I gave my first grader a bath this morning. She was quiet while I coated her hair in conditioner and then carefully brushed out her tangles one by one. I took a cup, filled it with clean water and poured it over her head little by little to rise her clean, admiring the soft golden strands peeking around deeper shades of brown.
I grabbed her oversized towel and held it wide open. She stepped from the bath into it as I wrapped it around her tiny frame, swallowing her whole in a rainbow of primary color. I gathered the ends to squeeze through her hair and to pat dry her delicate, sun-kissed face.
She looked into my eyes as I moved the towel back down, wrapping her up tightly again. Sitting on bended knee in front of her, we were at eye level. I noticed her start to well up. Her bottom lip poked out and started trembling.
“Oh, no. What’s wrong, baby?”
“I don’t want to go to school today.”
“Why not? You love school.”
She started crying. I pulled her close to me, sat down on the bathroom rug, and placed her into my lap, wrapping my arms around her and kissing her forehead.
“The spelling bee. I don’t want to do the spelling bee!”
“Oh, I see. Well, maybe we should think of a few good things that will happen today. There has to be some things you are looking forward to.”
“Do you love math?”
“Yes,” she muttered.
“Do you love reading?”
“Well, look! You might not be looking forward to the spelling bee, but you have two things to be excited about. You’ve already defeated the spelling bee. Focus on what you will love about today. It makes the things you aren’t looking forward to a lot less scary.”
She sat quietly in my lap while I held her for a few more minutes, remembering how, not too long ago, her entire frame fit perfectly in my lap. Now her upper body leans way out to my left while her feet fall to the floor, long and lanky, to my right. When my girls reach this point of girlhood, I oftentimes contemplate every word I serve them, lessons I’m teaching, messages I’m trying to convey. I never want to misguide or lead them astray. After all, today it’s a spelling bee while tomorrow she could very well be a fully grown woman questioning her own motherhood.
In times like these, without fail, I always ask myself,
“Am I living by these words, by these truths I’m serving my children?”
My own mother, who will celebrate her 70th birthday this fall, long ago left the motherhood stage of holding her own babies in her arms, comforting us through self-doubt and loss of hope. I’m now a woman a week away from my 38th birthday. I still have problems just as scary as a daunting spelling bee is to a first grader. But no longer do I have the gift of sitting in my mother’s lap while she offers me wisdom and insight regarding the stresses of my own now-very-much-grown-up affairs.
I can always call her, and for that I am grateful. But there are times when worries seem to lurch so deep within my body that I can’t imagine speaking to anyone about them. Instead, I hold onto them, turning them around, investigating them from all sides, desperately seeking to make sense out of something I can’t articulate with words.
In such times, there is one place I know I can turn to that is as convenient as filling a glass of water in the kitchen sink. Yet, without fail, I always turn to it as a last resort, only after suffering the inevitable anxiety and depression that naturally stems from an over-active imagination has been given too much control to roam freely.
If I could only stop long enough in such times to remember one person:
He is everywhere.
And, no matter where we are, in any given moment, if we only stop to sit down for a while, resting our thoughts and, instead, focusing on prayer, we find that He has taken the opportunity to sit down right next to us to listen.
One of my girls’ favorite books growing up was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The story recounts a beloved friendship between a boy and a tree throughout the innocence of boyhood, the stages of first love, the selfish wants of mid-life material possessions, and, finally, the elderly stages of an aging man who desires “just a quiet place to sit and rest”.
The tree having long lost her apples, branches, and even her trunk to serve the boy’s needs, straightens herself up and offers, yet again, with gracious and merciful love and longing, the solution for her friend’s needs.
How similar is our relationship to God. As young children we pray to Him with innocence and hope, never doubting his presence in our lives. For a while, we go astray, worrying about not having enough, being lost and confused, trying to gain a sense of control we never seem to be able to fully grasp. Yet, God is always there, even when we fail to see Him. He is always there waiting for us to ask Him, yet again, to fulfill our needs.
The love of God is simple and kind. He doesn’t come in boisterous and loud, much how our prayers don’t need to come across. Simply, we need to stop long enough to feel Him in the breeze, we need to inhale as much of Him as we can sense all around us, letting His peace and His light fill our bodies while exhaling the worry we no longer have space to cling to. We need to sit in His arms, letting Him cradle our much-too-grown-bodies, and simply to ask Him, “Help me, God. Help me.”
He always seems to know exactly what to do.
God has the amazing power to not only serve us grace for past transgressions, He has enough power to serve us grace moving into the future.
Be it a spelling bee. A move. Dealing with difficult family members. A child who has gone astray. Mourning the loss of a loved one. The heartache of missing a beloved friend. Finding the courage to get through a difficult stage of marriage. Walking through difficulties with enough faith and hope to know that tomorrow has the potential to be a little bit better than the day before.
When we come to our own spelling bees in adulthood, sharing our thoughts and concerns on Facebook to gather feedback from trusted friends and even strangers, often we are given the advice to “focus on the good”, “hang in there”, “everything will be OK”. And all of those nuggets are served to us in love and hope that things will get better eventually.
For a first grader still clinging to every word her mother says as the very truths crafting together the fabric of the universe, such advice may work. “What are two good things you’re looking forward to today?” Math and reading. Suddenly, everything feels better. My first grader happily went to school today. In fact, a few more minutes in my lap served enough in the way of confidence that she playfully bounced off my lap and ran off to her room to get dressed.
However, in adulthood, our spelling bees can seem paramount, like the entire world may be getting ready to spin off its hinges. We are the grown ups now. It is up to us to make the next right step, to give our children the best advice, to selflessly help a friend in need, to pay our bills on time, to give our hearts away only to people we trust. In all of this, there is always great uncertainty. We never know what tomorrow will hold. We know that tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Still, just as a first grader can be comforted by the words and embrace of her mother, so too can we be comforted by the grace of a mighty Savior. A Prince of Peace. A Messiah with a lap to sit upon who came to let us know the He is always there for us with a never-ending supply of redeeming grace.
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