Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.
The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”
As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.
I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.
I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.
It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.
I find myself part of a typical scene after dinner. It is a moment when in the mix of ordinary life, I fight to remain present, to force worry and fearful thoughts from my mind. Ian begins a long opening argument of why he should have more dessert. He points at his empty dinner plate. He suggests options. Just a bit of sherbet. One square of dark chocolate. That last cookie. He walks around the kitchen, looks in the pantry, examines the shelves in the freezer, and ignores my repeated offers of a banana or yogurt.
The other children chat about school. Isabel reportedly tried the hot lunch that day and to her surprise, she loved it. I ask her what she ate and she speaks each item in a velvety voice as if she is a waitress listing the specials at a five star restaurant. A blue Popsicle. A big salad with croutons. A blueberry muffin. A bag of carrots.
“And chocolate milk,” she says with a sigh.
Mia is relegated to her chair until she finishes her milk. She stands up and then, when directed by her siblings or me, sits back down again. “Drink. Your. Milk,” I say for the sixth time.
Isabel asks to be excused and disappears down into the basement to a bin of cleats, baseball socks, and pants. Tomorrow night she has her first game. She emerges from the basement with a few pairs of softball pants. I asked her if they were the right size. “They’re fine,” she says. “I wore them last year, all the time.”
Since last season, she’d gained something like fifteen pounds and had grown about five inches.
“Let’s try them on,” I say.
She shrugs and takes them into the bathroom.
Ian, meanwhile, continues his negotiations. He notes that there is only one cookie left in the package. Maybe, he wonders aloud, it would be a good idea to split it with his brother. Finish it up, you know, and recycle the package?
Mia continues to refuse to drink her milk. She picks up her glass and raises it, but before taking a sip, she again speaks of about the newborn baby goats she saw that morning at a local zoo.
“They were born last Wednesday. In the evening,” she says.
“Drink your milk,” I say.
Isabel returns wearing a pair of the softball pants. They are uncomfortably tight and barely reached her knees.
“I’ll get you new ones tomorrow,” I promise.
Ian walks up close to me and brings his index finger to one of his eyebrows. He notes that his brows are growing thicker.
“See, here?” he says.
“People get hairier as they grow older,” I say.
“You’re getting hairier because you are turning into a monkey,” Mia explains, the glass of milk again raised in her hand.
We all break into laughter, but Mia nods to herself matter-of-factly, glad to have clarified the situation. I look at each of my children, my heart aching with love. I wish I could grab hold of the evening and freeze it in time. The repeated requests for more dessert. The outgrown pants. The milk (finally) dribbling down my daughter’s chin. The dirty dishes still on the table. The upside-down bottle of Ranch dressing. The dog wandering in and out of the room, checking under the table for fallen bits of food.
It's beautiful to me and I'm aware of how precious it all is.
But I can’t keep this moment.
Usually when time is frozen, it’s because something terrible has happened. Otherwise, life moves on in its ordinary, unobtrusive way. Gray hairs appear at the temples where they haven’t been before. Kids grow taller between the times we stand them against the wall and mark their heights. The bulbs we planted last fall send shoots up overnight and, when we aren’t looking, they bloom. But when something awful happens, time stands still.
Hurricane Katrina. Shootings on college campuses. An earthquake in Haiti. Car wrecks. 9/11. In the days that follow such tragedies, we look at pictures of the victims. Even strangers’ faces affect us. We know each one is someone's child, precious and loved like my own. Children whose parents limited the number of cookies they could have for dessert, made them finish their milk, kept them in clothes that fit, and experienced countless moments of regular, ordinary life with each one of them.
We realize how priceless each life is.
We wish there was anything we could do to turn back time and make things turn out differently.
My sons erupt into laughter, yanking me from my thoughts.
They repeat their little sister’s pronouncement over and over: “That’s because you’re turning into a monkey!”
Mia smiles, raises her glass, and finishes drinking her milk.
Jennifer Grant is the author of two books, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, from which this post is taken. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.