Clutching the mug–round, steaming, creamy-warm, in the snug space between twinkle lights and the gentle glow of dawn, I push back my chair, leaving the porch with its weathered slats and plump, happy cushions. The house feels still, dark, lightly chilled from the brisk morning. Just past a silhoutted wave to father and daughter on their way, I put down my pen and take to the stairs to wake another.
Pitch dark when I open the door, and she flicks on like a light. “Good morning, Mom Jones,” Riley says, resurrecting from a pile of soft sheets, instantly up on one elbow. She rubs one hand over her eyes, the cheek still lined with the shape of her pillow. Her voice sounds bright though, her words fresh-poured from an overflowing heart. When we were playing the questions game and had to say who we would be like if we could be like anyone save Jesus, Zoe wrote down Riley’s name, a gentle smile curving over the letters. This morning, I’m thinking it too, remembering my own groan when the alarm sounded, the way I lay there in the darkness like a dead thing, the way my thoughts were shadowed and reluctant. I’ve never once heard Riley complain about waking up.
When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness, the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 17:15), and right now, Riley is neither too little nor too much; she is happy just seeing me. It’s a goal for me, this kind of contentment. How is it that my daughter has that heart without even knowing it?
“Good morning, sweet heart,” I say, offering her a dim smile. I wake her two hours before she has to go, because she is ruthlessly unhurried. She prefers this to some thoughtless rush. For the next hour, Riley will notice what makes the day wonderful, announcing aloud the birthdays of friends while she touches the calendar lightly with her fingers. She will check every calendar in the house not to miss one. She will prepare, dressing carefully as she anticipates the day, even every ordinary, routine thing—especially those. On the way to school, she will ask me the same questions she asks every day, a list I could answer in my sleep, and do. She giggles when I say the expected things, and I confuse her with my sighs. She cannot imagine why it is not enough just to be and to love, again. Meanwhile, this week I feel like a hollowed out gourd, cavernous, parched, musty. I am dried up with wishing. Take captive your thoughts, Spirit reminds (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Someone recently offered this wisdom to a roomful of women, that it’s not often the facts that knot up our bodies but the thoughts we have about them. Standing in her doorway, I remember this and let it sink. Riley’s clean-scrubbed heart thinks true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent (Philippians 4: 8); her heart loves and celebrates from the moment she wakes. Only anxiety robs her of this joy, and I think maybe that’s what makes her grieve it, though even that is not a complaint but an opportunity she finds to be thankful, simply, for God.
We have a sleep contest, Riley and I, because we don’t get enough. “How many hours did you sleep last night, Mom Jones?” She chirps, sliding her legs off the side of the bed, and I have to look at my Fitbit to see.
Not enough, I say, looking at the 6.5-hour arc, digital-blue, on the display.
“I slept the same amount as you,” she says, grinning after a glance at the clock. “We’ll just both have to do better tonight.” And just like that, it’s not a pit we’re in at all, but a path we’re on, and she’s already looking toward the next curve. Her contentment knows no debt, no lack. She’s a light that doesn’t have to think about how to shine, a star piercing darkness. And just now, as the night slowly melts into new day, she’s a lamp, lighting the way for me.