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    Preparing for Goodbye

    I knew this moment signaled a major transition for all of us.

    Jim Carlson as told to Janna Jones

    Dropping her off at collegeDarkness enveloped the 200-year-old stone building that was to be my son's new home. I was tired after yesterday's 10-hour drive and weary from a long day of unloading and unpacking. I looked around at all the stuff we'd transported 570 miles from home. With my wife's help, the tiny dorm room was in order—as neat and clean as it would ever be. But somehow, even the most familiar things looked a little odd in this new setting.

    My son, Hardie, was out at the car doing one final check for anything he might have left behind. I sat down on the edge of his bed and unfolded the letter I'd written him before we left home. Along with addressing some of the challenges I knew he would soon face, the letter communicated my blessing to Hardie, as well as the blessing of his heavenly Father. As I held the pages in my hand and skimmed its contents, I knew this goodbye signaled a major transition for him and for our entire family. I wanted to mark that rite of passage with these words:

    It is a privilege to be your dad. Your mom and I know you belong to your heavenly Father and are thankful he's allowed us to participate. What you are about to embark on is a great challenge, but were it not for challenges, you would never see God at work in your life. Don't be afraid to take risks. Continue to meet with the Lord in the early morning hours, and seek his knowledge, wisdom and understanding in all you do. I will be praying for you daily, and will always be available. Don't forget that old people have a reason for being around: They've lived a lot and they have a tendency to look backward with very clear vision.

    Rocky Mountain High

    My old-person clear vision was actually a little cloudy at that moment as the tears came along with the memories. On the drive up, I'd caught a glimpse of Hardie in the rearview mirror and was reminded of our first father/son trip together. Hardie was only 11 when we'd loaded the Jeep and headed west for a horse pack trip in Colorado's Lost Creek Wilderness.

    I can still see him in his blue jeans and straw hat, the brilliant Colorado sun shining down on his freckled face as we prepared our horses for the long ride. It was late spring, so there was still a lingering hint of winter's chill in the valley. The air around the barn was rich with the scents of pine trees, horse manure and leather. I could feel Hardie's excitement as he leaned over the fence, not wanting to miss any of the action in the corral.

    The trip we were about to take was one I had done many times, but the last was more than 20 years earlier. Hardie watched and helped as I worked to remember the knots and pack our gear. When everything was finally set, we mounted our horses and headed out of the corral. We rode side by side along the dirt road leading south from the center of the ranch. As we approached the first cattle guard, I looked over at my son, who was grinning from ear to ear.

    "Hardie, you better get the gate,"

    I said.

    "OK."

    Out of his saddle in a flash, he left his horse standing in the middle of the road with the reigns around its neck as he unlatched the gate.

    "Uh, Hardie, you better grab that horse," I said as his trusty steed turned and started to walk back toward the barn.

    "Whoa, Whoa! Dad! He's going the other way."

    "Well, you better follow him and see if you can catch him."

    "But, Dad, can't you get him for me?"

    "Nope, he's your horse. You need to go get him."

    Hardie followed that horse all the way back to the corral before he finally grabbed the reigns and was able to get on again. Needless to say, Hardie was mad. At the horse. At me. His anger was only slightly overshadowed by his embarrassment.

    He rode back to the cattle guard, through the gate, and just kept on riding. He didn't look at me or say a word.

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