical for me to wait until I'm desperate to ask God for help. But I'm getting better.) The answer he impressed on my mind was clear. "If you're under grace, why are you putting Chelsea under the law?" I suddenly realized that "Because she's a child" didn't cut it.
Through Chelsea, God taught me a powerful lesson: The law cannot change a person, including a child. That is the whole point of the Gospel. Only God's grace, working from within to mold the heart, can transform a life.
So from that moment on, we focused on our relationships with our children, making sure above all else that they know how much we love them. And we prayed for them, trusting that God alone has access to their hearts. The other three children have always accepted guidance a lot more easily, but Chelsea needed to make her own mistakes and learn from them. And by the time she hit her teenage years, she seemed to have gotten the rebellion out of her system. William Sears analogizes strong-willed children to high-risk, high-yield investments. If so, we've really hit the jackpot on this one!
The only real power we have over children is on our knees, because they may choose to go their own way when the rules are gone. But the power of prayer is infinite, and not limited by proximity. I won't know where she goes, when she comes home at night, or whether she wears a bike helmet, but I can ask God for his shield of protection. Not just during the next four years, but always.
"I hurl you into the universe and pray."