We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment. ~ Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening
A few days before Natalie and I traveled to Rwanda, she hit her head on the side of the neighborhood pool. She’d been gliding along the pool floor with a friend and accidentally swam right into the wall, resulting in a skinned nose and bruised forehead. Natalie laughed it off, but I worried. I thought getting her checked out by a medical professional would ease my angst, but even after that, I still worried that people we met along our travels would question her, perhaps causing us to be detained or separated. But in the end, the only people who noticed and inquired about Natalie’s lacerations were the children we bonded with at the Togetherness Youth Cooperative.
At least once a day, a child would reach up and softly touch the bruised scab on Natalie’s forehead, voicing concern in Kinyarwanda.
Using her hands, Natalie would entertainingly demonstrate running into a wall and then say these assuring words, “I am okay. I am okay.”
The children would smile back and breathe a sigh of relief.
She is okay.
I didn’t think about Natalie’s words or that scab on her forehead again for six months after our trip. But the moment I did marked the end of an era of pain and the beginning of a message of hope.
It had been a difficult couple of weeks. Due to some frustrating and disheartening circumstances in my professional and personal life, I was operating with a heightened level of internal tension, a state capable of reducing me to old, unhealthy patterns. The hairline fractures in my mood and demeanor did not go unnoticed by my firstborn child, who seems to see me more clearly than anyone else. During that stressful period, Natalie observed symptoms of fear, vulnerability, and anxiety in me. She instinctively knew that, left untreated, those fractures would intensify to cracks and maybe even break, so she addressed them with love and concern.
What have you had to eat today, Mom?
Slow down; it’s okay if we are a few minutes late.
You have done enough for today.
Rest. Just rest, Mama.
Don’t worry, Mom. The people who are meant to be there will be there.
Here, I can handle this; you go do what you need to do.
In addition to accepting Natalie’s help and assurance, I anchored myself with peace, positivity, and awareness, all tools I’ve worked hard to acquire over the years. But the most powerful force that kept me motivated to show up fully and authentically in both the struggles and joys of each God-given day came from watching Natalie.
I marveled at the girl who set her morning alarm in time to make a healthy kale smoothie and then dove into a Big Mac after school.
I marveled at the way she didn’t hesitate to reach out to a friend for help when she did not understand the new algebra concept.
I marveled at the way she accepted direct criticism from her coach after a swim meet. “If I thought I was doing everything right, I would not know how to improve,” she said matter-of-factly as we walked through the parking lot.
I marveled at the way she laughed so hard at her mispronunciation of “Arkansas” that she nearly fell off her bed.
I marveled at the way she took breaks to read from her favorite poetry book during her study sessions.
One evening, I received disappointing news concerning a project I’d worked on for months, compounding my already heightened feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt. Refusing to let this setback pull me under, I followed the urge I felt to get outside and walk.
As I was leaving the house, I missed a step and fell hard on the garage floor.
“Natalie!” I cried out. “I fell!”
I heard my daughter scream and come running.
“I am okay. I am okay.” I assured her before I knew if I really was. “I just… just don’t want to be alone,” I cried.
Natalie sat down on the steps and wrapped her arms around me. Her petite hand covered mine, and she rested her cheek against my face. I felt myself surrender completely to the present moment, and when I did, some pretty painful fears surfaced.
I was expecting my daughter to rush me to get up, like I did when she was young.
I was expecting her to ask how it happened and blame me, like I used to do when her sister fell.
I was expecting to endure the pain all alone.
But that is not what happened.
My child simply held me in connective silence.
When Natalie eventually pulled back to look me over under the florescent lights of the garage, I noticed the now permanent scar on her forehead.
Suddenly, the words Natalie said to the children came back to me.
“I am okay. I am okay.”
But this time, the words were for me… for us.
I am okay, too.
While I huddled against my daughter on the cold floor of my garage, I experienced a profoundly healing realization.
I am not perfect; I am flawed. I make mistakes, and I have regrets, but I am trying, learning, growing. I am becoming the parent and person I always wanted to be — resilient, compassionate, honest, authentic, brave, wise, loving, and faithful — the kind of person I want my child to be. The kind of person she already is.
As I waited for the throbbing in my ankle to subside, the long-held guilt and remorse in my heart eased, too.
It’s time, I thought.
It’s time to stop focusing on what I didn’t do then and focus on what I am doing differently now.
It’s time to stop wondering if my worst moments are the ones that will stick with my child and focus on the best practices we’re both learning together.
It’s time to stop speculating on the damage I’ve done and focus on the tools I’m using to get unstuck when triggered.
It’s time to stop wondering if my issues will wash out in the water and focus on the tears of redemption — the ones that fill my eyes when I watch my child swim, soar, live, and love.
And I am okay, too.
Neither of us expects the other one to be perfect; we simply expect that when we cry out in angst, pain, or fear, we will come to each other’s side.
This is the kind of love I’ve always wanted to give. This is the kind of love I’ve always wanted to receive.
This is the kind of love I’ve always wanted to leave as my legacy.
We are okay.
And with those three words, I got up slowly, gently putting weight on my ankle while wiping away my tears.
When I looked at the sky to determine if there was still time to walk before dusk, I saw the most beautiful phenomenon: both the moon and the sun were visible. This unusual spectacle spoke to me. It seemed to say, Yes, there is still time. It’s okay to feel caught between the dimension of today and tomorrow as we grow. You won’t walk alone.
I don’t usually remember dates, but I will never forget this one.
On January 16, while on that very walk, I scribbled the beginnings of this book in the tiny notebook I carried with me.
“It’s time,” my Dreamer girl said.
As odd as it may sound, I felt peace knowing that my most painful truths might become someone’s lifeline of hope.
The daily offerings of love and presence — no matter how imperfect or how small — are creating a better way.
The damaging patterns we are overcoming — not perfectly but whole-heartedly — are creating a better life.
Love doesn’t have to be perfectly delivered to reach its recipient; it is the love that is given consistently — in times of struggle and in times of joy — that transforms us into who we’re meant to be.
Let’s keep reaching.
We are okay.
Excerpted with permission from Live Love Now by Rachel Macy Stafford, copyright Rachel Macy Stafford.
* * *
Nobody’s expecting perfection. It’s okay. We’re okay. We can mess up and still be okay. It’s the daily offerings of love and presence that matter! Put your faith in Jesus and do your best, moms. We’re on each other’s sides! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full