She climbed a hill and I snapped a photo of her, standing small and resolute against a wide open sky. I thought to myself, she’s a mountain climber, she’s a conqueror, she’s brave, fearless. When she climbed back down to me, I laid my arm across her thin shoulders – God, when did she get so tall? – and gathered her to my side. I said, I think you’re a brave kid. Then a few days later, she didn’t want me to use the adult nail clippers on her toenails because she was scared of them. She said, I know you think I’m brave, Mumma, but I’m not that brave yet. No big deal, I told her, you’re brave when it counts, these are just the times you get to practice. You are brave, you are.
I can’t help myself, I’m my father’s daughter: I want her to hear my voice speaking the truth to her about her own self. Brave. Smart. Funny. Clever. Wise. Gracious. Kind. Disciplined. Gentle. Loving. Generous. You are you are you are you are….
I like her. I like sitting on the couch with her on Saturday nights while we watch HGTV together. She curls up against me, still hanging onto her old Blankie, and offers up opinions on tile back splashes. We’re pals now, or at least we’re sowing the seeds of friendship. I pray sometimes that I’m sowing enough now that when she is writing in her diary (or her Facebook wall? who knows what kids will be doing in a few years) that she hates me and I don’t understand, I hope there’s still a tendril of the truth down there under all the angst: Mum loves me she loves me, no matter what, she’s where I belong. And hopefully she will still be her mother’s daughter: she will come back to me.
I genuinely like her. Oh, she’s great. I would eat her up, I love her so. She’s a lanky kid now, all colt-ish and quirky, she’s missing half the teeth in her mouth and she wears leopard print runners with sequins on the toes, and I adore everything about her. She’s a really-real little kid now with occasional fits of sulkiness and drama.
I can’t help myself, I’m my father’s daughter: the more fiercely she sulks, the more I laugh at her. And she can’t help herself, she’s her mother’s daughter: eventually she starts laughing through her frustration, too, she’s not a grudge-holder.
When she wakes up from a sound sleep and wanders out looking for me in the night, I can hardly breathe for how she is all of the girls at once: she’s still my little blue-eyed baby, still my first little toddler, still the preschooler, still my wee girl with the triangle mouth. Her eyes are sleepy, her hair is a tousle, and she still wants me.
I can’t help myself, I’m my own mother’s daughter: so while I have a chance, I’ll hold her and trace her eyebrows with my thumb, I’ll sing old Keith Green songs like “Oh, Lord, you’re beautiful” into her dark bedroom like a lullaby until she’s asleep again.
You know what, I blinked. I did, I blinked, and now she’s wearing skinny jeans and bossing her little brother and little sister within an inch of their lives instead of sleeping in the middle of my bed, milk-drunk and mewing.
She is at the stage when she wants to hear the old stories, the family legends, and sometimes we end up telling her, oh, you’re so much like your mum when you do such-and-such, and then she glows with belonging. She can’t help herself, she’s her mother’s daughter: she will grow into her communal identity and make it her own.
Everyone likes to make fun of the charismatics and the Word of Faith people with their emphasis on “confession,” with the silly reverence with which they treat their language, with the way they act like words are poof! – magic. I get that, I do.
But I still catch myself, holding onto my words, and some part of me wonders if I am speaking life or death, if I am speaking identity, if I am forming her life with my words.
In the beginning, before we know better, maybe the voice of God sounds like the voices of our parents. It would be nice if that’s a wide path to follow straight to the truth of Love, instead of a prison to unlock or a fetter to untangle or a dark wood to wander until we find the light. In the beginning, until they know better, I hope the voice of God breathes in my words to them: loved loved loved loved lovedlovedlovedloved thumping out a rhythm of belonging right into the ventricles of the breath.
Perhaps I am still wrestling with some aspects of my Mother Church. Resting in the in-betweens is okay with me now. Yet I find I am reclaiming more and more, fighting my way through the weeds of over-realisation or extreme cases or weirdness, to find the seed of the real that is still there. After the fury, after the rebellion, after the wrestling, after the weighing and the sifting and the casting off and putting on, after the contemplation and the wilderness comes the end of the striving and then comes the rest.
And maybe someday the tinies-who-won’t-be-tiny-anymore will remember how their Old Ma watched the words she spoke over her children, caught the words she assigned to them and made them into faith words, how she filled their ears with their identity of the Beloved and spoke it over them because she finally gave in and admitted what she’d always known to be true: at the end of it all, what is there left to speak but the Truth in Love?