to be with you
“Don’t come into the kitchen,” she says, rushing over to me as I walk in the door, as Adam squeezes past and dumps his bag on the table, emptying it of its contents. “It’s a surprise…Don’t come in.”
I close my mama mouth and smile, even though I’m thinking that I already know the surprise—she’s baking something—and I told her yesterday that we don’t have time for that in the afternoon after school. But they get to a certain age and stop trusting, even though they still can’t see farther than a few feet in front of their own faces. This too, is how I can be with God, little girl thinking I’m big, thinking I know what and how and when and should be when I can’t even fully see.
“Just—go do something you need to do,” she says to me, pushing a strand of hair back behind her ear with sticky fingers. She has something gooey—maybe chocolate?–on her cheek. I’m sure my messy serving makes God treasure me up too, when I stand goopy in front of Him, telling Him I have things under control, “special things,” “surprise things,” just for Him. And all the while, He knows the mess I’m making.
“Okay,” I say slowly, measuring words, trying to decide if I should remind her to clean up after herself or expect first that she will show the responsibility to do it without the reminder. Has she grown enough to have my words written somewhere deep? And I wonder if I should bring up the timing. She doesn’t have enough maturity to understand pace and balance and waiting. But oh, she thinks she does. Yesterday, she wanted to make gingersnaps, and she had said so as though it were a whim that would take her about ten minutes to accomplish.
“Those take a while. You really don’t have time,” I had said, and immediately saw her deflate, the way we all do these days in the face that word—wait.
“You want to have our time, don’t you?” I say it gently, nudging her heart, training her to look further than this moment.
On a teary day, when she pressed her nose into my chest and trembled, I had promised her a special hour every afternoon. “I just need you. I need time with you,” she’d said that day, and the words came out broken and muffled by my shirt. And I thought about how I need God, the time pressed up against Him, just that desperately. That was the day we started curling up on the couch together, sometimes sipping hot chocolate, sometimes watching a crazy cooking show on TV. It wasn’t easy at first, because always the work waits—the housework, the homework, the heart work—but she and our time together are so important. I have come to look forward to that slice of time bookended by my girls on either side, big enough now to feel solidly warm. I have come to cherish their murmuring, the extra whipped cream swirled into my hot chocolate, the way they lift my arms and crawl under, resting against my shoulders. They remind me–every day–that time with each other is a priceless gift, something worth protecting, something worth intention.
“Well, yes, but I’ll make the gingersnaps and then we’ll have our time. I’ll make them for that, you know, as something special.” We always believe and then will come. But something always slides in front of those words. And I’m thinking, I don’t need anything more special. Just my girls next to me, just their breathing with me, just the way they smile and it reaches their eyes.
“Honey, there’s not enough time for all that,” I’d said, insisting, seeing stacks of dirty bowls neither of us had time to wash and her homework spread out across the table. And yesterday, she had relented.
“Oh alright,” she’d said, resigned, in a shadowy tone that hinted at a lack of appreciation on my part. If only I could see things her way.
But today, she hears my “okay” and turns away from me, already involved in her own plans. She ignores my hesitation. I watch her back from the doorway, the way her wrist moves as she whisks…something. She has a YouTube video playing, another woman’s voice chirping directions into my kitchen. It strikes me that she’ll dismiss my heeding, right before she turns on a video to learn how from someone else.
“It’s going to be done soon,” she calls, and I know soon from her perspective, so I go upstairs to fold laundry.
I am putting things away, carrying warm stacks in my arms, when she bounds up the stairs with a coffee mug in her hands, spooning out steamy bites. “Taste this,” she says, extending the spoon. “It’s a single-serve cookie.”
“Mmm,” I say. It’s pretty good. Sweet. But I can’t help but think single-serve…that means she’ll make at least three more. Three times soon equals supper time, and later than usual. But I stay silent. Sometimes, she has to learn by experience.
“You still can’t come in the kitchen!” She yells, scampering back down the stairs, blonde ponytail swinging with her shirt tail.
So I turn my attention back to my work. I sort more laundry, start the machine. I take a shower, but sliding into later all out of order only makes me wonder how it will feel to have to think about supper. I usually reserve the winding down things for the hours when I can actually wind down. I wait, but she never comes for me. Something else has superceded and then.
Finally, I go downstairs anyway, thinking I will have to spoil the “surprise not a surprise” and insist on moving back toward productivity. We have missed our time already, and that disappoints me.
And all for a steaming bite of “pretty good” in a coffee mug.
I step into the living room and discover that dusk has descended. The room looks gray. I have not been here to turn on the lamps. Riley lays on the couch, pressing her head into the back of it, and I wonder if she has a headache.
“Are you okay?” I ask, moving around the room to usher in the light.
“Aren’t we going to sit together and watch something?” She says, and I realize no one told her about the change in our routine, that all this time, she’s been waiting for us. All this time, and she hasn’t done any homework. Sometimes, we paralyze the productivity of others with our own fast and furious objectives.
“Oh honey, we’re out of time for that today,” I tell her, and I see her sister glance up from the table, where she sits working.
“Um, Zoe? What are you doing?”
“Homework,” she says, almost coldly, returning her attention to the paper in front of her.
“I thought you were making a surprise?”
“Oh, that. Well, I did that, and now I’m working on my homework.”
“Where is it?”
“It was that cookie…in the mug.”
“Yes, but weren’t you making more?”
“It didn’t work, and you were upstairs working, so…”
She puts down her pencil and stares at me. “The second one didn’t work, and you were still upstairs working, so I started my homework.” She lifts a hand in front of her, flat, as if to say, “What else was I supposed to do?”
“Honey, Riley has been waiting on us all this time. She hasn’t done any homework.”
“Well, that’s not my fault. You were upstairs working.” She stands, sensing my frustration, and walks over so that she can see me, so she can read my eyes.
“You told me not to come in the kitchen because you had a surprise for me. So I went upstairs to work. And now we’ve missed our time together. It’s supper time.”
She positions herself in front of me, and immediately her eyes fill. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t think of that.” She confesses then that she’d forgotten even that she told me to stay out of the kitchen, that for a while she’s been waiting on me to return.
And that’s when I tell her that for two days she has wanted to “make something extra special,” when all the special I need is her, that the time we have just focused on each other is enough for me. “A cookie is a nice addition—maybe one best planned for a weekend, but the time with you is much more important to me. I love that you wanted to do something special for me. I do. But you are my extra special.”
Over and over again it happens that I say something to my children and then God lifts a sweeping hand and shows me some part of myself—the little girl I am before Him, the grown daughter He wishes me to be.
Advent is so often a frantic season, too time-hungry for the waiting upon Him it was meant to be, sometimes even too list-long for the time together that makes our remembrances meaningful. I have been thinking of Christmas things and Kingdom things, so many exceedingly special things—and all ultimately to please my Father, but I am suddenly reminded that I am His extra special thing, as He is mine. When the time comes, my heartfelt doing is itself a delight, but only when it comes secondarily to my participation in that relationship. When what I do keeps me from Him, it’s only a disruption, an out of order activity. And waiting is itself a precious gift, a gift that preserves and protects the most meaningful things from my impatience and limited perspective. Waiting gives me time to see, to know, to understand, to listen, to learn.
Advent is the whisper of God to the soul frantic even just to please Him. Wait. Look for me. Come, sit with me and be. Love me. There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3: 1), but He knows more of time than me, and I am still too spiritually immature to understand pace and balance and waiting. So I stand in front of my daughter, teaching, and He blows right through me, teaching, and the lesson for both of us is the same.
Trust me in this, I say, and He says, deep. Everything special finds its ultimate measure in one tender truth. It all blooms from just one seed, one blood-thick root from which we must never allow ourselves to be distracted or torn away:
You needed me, and I came to be with you.
Nothing is more special than that.