the making of a woman
In the last fifteen minutes before we rush off to school, I gather her hair in my fingers, smoothing the strands with my thumbs. I trace the unseen bumps and grooves along her scalp and map them in my mind, the geography of her, the feel. I know the landscape by heart.
Before I can begin to twist the hair into the art she wants it to be, I have to brush out all the knots she has neglected. Sometimes, she’s still too impatient to find them. Other times, she deliberately neglects them to avoid the pain. Gently I pull the hair brush through the underside, gathering her hair in big sections with one hand, sliding my fingers down to protect her from yanking at the scalp. She cries out, her voice a sharp, angry stab. No matter how slowly I go or how strongly I grip the hair, these hidden tangles hurt.
“I’m sorry,” I say, continuing my strokes. She never wants to brush here, where the snarls take her by surprise, where the pulling strikes the most tender. And still, when her dad asks her why she needs my hands on her head, why she places the brush in my palm when she could do the job herself, she says, “Because Mom does it best.” We both know it’s my attention she needs most, my touch, my effort in helping her become.
I gather a section of her hair and secure it with an elastic, making a crooked ponytail that looks cast off and awkward at the back. This part I’ll not need until the end, when I anchor the part I’ve weaved at the top to the section at the base of her neck. I have a plan, even though at this point, any objective audience would never predict the finished look, the grace of it. Right now, elegance is only an image in my mind, something yet to be realized. Right now, the clay looks just muddy and misshaped.
The rest of her hair must be split into two parts, and one of those parts I will divide into four for braiding. I brush the hair flat against my hand in diagonals, wetting it a little with a wash cloth.
“What are you doing?” She asks. Deprived of a mirror, she only feels my hands moving, the tugging, the coolness of the water. She only hears the snap of the elastic. I smile, thinking that if she saw the hair just now, she would hastily change her mind and ask me just to sweep it all up into a quick ponytail. Even she would not be able to guess how I will get from these beginnings to the finishing in which she has placed her hope.
“I’m getting everything in the right place, reserving the hair I don’t need, wetting down the rest. Just sit back and relax. You’re going to love it.”
It’s her trust in me that allows her to sit still so I can work, that keeps her from demanding to see clearly, that places her beneath my moving hands.
Carefully, I braid the four sections I have divided, keeping my eye on the clock in the kitchen. We will finish just in time to get her to school with enough time to walk to class and settle in before the bell. I anchor the braids with elastics, laying them against the back of her head before I begin to separate small sections from the remainder of the hair with my fingers, patiently pulling apart just the right amount of hair for the intricacy of the style I have in mind. These I weave through the braids—-under, over, under, over. I alternate the order of the weave, incorporating each section in the order opposite the one before, until the back of her head has become a textured tapestry—braided and smooth, soft brown and streaks of blonde, like rays of sunlight, woven into and through each other. After the weaving is finished, I slip the elastic from the reserved hair and divide it into two low pony tails, incorporating the ends of the woven pieces, securing each with an elastic that matches her shirt. Than I stand back and smile, happy with my work, with the art I’ve created. It is an expression of her beauty, beauty that is an elegantly textured tapestry of body and soul, the Spirit gleaming all through her like flashes of sunlight.
She turns her head, feeling me remove my hands, guessing that we are finished. “Can I go look?” she asks.
“Of course,” I tell her, stepping back, knowing she will gasp when she sees. She runs to the stairs, but stops at the bottom to look back at me. “Wait. What do you think, Mom?”
“I think you’re going to love it,” I tell her, grinning wider. It’s a joy she returns, nearly giddy, before she races up to find a mirror she can hold up to see the back. I watch her go, wondering how long she will be that little girl, how many more times I will get to see her scamper up those stairs before she becomes a woman. I gather the brush, the pins, the elastics from the table, rubbing at a suspicious spot with the tips of my fingers. I see my mother’s hands when I look at my own. I still feel her moving over me, shaping me, tugging a brush through my hair. Sometimes it feels as though she and I stand in a room together or on a porch waving or drying dishes at the sink. She’s always with me, woven into me, even when we are not physically sharing the same space.
From upstairs, I hear my daughter squeal, seeing the work I’ve done. “Mom,” she calls, her voice electric, “how did you do that? How did you do that? I love it!”
“I knew you would,” I’m saying, more to myself than to her, as she flies down the stairs and into me, her arms wrapping my back, squeezing.
“Thank you,” she says. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” It occurs to me just then, with her hands pressing into the middle of my back, that I could not have managed even this simple thing she wanted without her trust or her belief—her certainty about what she could not see.
And then I understand this thing God says to me, as I feel Him moving over and weaving through me, knowing the landscape of me, reshaping me with His hands. Peace. Be still.
“What are you doing?” I so often ask Him, crying out when He finds a hidden tangle and frees me of the snare I had avoided.
“I’m sorry,” He says to me, continuing His work. “I’m just getting everything in the right place.”
I can never quite understand how He will move from the messy beginnings of me to the finishing in which I’ve placed my hope. I glimpse the awkward chaos, feel the tugging, hear the snap of His work without being able to imagine the glory He has in mind. How is that He twists and smooths and weaves our light and momentary troubles into a glory that will far outweigh them all (2 Corinthians 4:17)? And yet, I believe He accomplishes by His power far more than I could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I believe, and it makes me gasp, and that’s what places me beneath His hands, that’s what keeps me still, that’s what—these days more and more—keeps me from demanding to be able to grasp the whole of it before He’s finished.
And that’s why, when I begin to see, I fly into Him, wrapping my arms tight, and breathe this, a thousand times:
“How did you do that? How did you do that? Thank you, thank you, thank you.”