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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.

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