I step down the ladder and balance my paintbrush on the edge of the can, reaching down to trace the paint-tattoo on my knee with one finger. This now dry glob—when did that happen?–looks like a Maui Mist cloud, all wispy at the edges. I clench and unclench my hands, sore, noticing the red welts rising like blistering islands on the hand I favor. I allow myself just the moment to notice that the ache also travels up my arms, that it runs across my shoulders and down my spine to my lower back. In truth, I feel like a bruise. Even my feet feel sore. Time comes; it fills like the roller pan at my feet, all smooth and sticky with color. I’m either incredibly out of shape or my body feels encumbered to warn me against persistent transformative projects. There is room for debate, but in any case, broken and given makes things new, even me.
All this effort is a gift, something Zoe asked for as an early birthday present–a new look for her bedroom. Weeks ago, we set a budget and embarked on a shopping expedition so that she could understand what things cost, maybe prioritize her choices.
“I just want white walls,” she’d said. So, I’d asked which shade. She’d blinked, tilting her head, then said more slowly, “just white.”
So on shopping day, we stood in the paint aisle maybe twenty minutes while she lifted the paint chip cards up and smacked them back down–red whites, blue whites, yellow whites, purple whites, ultra white. She moved politely aside so that someone could wheel their cart through and then returned to staring at the overwhelming number of options.
“I just want white,” she said again, standing there in the paint aisle with one hand propped on her hip, looking back at me. I found a helpful tri-fold card featuring ultra and a sampling of the faintest whites in each color group. She tacked it to her wall and watched the shades change in the daylight, under the lamp at night, finally settling on Maui Mist, a shade that reminds me of island light and the way it hints at tropical flowers and rain, at sunsets over silvery seas. I wasn’t surprised my ocean-eyed girl picked that shade, but now, surrounded by these dewy walls, I just hope she’ll think them white enough. This is our gift to her; I want her to love it. I don’t want her to walk in all covered in camp and summer sun and say, “Oh wow, but…I wish it was more…white.”
I slide the roller into the pan carefully, gliding it back and forth a bit, letting the mist cover the peachy nap completely, then lift a sore arm toward the wall. I find something satisfying about this kind of work, the way the consuming effort begets something all new, something that lasts beyond a few days of tired muscles. Three days it’s taken me to do this, but that’s not a lot for a change that should bring her several years of joy and refuge.
Before Zoe left for camp, I spent days listening to her chatter about what she wanted; studied her my room board on Pinterest to catch her vision for style, and now, as I move the ladder a little further down the wall, I find myself hoping for a certain reaction from my daughter, for enthusiasm enough to match my investment. And this hope is about more than just the acknowledgment of what I’ve done for her in love; it’s about seeing her blessed and feeling the blessing. I can already imagine how the room will look when I pack up all these paint supplies and restore the ladder, after I’ve carefully made the bed and curated the shelves that will house her snow globe collection. It will be beautiful, clean, peaceful. This is a good, good gift. She was wise to ask it.
The thought reminds me of a verse that long ago set down roots in my heart:
So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11).
The first clause stings, even if it’s true, because I’m not so good at admitting my sins–that self-indulgence is too high a priority, that sometimes I care more about what you think more than what God thinks, that I often put my own interests ahead of the interests of others. The truth is that I’m a mess; that God is my glue, my life, that He is everything and anything good about me. And I do know how to give good gifts to my children. I know when a wish is wise and when it isn’t. I know the right time to fulfill a request, because I have a broader perspective on the household. I often know more about what my kids will do with a gift than they do when they ask for it, whether it will be something distracting or destructive, lasting or frivolous, a whim or a wisdom. And despite my selfishness, I delight in making sacrifices that bless my children. I love to work on things that will matter to them; I get giddy over their delight. And if I can be trusted with my children’s wishes, God can certainly be trusted with mine.
The roller makes a thwickwickwick sound as it moves against the wall. The bright sponge looks nearly naked, relieved of paint. But before I bend down to sop up some more, I glance around the room, taking in the changes–the crisp look of the walls, the jumble of furniture covered with plastic. I can’t wait for Zoe to see this when it’s done. And then another thought settles over me: If my longing for Zoe’s joy over this gift exceeds even the measurement of what it’s taken me to give it, how much must my gratefulness–my excitement, my delight over YHWH’s good and perfect gifts–matter to Him? Oh, that my enthusiasm could match what He’s invested.