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July 20, 2016

She ran her palms along the side of her dress pinching the fabric and pulling so it moved from side to side. It was her favorite, the pink one with the sparkles on the shoulders that fanned out around her when she twirled. She picked it out the night before and hung it on her closet door with shoes to match and she went to sleep smiling the same smile she was smiling now after putting it on, bright and contagious.

She stepped on her stool and stared at her reflection in the mirror while I tried my best to give her a hairstyle that complimented her ensemble, a challenge difficult as is but even more so when my large hands are responsible. I clipped a small pink bow in the back of her hair to hold half her curls and she agreed it would suffice. She stood there showing me all of her teeth, with the balls of her cheeks causing her eyes to squint and she shifted slightly so the dress would move around her and her hair would fall over her shoulder - she personified joy.

“You are so beautiful,” I told her making eye contact with her in the mirror.

She immediately looked away. Her smile fell. Her big brown eyes filled with tears and she stepped off the stool. I sat in the floor with her and she crawled in my lap like she did when she was two and buried her head in my chest. I let her cry and tried not to join her and waited patiently for her to find her voice so I would know what was wrong, so I could attempt to make it right, so I could hold the weight of her problems on my shoulders, a father’s duty.

“What if she doesn’t like my dress?” she asked. “What if she calls it ugly?”

My heart broke. I blinked slowly, forming a dam with my eyelids to hold back my tears, and I squeezed her tighter. I knew exactly who she was talking about. There was a girl in her preschool class who made comments that hurt her feelings, comments that a four year old shouldn’t have to hear, comments completely unnecessary that made the Papa Bear in me bubble up leaving a lump in my throat. I forced myself to swallow the words I wanted to say in effort to find the words I should instead.

I picked her up and placed her back on the stool in front of the mirror. I adjusted her dress and fixed her hair and wiped her tears and we prayed. We asked God for words, for understanding, for patience, for strength. I told her again how beautiful she is, inside and out; because she is and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to make her feel differently. We talked about confidence and self-worth. We discussed the importance of kindness and listening to your own heart.

I squeezed her tighter than normal when dropping her off at preschool and gave her kisses until her cheek was wet all the while fighting the urge to pull her back in and hold her in my arms the rest of the day, the rest of the school year, the rest of her life. I watched her walk through the doors with her book bag over her shoulders carrying one small folder and a ton of nerves inside. I pulled away as the tears I’d been holding back all morning flooded my vision and I sat in the parking lot a little longer before going into work asking God to hold her hand throughout the day since I couldn’t.

Later, as I tucked her in, her curls loose on her pillow and her toes wiggling beneath the covers, she repeated the comments that undoubtedly bounced around in her head throughout the evening. I don’t like your dress. Pink isn’t a pretty color. No one likes sequins or glitter. Your hair is ugly. Part of me wanted to look up the little girl’s phone number and call her parents, part of me wanted to find their address and drive across town, part of me wanted to notify the preschool we wouldn’t be coming back even though there were only ten days left in the school year.

“What happened? What did you say?” I asked.

She looked up at me and reached for my thumb, scratching at it softly like she does when she’s nervous. I waited for her to tell me her reaction, I had already decided internally that whatever she did in response was warranted and approved and cosigned by me regardless of who I had to defend her to. She rolled over and stared at her bin of stuffed animals across the room. She pulled my hand with her and quoted the same phrase she practiced on the way to school hours earlier, repeating it word for word just as she had from the back seat before I dropped her off.

“That's unfortunate because I love this dress. I’ll pray for you tonight.”

And we did - her mother and myself and her. We  all closed our eyes and we gave it to Him and we let it go. I spent the day wondering why we were dealing with this at such a young age, how someone could be so mean to her, why anyone would even attempt crushing a spirit as bright and beautiful and bubbly as hers - but I realized it was all for a reason, as everything is. This was a lesson she needed to learn and I have to trust His timing. She released my thumb and wrapped her arms around the tiny stuffed dog she sleeps with and I left her room.

The next few days came and went and she came home excited because while the little girl wasn’t necessarily going out of her way to be nice, she wasn’t making the comments anymore. I could see the confidence we talked about in her posture, straight and strong. I could see the result of being kind no matter what in her smile, warm and wide. I’m sure the battle of worrying what others think is far from over, it’s one we all fight on some level, but I hope she discovered how faith becomes our friend giving us something to lean on when necessary. 

“Prayer works,” she said randomly one day since then. 

It most definitely does. I should know, because she's the answer to my own.

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