In the kitchen, I scoop up the end of the day in my palm–the covered, sharp tip of an insulin needle we used for Adam; an alcohol swab, still evaporating that clean, astringent smell; paper-torn wrappers. With the other hand, I lift an abandoned cup of water–probably the one Riley set down when she finished swallowing her pills, the ones that sometimes make her sleepy and always help with seizures. Kevin rinses the containers that held his lunch, leaning against the sink, bending to stow them in the dishwasher.
“Dad Jones?” Riley speaks to us from somewhere on the stairs. We hear the tone of a request preciously borne before we delineate her round cheeks, the flat braid laying along one side of her face and against her shoulder. She emerges from the shadows smiling, cheeks blooming rose, eyes bright. Immediately I think of the way I offer my heart to God, the approach of little girl me. The requests of my children teach prayer, every single time.
“Yes?” Kevin says, but she doesn’t hear. Does He answer me and sometimes I’m just not listening? I watch her walk toward us, braid swinging. Joy escapes, and she laughs, then tamps that thrill back down. I can’t decide whether she thinks seriousness will move him more or if she’s afraid to hope in his answer.
“Dad Jones?” She plants a hand on one hip, jutting an elbow out. Finding him, she quickly looks away.
“Yes?” Kevin says again, closing the dishwasher, stopping to listen. But the very moment she has his full attention, she doubles over laughing, losing her grip on decorum. This thing she’s dreaming on, it’s so happy it won’t stay locked up.
“Well, so my friend,” Riley starts, and I smile because I know where she’s headed, something she asked me earlier, something I said warranted a fuller discussion at the end of the day. At the time, caught up in next, I felt unable to answer reasonably. It still blows my mind that God can pay attention to all of us and all the knowing at once.
“Well, my friend got to school late today,” she finishes. Nope. That wasn’t it.
“He did?” Kevin says, looking at me, a look that wonders why this story interrupted Riley’s routine and brought her back downstairs to address him directly. So, what was your question? I return the glance, curious about how she’ll get around to her real request. Our literalist almost always speaks in straight lines, but is she afraid now to hand over her real heart?
“Unhuh, yea, he did,” Riley says, laughing again, but this time not so genuinely. She bends herself down like she’s bowing already to whatever will be. She’s always been so much more yielded than I am.
“Okay, well, maybe tomorrow he’ll be on time.” Kevin looks at me: ???
I can’t help but wonder if this is how it is when some awkward, ridiculous, utterly human thing makes me trip over my own spiritual feet. God listening, the Son interceding, the Spirit filling in for me. C.S. Lewis said, “The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.” Prayer is communion with the Trinity the way our children’s conversations with one of us are really conversations with both of us.
“Yea, he probably will!” Riley sings the word probably, turning on her heel, braid bobbing. Then quickly, mysteriously, she leaves, feet thumping on the stairs.
“Okaaay,” Kevin says, picking up a dishcloth to wipe the counter, holding it under the tap. The water splashes, dripping over his fingers, his palm. We lack something so essential that God does not: the ability to know human hearts.
She’s not finished. That wasn’t what she wanted to say. I look at Kevin’s back, puzzling over why our daughter would stop short of asking her big question. But then, why do I stop short of asking mine? Kevin’s a gentle father, quick to love, slow to speak. He trains our children carefully without disparaging them; justly, but with much grace. I don’t understand why Riley would be hesistant. Unless. Unless like hesitant me when I carry my heart, she’s afraid his answer will be no.
“Dad Jones?” Before I can open my mouth to speak, Riley returns, pulling her pajama shirt down at the edges as she rounds the corner, flattening out the glittery letters that spell DREAM across her chest.
“Yeess?” Kevin stops wiping and looks up, waiting.
“So, my friend…my friend was wondering if he could spend Thanksgiving with us.” There. That’s it.
Kevin smiles. “Well, I’m thinking he may not have mentioned that to his family.”
“OH. Yea, he may not have mentioned that to his family.” She can feel the no, even if Kevin hasn’t exactly said it. I can see the disappointment clouding her face, dulling that bloom in her cheeks. But Riley trusts her dad, so she nods, affirming, agreeing before she understands, before she feels her own agreement. May it be to me as you have said. Dad has the bigger know informing his no.
Kevin mentions a few other thoughts out loud, the things that most immediately restrain his yes, because that’s really how it is: He almost never flat says no, really never wants to, unless his children naively request something potentially damaging. When there are complications, he observes them aloud, teaching our children perspective and wisdom. And each time Kevin speaks, Riley nods, accepting his words, agreeing, submitting. Yes, of course you’re right. She is not by nature an argumentative child. But that dim light in her cheeks makes me ache, and I search for what to say that will make it clear we understand and love the heart behind her request.
“I know you want to invite him to do something with us,” I say.
“Yea, I really do,” she says, looking toward me, and her flashing smile breaks into the tiniest hopeful laugh.
So, I start naming other opportunities that won’t steal her friend from his family on a major family holiday, because what Riley has felt as no, really has to be not that way. And sometimes, that’s how it is with my big asks too. Sometimes what I perceive as no turns out to be a wiser and better divine redirection. As we talk about options now, I watch the warmth of hope slowly return to Riley’s face, her eyes, that sweet laugh.
“When?” She says to us, and her elbow juts all over again. lsn’t that what we all wish we knew about the things simmering in our hearts? Oh, how long, Lord? When? Certainly it’s a question that is very important to Riley, and at least this time I have a date to give her, but often, I do not. So many times, she just has to trust, and trust she always does, nodding her head in agreement. In this, she’s better than me. I sometimes find it so hard to agree with God in my waiting. Somehow, Riley finds away to be persistant without being doubtful.
Finally content, she leaves us a second time, ready to continue her routine upstairs.
“I’m glad she finally got around to asking you for what she actually wanted,” I say to Kevin, all at once remembering the encouragement of a powerfully prayerful friend. Every time we launch into prayer, my friend urges me, “Come on! ASK BIG.” Because there’s just no need to beat around the bush with God. There are no boundaries to prayer. I can ask for what I really want.