It's amazing to me how the mind works, especially at those pivotal times in my life when change is on the horizon. For weeks now, I have found myself thinking about the past 18 years of my son Ryan's life as if I was flipping through the pages of a photo album. There's Ryan in diapers, standing on his tippie toes to grab a kitten out of the woodpile by the back door. He gets hold of the little ball of fluff and proudly turns toward me, gripping the poor kitty by the neck and holding her upside down. "Look mommy - kittie," I can hear him saying, as I quickly turn the kitty upright and place her back gently in my son's outstretched arms.
The kitty memory is quickly followed by other images of Ryan holding snakes, bugs, puppies and baby squirrels. My child loved any kind of animal and at that time in his young life, he dreamed of being the next Crocodile Hunter or possibly a veterinarian for a zoo. Fear was something Ryan never seemed to grapple with. I don't know how many times I'd be talking with people at a game or a gathering and hear someone gasp out loud or burst into laughter. Usually when I looked to see what had grabbed their attention, I'd find my youngest in some kind of predicament. One time I turned around to find Ryan on top of the baseball dugout during one of Nick's Little League games. Another time, I discovered Ryan covered in purple poke berry juice from head to toe after he'd been exploring with a friend. There are too many Ryan stories to share here, but I can tell you I've been replaying many of them in my mind this week.
It's amazing when I allow myself to look back on Ryan's life to see the transformation that has occurred in what seems like 18 very short years. I see God's hand at every turn, and I find it difficult to believe that on Sunday, Ryan and 152 other members of Cassville High School's Class of 2008 will walk across the stage to accept their diplomas and begin the next stage of their young adult lives.
Graduations are bittersweet. As Mike reminds me often, it is the parents' job to get our children ready to leave home and function on their own. I think that concept is a lot harder for moms to embrace, but as is often the case, Mike's more level head prevails and I know in my heart he's exactly right.
I also have realized over the past few weeks that I have been preparing for my youngest son to leave our nest almost from the day he was born. I will never forget the first few weeks of Ryan's life, which were spent in the neonatal ICU at Cox South Hospital and then at St. Louis Children's Hospital. Without going into a lot of medical jargon, Ryan was born with a rare condition that was causing him to lose platelets rapidly, which put him at a great risk for a brain hemorrhage. The specialists in St. Louis immediately scheduled Ryan for surgery, which would be the first of its kind performed at the hospital. These doctors also told us Ryan had only a 50 percent chance of surviving the complicated procedure.
I remember the day of Ryan's surgery vividly. Mike and I had a chance to hold our tiny son in our arms for one last time before he went into surgery. We prayed over him, shed some tears and then trusted God to do the rest. I held Ryan up in my two hands and handed him over to the anesthesiologist, and as I did that, I imagined I was placing him in God's outstretched hands. I prayed, "God, I am giving you my child Ryan who is Your child too. I am giving him completely to You and I trust You with whatever is to come. Whether we have seven days with him or a lifetime, I know You are in control, and you can care for him and love him more perfectly than I can. He's in Your hands now, God, which is the best place for him to be. Watch over our precious child. He's yours and always will be."
For the first time in my life, I experienced that incredible peace that the Bible describes as "passing all understanding." I should have been hysterical, frantic, worried, but instead I passed the next four hours with Mike, quietly trusting God. When Ryan came out of surgery, the doctors were ecstatic. They reported that the surgery went better than expected, and within days, Ryan was unplugged from every machine and ready to come home to Cassville.
The experience of turning our son over to the doctors and completely over to God's care was pivotal for me and my faith journey. I will need to rely on that faith again as I let go and let my son head off to college in Colorado in the fall. This week, I have been reminded of the prayer I said so many years ago, and I find myself composing another version of it, as Ryan gets ready to begin life's next adventure.
This prayer is for Ryan and all the members of Cassville High School's Class of 2008.
"Dear Lord, Thank you for giving us children and allowing us to care for them for awhile. I pray that we provided them with a foundation of faith and love that will allow them to build solid lives and relationships in the future. I thank you for all the successes they enjoyed and the challenges they faced over the past 18 years. I know You have used both to refine their character and build their faith in You.
"I pray that each of these precious young people will discover the gifts and abilities you've given them. I pray that they would use their gifts to make a mark on this world, and they would set lofty goals for themselves and not give up until they meet them. In those times when doubt creeps in, let them turn to You for the help they need to persevere in a competitive world.
"I pray that You would guard their hearts and minds from temptation and negative influence, and you would help them use their new found freedom to grow intellectually, spiritually and physically. May your angels be ever vigilant as they watch over our children while they are away from us, protect them and keep them from harm. I also pray that these young adults would know when they need to ask for help and that we, as parents, would always make ourselves available to them, not to get them out of scrapes or keep them from experiencing the consequences of their actions, but to love them unconditionally through all life will throw their way.
"Above all, I pray that our children will seek You as they make decisions that will determine their future. May You guide their steps and fill their hearts and minds with a knowledge of Your great and perfect love. We know the plans You have for them and we know that those plans involve hope, prosperity and protection. And Lord, as I close this prayer, I ask that you give us, as parents, the grace to loosen our grip and let our children go freely into the world. It's so hard Lord, and our hearts, at times, feel as if they will break, but we know that they do not go out into the world alone. You will be accompanying our children on this journey and we know there's no better travelling companion than their Heavenly Father. Thank you Lord for that assurance, and in the coming months may You remind us of it often. We pray all these things in Jesus' precious name."
Congratulations to Cassville High School's Class of 2008. It's been a joy to watch you grow up before our eyes into such outstanding young men and women. You have made a difference in your school, in your community and in your homes over the past 18 years and you will be greatly missed.