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One of the top items on my husband’s bucket list is to go for a ride in a hot air balloon. My bucket list is full, and therefore has no space remaining for this activity. Granted, I am terrified even at the prospect of doing this; to the point where I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it and immediately envision myself dropping to my hands and knees on the floor of this ridiculously dangerous object as it reaches higher altitude. Several friends have mentioned I should try a tethered hot air balloon ride. “It is so much safer,” they say less than convincingly. “You’re always attached to the ground!”

I understand in this instance what that means: being tethered. However, I have a strong suspicion my body will not be comforted by this understanding, any more than it is when I’m anchored into a high-flying amusement park ride.

As it gets closer to May, I find myself thinking about graduating high school seniors who are making plans and preparations to leave for college in just a few months. I’m not sure why these thoughts are resurfacing, especially since my own children finished their college years quite some time ago. It may have started when we were having a buffet breakfast at our hotel recently. It was not as crowded as usual, and I noticed a couple sit down with their plates piled high with waffles and eggs. A short time after they sat down, a young woman sat down at the table next to them, making brief eye contact with the couple and mumbling a few words. The couple would occasionally glance at the young woman who was paying more attention to her phone than what was on her plate. The couple continued enjoying their breakfast, talking quietly to each other. I heard a little shriek and looked up as the young woman was trying to soak up the hot coffee that was pouring off the side of the table onto her lap. The woman at the next table responded quickly, but calmly, pouring ice water onto her napkin to stop the burning heat from the coffee; then she gave her some fresh napkins and helped her blot the area on her pants to remove the stain that was beginning to form. This all took place in a matter of seconds. The woman quietly returned to her table, took her seat, and finished her cold eggs.

The young woman focused on the couple at the table next to her with a slight smile of embarrassment and appreciation on her face. No words were spoken. Then, the three of them stood and cleared their tables, as the young woman glanced at her phone and said, “Thanks, Mom. We’re supposed to meet at the front of the building for the tour in 30 minutes.” The couple nodded and they boarded the elevator together.

It was obvious the young woman wanted some space, and it was obvious the couple knew that and respected those boundaries. We were in a college town, at a hotel associated with the university, and it was obvious that this young woman was nearing her time to “leave the nest.”

Just as obvious was the amount of love between them. The young woman was still “tethered.” She probably didn’t realize it as most of us do not. Yet, when she was hurt and a little humiliated, she was near enough to the anchor to be helped and reassured without being shamed. And she may not understand for a while, but it took everything that mom had to not ask her a gazillion questions: What she was doing on her phone? What she hoped to do or find out today? Was she nervous? Had she eaten enough? Then to be able to quietly swoop in and help her daughter, maybe the last time for quite a while, to fix the pain and the stain and the embarrassment without any words - just smiles. What a gift. Not just for the young woman but for the mother as well.

I remember after we returned home from dropping our oldest daughter off to begin her first year of college, I couldn’t get to my computer fast enough. I wrote an email, more of an epistle, that we still laugh about to this day. On our trip home, I suddenly panicked and thought of all the things I had forgotten to tell her or warn her about, like: make sure you’re not walking alone on campus at night; take notes; sit near the front so the professor thinks you’re interested (this lesson learned from her father apparently went a long way); don’t let a coffee spill or other stain stay on your clothes until it dries. Those kinds of things.

At some point, I had to just loosen the tether, letting her know if she needed it pulled in a little, we were there. I would say, with tears welling up in my eyes, “But, of course, you’ve got this, and I know you’ll do great on your own.” They’re welling up again just remembering the heaviness and feeling of that “release.”

As always, I compare these life situations (especially with children), with how God works at giving us just enough rope. Not to hang ourselves, but to try out our wings and test our faith; then to return again to our anchor for refreshment, refueling, and renewed faith. At that point, we set out again, with our tether being released a bit more each time. Because just as we hope and pray our children will have all that they need, God is willing and available to give us the tools we need to keep going - to live out this life on earth as his children. Remembering with each lesson and test of faith, with each stain and extended tethering, we find ourselves able to do far more than we ever dreamed possible.

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