If ever there could possibly be a day made of nothing but a heaping of nostalgia and a bucketload of sentimentality, today would be it. From start to finish, it’s been as though every second was wrapped in beauty and secured with timelessness. A couple months ago, my youngest daughter asked, out of the clear blue sky, to be baptized. That led to a couple weeks’ worth of study and prayer, discerning, really, whether she understood the significance of baptism and was being led by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, she was. So then, we notified one of our pastors; he met with Alight and I and talked to us a bit more about what it means and the gift we’re claiming with baptism. Alight soaked it all in. In fact, it wasn’t merely Alight soaking this all in; the Holy Spirit’s presence has been felt heavily in our home lately, even interrupting Breathe’s regular nighttime prayer and directing her to ask that He lead her “on a path of righteousness.” I don’t know how the presence of God affects your family but, here, it envelopes our entire home in a layer of thick tenderness and fills the air with an almost tangible sense of peace. Which, when you think about all that has happened in less than 2 years’ time here, is rather incredible.
Anyway, lest I digress, this morning, we awoke bright and early, made our way to the church. Family came. We arrived about forty minutes prior to the start of service. The musicians were on stage, practicing for a couple of solos. She sat in my lap and we talked. I told her how proud Jesus was of her today, and how much I love her. Soon, we were greeted and she was given a robe to wear for the waters; we were led to the front row to await the start of service. My eldest daughter, Breathe, was baptized a few years ago so I was familiar with the routine. But I was not prepared to feel the rush of emotion crashing over me before service even got started. Still, as we sat waiting, tears filled my eyes. This was my sweet Alight, the little girl who still walks on her tippy toes and loves to go places; she was making a monumental decision at a really tender age. Our pastor came and hugged her and, at my request, took a picture with her. And then the barrage of people came. Some of her good friends ran down to the front of the sanctuary to hug her, our church’s prayer warrior came and gave her a sweet hug; our music director and our soloist came for hugs; the director of deacons came and told Alight that our deacons love her and will be there for her if she needs them; people we don’t even know approached for hugs. Alight felt special but, even more importantly, she felt cared for and loved by her church. The music started, service began. After the first song, Alight was asked to come up on stage. Pastor Dan spoke about how precious children are, how Jesus instructed us to become more like children. He said a prayer and used Alight’s name. As he prayed, more tears filled my eyes.
After the prayer was over, off we went to the baptismal pool. In one hand, I held my phone to take pictures. In the other hand, I held my sister’s phone to take video. I was allowed to stand at the edge of the baptismal pool so Alight could see me. Growing up, I experienced baptism in a completely different way than my church does it. When I was young, being baptized was a moment of intensity; there was clapping, of course, but, prior to the clapping, the only noise were the questions of the preacher. It was treated in a no-nonsense kind of way. But our church takes a different approach. Pastor Dan had already prayed before going into the baptismal pool. So, suddenly, there was great music; the musicians were playing and everyone was singing “Do you Feel the Mountains Tremble.” Pastor Dan spoke to Alight, asking her those oh-so-important questions, the congregation witnessed her nodding, but could not hear her voice for the music. Then she was baptized. As she came up, the song continued and everyone applauded. This environment creates an air of celebration and of tremendous joy. And isn’t that what new life is all about—gaining a joy you didn’t previously know as you learn to walk in faith?
When I was a little girl, I wasn’t just scared of nighttime; I was absolutely petrified of it. I would lie awake in bed for hours, my teeth grinding and my body shaking. I concentrated on the mechanics of breathing; I learned to control what should be automatic. I focused and worked hard at keeping a steady, calm, slow breathing pattern. I’m convinced that this played a part in creating my issues with tachycardia. I was afraid of rolling over to my side because of the noise that doing so would make. Truly, paralyzed with knee-knocking fear. When the fear gave way to out-right, knee-knocking terror, and I physically felt ill, I learned to hold my palm out, say a prayer and ask Him to hold my hand. I didn’t blame Him. I wasn’t angry. I hadn’t yet questioned. I just believed. And He always answered my prayer. I cannot remember a single time when I asked Him to draw close enough to hold my hand that my palm ever felt cool. There are no words to describe how reassuring that was, or how comforting. There are no words to explain what that meant to me, or how greatly it worked to alleviate the fear. There were many times when I would not have been able to sleep at all had it not been for Him holding my hand. It allowed me to grow up believing that a dad did in fact care. It allowed me to grow up believing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, even if I couldn’t see it. In a very real sense, He saved my life by holding my hand. What an amazing honor it is to be able to watch such a pivotal moment in a child’s life and to know that that life is going to be safe-guarded by the Abba, the Father of all fathers, the one who loves with an immensity that cannot be described, captured or even truly comprehended. No, it doesn’t mean she’s going to live in a glass house all her life, free from harm. But it does mean that she will have the best physician at her side when her heart is broken, when her body hurts or when her soul is tired. For a mother, it’s a meaningful and oh-so-comforting.
But Alight’s precious baptism wasn’t the only thing about today that was oozing with tenderness. Afterward, we went to eat with family and enjoyed the time spent talking and visiting. Then, I took them to Toys R Us to each pick out something. My oldest daughter, Breathe, chose a FAQ cheetah that is amazingly well-crafted. Alight chose an over-sized elephant. The elephant made me go all soggy again. We absolutely love elephants. There are lots of reasons why; they, like the dolphins and apes, can recognize themselves in a mirror—a sign of above-average animal intelligence. They don’t forget. They are family-oriented. Young elephants suckle their mothers for two years, live with them for longer and every elephant in the herd helps care for a calf. Elephants are wonderful creatures. That was partly why her choice made me go all soggy; the other reason it did so was because the one she chose was over-stuffed—it is designed to be bear-hugged and snuggled with. As she crushed it to her heart walking out, I kept thinking about Lambie and how, even as adults, we sometimes just need something to hold. The whole shopping trip made me feel humbled, honored and grateful for the opportunity to be a mother, and a mother to these two in particular.
After the toy store, we went rock climbing before finally heading home. Once there, my youngest decided to spend some time in the hot tub. My oldest wasn’t interested in a swim so she and I dug out the fancy china tea set and engaged in one of the best tea parties in the history of tea parties. We spoke with British accents, had silly conversations and simply enjoyed interacting with one another. Eventually, the water called to her and we joined Alight in the hot tub. By the time we got out and made dinner, we were all getting pretty tired. But we couldn’t stop for movie time before they’d each been carried hanging upside down over my shoulders twice (they could have each gone about a hundred more times but, after the four trips through the house, my shoulders were threatening to mutiny). Soon, they’ll fall asleep, exhausted after another long day of non-stop activity and interactive play. I’ll be surrounded by quiet; spend a couple hours working and then try to drift into an uneventful sleep. It’s the daily cycle—and yet, it’s so much more.
My church’s mission statement includes the phrase “Opening the soul to the presence of God.” Gentleness, kindness, compassion, wonder and awe; these things are the hope of everyone, everywhere. We search for them in all kinds of ways but it’s only been when I’ve consciously chosen to invite God into my world that I’ve been able to easily see gentleness, kindness, compassion, wonder and awe through every day acts like going to the toy store or wading in a creek. Daily life is more than a millstone to hang around our necks; each time the sun rises, it’s a promise of a new start. I used to fear the nighttime hours for dozens of reasons but one of them was because it was usually at night when my parents’ fights turned violent. I remember lying awake listening to them. Sometimes, my younger sister, who was far braver than I, would get up and come into my room to check on me. But I was too terrified to take note of that at the time; I just wanted her to go back to her room so she wouldn’t get in trouble. I was trapped in so many ways; so trapped I could not see the hand that was being offered to me through my younger sister. Instead, I retreated behind silence so impenetrable no one ever suspected that there were nights where the terror was so great I could not cry; terror so stark it would quake through me, making me shake and clench my fists. These are not creative uses of words—these are nights I experienced on an almost nightly basis. I wanted God to hold me—but I was too concerned with trying to obtain safety that I was blinded to the many avenues for help He’d placed right in my own home. Only once I was removed from danger was I able to learn that not only did He hold my hand but He gave me life. Colorful flowers, the melody of birds, the sight of eagles, children resting in my arms. Truly, my soul was opened and I was able to see gifts that I simply could not see before—not because I didn’t believe in Him but because I didn’t ask Him to stop the worst of it. I asked only for His hand. What my church has taught me, and what I hope to teach my daughters, is that trusting in Him, and accepting Him, gives us the ability to ask for anything. Being baptized doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to know these things or be able to find peace in such simple acts as finding honeysuckle or watching a butterfly—but it’s a step, one that draws you closer to God. It doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to trust Him or run to Him for comfort—but it does mean you’re going to try. And, as of today, both my daughters have taken that monumental step–publicly declaring their individual love for Jesus and their commitment to following in His footsteps.
Life is a daily cycle of ups and downs–that’s life more abundantly–but whether today is an up day or a down day, there are fields are flowers, the scary, scary bees still make sweet honey, there are still forests and streams; the sun still rises and sets, coloring the sky magnificent shades of pink and purple. The sound of childhood laughter and the pitter-patter of little feet running upstairs still resounds through homes. People still hug one another as they did in my church today and things like fuzzy pillows and big, squishy elephants can guide us through the night. And, when morning comes, a caterpillar will have broken free of its chrysalis to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.