Author and Speaker Sherri Gragg reflects on her daughter’s upcoming graduation, and the unique challenges and joys a mother faces as she and her daughter embrace a new season of life. She shares her heart as a mother who is preparing herself and her daughter for graduation; and her thoughts on what it means to let go.
Sherri Gragg: My name is Sherri Gragg, and I am the author of Arms Open Wide: A Call to Linger in the Savior’s Presence.
My daughter Meghan is graduating from high school in just a couple of months, and I am in this weird state of being excited for her and in an extended period of anticipatory grief. And I just can’t believe that’s she going to be gone, you know? And I don’t think any of us can.
Narrator: Welcome to the Experience Jesus Calling Podcast. Sherri Gragg is not only a successful author and speaker, she is the proud mother of 5 children. As she gets ready to send her oldest daughter off to college, she reflects on her own experience toward finding her life’s path and what it was like when she herself made this important leap into adulthood.
Sherri: I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and I have lived here more than I have lived anywhere else in my life. My family moved around the South some when I was a child, so I’ve lived in a few different places. I spent my childhood in Appalachia, in the mountains of North Carolina, but I’ve been back here since I was eighteen years old, so this is definitely home for me.
I really believe that God creates us all with a llllrpose in mind, and it’s very comforting to me. I believe He created me to be a writer. In first grade, I remember when all the other kids had free time, they’d be playing with blocks. I fell in love with books. And I would be over in the corner reading Dick and Jane, as simple as they were, and I loved those books.
And I really thought that I would like to be a journalist. But because my home had very defined ideas of what my path should be, I really had no choice of where to go to school. And my parents felt very strongly that I was to go to the denominational Bible college. And it’s a good place, but I only had four choices, I think, of what I could be there: a missionary; a music major, which would have been such a disaster; a two-year business degree; and a teacher.
…my wishes for them now are really the same that they have always been… that they will first know that God really loves them, that He delights in them. Because it is from there that everything else has the opportunity to grow.
So I chose secondary English And I got my teaching certificate and never taught a day. I held a couple of different jobs and then ended up staying home to raise my children. And during that time, just kept writing and reading really good books, reading books about writing and practicing my craft. And the good news for me is that God brings His purposes to pass. And ultimately, one of those writing projects turned into Arms Open Wide.
I grew up worrying so much about whether I was right or wrong, whether my clothes were appropriate or the music I was listening to is acceptable, or, heaven’s sake, so many other things. But I never worried about whether or not I loved God. And if I have seen anything over my forty-seven years, it is that only the love of God has the power to hold a heart for a lifetime. And only the love of God has the power to turn our hearts toward someone else.
Letting Go in Faith
I know that some kids really stray from the faith when they leave home and go to college and that that’s a lot of fear for people, and I can’t say that there isn’t a part of me that isn’t a little afraid of that. I pray about who she will be, Meghan will be surrounded by. But at the same time, that happened to me. And I was in a Christian school surrounded by lots of Bible and missionaries and pastors, and I just was not even sure God existed a few months into my freshman year. It wasn’t who I was hanging around with. It was part of the process of my faith becoming my own. So you question as long as you need to question, and you think it through, and you come to your own conclusions.
And I believe that the Gospel can outlast your questions.
So yes, in some ways, I am nervous about who Meghan will encounter in school and the lies she might be told, but at the same time, I am going to be covering those lies in prayer, and I am excited for her to have the opportunity to stand on her own two feet in the Word of God and become her own faith, faith become her own.
Children have to have time to reach their own conclusions or it’s going to backfire on parents. But when I look at my kids, I try to observe what their gifts are and their strengths are and just give them opportunities to develop those, to discover them, and to grow in those areas, and trust that God is going to bring about His purposes.
In some ways I feel like one of my big jobs is just to not get in the way, you know. Moms love to interfere, and we love to meddle. And I realized that when it comes to the purpose for which God has created my kids, that that is holy ground.
In some ways I feel like one of my big jobs is just to not get in the way.
And I think to superimpose too much what I would like for them to be—“Oh, but a pharmacist starts at $150,000 a year”—you know, something like that, would be really arrogant on my part and potentially really destructive. And so I try to be prayerful and watchful, and as I notice the areas that they are gifted, just give them opportunities to flourish in those areas.
Visiting college campuses with Megan was a pretty emotional experience for me. Of course, she is always really focused. She’s taking notes in every single information session, no matter how many we’ve been to. I think we went to seven different colleges to visit, and after a while, it really gets pretty mind-numbing. And I’ll be honest, by the end, I was cracking jokes in the information sessions, and she would get very irritated with me because I was not being serious enough. But then I would really have these swings of emotions. And one minute I would be very focused trying to help her achieve her goal, and in the next minute, it would like, I would kind of wake up and think, What am I doing? I’m helping her leave me. I don’t want her to leave me. This is insane. Why am I doing this? But then after the panic would pass, I would realize I am supposed to be doing this. This is a good thing. And I would go back to the appropriate job of, you know, helping her get on her way. But each time I’ve taken her away on a trip, there’s definitely a moment I’ll look over at her and the car on the campus, and it’s all I can do to keep from breaking down. You know, it’s just hard to let go.
It’s so great to watch her as we’ve gone through all of these visits and as she’s maturing along the way that she’s beginning to relax into the person God made her to be and to relax into the truth that God makes all kinds of intelligence and He gives all kinds of gifts, and all of them are equally valuable in the world. And her current major is global studies, and I’m excited about it. I think it really fits the arc of her life that I’ve seen her passions and gifts, and I’m just really excited to see what God does with her.
I haven’t thought about a particular speech I’m going to say when I drop Meghan off at college, but I have thought about the fact that I cannot lose it when I drop Megan off at college. And I have had a very good friend, my pastor, has told me, he has worked in student ministry, that it is my job to not cry until I am on the way home and to actually get in my car and to go home. And so I think those are two pretty good points, and I am going to try to stick with those.
As my children grow and change and as Meghan gets ready to leave for school, I think that my wishes for them now are really the same that they have always been. That is that they will first know that God really loves them, that He delights in them. Because it is from there that everything else has the opportunity to grow. And from there I want them to grow in their love for Him. And I want them to grow in their love for other people. And I think that out of that everything else will flow.
Narrator: As Sherri navigates through this season with her daughter, she has found strength through the support of her family, in the scriptures she studies and writes about to inspire others, and through her daily readings of Jesus Calling.
Sherri: I received my first copy of Jesus Calling as a gift from my mother-in-law. She is a huge fan of Jesus Calling, and she gives lots of copies away, and she gave me a copy a few years ago. It was my first encounter with the book. I hadn’t seen the book before that. And so I received it from her.
One of the things I so love about Jesus Calling is that I love the way Sarah has just enabled us to enter into scripture in a way that is tender and comforting and compassionate. And there is just so much peace between the pages of the book. And I love the passage from December the 21st. She was writing about how sometimes when we are going along a path in life that it just feels like everything is blocked. And we become very anxious about that. But then it just seems that one day God clears the path, and I love that she said and then it’s a pure gift. I love that because I have a lot of things on my path. And sometimes, no matter how much I try, I wonder, you know, is it going to work out okay? You know, is my book going to be okay? Are my kids going to be okay? Is this part ever going to work out? Is that part ever going to work out? And I love that she encourages me at the moments of my greatest anxiety to say, “Wait a minute. Take a step back, and trust God to take care of it.
I think Jesus Calling is a great way to enter into scripture, and she has the scripture references at the bottom of each page. And I think it’s really important to not just end, with any devotional, at the words of the author. I certainly don’t want people to end with my words. I think we should always go to the Word of God.
Arms Open Wide
My book, Arms Open Wide, is an unusual book. It’s a little hard to describe to people sometimes. It is based in my love for the culture and the history of the Bible, and my belief that to really understand a passage of Scripture, that we have to be immersed in that moment. That two thousand years later, removed from that moment and in a completely different culture, it’s easy to misunderstand things. So I do a lot of research into the culture of the time and the history and all of the things that were going on that the people at Jesus’ feet naturally understood when He told the story of the prodigal son.
Every time I dive into the culture of the Bible and the history and I really take the time to understand it in the way I believe it was written, it’s freeing for me, and I find God to be kinder and more gracious than I ever imagined Him to be before.
I would love to offer Jesus Calling to anyone who is struggling with the question of whether or not God is a kind and gracious God.
I think that’s just a struggle a lot of people have. And I think that for someone who has maybe been wounded in the past and really struggles getting past that obstacle that Jesus Calling is a great way to enter into the presence of God and find Him to be kind and loving and gracious. And it is like entering into the Father’s presence in a very kind way. And so I just think it would be great for people like that.
Narrator: Sherri’s path to becoming a writer was full of twists and turns. As a mother, she is lovingly helping her children find their own paths. Her daughter’s departure to college is just the beginning of many new adventures, joys and trials. Again, Sherri Gragg:
Sherri: When Meghan’s away at school, I definitely will be in touch with her on a regular basis, I think, especially for freshman year. I think that year has a lot of opportunity to be a great year, and it can also be a precarious year. So even though she will be three hours away from me, I’m going to be keeping a pretty good eye on her. I’m going to be calling her, texting her, popping in for visits. I just need to know that she’s good and she’s on her way, you know. I don’t want to meddle too much in her life, but I do need to know that she’s well. And so I’ll be around.
I love my children. They are the joy of my life. I have five children, two boys and three girls.
We have all been really close. Occasionally, one of the younger kids will just be walking through the house and look sad and say, “Oh, what will we do when Meghan’s gone?” And I think that’s how we all feel. She’s been such a precious, sweet part of our everyday lives. It’s hard to imagine her not being there. But at the same time, of course, you don’t want them to get stuck. You know, you want them to grow and to move on and to do what they are supposed to do.
To all the parents who are facing letting their kids go this year, I would offer my verse of encouragement for the moment—Psalm 31:24. It says,
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait on the Lord.”
I would tell them to be strong and courageous, to stay close to the Father and trust His good plan, to seek His comfort for the days you need it, and to remember that we are all resting safely in the hands of King Jesus.
Narrator: Next time on the Experience Jesus Calling Podcast, we have a conversation with Deborah Jentsch, a Jesus Calling reader who tells her story about her family ski trip; where her son met with a devastating accident, and how her habit of daily saying “I trust You, Jesus” was put to the test.
Our featured Jesus Calling devotional for today’s show comes from the December 21st entry:
Jesus Calling Audiobook Excerpt:
My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears–through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles–and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.
Narrator: If you liked today’s podcast, be sure to look for “Jesus Calling for Graduates” everywhere books are sold. Jesus Calling for Graduates is filled with passages directly from Jesus Calling that will speak to the graduate and encourage them during this time. A perfect gift if you are walking through the graduation season with someone you love. For more information, visit JesusCalling.com/graduates.
Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.