The engagement of our firstborn brings with it a time of intense reflection. Thoughts of Meredith's childhood visit me daily as I consider the enormous joy she has brought into our lives. Scenes, like the one captured on video of Meredith as a toddler sitting on Timmy's back while on the bathroom floor working on leaking pipes, come into clear focus as if witnessed just yesterday. Among the snapshots in my mind's eye is a first grade girl campaigning for a Virginia Senator by encouraging passersby to honk in support as they drove down our dead-end neighborhood street. I recall the inner turmoil we experienced as she was influenced poorly by her peer group in her younger teen years and the joy we felt when she returned to the contentment and vibrant personality for which she is characterized.
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt when Meredith turned eighteen. It was within a week of my having turned forty. I surveyed the past and looked to the future and realized that with this one child, I was done. My work was over. Sure, I would continue to walk alongside her and share any small bits of wisdom I might have gained, but the everyday pleasure of having raised a daughter was pretty much over. I realized that this was the beginning of the end. She was the first but the boys would all follow quickly behind her and soon the most enjoyable job of my life would be over. I would forever close the chapter of parenting - something that has brought me more joy than I ever dreamed possible.
As we usually do, the plan for Meredith's eighteenth birthday involved shopping and lunch out. It occurred to me early in the day that I was unusually sad about her turning 18. I couldn't help but think about how quickly the years spent raising her had passed by. It seems I had just called Timmy at work yesterday to tell him we were being induced for labor. Hadn't we just brought her home from the hospital - this baby we called "Sergeant Carter" from the series "Gomer Pyle?" The years that seemed to drag on forever while praying that we could once again homeschool Meredith while serving as houseparents at a children's home, really were but a blink of an eye. The many moves we made as Meredith helped us find and fix up foreclosed houses all faded into a blur of chaotic memories of hard work mixed with laughter. Here she was, an eighteen year old, all grown up, finished, no longer a child.
I managed to hide my emotions involving the birthday shopping trip until Meredith commented on one particular item she was hoping to find that day - a new robe. As she began explaining how she thought a new robe might be nice, I was immediately transported to a Christmas morning when she was eight years old. I could clearly see her in my mind's eye opening her gifts wearing the last robe we had bought for her. I don't know why she never received a replacement robe when she outgrew that one but the sweet little girl on Christmas morning remained a vivid picture in my mind. While Meredith continued talking about the type robe she was hoping to purchase, I could bear the sadness no longer and broke down crying. Through the sobbing I could barely explain, "It seems like we just bought you a robe! You were eight years old such a short while ago. It all went by so quickly. Now it's all over."
As that eighteenth birthday came and went, I adjusted to the new season of having a young adult daughter and came to enjoy the new relationship as much as I had the previous one. Gone were the days of worrying about how she'd turn out. In their place came the joy of walking alongside a young woman who was firmly established in her own personal relationship with Christ. What a blessing to spend my days with a girl so filled with contentment and happiness as she grew in her walk with the Lord.
The only real issue that caused me pause was when young men would ask to meet with Timmy in regard to Meredith. As Timmy would seriously pray before meeting with each boy, then come home to share the details with me, my heart would be in a knot as I wondered if this would be the man that ushers in the next phase of our relationship with our daughter. As Timmy sought God earnestly for guidance in this most important job for which Meredith had entrusted him - help in choosing a husband - I was eager to be a listening ear while offering input as Timmy would discuss what he felt God was telling him in regard to each young man. As the chapter would close, I would breathe a sigh of relief. Whew - she's not leaving yet!
What an unusual mix of emotions for a mother - I want my daughter to marry and have a family more than anything in the world. But in her doing so, I'll lose the daily companionship of the best young girlfriend I have! Not having experienced a child leaving, I'm imagining it to be really sad although all my older friends say it is even more wonderful to have married daughters. Surely they're not all mistaken. To further convince me that it won't feel like a death is my own experience. My relationship with my mother is immeasurably more wonderful than before I was married. Why wouldn't the same be true when Meredith is married?
I remember clearly the Sunday that Meredith told me she needed to talk with me and asked if she could ride with me while I dropped off the milk we were delivering to a drop site. She told me that a young man had written to ask a relevant question at her blog. As was customary, Meredith did background checks on any young man before replying to their questions - no matter how worthy the question might seem. She believes that the focus of her online ministry is to young ladies and that young men are often better served by other ministries. However, in an attempt to be cordial she did answer questions from young men that she felt were like-minded.
She shared with me the question that the young man asked and the communication that had taken place since then. We agreed that guidance was needed from Dad and the big boys - Elliott and Oliver. Meredith and I have learned first hand that, as women, we are created with a much deeper well of emotions and we can be led astray by feelings if we don't have the valuable input from men who are much more logical and analytical. (Our men never get starry-eyed or dreamy as Meredith and I talk about love, weddings, and such!)
After discussing everything, it was decided that further communication take place between Timmy and the young man.
Over the next four months, calls were made, letters were written, and information was mailed from one country to another as Timmy and the young man became acquainted. Because of the extreme danger in an internet relationship, I can't even imagine the communication having been pursued on our part had this young man's history not been documented and publicly accessible dating back to his early years in school. In an age when cyberspace can pose a great threat, it can also serve as a guardian as it documents the details of our lives. As we learned primarily about the young man's remarkable walk with the Lord, a date was set for an extended visit and it became evident that God was sending this young man into our lives for a reason of His design.
In preparation for the visit, our family was in much prayer. Timmy prepared pages upon pages of questions that were relevant in his assignment of offering guidance to Meredith in selecting a husband. The first full day of the visit concluded after many hours of interviewing while Timmy and the young man spent time together. That night after everyone had gone to bed Timmy told me how the young man answered all the questions. I offered some input, Timmy added more questions, and I sneaked up to Meredith's room to tell her the answers to all of the questions. Although discussed previously, Timmy told me she needed to give him her list of requirements for a potential mate by the next morning.
At this point, it all became a blur of Timmy taking the young man out for more discussion, Meredith and the young man spending time together discussing what they believed God would have them look for in a mate, and me crying every time they weren't around. From the anxiety I saw in Timmy when interviewing the other young men who had come in the past to the peaceful confidence he had as he told me about Stephen, I knew in my heart - this is the going to be the one!
As the time together concluded, we all agreed that God had answered our most urgent prayer prior to Stephen's visit: that we would know beyond a shadow of doubt that we had heard from God - no matter what the answer was and no matter if we were happy or sad with God's answer. More than anything, we just wanted to know what God's will was concerning these two young people. We were willing to accept any answer. We just desperately needed to know that we had heard from God and God alone.
I can't begin to measure the peace that has accompanied Meredith's engagement to Stephen, but I can explain it. As Christians who are committed to God's plan for our lives, He reveals the paths we should take. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" Isaiah 30:21 For those who strive to walk with God daily, He gives direction, then He gives us immeasurable peace when we're walking in His way. People often say that they can't imagine walking through the death of a loved one without a personal relationship with God. I can't imagine walking through the joy of helping a daughter choose a husband without a personal relationship with God. We can truly rejoice without any fear or hesitation because we are confident God has spoken regarding the union of Meredith and Stephen.
Timmy and I are so filled with happiness as we see this young, God-following couple preparing to begin their lives together. It is every bit as beautiful as the birth of a newborn to see this incredible miracle God has done in bringing these two precious young adults to one another. We are eagerly and most excitedly preparing for the marriage of our Meredith and this young man, Stephen, who is already bringing so much joy into our lives as he exudes the character of Christ in every way.
Before long, I'll see if what my friends say is true - that the relationship with a married daughter is even better than before. Until then, I am finding great comfort in the fact that I've not even seen a robe sized small enough for Sheridan. As robe sizes go, we've got a lot of years ahead to enjoy another sweet daughter bringing joy and laughter into our hearts and home.