Wednesday, July 24, 2019

At the zoo

“Look at the penguins,” I say. “This one is so close, Neva.” We can see the tiny air bubbles clinging to his feathers as he swims up to the window and takes a fish off the ledge, inches away. On your hands and knees on the ledge on our side of the glass, you peer closely at him, delighted by his proximity. “He likes me!” Of course he’s not coming to peek at you, Neva- he wants the fish. I say, “He does like you.”

“It’s time to move on,” daddy says. I put my hands under your armpits and swing you off with a smile. “Whee!” I say. When your feet touch the floor, you push my hands away with a scowl. “I wanted to do it myself,” you say. 

“Well, I wanted to help you because I love you.”

“Hold me,” you suddenly demand, but a second later you run away to look at the ice display with your brothers. On the way up the stairs, your hand finds my hand, only to pull it away again. You do it a second time- grasp, pull away. You want to know I’m there, but you don’t really want my help. I interpret in that second: you don’t want my company. Frustrated and rejected, momentarily unable to separate you from your childish rebellion, I quickly move ahead a couple of steps and leave you to finish the stairs alone. It’s what you want. 

In the bathroom, I take you potty in the largest stall. Now it’s Mac’s turn, and I let him take a turn on the toilet before laying him on the changing table and giving him a fresh diaper. In the meantime, you meander around the stall. “Mom, I’m touching the wall. Mom, I’m touching the floor.”  I’m determined not to be ruffled. “Nice, Neva.” Despite all the times I’ve encouraged- instructed- you to not touch anything in a public bathroom, you are compelled by a defiant curiosity.  

Then, you move to leave, and as you are about to open the bathroom stall door and walk away, I say sternly, “Do not open that door.” Without breaking my gaze, you slowly lift your hand and you touch the latch again. 

In a swift moment I have reached down with my bare hand and I smack your thigh, the soft part of your leg showing just underneath your short summer dress. “I said to not open the door,” I say in a strained voice. You snatch your hand back and you begin to cry you turn away from me, hiding your face.

I despise myself in that moment. 

I get it. I understand you. I, too, “kick against the goads.” I understand how you are driven to do that same thing you’ve been instructed many times to never do. I understand how you want to know that you can do it alone, how you resent unsolicited help- or rather, resent the fact that you may need it. I understand, when you cling to me, that it’s because you realize you do need me, and it’s for that same reason that you reject me a moment later.

When I was sixteen, I was warned that I had an “independent spirit.” Not long after, there was a healing service at the church, and I asked the elders to pray that I would be delivered from this “independent spirit.” They laid hands on me and prayed, but like others who walked away that day unchanged, I am still afflicted. For better or for worse, this independent spirit remains. 

“Neva,” I say softly, kneeling to your eye level, one hand on Mac as he squirms on the table. “You can’t leave me.” My heart sinks when I see that your eyes are still full of tears. How could I possibly hate your own independent spirit? And yet, I know this world better than you. I want to keep you safe. I want to hold your hand and walk with you, to enjoy your company. I don’t want you to be alone. 

You cannot do it alone, Neva. A life independent of Christ is a frightening prospect. You can do all things, you will do all things- but it has to be through Him. And I am daunted by the responsibility of demonstrating this to you, of being the one to teach you this, when I have not learned it myself. 

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