I'll admit. There were times when the concept of "18 years" overwhelmed me.
Not at first. Not when I held their soft, wet bodies for the first time.
But later. Around one and a half.
Eighteen years stretched out before me as a vast uncharted sea inhabited by diapers, Prom dates, pink eye, shaving, hide-and-seek, bubble baths, Algebra, and Barbie.
There were nights I remember falling to sleep with one prayer repeating itself over and over in my mind, "Oh Lord, tomorrow, let me be nice."
Because sometimes I felt that I had reached the summit of insanity by having four young children and attempting to educate them. And feed them. And keep their bodies sanitary. (Note I didn't say clean).
And the number kept me numb, eighteen years, eighteen years with each of them, on this uncharted, unpredictable sea.
I learned to use a compass. I learned to notice trade winds. I became the essence of "nautical".
And I loved it.
Then Avonlea left for her 2 month mission trip.
It felt as if I had gone to bed 7 months pregnant and woke up not pregnant anymore. I knew my daughter existed, that she still was, but I had no tangible proof of it.
I felt like I had taken my 14 year old daughter, who legally I had until 18, and prematurely sent her off in a life boat alone.
What in the world was I thinking?
Were her lungs developed enough; could she breathe on her own?
What if a storm came up and she was alone?
Her skin, was it ready to protect her little body?
Could she manage her oars, she only weighed 93 pounds?
Her eyes, were they ready for light?
And I couldn't know. Not for sure.
I got several letters and they only served to increase my doubt.
"Joel is so hilarious mom. He makes the funniest faces."
How do I interpret that? Is Joel a cute boy or an orangutan?
Then there was the letter who's back was covered only with the words to the whole song of "I love you a bushel and a peck." which I haven't sung to her since she was approximately four.
Was she telling me that she too, remembers. Was she letting me know her life jacket was on, that she was coping with the sea on her own?
The hardest part about all this was that I shouldn't be whiny or bitter (this is not saying that I'm not, just that I shouldn't be).
These babes watched me as I floundered in the sea of "many little lives". They saw my failures. My sea sickness. My dismay at being caught by storms I should have seen coming. They heard my prayers. They met Jesus through their Daddy and I. And they fell in love. With us first, and then with Him.
Because the Love of Christ compels.
So when my daughter said, "Can I go serve the Lord?" it would have been rather inconsistent to plead eighteen years.
There were times for "no". But I knew it was time for "yes".
So she left, went forward to tell people about Jesus, to help those in physical and spiritual need.
And I felt the vastness of silence.
I learned that the most terrifying sea is not always the sea in storm, but the sea in silence. Vast and lonely and stagnant. No shore in sight.
But there is a shore, I just don't know what it will look like, I can't see it.
She'll come home in a little over a week.
She'll have sailed alone, on her own. Without me.
She'll describe to me her experiences and I will employ every ounce of my imagination trying to experience them, too.
The same baby that metamorphosed to missionary in my arms, I will hold again. But differently.
Giving her space to splash about with her oars. Space to learn adulthood like I learned motherhood.
Space to grow up.
Grant told me recently that he's praying about going on a mission trip next summer.
"Would you be okay with that?" he asks me timidly. He's watched me all summer. Praying for Avonlea. Missing Avonlea.
"Absolutely Grant. Always go when God asks."
Because whatever boat He puts you in, He will teach you to maneuver.
Because whether the sea is stormy or stagnant, He is faithful.
Because I trust Him with this life's most precious cargo, my children.
Many years ago I stopped falling to sleep praying, "Oh Lord, tomorrow, let me be nice."
It has altered to, "Oh Lord, may they all love You, may they all love You, may they all love You..." It's the lullaby of faith, the splay of water on the hull, the heartbeat of new life; soft and wet.