Last night, Miss S., Caleb River and I went to our town’s production of Beauty & the Beast.
Sparrow, always looking for a reason to dress-up, picked out her favorite ‘gown’ for the occasion. As she came down the stairs from her bedroom, my heart stopped a little, as it often does when it catches a future glimpse of this woman I’m attempting to raise. She’s five, soon to be six, and she’s all little girl and skinned knees and spilled milk and crocodile tears over things that don’t really matter. Day to day, I am so immersed in the five-ness of her that sometimes, it makes me feel crazy. She is so five. So, so, so five.
And yet, there is this sense of who she is becoming that I detect from time to time. And it takes my breath away. Not necessarily because she’s becoming something wonderful (though I pray and trust that she is) but simply because she’s becoming, right in front of me. In the midst of every mundane moment that happens during our days together, she is becoming.
When she asks to pour the milk into her own cereal and then spills the entire gallon into her bowl, she is becoming. And when she builds a house with Lincoln Logs and then the dog runs by and knocks it over, she is becoming. And when she asks me for the two-hundredth time how to spell birthday and then still leaves the i out, you guessed it, she is becoming. And when we read the same Winnie the Pooh tale over and over, and she laughs at all the predictable parts like they are brand new. And when she falls on the floor, hysterical, because I won’t let her have a piece of gum. And when she beats me at Candy Land and Memory and Sequence and Guess Who, all in one day.
She’s a patch-work quilt and there are a hundred different needles and a hundred different threads and a hundred different hands, some of them mine, some of them not, and furiously, we are stitching together this person, this human, this eternal soul.
And, oh friends, I am working so hard to trust that God sees every stitch and won’t let even one slip outside His intention.
Because I know that some of the stitches will hurt. Really bad. And some will seem poorly placed, to my eye or to hers. There will be unstitched parts that she or I will want to stitch up before the appropriate time has come. There will be rips that need restitching and worn parts that need patching.
And it’s all happening, has been happening, since the day she was born and sometimes, in the midst of spilled milk and booster seats and repetitive (boring!) games of I Spy, I forget that she’s becoming.
And then, she’ll walk down the stairs in a sparkly red dress and as my heart skips a beat or two, I’ll remember.
And I will be humbled to my very core.
In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote (among other fantastic, profound things): “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” And he is right. This child in front of me, the one with the blueberry stains around her mouth and dirt in her nails, is, as my friend Emily wisely wrote, “a most precious, immortal soul.”
She is not just my daughter, not just a person I’m obligated to do life with.
And she’s not the only one. There’s Caleb too. And everyone else in the wide world.
Every day, we are walking around, talking and eating and losing our tempers and hugging and driving and laughing and, let’s face it, passing gas (!) in the presence of other immortal souls who are in the process of becoming. What a dichotomy, this life. This doing the laundry and buying groceries in the presence of souls who bear the image of God himself!
What a wildly, wildly important dichotomy.
Friends, as we prepared to go to Beauty and the Beast, I bent over Sparrow’s little head and braided her hair. I braided the hair of an immortal soul. I tried to let that reality soak into me but I couldn’t do it, at least not entirely and definitely not sufficiently. If I was capable of fully understanding it, fully realizing it, I think I would find that my day to day conduct would be very different.
But, my inability to fully realize it doesn’t make it any less true. Does it?
Because writing a poem helps me to process, I wrote this one.
I Braid My Daughter’s Hair
while she draws a picture. And maybe
I should be thinking
about smooth strands, even tension, symmetrical sides
but my mind is too overwhelmed
with the radical task
of raising a child, a soul,
a Godly image-bearer. She is so much
flesh and blood and basic need
and yet immortal, untouchably
precious. And so it is with all of us,
milling around the planet, aging
while preparing for rebirth.
Sacred dust, these bodies
of ours. Perhaps to be human
is to do what I am doing right now.
Gathering a strand
of the eternal and intertwining it
with a strand of here, a strand of now,
a strand of the ever-fleeting moment.
Over and over, with every breath
we take, this braiding
of heaven together with earth.
It’s weighty, isn’t it? The reality that we aren’t just dealing with mortals and meaningless interactions and mundane tasks and inane details.
So now what?, you ask. And I ask it too. Now what?
I’m not sure, entirely. But I think it has something to do with going about our days with
slowness and intention and with minds tuned to the eternal. I think it’s about trying to see beyond what our limited eyes can see. I think it’s about remembering that, while dust, we are sacred and precious and ought to treat each other accordingly. I think it’s about asking for the grace to help each other along, in this arduous process of becoming.
I will leave you (and myself) with these words, written by my dear friend, for her daughter:
Your blithe spirit rises up and fills
Every space you enter.
You grow. For you are a most precious
—Emily Austin Dennison