“Are you crying?” Thomas asked, somewhat annoyed and somewhat bemused.
I didn’t answer.
It was just a normal Friday night. Karen and I were standing in the kitchen, my arms around her, her head resting on my shoulder. We’d just gotten home from work, our first week back after a nice holiday break. We were tired but happy. Life was good. The pizza was ordered, and we were ready to relax together for the evening.
Thomas was sitting at the piano. He stopped there briefly to play a song before heading out with some friends to go bowling. Some kids waste a few minutes watching TV. Others waste them playing video games. Thomas does both of those things. But the thing he does best is play and sing.
The song was an old favorite of ours—Canaan Bound. It was written by Andrew Peterson, one of our favorite artists. His music has been part of our household Thomas’s entire life (See Andrew Peterson is the guy I want to be, December 4, 2012). Sometimes it seems like Andrew Peterson is part of our family, or at least spying on us.
Sarah, take me by my arm
Tomorrow we are Canaan bound
Where westward sails the golden sun
And Hebron's hills are amber crowned
It’s a song about Abraham, the Bible patriarch, and his wife, Sarah. It’s told from Abraham’s perspective. He’s gently coaxing her to go on a journey with him. He’s heard the call of God, to a destination and future unknown. They’ve been together a long time, but their adventure is just beginning. He knows they must go, and trust God to lead them.
Three years ago, Thomas and I made a college visit. It was a bit of a lark. We went to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. We knew nobody there, had never even been to Nashville before. Thomas didn’t seem that excited to go, but since it’s a great school for music-related studies, he figured it was worth a look. On the way home from that visit he said to me, “I think if I get in, I should probably go here.” He did. He does. It ended up being the right school for him.
Next spring he will graduate. He is thriving. And I can sense from him that he’s restless. His ties to Frederick are thinning.
So bid your troubled heart be still
The grass, they say, is soft and green
The trees are tall and honey-filled
So, Sarah, come and walk with me
He stayed in Nashville this summer. We weren’t surprised. He has a great group of friends, and he’s worked the same job back home two summers in a row. He wouldn’t want to do it a third time. It’s time to branch out, spread the wings, so to speak.
We received the news with grace, even enthusiasm. But inside we wondered, Will he ever live here again? What does this mean for him? For us? Is he — are we — ready for this?
Karen and I have raised three sons. It has been our defining identity. We love them more than life itself, and we are happy to see them become adults. As parents, we did everything we could to prepare our children to leave someday. It starts with protecting them from harm. Don’t stick the fork in there. It progresses to teaching them basic human skills. Your socks smell like death. Change them. Then it moves on to coaching them. Throw strikes and don’t worry if they hit the ball. Then partnering with them. It’s always better to hit the brakes before you run into the car in front of you. And then it ends with the release. Here are the keys (and any chance I have of sleeping tonight). It’s rewarding and exhausting. It’s the hardest and greatest thing Karen and I have ever done. We always knew that someday this moment—the leaving of the nest—would come.
It’s what we want to happen. It’s what should happen. And yet.
As Thomas sings, my heart stops for a moment. Something is caught in my throat. Tears come to my eyes. The song coming from the piano—it’s the song of a new land, one we haven’t yet explored. We know it’s good. We’ve been looking forward to the trip. But now that it’s here, we aren’t sure we are ready. The song is plaintive and bittersweet. It’s about the future and the past. It’s about what has been and what will be. It’s a song of trust and of faith. We are no longer the parents of three children, but three young men setting their own course in the world. What will become of them? What will become of us?
Like the stars across the heavens flung
Like water in the desert sprung
Like the grains of sand, our many sons
Oh Sarah fair and barren one
Come to Canaan, come
Thomas finishes the song, his voice sailing effortlessly into the night air, along with the words that hang there.
Long after we are dead and gone
A thousand years our tale be sung
How faith compelled and bore us on
How barren Sarah bore a son
So come to Canaan, come
He gets up, throws on a jacket, and heads toward the door. “I’m going,” he says flippantly.
Yes, son, we know.
So are we. We just don’t know where.