04 JudahPeople said it would go fast, these years of raising children. I was sure they were wrong. Maybe because for many years we homeschooled, or because we had six children, or because our daughter Ruth had profound special needs—but some days dragged by so slow, I was ready for bed long before the kids!

Boy Scouts, basketball, church, piano, guitar, I could barely keep up. Like a magnificent snowball, the years started out small and built fast, flying downhill while gaining size and speed until they were well beyond my control. One day I could pick up my oldest son, Judah. The next I could hold him only on my lap, and before I knew it, he’d outgrown even that.

One fall while out jogging, I pressed Judah to push a little harder and keep up. The next year, his legs lengthened, his stride widened, and he left me panting in his tracks. Watching him play basketball this winter, I marveled at how confident he’d become – how strong! – wresting the ball from opponents with a new determination to not let go.

But this week my oldest son passed a milestone that far surpassed them all. He turned eighteen. Always eager for fun, he celebrated by snowboarding with his younger brother, our 14-year-old French exchange student, and a buddy from school. His 11-year-old sister baked a chocolate cake. And I grabbed an oatmeal box and urged my six-foot son around the living room to the tune of, “Judah is a marching man. Mommy is a drummer. We go marching ‘round the house together,” singing every made-up song from his baby days that I could remember.

Embarrassed, he followed me for a few steps before dodging safely back into the kitchen. And that was it. My oldest son’s years of following me were over. Despite every too-tired-to-read-another-story night when I felt sure my son would always want me near, I know those years are nearing an end.

Did my husband, Dana, and I do enough? Is Judah prepared for what comes next? Will he stay in touch after high school and work hard and want to come home? I hope so. But more than that, I hope he holds onto the values we’ve tried to teach him—to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

From the time our children were small, we’ve told them that God has great plans for their lives. We live in a culture of excess and instant gratification where anything goes, but the Bible says that true happiness is found only in serving God and loving others. That’s it, the full-recipe for a good life—best enjoyed with an extra helping of grace and served on a generous bed of forgiveness.

To this I would add, be determined. No matter what challenges life throws at you, or how hard or lonely or unfair the journey seems, hold fast to the faith you’ve been given. Grow strong. Make it your own. Fight for what matters. Don’t let go.

Eighteen years ago, God gave you life. Now, give it back. Allow him to make that life into something beautiful. Sooner than you think, others will be following you. Remember, we love you. And always, always, always remember to say, “Thank you!”