As mentioned in a previous post, our last month has been a little rough. One afternoon, Maddie was thrown into an emotional tailspin after losing a game of memory. The previous weeks of sensitivity & clinginess hit an all-time low in a long moment of sadness, despair, and self-hate. Maddie was saying things like, "I mean nothing to you. I am nothing. I am just a stupid girl." No matter how many times we spoke the truth or tried to comfort Maddie with our words, she just turned away. She couldn't hear them. So I did what came only naturally: I held her in my arms, rocked her back and forth, and shushed her like a little baby.
After what seemed like minutes and minutes of the most heartbreaking expressions of sorrow and self-doubt I've ever experienced in my child, she finally relaxed, melting into my arms, no longer fighting but acquiescing to the comfort of my body. We prayed for her, spoke words of affirmation, encouragement, and love. We held her caressed her, kissed her tear-stained cheeks, and cozied our bodies around her tiny one.
I had been planning to take a spiritual break that afternoon. I needed time away with Jesus, time to collect my thoughts and open up my heart. But with Maddie in such a vulnerable state, I knew I didn't want to abandon her for a few hours, so I asked if she wanted to come along. I explained how, in times of questioning or sadness, in times where I want to grow closer to God and hear from him, I find it necessary to get out, to go somewhere high on a mountain, where I can pray and listen and heal. San Damiano is one of those sacred places where I always walk away feeling refreshed, renewed, and met by my savior. Maddie agreed to coming along.
She packed a light snack and two water bottles in her backpack, which she flung over her shoulders with determination. Eyelashes still damp from the crying, we put on our hiking shoes and headed up the hill, pausing to talk, to pray, and to listen.
It was a hot day, but in the coolness of the shade we found lots of places to sit and rest. We trudged over fallen trees and under hanging branches. We sat on moss-covered rocks and listened to the crackling of creatures in the forest. I explained to Maddie that taking care of her heart is so important, because in times where we don't actually believe the truth, it still lies down deep in our souls, written on our hearts.
As we hiked, I prayed out loud for her. "Father, would you reveal yourself to your daughter Maddie? Would you show her your never-stopping, never-giving-up love that left heaven to pursue her? God, give her complete joy and peace in you and in the hugeness of your love for her."
We spent a lot of time in the garden. I introduced her to the labyrinth, a place to meditate and think on God's character while journeying to the center. She wanted to step over all the rocks and make her way to the resting place in the middle. In that moment of childlike impatience, I myself wanted to pick her up and carry her in my arms to her center, to Christ himself, for the healing and grace her heart so desperately needed that day.
We lingered by the cool water. Maddie beckoned the bright orange and black-spottted goldfish, dipping her fingers in the water, calling to them. We met a couple frogs cooling themselves in the shallows.
And I snapped photos. Hundreds. As Maddie found her peace by the cool pond, I found mine among dahlias and passionflower vines, brown-eyed susans and fragrant roses.
It's funny how when you stop talking and start listening, even the flowers have messages. There, amidst the long thorns of a cactus was sprouting a beautiful pink bud, God's creation reminding me of the dangers and difficulties necessary to produce beauty.
As I admired the passionflowers through my viewfinder, I thought of our friend, a prayer warrior and daughter of the King whose arm bears this flower's resemblance. She became a person of prayer and devotion in the wake of much hurt, pain, and abuse. Jesus met her in her sorrow and gave her a new name: baby girl, beloved, treasured one.
And as I snapped photographs, freezing these moments in time, I prayed for my daughter. I prayed that Jesus would reveal himself as the one able to hold her, to comfort and keep her, to cover her with a blanket of love in the midst of her own great sorrow.
I recognized my own limits as a parent. In my desire to just take the pain away, to carry my daughter through the storms of life so as to shelter and protect her, I was actually trying to be God. He's such a better savior than me. I prayed, again, that he would carry her, that he would provide, that he would produce the fruit in her life that is in line with his plan.
The roses were the perfect shade of pinky orange, fragrant and lovely. They bloomed for the glory of God, not for any other reason. Dragonflies danced and hovered around us. Bees hummed near our ears and hummingbirds drew nectar all around. They moved for the glory of their Creator.
And I found peace with my girl, there on our mountaintop, where Christ himself poured out love and grace and compassion and mercy.
Once the clouds of the afternoon's pain had lifted, the sun shone through even brighter, more golden and warm on our backs. We explored the garden in the new light, finding people in trees and little bugs in centers of flowers.
Time seemed to stand still in my little girl's inaugural mountaintop experience. Her shoulders relaxed and her countenance lifted as we talked about the beauty all around us. I reminded her that she is the joy of Jesus, the joy set before him when he endured death on the cross that she might know his love.
She wanted to hang from a branch in the garden, swinging her legs and hanging with the strength in her upper body. Again and again she asked for help in grasping the limb so she could enjoy the security of its branch as she spun and kicked and swung. Again and again I lifted her, until her arms were tired and she moved on.
"I am the vine, and you are the branches. Remain in me." That day, in that beautiful garden, I lifted my girl to the branch so she could be connected to the tree. Each and every day as I raise and disciple my child, I'm teaching her to return to the vine, to hold her branch securely to the most firm foundation she'll ever know.
Trials and sorrows will come, of that I'm sure. I'll want to carry her, to protect her, to assure and encourage her. That's my job as her mom. But I'll remember this day in the garden as a day when God reminded and reassured me of his love for my daughter and his control in her life. She will experience pain and suffering. Drought will inevitably come. My job is to help keep her attached to the vine, to remain in the love of the father, so that even when it doesn't feel as though her world is safe or secure or even fun, the truth of who she is in Christ what keeps her rooted.
Thank you, Father, that you love my child. Thank you that you love me. Help me to weather these storms of life in prayer and dependence on you. May I always point my children to their Creator, their Sustainer, the True Vine, and that deep in their souls they are satisfied because you've already secured their deepest need and desire in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Amen.