Faith & Service

Leaving Your Heart at Liberty

By Karen Kingsbury, June 1, 2017

Advice for parents on letting go and learning to be empty nesters

There were times when every heartbeat whispered the date.
August 26. August 26. August 26.

Some history. Our youngest son Austin was 3 years old when I turned to an empty page in my journal and randomly figured out when each of our kids would go to college. Austin wouldn’t leave until the fall of 2016. No problem, I told myself. Light years away.

Ah, but time speeds.

Seasons flew and suddenly we were living out Austin’s last semester of high school. August 26 was the date Austin would pack up his car and head eight hours east to Liberty University. The day we would caravan to the best school ever and say goodbye to the youngest of our six children.

The day my husband, Donald, and I would officially become “empty nesters.”

In a blur of final exams and graduation parties, summer melted through our fingertips, and August 26 arrived. We gathered around Austin and our other three boys who were already attending Liberty, and we prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom, for His protection and provision.
Then we hit the road.

Yes, I cried most of the first few hours of the trip. Songs like “So Far Away” by Carole King seemed to dominate the radio that sunny afternoon. The tears were something I never let Austin or the other boys see. After all, they were excited. This was a time they had looked forward to since school let out months earlier. All four of them were headed off to Liberty.

As it turned out, the sadness didn’t last long.

Karen Kingsbury speaks to parents at a special session during College For A Weekend on April 7.

By the time we pulled onto campus in Lynchburg, all of us were brimming with joy. Because this was Liberty University. The campus is one of the most beautiful in the world. People are happy and friendly, quick with a smile or word of encouragement or direction. And now Austin would have the thrill of attending this great school!

What wasn’t to love?

Our older boys headed to East Campus and a dorm they were familiar with. Austin and my husband and I pulled into the Commons parking lot, the dorm where Austin would live for the next year. We thought we’d drive headlong into a traffic jam.

Instead we were greeted with a party!

A slew of Liberty students, all wearing blue T-shirts, literally cheered for us as we pulled up. Not just us. They cheered for every car that entered the parking lot. The student helpers rallied into action. They welcomed Austin, and they welcomed us. Smiles and hugs from everyone — like we were long-lost family members. Then a bunch of guys with enormous bins hurried up to the car. “Let’s get Austin unpacked!” one of them said.

Music played across the parking lot. Balloons were tied to every post. I’ve never seen more enthusiastic helpers in all my life!

In minutes, the students had our car unpacked and Austin’s things in his dorm. Every student entering the Commons parking lot was treated to the same experience. “It’s the Liberty way,” one of the helpers said. “We want students to know this is home now. And we want parents to know how much we love their kids.”

Amazing. No sooner had Austin’s things arrived in his room than his hall leaders popped in and met us. They told Austin they’d been waiting for him, looking forward to meeting him, praying for him. And they told him about a hall meeting that would take place that night.

Just like that, Austin was connected.

The next day during parent orientation I sat with my husband as we listened to a dozen speakers share how they were available to help our students adjust to life at Liberty. Literally every question I could possibly ask, the staff at Liberty University answered that hour.

And then some!

Before we knew about Liberty, our daughter — the oldest of our six children — attended a school on the West Coast. At orientation they told us not to be helicopter parents. They had our kids now. We could say goodbye and move on.

It’s not like that at Liberty University.

Yes, students need independence. Liberty encourages that in a healthy way. They need the chance to grow and become who God has for them to be. But at Liberty, the administration treats parents like part of the team. Parent and family connections with Liberty are an important part of the four-year experience. Parent orientation at Liberty also involved a quick bit of information on everything from dealing with homesickness to problem-solving and even Training Champions for Christ — students and parents together.

A laminated card was given to us with the name and phone number of every department at Liberty that parents might want to be familiar with. Computing, IT, student health center and wellness information, LUPD, emergency numbers, student counseling, restorative practices, ways for students to grow and give back in their faith.

An explanation was given as to how each student is cared for and loved, accounted for and encouraged. Liberty has prayerfully designed a net of accountability, including leaders in each dorm, prayer leaders, and another few layers of accountability, prayer, and support.

Something else. Every student is part of a brother or sister dorm. Every student is part of the “in” crowd. No running for a fraternity or sorority, no social clubs with a week of hazing and rushing. No fear that your student won’t be accepted or included. At Liberty University, all students are all-in.

If your student occupies a bed on campus, he or she will have a brother-sister dorm. That two-dorm group will get together multiple times a week for an optional hang-out. Bowling on campus, Frisbee on the lawn, potluck dinners, and tailgating. From the beginning, I knew that Austin — like our other boys — would have friends. Real friends.

People who would stay friends for life because of the commonality of faith and the adherence to Liberty University’s high standards. Every hour I was on campus I felt better about the situation. Even knowing that in just a few days goodbye was coming.

And so it did.

Three days after we arrived on campus, after making sure our boys were moved in and that their rooms were stocked with snacks and water bottles and the right sort of bedding and toiletries, my husband and I bid goodbye to our three older boys.

They were good. Together with us, they’d done this before. We prayed with them and talked about how Thanksgiving would be here soon. Then it was time to say goodbye to Austin. The three of us hemmed and hawed a bit, the usual last-minute conversation.

“You’ll call if you feel alone, right?” I looked at him.

“Yes, Mom. You know I will.”

“And you’ll go to Campus Community.” My husband blinked back tears, strength, and tenderness, trying to stay strong. “David Nasser said that was the highlight of the year for his son. Campus Community.”

“Yes, sir.” Austin didn’t try to rush the moment. “I’m looking forward to Campus Community.”

“And if you need more healthy snacks, Target is right down the street.”

“Right. I’ll stay stocked up.”

Finally there was nothing more to say. Austin hugged his dad and then he hugged me. His eyes were damp as he told us once more, “I love you both. Thank you … for believing in me. For letting me be here at Liberty.”

We nodded. For the first time that day, words were not needed. Donald put his arms around Austin and me.

“Let’s pray.”

So we did. We prayed for God’s protection and leading and for His divine direction for Austin and our other boys. And then with one last hug, one last goodbye, one quick and hurried kiss … we climbed in the car and drove away.

I watched in the rearview mirror as Austin waved to us, as the image of him grew smaller and smaller. I thought about that journal entry when he was three. When August 26, 2016, seemed forever away.

Tears were a part of that drive home — for both Donald and me. Beautiful tears. Because the years of raising our kids were ever so wonderful. Season after season of together times. Family dinners and sports practices and theater performances and recitals. Silliness and singing and Scripture-rich evenings and the very real sense that life would stay that way forever. That the days when our home was filled with the laughter and voices of our kids would never end.
In the days since then, Donald and I have embraced this new season. Date nights and long walks. Time for us. The chance to look forward to the breaks when everyone is home again. For now.

Yes, the nest is empty. But in so many ways it is full. Full of new and old memories and a sense of purpose and even a new little grandson! God is great. But what makes this season so rich and full and purposeful is the knowledge that we did the right thing on August 26.

We took our boys to Liberty University.

Parent and Family Connections

Liberty’s Parent and Family Connections Office, located in DeMoss Hall, encourages parent input, interest, and involvement in many areas of campus life and focuses on assisting parents during their students’ transition to college. Office staff lead special parent sessions during orientations, presenting information on departments within the university, ranging from health and wellness services, dining, and housing, to academic support, computing, and police and safety. Staff are also available throughout the year to answer any questions and concerns. The office hosts many activities and programs to develop and strengthen the relationship between parents and the university.
Visit for information on services and resources and to subscribe to the parent e-newsletter. Parents can also stay connected on the Liberty University – Parent and Family Connections Facebook page.
(434) 582-2339
DeMoss Hall 2247
Save the Date:
Fall Family Weekend: Nov. 3-5, 2017

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