I am finding that she flourishes in stillness.
One Friday afternoon in September, when her big sister took the laptop upstairs to have a “private talk” with Grandma via video chat, Little Jo came into the room looking somewhat forlorn. I asked her if she’d like to come up on the bed and look at the cookbook I was flipping through for dinner ideas.
“Oh yes!” she answered, delighted with this new proposal, “but I want to get a piece of paper and a pencil and write down things that look good.”
In a minute she was back from the kitchen with the requisite writing supplies and the Anne of Green Gables cookbook. She climbed up carefully to my secretary desk to draft her menu of favorites. “We sat there, we two,” reading and scribbling companionably without conversation, and after a long stretch of silence she raised her head to look out the window. “It’s so quiet, Mama. I really like it.”
Something about that tranquil time and space was good for her soul, it seemed — so good that when Lucy bounced into the room to reclaim her playmate, Little Jo briefly tried to shoo her back out. But I jotted down that moment as they dashed off, wanting to remember it, wanting to be more intentional about giving this particular little daughter room for margin.
We planted tulip bulbs together at the beginning of October, while Lucy was at her enrichment program. The ground was soft and accommodating, thankfully, and we spaded down through nine inches of striped earth for each onion-skinned promise.
(It’s a mark of the Master Gardener’s work in me, by the way, that I thought of placing that order at all. Planting the expectation of beauty in the ground for next year is an act of audacious optimism that I don’t think I could have mustered three years ago.)
Little Jo worked hard, digging craters for two bulbs with all her might — switching trowels with me whenever the one I was using looked more efficient — and fetching stones just the right size to help mark the placement of the bulbs. More than once we had to stop to catch our breath. But, oh, she was content.
In the afternoon, I packed her snack for school, slipping in a napkin note as usual.
The next day, unexpectedly, she wrote a response back to me.
Both notes still hang on the side of our refrigerator. The longer I look at them, the more I understand that her need isn’t merely for stillness. It’s for stillness spent together.
Giving her the space of my unhurried presence seems to bring questions as well as contentment to the surface, like rocks rising through the soil of a frost-hushed garden.
Three weeks ago, while eating lunch during our “alone-together” time, she asked, “Will my new heart be as good as my old one?”
“What do you mean?”
“After I die.”
“Well,” I paused, rallying the slack wits that had forgotten how deftly a child can lob a profound question between bites, “You already have a new heart and a new life right now because Jesus made you new when you decided to belong to Him, remember? But when you die, all of your body will be made new.”
I had read the last three-quarters of Revelation just that morning, so we turned to chapter 21 and read together that God will dwell with his people, and that there will be no more tears or mourning, pain or death. Little Jo agreed that that would be a better body than this one.
Then she asked if there would be food in heaven, so we read the passages that spoke of the fruit on the Tree of Life, and of the invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
“I wish I could be grown up right now!”
“Because then I could skip all the rest and go to heaven.”
A kindred smile flickered along my mouth. “I can understand that so well.
“And yet… God has given you special work to do in this very world, this broken one. When He made you, He planned work for you — work that only you can do, in the way that you will tell others about His rescue and show what He is like. And if you follow Him to the end, when that work is over, you’ll go home to Him, and He will open His arms and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful one.'”
It’s hard for me to fit theology into the ten-second attention windows of preschoolers. Afterwards I can almost always find something I would have liked to amend or clarify.
But to my great surprise, the little face that had been inching closer and closer as I spoke now looked up at me earnestly, eyes bright with unshed tears. “You’re making me cry.”
“Oh! Why?” No answer. “Because it’s so wonderful?” She nodded into my sleeve. I wrapped my arm around her small shoulders and hugged her close. “Sometimes… it’s okay to cry because things are so wonderful.”
“Echoes of Eden,” said a dear friend later when I recounted the conversation, wiping her own eyes in mirth and deep empathy. “It’s buried in each one of us.”
I made her stop talking for a minute so that I could let those words sink in.
I need that reminder every so often, in between prayers that these little ones in my charge will love Christ above all, between my efforts to anchor Biblical truths solidly in their hearts and to hold my tongue when I’ve laid a lesson on too thick.
It is part of my role as their mother — and a surpassing privilege — to help them build the framework of their worldview on eternal realities. But there’s also a beauty in stepping back enough to see the way that the Chief Shepherd is already calling to my children through their devotionals and prayers, family conversations and fairy tales. There is beauty in watching Him show them the joys that I can only describe, and even in the sorrow that dawns upon them as they realize they have been born into a sundered world.
He is already here.
Soon we’ll enter the season of Advent, and I think I’ve been awakening by degrees to everything that has transpired in the past eleven months. They feel like — sores: raw patches where the barbed events of the year have brushed by, down to a literal spot on my back that’s recovering from a biopsy and three stitches.
How much we have to be thankful for! And how much grief we bear. I haven’t handled the losses in our lives very well this year; some of them are ongoing, and I’ve often pushed the weight of accumulating sorrows off until they’ve crashed through the flimsy roof of my daily routines. If my children are discovering that the world is broken… so am I.
Yet though my experience with that brokenness is ever-growing, so is my knowledge of its breadth. A central image of Advent is that of darkness rent by light. This is an apt time for the impact of deaths and slow goodbyes and hardened hearts to sink in; they are the charred evidence of life as it ought not to be. But the Light that dawned in Bethlehem did not merely come in opposition to the darkness — it came as the answer to it.
In the repeated stillness that follows sobering news, I’ve been learning to ask my own questions from the safety of a Love that’s deeper than the fathomless fissures of the world. And I’ve been learning to simply lay down my head and dwell in it.
Christ’s presence changes things utterly.
There may well be more tears to shed before the year is out. Beloved people are dying still, answers to some prayers seem a long time in coming, and the spirit of the age is still loud and contradictory and devoid of logic in many places. My failures as a wife, mother, and writer are pyrotechnic at times — and here I am, making light of those moments with hyperbole when they’re truly not funny at all.
But I think that Y and I — and perhaps even our children — are learning to grieve not only out of sadness, but into a peace that isn’t mere resignation. A bright weeping, as paradoxical as it seems. A phrase I read in The Return of the King earlier this year tossed a slant of light across my imagination: “…filled with a sadness that was yet blessed and without bitterness.”
Can such a sadness possibly exist?
Yes, Advent says. It can when we are in the keeping of a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”;
a Man who — bears our griefs, and carries our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3-4)
In these times we are learning what it is to cry in honesty, and from the fullness of our humanity, but released from despair. Such hope-soaked sorrow makes it easier for me to believe that, someday, I’ll shed tears that flow purely because there are things too wonderful for me to bear.
The hushed light in Bethlehem shines with the radiance of the New Jerusalem, you see. And the name of their luminous source has ever been and shall be the same:
God With Us.
Yes, even now.