so I wait
For them, this was a game. For me, this was a lesson in trust.
“So, see, what you want to do is collect four queens from the middle,” Zoe says, gesturing expansively toward the center of the table. “If you get the Rose Queen, that’s very good, because you can immediately draw an additional queen.”
Adam sits beside me at the table, picking absently at a blob of glitter that melted into the finish years ago. “Never know what you’ll see from this guy,” he says, reliving some Xbox game, keeping his announcer voice quiet so as not to draw our attention. Of course, there’s really never a time that he doesn’t have my attention. I’m aware of him even when I’m sleeping, but that’s not something a child can really understand. “He will not let your foot slip–,” Word says, and just now the verses beyond that one tumble in my mind:
he who watches over you will not slumber…
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
Psalm 121. God watches over me and NEVER sleeps. Suddenly, looking at my own son from right beside, I wonder if I can ever really even grasp what that means.
I wait for him to look at me, for his lips to still and those bright blue eyes to land solidly on my gaze. I can’t help but wonder: How often does God appeal to an uncomprehending me in just this way, sitting right beside, calling my name, patiently waiting for my full attention so that He can show me what to do?
This new game will be fun for its fantasy cards—queens, kings, dragons, sleeping potions, all expressed in vivid color and labeled with crazy names like bubblegum and tie-dye. But for Adam, learning the function of each one will take some time.
“You want four queens.”
“Yes,” he says, his attention piercing, intelligent.
Numbers are Adam’s native language, and he has played enough card games to know “queen,” though I’m not sure he’d ever associate that word with a person. Queens are just playing cards–flat, slick, rectangular things with specific point values and assorted relevance, depending on the game.
I touch one of the purple-backed playing cards Zoe has placed facedown on the table, then another, then another, then another with the tip of my finger.
“You want four.”
“Yes,” he agrees.
Nevermind about the Rose Queen now. The literal visual translation of her name hardly bears significance apart from her function in the game, and that Adam will only really understand in practice. I know my son. I’ll wait until the right time.
I know my son, and yet, it never stops feeling odd that my boy and I don’t speak the same language. But it’s that way with the heavenly father and the pilgriming child for a while too, isn’t it? We pull our words from the dirt here, instead of the light. Adam tries hard to learn, but his differently-abled mind refuses to keep up.
Still, he’s mine.
Adam and I look at each other and see deeper than surfaces. I know his love, his confusion, his fear, his anxiety, his sadness, his determination, his effort, and his faith, but we’ve never had what most would think of as a full conversation about any of it. We speak whole sentences without using the first word. And if Adam could speak to you the way I do, I think he’d tell you that my knowledge of him is something he finds both supremely comforting and ultimately uncomfortable. There’s no good way to hide from someone who knows you that way. I get it. Sometimes in prayer, I speak the words of David right back to God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7). God knows my words before I say them; He knows me without my words. There’s no good way to hide from someone who knows me that way.
I peek behind Adam’s wall of cards—all number cards, ten watercolor flowers, four seashells, eight glossy soap bubbles. I wish they added up to something.
The only way Adam learns a new game entirely is through guided play, which means that I sit beside him and point at the cards he should play and remind him what to do next. It takes a considerable amount of repetition because of the number of rules and possible scenarios, and of course, the element of chance makes everything more complicated. Eventually, though, he’ll get it. Adam is smart, perceptive, and intuitive. In fact, I think God gave him those specific gifts to aid his passage through this foreign place. But until he learns his way around the game, he’ll be entirely dependent upon my guidance. In fact, Adam accepts this fact more easily than he ever believes he can venture forth without acknowledging me So much so that later when he’s ready, I’ll have to push to get him to act on his own.
“Just discard one of those,” I say, flicking my finger over the fan of cards. “Doesn’t matter which one.” I can’t help thinking about the similarities between Adam’s dependence on me to play this game and my dependence on God just to navigate life. I comprehend nothing fully, indeed I cannot, and yet I forget the wisdom found in leaning not on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). I have to be reminded to depend.
In many ways, this game–Sleeping Queens, given us by a friend–is a perfect one for our family. It combines imagination with rules and even some math. Make an addition equation with the number cards and you can discard them all for new ones. In a way, I wish the numbers on these cards were larger—four, five, six digits, even. Adam would add in seconds what it would take us several minutes to compute, and it would delight me for him to get to exercise one of his unique strengths. But right now, none of Adam’s cards make any equation at all, even a simple one.
I lay down a king from my own hand and flip over one of the sleeping queens from the middle of the table—the ladybug queen, with her red and black polka dotted bubble dress. The black plumes on her red pill box hat curl like antennae.
“I’m putting your queen back to sleep,” Kevin says, plopping a sleeping potion card–murky, gurgling bubbles—down on the discard pile. His thumb thwacks against the deck.
“No, you’re not,” I say, withdrawing a magic wand card from my own hand. The wand is as glittery and fairy-esque as our dinner table.
“Almost made it to the fairway,” Adam mumbles, collecting his cards in a stack and then spreading them out again. It’s easy to get distracted and drift when things happen quickly and you don’t understand.
“Hey, you watching?” I ask. Always with him and me, it’s this drawing back.
Adam stops talking and looks at me. I learned a long time ago to wait for that, his eyes fixed on me. “Yes,” he says, and it’s probably true. He’s aware of everything, far more than that for which we give him credit.
He stacks his cards and places them facedown on the table, leaning back, waiting for his turn. He didn’t want to hold his cards in a fan, said “You don’t have to,” when I told him that part. Adam doesn’t understand strategizing in secret. He plays Uno with his cards lined up in rows in front of him. And he usually wins. But in this game, no one will waste one of their knights to try to steal his queen if they know he’s holding a dragon. I don’t know how long it will take him to understand that. For a while, I’ll have to remind him every time to hold his cards carefully so that no one can see. And he’ll do it, even if he feels compelled to complain a bit about it. He may not always like what I tell him to do, but he trusts me.
He reaches up and touches my ear, which is Adam for I love you, and he waits, watching me. When I sit up and glance toward him, he picks up his cards, arranging them carefully into a fan, curving them toward me. His eyes say, “What do I do, Mom?” And he waits while I glance over what he holds in his hands, waits until I say, “Play that king, then take a queen from the middle.” And I see that for him it’s all very simple: I don’t know what to do. She does. So I wait.
And that’s when I realize what my problem is, why I struggle so often with just waiting and listening and trusting. I think I already know what to do. I think that without understanding the whole game at all, I know how to play, what the tools in my hands can do, when and how to use them the right way. But the truth is, I don’t, not completely. And so with God, it should be just as simple for me as it is for Adam.
I don’t know what to do. God does. So I wait.