She could not have known about the day, its prickly criticism and thick heat, its challenge and pursed lips and ungracious attitude. She could not have absorbed its unkind words. She could not have known how it all felt gray, in spite of the sun, or how many times I wondered why am I doing this and felt God’s hands gently righting my crazy-knocked gaze. She could not have known how much five minutes of her love, her grace, her gratitude would lift my arms when I felt unable to hold them aloft any longer. She could not have known that her presence in my life would turn the tide of battle.
So, the only explanation is that she listens deep. She, not the one but the many of my sisters; she who moves wild with the changing wind, who allows God to lift her hands and move her fingers and work her voice into joy and peace and mercy. Word says He sounds like rushing water, and so she feels to me, like cool refreshment at the roots where I have settled to grow.
My phone dings, and it is she, a Facebook message that comes when I am swallowing pain like a thick knot in my throat, when the evil whisper rises to a crescendo: Give up. Come on, you don’t need this.
I check the notifications quickly, a habit I learned when my children developed potential emergencies, and she makes me smile—just a woman’s silhoutte still instead of a photo, in a round like a floating window. I am so thankful for how important you are, she has typed, and, I love you!
She is a friend.
Moments later, she sends a text, The spirit of discouragement is widespread…pray for encouragers to lift up those who are burdened. She reminds me to pray, to climb up in my Father’s lap for safety. And as I read her text, I feel the way her prayer has already wrapped me, drawing me in, a protection.
She is a soul-sister.
Praying with you! I type back. I had a FB message from one of those encouragers when I got home!
You understand, she is the one and also the other.
I gather the mail in my hands, lifting it from the counter where Riley has left it for me, neatly stacked. And on the top, a puffy envelope sits all wrinkled from the trip it took to get to me. And inside, she has sent a note with a she-knows-me gift, just a simple message using a word all made of love, a family word no one else understands. Just simply enjoy, and love.
She is a precious, cherished aunt.
I stand holding her note, feeling embraced. That word—enjoy—captures me with its powerful prefix en, which means to confine in or place on, and additionally, to cover on every side completely. She reaches out and wraps me up in joy like a blanket, like a robe, like a shield. That’s her word, I think, because it describes what she does for me always, what she has done all week. Two minutes, five, three, and she sends me a photograph of my mom doing something or a luna moth or a butterfly, maybe with a phrase, but always that I might enjoy, that she might wrap joy around me—completely and covering every side—like her arms, enfolding.
I walk upstairs to fold some clothes, breaking away for a moment from a tangle of homework and snacks and projects and routines and supper. I sit on the bench in the hall, just a moment, because I have to tell her:
You sent your note when I needed it most.
And you, you have embraced me all week.
You are a gift.
I lift towels from the basket and press my fingers into the warmth of them, folding them into satisfying lines, smooth, uninterrupted surfaces. My back is to the door, and I am praying, asking God to silence the thoughts I shouldn’t have, to fill me with Light that obliterates shadows. I don’t feel her behind me until she slides her arms around my waist and squeezes tight, pressing her nose into my spine, inhaling as though I smell sweet. I’m sorry you’ve had a hard day, she says. I love you. All the hurtful people, all the terribly hard things, are rotten pumpkin seeds. I drop the towel and in my hands and turn to hug her, and our laughter falls and twists and curves around us.
“Rotten pumpkin seeds?”
“Well, if I had said just pumpkin seeds, you’d have thought about roasting them.”
This makes me laugh harder, until the healing reaches through me and into my heart. I give thanks for honesty, that she is old enough to carry the truth: It’s been a hard day. She doesn’t ask me for details, doesn’t tempt me to say more than I should. She just hugs me more often.
She is a daughter, stunning and open.
And then, she is my mother.
She is a gentle text that comes just after, a message that says, Love you, even knowing that I might not find my way back to the phone to respond. She makes me smile as I gather my phone and rush downstairs to answer a question—someone’s calling me from below—and to stir supper simmering.
You’ve met her. Not my mom or my daughter or my aunt or my friends, necessarily, but her. She is every age and every size and every shape. She is feeling and thoughtful and warm. She is gifted and creative and funny. She builds and touches and covers me up, safe. She takes whatever minutes she can find just to lift my weary arms and hold them up a little longer, just to remind me that I’m important. She isn’t one–not just one person or one friend or one way; she is all of us together, caring for each other, speaking life right into the days that feel like death. She is the reminder of a sure and final victory, of a better inheritance than all this temporary. She is Love—not the limited, conditional, if-you-please-me kind; not the lesser that means “I like you a lot, but not enough that you’ll ever hurt me;” not the one day here and another gone; not the only if I like you; not the when it’s easy or convenient; but the real thing, the Love that covers over a multitude of sins. Yes, she covers sin with grace, with joy on every side, with forgiveness and mercy, with strength and warmth and whatever she has that day, and always at great risk to herself. She is the Love that keeps no record of wrongs, the Love that doesn’t envy or boast. She is every shape and contour of Grace, the stunning vibrancy of gifts given while yet unmerited. She is the reflection of the God who loves me, shining strong so that I can see, even when my eyes are too weak. She is the powerful gentleness of His hands, holding me.
She is immeasurably beautiful.
At the end of a hard, prickly day, when I swallow pain like a knot in my throat, she reaches for me. She, with her many arms, with her voice like rushing water. And so together, as one day fades into another, we move on; we grow; she and I, with our roots full soaked and tangled up somewhere deep.
Thank you, faithful Father, for the difference she makes.