Dancing, Despair and Hope

We danced the other night, Katie and I.

Lest you have any visions of grace and beauty running through your mind at that statement, let me dispel them right now: by “danced”, I mean I spun awkward circles in my living room, made fumbling sashay steps back and forth, and sang an off-key version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to her as I moved, barely managing to keep myself from tripping over my own feet. I’m not sure what happened to all those years of ballet classes but they seem to have been lost somewhere along the way, despite all of Mrs. Oliver’s concerted efforts to instill some coordination in me.

But Katie? She didn’t care about any of that, didn’t care that her mom looked more like Euclid after he’s been chasing his tail than the lead of Swan Lake. I held her on my hip, clasped her hand in mine, and she was delighted. With every spin, she tucked her little head in against my chest, right underneath my chin where it belonged, and let out a laugh, a soft sound of pure joy.

And despite my clumsiness, the entire picture, from her footie pajamas to the brightly lit Christmas tree to the glowing wood stove, had a magical feel to it, as though it were some flashback scene from a Hallmark movie, hazy gold around the edges, nostalgic music playing in the background. It was to be treasured, one of those moments you stash away to pull out later, to be remembered and enjoyed later on when life maybe isn’t so sweet.

* * * * *
Later that same evening, after she was tucked into her crib and I was completing my before-bed routine, I noticed a veritable forest between my eyebrows, and so I picked up my tweezers and went to work. As I was staring into the mirror, pinch pull, pinch pull, I was suddenly back in my ninth grade geometry classroom, waiting for class to begin. I sat next to a boy for whom I was secretly nursing a small crush, and so when he said my name, looked into my eyes, the standard cliches applied: my palms began to sweat, my heart to pick up speed, my mind to race. He smiled, opened his mouth to speak, and I held my breath.

“Wow!” he announced, loudly enough for the entire class to hear. “You have a unibrow!”

* * * * *

Looking back on it now, it’s a mildly amusing story, a silly anecdote about a teen girl and a teen boy and words played for laughs, but at the time it was anything but amusing, anything but silly. I was humiliated.

The juxtaposition of these two – this sweet moment and this humiliating memory – evoked a bit of sadness, a kind of regret, for I was reminded that my girl’s joyful innocence will not remain such forever, that the day will come when she will come face to face with humiliation, with pain, with the cruel blows the world often deals, and I will not be able to protect her from such things. She will be disappointed, wounded, hurt, even by those who love her the most, and she will do her share of disappointing and wounding and hurting.

I long to shield her from such things, to keep her safe from the ugliness out there in the world. Even as I type these words, however, even as I think these thoughts, I know this is impossible, for though there are love and grace and faith in this home, how can our four walls keep the ugliness at bay when it resides within our own hearts?

* * * * *

When faced with the brokenness in the world and in ourselves, with the hard things in life, with the disappointments and sufferings and sorrows that are a part of being human this side of the fall, we have two options: despair or hope. Despair can often be the easier of the two paths, the “more realistic”. Despair hardens and deadens, protecting from future hurt. Hope takes more than we have within us at times, requires outside assistance. Hope keeps joy alive.

I cannot protect my girl from the heartaches and trials of life, but I pray with everything in me, all that I am, that I can help her find ways to persevere, to not give in to despair. If there’s one thing I do right in this parenting thing, please God, let it be this: help me model how to hope.

* * * * *

This is Advent: facing our brokenness while clinging to the promise of redemption. Protecting that flare of joy, despite the world around us which seeks to put it out. Mourning the state of the world even as we wait with expectant hope.

* * * * *

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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