This little light

Sarah In My ArmsIn February of 1962, Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. Yesterday, I left a large part of mine in Birmingham, Alabama.

It is something of a rite of passage for parents my age, and I thought I was prepared for it. Turns out, not so much. Yesterday morning, I said good-bye to the first of my children to move away from home. Sarah, my bright and beautiful 18-year old daughter, is now a student at Highlands College, a wonderful ministry school that is about four hours and twenty minutes away from home. Which is four hours too far for me. When her mother and I were discussing which vehicular configuration would best get all of her stuff up there, she mentioned the three of us—Sarah, her, and me—each driving a car. “No way,” I said, with a good deal of sage wisdom. “Trust me, honey, when we leave there, you are not going to want to drive while being all weepy.” She agreed, and we only took two cars. Good thing, too. Turns out she had already done a lot of grieving for the past two months. So she drove while I cried for an hour and a half.

I know what you’re thinking, at least some of you. Those of you who have already gone through this are thinking, “Hey, I got through it, so will you. It’ll be fine. Don’t be such a baby.” To which I reply, “Well, you could have warned me a little more. Thanks for nothing.”

Then there are those of you who have yet to walk in this place. I hear you, too: “What’s the big deal? You knew this was coming. It’s the natural order. Don’t be such a baby.” And to you, I say what I almost never say to anybody about anything: “Just you wait.

And if by any chance you’re thinking, “I don’t see what’s so hard about it. I couldn’t wait for my kids to leave. Could not have happened soon enough.” All I can say to you is, “I’m happy for your kids.”

Sarah is our number two child out of four. Our oldest, Samuel, is halfway through college, but attending in Mobile and living at home. Nathaniel, almost 16, is a sophomore in high school, and Autumn, almost 11, is entering fifth grade. That makes Sarah the first to break the hometown barrier, while simultaneously breaking my heart and my bank account at the same time.

Sarah1stBirthdayDon’t get me wrong, I am so very proud of her and excited for her as she steps into this phase of her life. She has been ready for this since she was fifteen, I think. Sarah has always been mature beyond her years, and Mobile was already like a room with a low ceiling for her. She never had any interest in silly high school boys (thank you, Jesus) and she has had a real call to ministry for a long time. I didn’t really try to discourage her from ministry, but for the last few years I pulled back the curtain so that she could see more than most people see of the good and the bad of it. But every day, she just wanted more and more to give her life to seeing people set free to fall more in love with Jesus than they have ever been before.

And, in the end, that is why we have children, and that is why we let them go. It doesn’t have to be ministry, but from the moment we first see those wrinkly little fingers and our heart skips at the tremble of their bottom lips when they cry their first cry, we have dreams for them. We want them to succeed. We want them to have children of their own. We want them to love and be loved. Heck, we just want them to be nice people. And we hope, when it is all said and done, that they think we did an okay job being their parents.

I have those dreams for all of my children, and I know that as each one of them steps out of the nest that their mother and I have been building for 27 years, each of them will get their own tribute from me. But for now, I miss my Sarah. I just don’t know how to not have her in the room. She makes me laugh. I mean, really laugh. She hugs me and kisses my face. We like the same stuff. She has her mother’s smile and my eyebrows, a problem which she now corrects with makeup. She lights up any room just by walking in, and she loves God from deep in her heart, and with everything she has. I am a proud father.

SarahArtAwardAnd she is about to have so much fun. I wouldn’t trade anything for the memories I have with my college roommates. They are lifelong friends, and though we all live in different cities, if we met up today, our conversation would begin with the word “and…” Sarah is about to have that, too. Though I am always here, she is on her own, now. She will learn her own way around a whole new city. She will make new friends and find new restaurants. She might be meeting, any day now, the man who will love her for the rest of her life.  I want all of that for her, as much as I have ever wanted anything. But she has to leave to find it.

So on the long road home yesterday, I thought of a childhood song in a different way than I ever have before. When I used to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” I thought I was singing about my own life. Turns out it isn’t about me anymore. So here’s how it goes now:

Sarah and meThis little light of mine, I’m gonna let her shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let her shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let her shine

Let her shine, let her shine, let her shine


Hide her under my own roof?


I’m gonna let her shine.

Hide her just inside my heart?


I’m gonna let her shine.

Hide her away because I miss her here?


I’m gonna let her shine.

Let her shine, let her shine, let her shine.


Shine on, Sarah.

I love you,




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5 responses to “This little light

  1. You go girl. Sorry dad. I know I know, I got mine coming……his war planes and nerf guns are a constant reminder 😦

  2. How well I know this feeling and just reading what you wrote brought it all back. But it is alright. Our Michelle did find her husband and her calling and all is well with my soul. (I sure did miss her though) snif snif…

  3. Renee Cancel

    My heart hurts from reading this and you and MaryAnn are in my prayers! What a beautiful gift to Sarah that you have given her. I couldn’t stand it when Allie was gone for 5 days visiting cousins last week. This makes me want to hold each of my children close and treasure each moment! Thanks for the reminder of how precious our children are! I so appreciate and admire what a great father you are! Sarah is blessed, indeed.

  4. Charlotte

    You and MaryAnne have been great parents. You have expressed in these words what we all have felt as each of our children has left the nest. We are proud of Sarah and of the good parenting that you have done. We love you all. Blessings

  5. Sweet sweet tribute. As I read I could feel in my heart what it was like for you to let her go. It brought a tear to my eye. Congrats to Sarah, blessings and prayers going with her, I wish her all the best.

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