Letting Go

This year, I have faced the most difficult emotional transition that I have faced to this point in my life. It was quite unexpected. I’m middle aged, but this wasn’t a mid-life crisis; it had nothing to do with moving one third of the way across the country for the second time in less than two years. It wasn’t because I began pastoring again after almost a year and a half out of pastoral ministry. No, the upheaval in my heart came because my oldest daughter, Laura, got married. To be clear, I’m thrilled with where she is in life; I’m more than pleased with her choices and I love and respect her new husband. In fact, Jeb – though we didn’t know his name, his personality, or what he looked like – has been in our prayers as her future husband since she was born. She is now living the life for which God designed her and for which her mother and I did our best to prepare her. Everything has worked out in her life according to God’s design, her desires, and our prayers – but it was (and is) still excruciatingly hard for me.

You see, Laura and I have an uncommon relationship (every Daddy probably feels that way). From the time that Laura’s intelligence began to manifest itself, we have talked openly about everything. I have never had to worry about her lying to me (a character trait for which Jeb should be very grateful). Even if she did something wrong, she never tried to lie her way out of it. She is one of the most honest people that I know. Because of that, we could have utterly candid conversations about anything. One of my fondest memories of her is when she told me very frankly, “Daddy, when you preach, I always learn something from you, but I’m not really inspired by it.” Coming from her though, it wasn’t painful, it was helpful – I knew that I needed to work a little on my passion and application from the pulpit. We could talk about finances, philosophies, religion, politics, humanity, and even some of those things which some parents find awkward were not awkward for us. I loved every minute when she was with me.

Let me tell you a bit about Laura’s relationship with Jeb. We had moved to North Carolina after 15 years in Illinois. For several months I had been making regular trips back to Illinois to finish getting our house ready to sell. On one of those trips, Laura went along to spend a week helping me paint the inside of the house. While in the truck, she broached the subject of Jeb. Before this trip and conversation, I had noticed on a couple of occasions that she and Jeb had an out of the ordinary camaraderie. He liked to tease her and according to her – he annoyed her. Her brothers would tease her about Jeb and she would get quite feisty and snap at them and then implore me to make them stop. I’m convinced that there was a God-ordained spark that she was feeling, but it caught her off guard and she wasn’t ready for it – especially as one who is a planner and this was sooner than she expected. There were several times Jeb and I had a little interaction regarding Laura that caught my attention. After one particular brief conversation with him, I told Carol, “he really likes her!”

Laura is not an ordinary girl – and I’m not an ordinary Dad. Once she told me in the truck that she thought she had feelings for Jeb, I told her that I didn’t believe in the “he loves me, he loves me not” daisy petal plucking and waiting around to see what might happen. I told her she should put out some feelers and see if the observations that I had were rooted in reality. Not too surprisingly for me, but I think shockingly to him, in her “grab the bull by the horns” approach to life, she just texted him the next day and asked if they could talk (without telling me that she was going to do it). He told me later that he was laying concrete with his Dad and asked him, “what should I do?” His Dad said, “call her!” So he did. I sit here and laugh at my understanding of how the conversation went:

Jeb: “Hey, what’s up?”

Laura: “Dad and I are working on the house here in Illinois and we have spent a lot of time talking on the way out here and while we’ve been working. And … I’m calling because I just need to know… Do you have feelings for me? Because if you don’t, I need to know so that I can start trying to make sure that I can adjust my emotions and my feelings. And if you do, then good, because I have feelings for you!”

Jeb: “Uhmmmm. Well actually, yes… But this is kind of a surprise.”

While this conversation was taking place, I had gotten the sense that she was on the phone with Jeb, and after what seemed like a half an hour, Laura came back down stairs where I was painting and she had a big smile on her face. I asked her if she talked to Jeb and how it went. Yes, she had and it went very well, she told me.

The next morning he called me and asked if it was okay if he and Laura began pursuing a relationship. I told him yes, but that my philosophy – which I believe is Biblical – is that “relationships are started with the goal of marriage” – he and his parents have the same philosophy and so we started off on the same page.

I want to interject that this approach saved both Jeb and Laura what I believe to be several months of their early adult lives. They could easily have spent much time and emotions wondering if anything was going to happen between them, “he loves me, he loves me not…”

I relate all of this because it reveals what kind of personality my daughter possesses. Any of you who know her well, know this is all true of her. You can also understand then why she and I have what I considered to be an extraordinary relationship. She was never “my little girl” in the traditional “Daddy daughter date” kind of relationship. She was my friend. She was a conversationalist. She would challenge my thinking and my philosophies. Amazingly, she had the ability to disagree with me respectfully and yet submit to my leadership and authority in the home. She would challenge me on something – often quite doggedly, until I said “no.” Then she would say, “yes sir” and that was it. I summarize by asserting that she is strong-willed, opinionated, and submissive. She is confident, competent, and dependent. She is not a paradox, she is balanced.

When she was young, I wasn’t ever really worried about who she would marry, because I figured she was quite capable of picking out a good man – and she did. But, up until this point, I was her confidant. I was the one that she asked advice. I was the one with whom she shared her heart, her feelings, her concerns, her dreams, her wishes. I was the one whose word overruled anything that she heard from someone else – whether a preacher, a teacher, a politician, a boss, or a friend.

My difficult transition was to begin to transfer – and rightly so – that relationship to Jeb. I believe, teach, and preach the “leave and cleave” principle which God ordained from the founding of the first home in the Scriptures. I know that she was designed by God to partner with Jeb. I know that God never intended for her to be in my home forever. I knew that she would leave us and cling to Jeb – and that is right, it is what we all wanted – but it was much harder to let her go than I thought it would be.

I decided that I would start that transition long before the marriage day. There were days when she and Jeb would start talking about what they were going to do in their family – sometimes with a bit of a different philosophical application than I possessed. I could see her beginning to shift her loyalties to Jeb, she was adopting his thinking and his philosophies or ideas. It hurt to be replaced. The conundrum was that I wanted her to embrace him. I wanted him to have her as a wife that was loyal to him above all others.

I had to start biting my tongue. Not because they were making wrong decisions, but they were making different decisions – of which I was not a part. I think both Jeb and Laura sensed that I was struggling. I hope that Jeb wasn’t thinking I was going to be one of those fathers-in-law who made life miserable on the new couple because he either manipulated his will on the couple, or forced the daughter to either choose between her dad or her husband.

One day, a friend of mine sent me Elliot Park’s song “I Loved Her First.” I don’t like the title since it seems to set up a competition between the father and the son-in-law. But the text started me thinking on various things regarding a father letting go. Then, for some reason, I started thinking of my own father-in-law and what an example he had set for me of not only letting go, but of active support.

My father-in-law has never, and I repeat, never, undermined me in our home. He has never demanded that we be there for certain holidays. He has never complained that we spend more time with my parents than with them. He has never criticized me before Carol. He has treated me with more respect than I deserve. He has encouraged Carol in her relationship with me. He has never sown any discord between me and my kids, but constantly encouraged them to listen and learn from me. He has told them that they are fortunate to have me and Carol as their parents. Twice in 23 years of marriage, we have lived within a mile of them and twice we have moved away out of state for ministerial purposes, yet he has always encouraged me to do what is right for our family. The second time that we moved was after their retirement and they had moved down to where we lived so that they could be near us – and then we moved away. If any father-in-law has a reason to be frustrated by the decisions of his son-in-law, it is mine. But he still supports me.

After considering how my father-in-law had made the “leave and cleave” principle possible for me and Carol, I realized that I had some work to do in my mind and heart. I began praying for grace to let go. I began withdrawing from conversations that would spark a bit of jealousy or conflict. I began giving Laura to Jeb. I had to face the reality that things were changing of necessity, and rightly so. I would never again be her confidant. She would not be at liberty to tell me her deepest struggles – her heart would now belong to her husband. I would not be at liberty to advise and direct her as I had done for the last 21 years.

The Lord is giving me grace. I love Laura with immensity and intensity – and I’m certain she does me. But, I have to find contentment in seeing her love and support and depend upon her husband. I find joy in knowing that Jeb has an exceptional wife, partner and supporter – because I know what kind of young woman and daughter she is. I find satisfaction in knowing that as he drives down the road with her sitting next to him, holding his hand, that he is thinking, “I can hardly believe I have such an amazing woman!” My greatest joy though, is in knowing that they both – as one – make God smile as He looks down on their union and sees His plan in action – a plan which he used me and Carol to help bring to fruition.