When each of our two daughters was baptized, our dear friends gave us a framed picture of Jesus, smiling and holding small children. Anita and I hung those pictures, one in each of our girl’s bedrooms, right over their beds.
Because of that gift from friends, our daughters grew up each night of their lives with Jesus watching and smiling over them as they slept.
The significance of this gift became clear when SarahAnn, our older daughter, was preparing to leave for college. That meant our firstborn would be walking out the door into a new season of her life. A season of independence and exploration. A season in which her parents would not be waiting for her at home each evening, and a season in which her parents would not be looking over her shoulder each day. SarahAnn would walk out with big hopes and dreams, and also with fears and worries. Leaving home for the first time is a huge step. Everything changes.
On the evening before her departure for school, we all knew this last night together at home represented a lot. The four of us decided to spend the evening together as a family. No friends, no visitors. This was our last night with things the way they were. Tomorrow, we would drive SarahAnn off to college, and things would be different. Only three of us would still be at home, not four.
SarahAnn would be setting out on a new adventure, living in the world and exploring things like a college student does. When she came home, she now would be more like a guest and a grown-up. Things would be different. We all knew that.
So, on that last night with her at home, we ate dinner together, played games and just talked. We wanted to savor every bit of this time. Tomorrow, things would change, and there would be no going back to the way they used to be.
As the evening drew to a close, SarahAnn got up and said, “I think I am going to go on to bed. Tomorrow is a big day, and I want to get a little sleep to be ready.” We all nodded, and she went upstairs to her bedroom.
An hour or two later, I said something similar. “Tomorrow is a big day. I’ll be doing most of the moving and lifting as we take her stuff to school. So I am going to go on to bed and get some rest so I will be ready.”
As I prepared for bed, I told Anita, “I think I will check on SarahAnn and tell her good night.”
I walked down the hall to SarahAnn’s room and knocked on the door. No answer. I assumed she was asleep, so I slowly opened the door and peeked in.
There she was. Asleep on the bed. Her arms wrapped tightly around the picture of the smiling Jesus, pulling it close to her chest.
I knew right then. She was going to be just fine.
She knew him. And she knew he held her future. She was ready.
Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.