We pitter pattered across the wet grass toward the waiting van. When he was securely buckled into his car seat, I began to dig in my cavernous purse for the keys. What presented itself to me first, though, was the sticky remains of a lollipop - half-wrapped and half-sucked. I tried to wipe my hands on the seat, but gumminess has a way of laughing in your face, of course. Especially in the rain. When you can't find your keys.
I went back in for a second dig, this time with renewed ambition. The search resulted in something long and thin - what could that be? Curiosity had me. I pulled out a white pencil. Turning it over in my hand, the words were as clear as the purple ink with which they had been written: WE ARE PROUD OF YOU.
And it all came back without warning, spinning me softly into nostagia's lap. We had been sitting in church when I first laid eyes on this pencil. It was one of those late August days when the flies stick and the wooden door swells so much it won't shut right to keep them out. I had felt brave that morning, as I recall it, and had shown up at church with all seven kids in tow by myself. We sang, we read, we listened. It was a typical service.
Halfway through her children's lesson, our pastor pulled out a handful of these lovely white pencils. She asked the children what would be starting soon and waited for one of my precocious ones to pipe up appropriately: SCHOOL! Which, of course, they did.
She handed the pencils to an older child to pass out and then continued talking: "I'm going to speak for the congregation here, but we want you to have this pencil to remind you of something. When you are at school, we hope you know that you are so very loved by every person in this room. That if you need something - anything - we want to be there for you. See, you're part of us in a way that we can't really explain, and we like it that way. When we know you're in that building down the street, learning your multiplication facts or studying the anatomy of a toad, we are thinking of you - we are connected to you. And that connection brings us a lot of joy. So when school starts this week and you take this pencil to school, we hope you'll remember that there are a whole lot of people who make up the local Body of Christ who love you, who pray for you, and who are proud of you. And we hope that will give you joy, too."
My children each turned their shiny new pencil over in their hands. I, meanwhile, worked hard not to show the shiny tears that had been streaming down my cheeks at her every word. You see, not so long ago we were surrounded by people who did not understand the importance of this message to my children's hearts. I imagine if pencils were given out in our former scenario, they would have said not WE ARE PROUD OF YOU, but rather MAKE US PROUD OF YOU.
And friends? There's all the difference in the world between the two.
Children who grow up trying to prove their worthiness are starting at a disadvantage. They hustle through their days, eyes fixed on the ones withholding acceptance, wondering if they are enough yet. Often, they become adults who have finely tuned the habit of measuring themselves - chronically assessing and re-assessing their every move - for a lifetime. Self-consciousness, insecurity, and a critical spirit are usually not far behind. And this is a tragedy.
Because God doesn't love us like that.
God doesn't withhold love from us because we fail or falter or any manner of catastrophe. The love of the Creator is constant. It doesn't demand "make me proud of you" as much as it offers itself unabashed.
That day in the van in the rain, I allowed myself to feel all the feels of this encounter. My eyes welled up with gratitude for the path we had traveled and the place in which we now find ourselves: surrounded by cornfields and grace. There and then, my heart resolved anew to be a voice of acceptance, of belonging, of sufficiency for those around me. To quell the anxiety of the hustle and calm the uncertainty of past woundedness. To bring a gentle "Yes" into the life of every little (AND BIG) boy and girl who crosses my path asking "Am I enough yet? ... Are you proud of me? ... Am I safe here?"
Aren't those the questions that so many of us are asking when it comes right down to it?
To speak this powerful YES into the ravenous void is the work of a healer. Of a reconciler. It is the work of apeacemaker. One who proclaims the peace that already stands between God and man and welcomes others to make themselves at home in the fact of their ridiculous belovedness.
That, friends, is a good place from which to start. Whether it be a school year or a life.
My three year old crunched on his apple from the backseat. I snapped out of my nostalgia and turned around, looking deep into his impressionable almond-shaped eyes. Then, slowly, I swiveled back toward the front. Through my tears I smiled at the rain. And I can't be sure, but I think it smiled back.
I live in the midwest, surrounded by cornfields and love, with my husband and seven blue-eyed children. We laugh, we play, we fight, we mend; but we don’t do anything that even slightly resembles quiet. Unless it’s listening to our lives, which has proved to be the biggest challenge of them all. You can find me writing somewhat regularly at my personal blog or hanging out on facebook, instagram, or twitter.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.