How She Let Go of Worrying About Her Daughter

Her daughter left on a service trip to Guatemala. Could prayer help this mom manage her anxiety?

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- Posted on Mar 1, 2018

Shelby Spear and her daughter, Kahrin

I woke early. It was still dark. The house was quiet. Where was Kahrin? Was she okay? I reached for my phone, then remembered. It was useless. Kahrin didn’t have her phone.

My 19-year-old daughter was on a 10-day service trip to Guatemala organized by her university. Kahrin and I were close. We talked and texted every day. I had two sons; Kahrin was my only daughter. I was all too aware of the vulnerabilities of being a woman. It was my duty to keep her safe.

When Kahrin was in fourth grade, she announced she wanted to play football. Tackle football. Kahrin was tiny. I was anxious about letting her play.

Still, my husband and I decided to let her give it a shot. Kahrin was so small and fast, she became the team’s quarterback. I gritted my teeth through each game. Each time she got tackled, my heart stopped. Then came a moment when she was tackled and stayed on the ground. Enough was enough. Her football days were over.

In high school, I refused to let her go to the mall by herself.

“Mom, all my friends have been going by themselves for ages,” she said.

“That’s beside the point,” I said.

“It’s ridiculous that you think I need a buddy to buy a pair of jeans!”

After weeks of pleading, I relented.

When she was a senior in high school, she wanted to drive to Ohio University to visit her brother.

“You want to drive more than three hours by yourself?” I said. “On a highway? What if you break down? What if your phone dies and you can’t call 911?”

“Mom!” she said, sounding exasperated. “Didn’t you ever go on a long road trip at my age by yourself?”

“Yeah. But that was different.”

“How?” Kahrin asked. “Because you didn’t have a cell phone or any way to communicate with anyone?”

I kept my phone with me the entire time she was on the road, checking constantly to make sure she hadn’t called.

I should have been thrilled when Kahrin chose to go to college only 40 minutes away. My sons were hours away. But there was still plenty to worry about.

“Don’t walk alone at night, ever,” I reminded her on the way to her dorm.

“Mom, please,” Kahrin said.

“And whatever you do,” I said, “don’t ever get into an Uber by yourself.”

“Okay,” Kahrin said. “No need to freak out.”

Halfway through her freshman year, she called me early one Saturday.

“Mom, don’t freak out,” she said.

“What happened? Are you okay? Are you hurt? Do I need to drive down?”

“I’m okay,” she said. “Last night I went to a party. My friends wanted to go somewhere else after, but I was ready to go home. I didn’t want to walk home in the dark, so I took an Uber.”

“By yourself?” I shrieked.

“At least I didn’t walk home alone.”

“You got in a strange car at 2 a.m.!”

“And I’m perfectly safe,” she said. “I wanted to tell you because I knew you’d worry.”

I was glad she’d told me. But I was still horrified that she’d gotten into a car alone with a stranger.

In March of her sophomore year, Kahrin called. I picked up immediately, excited to chat about her week.

“Mom, guess what? I’m going to Guatemala for 10 days on a mission trip!”

She sounded excited. But didn’t Guatemala have serious gang problems? What if Kahrin got separated from the group? What if the water made her sick?

“Wow!” I finally said. “How exciting! I had no idea you were interested in doing a trip like this. Is it a sure thing?”

“Yup!” She was exhilarated. “I had an interview last week and just heard that I’m in.”

“I’m so proud of you,” I said. It’s fine, I told myself, she’ll have her cell phone. I’ll be able to check in with her.

“There’s something you should know about the trip,” Kahrin told me a week later. “When I get to Guatemala, the leaders are taking our phones so we aren’t distracted. I think it will be a good thing. We can unplug and really focus on the purpose of the trip.”

I mumbled something about how I understood. As if! I’d been clinging to that phone for peace about this trip.

On Day One, my first instinct upon waking up had been to check on her. But I couldn’t call. Our last conversation had been the morning before.

“Hi, Mom! We landed in Miami. We’re getting ready to board the plane to Guatemala. Just wanted to say I love you.”

“Be safe,” I’d said. “Stay with the group. I’m praying for you. I love you!”

What if that was the last time we ever spoke? What if she never made it home? I sat up and turned on the light. No way would I be able to go back to sleep. I couldn’t talk to Kahrin about my worries. But I could talk to God.

I got out of bed and went to the kitchen. Made a cup of chai tea and settled into my recliner, facing the picture windows. I spent many mornings praying there, waiting for the sun to come up. That morning, I opened my prayer journal and started writing.

God, I’ve spent her entire life begging you to keep her safe.

I catalogued all the dangers she’d faced in her short life. I’d worried about her playing football, but secretly I’d been proud of her. I’d wanted to play when I was a little girl. And she’d been the quarterback! One of the reasons I’d been so nervous for her to drive long distances was because I remembered how I used to speed from college to my parents’ house. Kahrin was a careful driver. All of my fears had been unfounded. The moments that had filled me with fear turned out to be opportunities for Kahrin to grow.

Lord, please let this Guatemala trip be another growth opportunity. And help me trust you to keep her safe.

I woke early every day and wrote in my prayer journal. I asked for peace, for God to let Kahrin feel my love. I took in the beauty of the sunrise, sipped my chai and filled pages with prayers.

Ten days of morning prayers and numerous journal pages later, the phone call I had been waiting for finally came.

“We just landed in Miami,” Kahrin said. “The flight to Ohio leaves soon.”

A few hours later, we picked her up at the airport. She hugged me, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. When we got to the house, she was quiet. In the past, I would have worried and bombarded her with questions. This time, I let her have her space.

She came downstairs later in the evening. She was holding a small notebook.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“My journal,” she said. “I kept one on the trip.”

“You won’t believe this,” I said. “But I kept one too.”

“Do you want me to read some of it to you?” she asked.

“Of course!” My heart swelled. “Let me grab my journal. I’d love to share some of it with you too.”

Kahrin curled up on the couch, and I took my normal spot on the recliner. She read about her experience in Guatemala. She was one of the few students who spoke Spanish well enough to translate for the others. She made friends with her host family and was using an app to keep in touch with one of the girls she had bonded with there.

I feel like I’m at home here, she read. I’ve never experienced faith like this before. There were even a few notes about me. God, please hold my mom extra close today. I know how she worries.

“I prayed that God would be extra close to you too,” I said.

“I want to change my major to international business,” Kahrin said. “I don’t want to be an accountant. I might join the Peace Corps after graduation.”

Old habits die hard. I heard Peace Corps and thought of danger. But I knew my worries would only hold Kahrin back. “That sounds like a great idea,” I said.

I still have a long journey ahead, but little by little, I’m learning to let go and let my daughter grow.

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