He crawled on all fours, trying to blow up and out of his eyes the edges of the blanket that were covering his view, unsuccessfully. His Mary was main-stage, now, and currently had little concern for her transportation. She had a baby to birth.
They recited fractured lines of scripture in between giggles, under a flashlight that was their Bethlehem Star, and made no explanation for why this hay-trodden birthplace had a giraffe instead of an ox or ass. Joseph wore a kimono.
Forming traditions when we have “firsts” at years five and seven of life has kept things light.
But for one, this little … performance … was loaded. She’d sunken back into herself, her body language telling us the story for which her lips didn’t have language. She hid behind her eyes, this one who’d spent nearly a lifetime building her own fortresses. Shyness, her mask for fear.
The bubble of childhood’s innocence was burst early for her. She was dealt an injustice, and what should have been an innocent grid over life now had holes. So she built her own bunker behind her eyes and set up a system of legislation. This new government had one goal: self-protection.
And Christmas shows — and other places that might require her to come out of hiding and make herself vulnerable to another — weren’t safe; they were against her law.
Then it was May, and the car air was thick with the smell of sweat and makeup. My seats held ballerinas, not daughters — they were royalty this night. They replayed the events that I knew would be burned in my memory but might be forgotten by theirs and I was all ears for their commentary. Two of the three hadn’t yet been indoctrinated into the plague of flesh in this arena, there was no mention of motions they missed or the hundred sets of eyes fixed on them for that one routine. Their stardom was immortal and the only eyes they mentioned were their daddy’s and mine.
But one — the true star of my night — she retreated from the glory with which she’d just danced.
Hours earlier, the theater had been silent and my heart was loud. Were we setting her up for failure, this one who — days before the show — wanted to be nowhere near it? Her fear had threatened to engulf her, but her mama knew that fear, not walked over and through, only gained strength. Then, there she was, front and center. Spotlighted to me as if there was a veil around this moment. She moved through the motions as I choked over her story. God, did you really deliver this child from orphanage poverty to this moment where you dressed her up in beauty and her body wore the confidence of Your grace?
She did it. My girl, afraid of the safest eyes in-between the walls of her home just months earlier, stood before hundreds more friendly but foreign eyes and … danced.
Back in the car, her old grid threatened this new stepping-out.
As I tucked her into bed, the Christmas show — now 7 months away — hung out in her mind. It was as if she knew that true freedom from fear couldn’t be tried on, once, and claimed but needed to be worn. “Mommy, I don’t want to do it,” she pleaded, with tears in her eyes. Fear was clouding her memory; she’d had a night where she’d come out of her hole and He won but the inertia of self-preservation felt too strong against this win.
And so I told her…
She wasn’t alone in these feelings.
She wasn’t all that different from her mommy, big girl on the outside, cowering on the inside.
I was bold and courageous before life knocked the wind of me. I had nothing but (what I called) vision, back then, before my life-grid was punctured. I walked tall. And proud.
But then life broke and my body went with it. We had rested on finances and friendship and ministry, unsuspecting. I never knew I had crutches until they were taken away and my world got rocked by these little ripples. So, I hid. And a fuzzy line was formed in my mind between the hiding place He’d carved for me and the dark space I’d created as my “safe” hiding, that had as much distance between me and what might hurt me as possible.
He let them co-exist, these wheat and tares.
And He let me paint them both my “hiding place,” as if they were one.
Then one day I had a dream about a book.
And I spent years saying no. My words on a page would feel like a chisel against the fortress I’d built around the parts of me still bleeding, red. They exposed me. The blog caused enough internal wrestling, “no book”, I said. He’d shown me true hiding in Him in that near-decade of pain, but my synthetic version of safety still existed. (The things we guard most — those “I will never’s” — tell a story of their own. Those places locked-tight often hold keys to the freedom I crave.) And writing a book — putting all of me out there and all that effort into hanging that laundry of mine for all to see — threatened that hiding.
My little girl was a mini-me. She was scared of herself just like I was scared of me.
I’ve become an expert at knowing what I’m not and the thought of following the prompting to write a book, coming up and out of that man-hole and under the scrutiny of other eyes like mine, made my stomach sick.
I’d built an argument for safety that required me to stay buried behind those walls.
But safety isn’t a place or position or circumstantial state … it’s a God-Man.
Safety — true safety — is oftentimes what my flesh calls most dangerous. It’s the place that forces me to press my flesh and all those things I guard as “I will never’s” or “I will always” against One who wants to make Himself safe to me.
He doesn’t shake when our world does.
And, many times, He lets the most foundational fixtures of our world shake, so that we search for Him as a bedrock, strong. You know, those holy grails? When we ask for more of Him, they are subject to shaking.
It can be the clean house and my sense of order and my children that wear the story to the outsider that says “adoption is beautiful.” But what happens when she makes the carpet her canvas (with permanent marker) on the same day another busts the vacuum cleaner and my day reeks of chaos as he wails (loudly) in the checkout line — over the voice of the cashier who’s just told me that my story inspires his consideration of the orphan?
I find Him when the props are gone, even those I’d call most sacred to my sanity. He nudges what I think is best, out of orbit, all so that I might have a chance at burying my head deeper into His chest. This is the kind of abiding that liberates new layers of my heart.
We avoid the things our flesh resists and chalk it up to our personality — when we just might be one, uncharacteristic-to-us, leap away from a brush with real Safety.
My book is her Christmas show. It’s more about who He is than what we’re not.
Following Him is not supposed to feel “normal” to my flesh.
Some days its violent.
And a note: Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set us up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it … except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. We have just started rolling out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — letter by letter, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.