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My fifteen-year-old daughter announced that she was leaving me. But only for a week. Her high school’s music department was sponsoring a springtime trip to Washington DC, and Sarah was eager to participate. She had been away from home before at girl’s camps and youth conferences, but because my husband was the bishop, he was always at the same activities—available to our daughter if she needed him—so I hadn’t worried about her much. But the news of this impending parent-free trip stirred me up in a strange way. It wasn’t just a week long flight from the nest I envisioned, but departures for college, mission, and marriage. My subconscious did what it often does when I process deep emotions: it whispered fragments of a new song—a way to cope with the goodbyes I would say to my children in the future.

“The day has come for you to go.
I’ve watched you closely, so I know.
I recognize your restlessness—
it’s time for you to leave the nest.” (1)

Four years later, our family stopped at my parent’s home for photos and goodbyes before we took our first missionary to the MTC. We sat around chatting for a bit, filled with the jitters that come with change. When I checked my watch and realized we would need to leave soon, I asked one of my daughters if I could switch places with her on the couch so I could be next to my missionary. As I looked at Nate, the aching reality of a two year separation washed over me, and for just a moment I didn’t see how I could let him go.

“A part of me will fly away
as you leave the nest today…” (2)

My children are such an integral part of my world, our lives so intertwined, that it is no exaggeration to say they take a piece of me with them when they leave. These heart wrenching partings have helped me appreciate the wisdom and courage of Heavenly Parents who nudged their spirit children out the complacency of a pre-mortal nest, knowing that some partings are essential in order for growth to occur.

Maternal protective instincts are powerful. Approaching our vegetable garden one day, I was startled to see a bird run toward me, when suddenly it twisted to one side, with one wing fanning out at an awkward angle. I assumed the wing was broken, but my husband knew better. He smiled and informed me that the bird was a killdeer, and its wing was perfectly sound. This type of bird nests on the ground. In order to protect its babies, a killdeer performs a “broken wing act” to distract predators, leading them away from the nest.

This powerful instinct to protect young ones explains in part why a human mother struggles when her nestling is poised for flight. Remembering her first taste of independence, she’s torn between excitement for her child to experience that delicious sense of freedom, and feeling powerless to guard her offspring from danger once he or she leaves the confines of the nest.

“Enjoy the rhythm of your wings,
the freedom soaring always brings.
Yet in that endless span of sky
be careful where you choose to fly.” (3)

I have long appreciated the Savior’s assurance that the Father is aware of even the smallest bird, yet it has taken decades of motherhood for me to begin to truly turn my children over to the Lord, trusting that He loves and knows them even more than I can—a difficult thing for a parent to believe. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31)

Six months after taking our son to the MTC, we found ourselves there again. This time it was our oldest child, a daughter, who was leaving the nest. Though I was happy she was choosing to serve, I had some serious concerns for her. As we pulled away from the parking lot, I turned my head toward the side window to hide the tears of worry I could not seem to stem. I had no way of knowing then that within an hour of entering the MTC Sarah would meet her future husband. The Lord was very much aware of my sparrow.

Yes, “a part of me [flies] away” as my children leave the nest, but I have found comfort in the truth that “part of [them stays] with me…” (4) When children spend a large portion of their young lives with their mother, they cannot help but be influenced by her in significant ways. What I didn’t expect as my children began leaving my nest was the discovery that their influence on me has also been powerful.

My head is filled with excerpts of my oldest daughter’s flowing piano compositions and poetry; I will forever view my surroundings with greater awareness of light and shadow after observing the son who sees everything through a camera lens. I may sigh over the extra work of rinsing and drying recyclable bottles and containers, yet I smile with the realization that my youngest daughter’s tree hugger ways are slowly rubbing off on me. In my mind’s eye are countless images of my middle daughter—always seeking out young children—comforting them and coaxing smiles; and on days when I lack motivation to tackle a frustrating project, thoughts of my second son’s remarkable work ethic can get me off the couch. My children’s voices ring in my ears–their songs, their laughter, their quirky humor. Their spiritual explorations have deeply enhanced my own. These children have changed me, each one filling in my black and white lines with their own vibrant color.

“I am grateful to have been so blessed
to have sheltered [them] in my nest.” (5)

My Nest
Words and music by Lynne Perry Christofferson
(from the album When I Feel His Love)
Vocalists: Tammy Simister Robinson, with One Clear Voice

The day has come for you to go.
I’ve watched you closely, so I know.
I recognize your restlessness—
it’s time for you to leave the nest.

I’ve taught you much of what you know.
It’s been a joy to see you grow.
You fluttered first, then learned to glide
while I was flying at your side.

A part of me will fly away
as you leave the nest today.
But part of you will stay with me.
You will always be a welcome guest
within my nest.

You’ve had brief chances to explore
that left you eager to see more.
You’ve taken tiny solo flights,
but always close within my sight.

Enjoy the rhythm of your wings,
the freedom soaring always brings.
Yet in that endless span of sky
be careful where you choose to fly.

A part of me will fly away
as you leave the nest today.
But part of you will stay with me.
You will always be a welcome guest
within my nest.

I’m trusting you now to the Father’s care,
for when any sparrow falls, He is aware.

A part of me will fly away
as you leave the nest today.
But part of you will stay with me.
You will always be a welcome guest—

I am grateful to have been so blessed
to have sheltered you in my nest.

 

1. Lynne Perry Christofferson, “My Nest?” When I Feel His Love, (album), 2005.

  1. ibid
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. ibid