I took Elizabeth to her first summer camp today. The North Carolina West District of the Wesleyan Church runs it, so Elizabeth is there with some of her friends but also a lot of kids she’s never met before. She was excited when I signed her up weeks ago, but today her anxiety got the best of her.
Elizabeth had to be there by 3 p.m., and I knew she was concerned about being away from home for two nights, so I thought it’d be nice to take her out to lunch and ice cream. We had a great time eating more food than we should have (Daddy-Daughter dates are the best!), and then we headed home to load up her stuff.
That’s when Elizabeth turned on the waterworks.
“Daddy, I don’t want to leave you.”
Now I can normally handle crying kids, especially my own, when they’ve done something wrong and don’t want to be disciplined.
But when Elizabeth is scared of the unknown and just wants her Daddy to protect her?
Yeah, that hurts.
That’s when reality hits me in the face and reminds me that I’m a single parent. Kristen’s not here to offer her love and support. She can’t comfort Elizabeth in her pain. She can’t comfort me in my moments of doubt and worry. She can’t be here to watch our children grow up.
Which leaves me to care for our children, to supply them with their physical and emotional needs, to hold them, hug them, kiss them, love them.
And protect them.
But what would I be protecting Elizabeth from if I kept her at home with me? Her own fear? Her own doubt? Her own journey towards adulthood?
Elizabeth did need me, but not to save her from the experience, but to keep her from missing out on it.
So I bent down to her eye level, softened my voice, and did my best to ease her anxiety:
“Elizabeth, you’re going to have so much fun at camp! You’re going to meet new people and play games and have a great time. It’ll be just like church on Wednesday nights, only longer! [I wasn’t sure if that last one would be convincing, but it seemed to work!]
We got in the truck and made our way to the campground, with Elizabeth holding my right hand the whole time. Once we arrived and she saw all the other kids and where she’d be staying, she didn’t seem so afraid. We got out, took some selfies, and then waited in line to check in. Elizabeth spotted some of her friends, and their enthusiasm began to rub off on her.
We finally reached the cabin, and all of Elizabeth’s fears were gone. Maybe the unknown didn’t seem so unfamiliar to her anymore. Maybe seeing her friends made her feel more comfortable. Maybe she was too distracted to care because she was busy trying to climb the cabin’s bunk beds.
Or maybe God comforted her and gave her peace.
Every time one of my kids reaches a milestone and Kristen’s not here to see it, I feel the hurt; I shed the tears. But then God’s ineffable peace descends on me. It’s kind of like a giant weight lifts off my chest, my shoulders feel light, and my desire to be in control just goes away. And that’s one of the things I’m learning right now in this season of my life:
I’m not in control. I never was. And I never will be.
So I choose to surrender. I’ve seen God’s power. He’s brought me through the fire. He’s given me joy in the middle of sorrow, peace in the storm, and hope for tomorrow.
And that’s enough for me. Amen.