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April 16, 2015

THE CHILD WITHIN


I watched her run up the hill that she called a mountain and I felt a smile stretch across my face, the one that seems reserved only for her, and once she reached the top I told her to be careful even though I knew she would be. I fought the urge to ask her to sit beside me, to not jump, to not touch things, to not run as quickly or backwards or too far and I fought the urge to wrap my arms around her in a parental bubble to keep her safe from everything.

Instead I found the little boy within, the inner child I buried somewhere along the way to allow the adult to shine through, and I ran with her. I jumped and picked tiny purple flowers among the weeds, sticking them in her hair as we went and I ran slower to match her pace and backwards to make her laugh and far just for the chase. Once we caught each other, I wrapped my arms around her anyway breathing in the smell of her soap and the grass and the faint fragrance of the baby that once was buried somewhere underneath.

We collapsed beside each other and she watched me thread my fingers behind my head then she did the same with her own -- with our elbows pointed out we looked at the clouds picking out shapes and animals as they passed overhead. She narrated stories linking them all together and I hung onto every word she gave me because I want her to know I’m always available to listen. Sure there were a million other things I could be doing, but honestly none of them were more important; I’m not sure they ever will be… not anymore.

I’m learning more than ever to stop saying no, to stop worrying, to stop standing in my own way. Sometimes we just need to say yes, to let go, to feel the grass under us and see the clouds above us and let the world spin around us. Sometimes we need to stop parenting, to stop being adults, to stop carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders for just a minute in effort to soak in our surroundings, to gain an appreciation for it all so when we pick it back up again we know why we’re carrying it in the first place.

April 8, 2015

EASTER SUNDAY


Her brown curls danced in the wind and she let her smile fade as she looked up at me, arms outstretched asking me to lift her without saying anything at all. So I did. I always do because I’m scared the day I put her down and she won’t ask me to pick her up again is far closer than I want it to be. So I picked her up and we headed towards the double doors of the sanctuary and she laid her head on my shoulder and said quietly, “I’m a little nervous.”

We opened the door and nodded at the usher handing us a bulletin and we made our way down the aisle picking a row at random and sliding past the knees of a stranger, her hose whispering excuse me as we passed. We seated her between us and she smoothed out her dress, the dress with a purple and white pattern reserved for this very occasion, and she told the lady with the white hair in front of us Happy Easter when she turned in her pew to welcome us.

It was then I felt it, the same feeling I grew up with when I was the star of Bethlehem in the Christmas play that guided the wisemen to the manger, the same feeling as a voice in the children’s choir, the same feeling that helped me write skits for the youth group I was a part of in my early teens traveling and performing and witnessing to various congregations, the same feeling I want her to have surrounding her heart going forward.

We sang the preselected hymns and she joined in once she found the melody then we took our seats while she made her way to the front kneeling at the altar with the other children in attendance. A woman passed around empty plastic eggs using them as a metaphor for the tomb He rose from long ago and afterwards the children exited the sanctuary. I expected her to turn and look for us, to find us in the crowd and return to her seat between us… but she left without looking back.

I watched those windblown curls from earlier bounce through the doors at the front of the church and turn down a hall before the doors closed behind her and I felt the tears swelling in the corners of my eyes. Another hymn echoed through the beams and the stained glass, but I couldn’t sing along because the blurry words on the page weren’t the words in my head. I knew immediately this is where we were meant to be, where she was meant to be.

She has attended church before, but somewhere after nine months we got caught up in the walking and the talking and the learning and the weaning and while we say our blessing at every meal and pray every night, we unintentionally allowed church to take a backseat. Her preschool is at the same church so we knew the setting would be comfortable, but we had little to no expectations regarding her reception to the other details. 

She once again surprised me. She made me proud. She’s brave and fearless and strong and everything I want her to be without asking it of her. She’s the better version of both her mother and I and it’s in those moments I realize parenting isn’t so much about teaching and guiding and cuddling and laughing but so much more about preparing them. Parenting is about preparing them to make the right decisions, preparing them to have the confidence and the courage to do so.

After the message was given and the parents dispersed to collect their children, we saw her in the classroom tucked down a hall behind the sanctuary listening to a story an older girl was reading to her. We tapped her on the shoulder and told her it was time to go and while walking through the parking lot she asked if we could come back. She told us in her own words why we celebrate Easter and it felt good to hear her interpretation.

We agreed to return next Sunday and she continued to tell us all the reasons why she wanted to. I smiled at her mother and she smiled in return and I thumbed through the pictures on my phone I snapped just before we entered the vestibule. I stopped and stared once I noticed the light shining directly on her that I didn’t see in person… I knew I could feel Him, I knew He was there. I know the reason she didn’t look back is because He was beside her. I hope that never changes.

March 31, 2015

ON AISLE THREE


The bubbling giggles overflowed into a large belly laugh and flooded the aisle next to me. Even though there were rows and rows of boxed cereal dividing us, I could picture a little girl as the source of all the noise. I smiled as I walked and I fought the temptation of her contagious joy to pick up my pace to match the rhythm of her outbursts. I swallowed my laugh before rounding the corner and I noticed her shoes first, flat with glitter and smudges, reminding me of my own daughter.

She spun around, her dress flaring out around her like rays surrounding the sun and she sent another laugh bouncing off shelves of grocery store selections before she caught my stare and smiled. She smiled even though the dark circles around her eyes told me how tired she was. She smiled even though the fluorescent lights highlighted the smooth skin of her round head. She smiled because the scars of her battle weren’t allowed to define her and I smiled in return to avoid an emotional cleanup on aisle three.

I placed an item or two in the basket I was holding and navigated my way through the store. A song from the mid 90s played through the speakers, opening lyrics to a popular television show, a soft voice saying I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over and I forgot every item I came to pick up. Work was over, I was on my way home and here I was staring at the milk completely lost in the sight of a little girl who has fought more in her few years of life than I have in a single day of my own.

We didn’t need milk. We didn’t need anything cold and while I couldn’t remember a single item on the mental list I made in the drive from the office to the store, I figured a missing ingredient from our dinner wouldn’t break us. I picked a checkout line and scanned the meaningless headlines plastered on the magazines and waited my turn. Then I heard it, her laugh, the sound of life in her veins and I turned to see her peeking at me from behind her mother. 

She reached for a candy bar from the display beside her and her mother grabbed it tossing it in the cart. I wondered if candy bars were allowed before dinner in their home or if they had to wait until their plates were cleared. I wondered if the rules are thrown out the window when you’re called to the front line to fight for your child or if you hold onto them with white knuckles for a single reminder of what once was, if you squeeze tight to something you have left if only to avoid letting everything else go.

Her dress flared out again as she twirled and when she stopped she met me with another smile and I felt the need to say something. I felt the words stuck in my throat and it was hard to do anything with them, to cough them up or swallow them whole.  I watched her twirl the opposite way and I saw my little girl in her spin, I saw her pink skirt fan out around her and I said what I thought my daughter would want to hear in that moment.

“Your dress is pretty,” I told her.

It sounded like a consolation prize and I immediately regretted saying anything at all until she looked directly at me and smiled again. I looked at her mother and saw the million thoughts running a race on her face and I wanted to hug her. I wanted to grab this stranger and tell her she’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, that no parent should have to watch their child struggle as much as she has, but there are moments in life where words aren't able to carry the weight or heal the hurt.

I paid for my items and grabbed my bags and made my way through the parking lot, fumbling my keys into the ignition. I blinked through tears and wiped them away and cried the whole way home. Once I opened the door to my house, a healthy little girl greeted me and climbed into my arms. I pulled her into my chest and breathed her in, the soft voice singing in my head... open up your morning light and say a little prayer for I. Say a prayer for the little girl who re-defined strength and beauty on aisle three? It's the least I could do.

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