On living with open hands

The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world — free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries. — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Unless I live and act and engage as one truly and wholly Beloved, I cannot convince my own daughters they, too, are beloved. This vulnerable position is often startling and pricks my senses, especially as I have known my own faults and failures for almost 44 years. Who am I to consider my own heart, mind, and body Beloved? How can I navigate life, knowing fully of my own ridiculousness, insufficiencies, and insecurities, to know at my core that I am even loveable? This is a lesson which requires great trust and work.

Much like feeling conviction or being held accountable, raising teenage daughters who have learned to speak their mind is not for the fainthearted. I always desired for open honesty in a relationship and asked them to hold me accountable. This was an intentional process, and only fair I am just as teachable and live with a growth mindset. If I am raising children to maturity and adulthood, I should also posture myself to live within those ways — always looking to eliminate negative qualities and nurture more positive fruit in my life. We discuss many challenging matters at the dinner table or in the car as we’re going to school or returning home from an event.

I fully recognize this vulnerability, and I have three bright minds engaged — in what I say, how I live, and what I value. A single day in my presence is enough to see my thoughts, sins, and failures, right there. One of the most impressionable moments is when I’ve stumbled, said something foolish, and acted out of my carefully-composed character. That instant is defined by my audience’s standpoint, and how I proceed. Am I willing to hear from my daughters on how I have hurt them? Will I consider their comments and concerns? Do I then recognize my error and ask for forgiveness? Will I attempt to alter my actions next time? Those steps of maturity can mend and when neglected will bring greater pain. It’s a precarious time of living real and loving fully and deeply, all growing together.

I earnestly recall a full decade ago, living through the physically exhausting toddler years, when days were long and needs were immediate. I wondered if they were meeting milestones and would learn to read, could participate in physical things like riding a bike or speaking clearly, or gaining enough focus and maturity to attend the local public school.

At the time I was hoping my 3 very different children would grow into caring, aware, passionate, responsible adults. Now, 10 years on, I see they are all progressing in their own way, taking their own paths through the forest of their teenage years.

One daughter is determined to find the shortest and quickest path to success, completion, freedom, and accomplishment. This is likely my most challenging and emotionally-draining child, the one who believes she is low-maintenance but is high maintenance, the one who sighs when discussing the symbolic nature of poetry or the theme of a novel. She is often served dinner last, is tasked with chores least likely to attend, and is challenged in specific ways due to her impatience and lack of focus. My love for her well being as an adult is tempered by knowing the character traits she must develop before adulthood. She knows that she is Beloved.

Another daughter seeks most to make sure others are safe and happy on life’s path, cared for, and comforted. She loves deeply, notices details about the lives of her loved ones, and takes incredible effort to ensure her family is content. However, I often remind her to pursue her own dreams and not worry so much about how others are faring. After all, some of those “helper” personalities wait too long to care for their own physical and emotional wellbeing, and often sacrifice happiness for what is perceived as others’ happiness. I fully understand her personality, and much of her uncertainties hover over a fragile self-esteem which is borne out of true love and humility, but often will regress into unhealthy tendencies. She is learning to call herself Beloved, first and foremost.

Another of my daughters is content to seek out the birds, trees, and precious stones which are charming and meaningful, eventually forgetting about the hike to the waterfall. Her meandering and wandering are both endearing and irritating, as one wonders if she will settle upon anything steady, reliable, and certain. Those qualities bore her, so she prefers friendships and music, art and fiction to soothe her cares. She has a drive for many things, but her definition of academic success hinges more on personal effort than achievement. Many of the accolades and honors others her age seek out simply mean nothing to her. Friends turn to her in crises and for support. In a sense, she’s an old soul and has understood at an early age that the greatest identity she could capture is the one of being Beloved.

This coming school year I will seek to live with open hands and an open heart; I’ve made those intentions clear, but I know it will take some emotional work. My three teenagers will all be in the same high school for one school year (along with one of their cousins!). None will be in the same activities, classes, music, productions, or sports together. My three girls have warned me of my overly-sentimental musings this coming school year, although they see my love for them. The last 15 months has prepared me for the reality that pandemic living is finite but also completely altering. One’s expectations must be held lightly about senior year activities or events. Truly, none of this matters, as being present, loving, healthy, and intentional holds depth in relationships.

As we step into summer together, a slower pace, more time to linger at the kitchen table over lunch, and I know my best hope is to live in the present and enjoy each day with my children, from hiking to swimming, or quiet days reading, encouraging them to become their best selves as they discover who they are. They bring incredible laughter and a richness to everyday life I never thought possible. And as we progress through the summer, my hope is they continue to primarily define themselves as Beloved and believe this fully.

Being Beloved means that any mistake, trying something and failing, none of that matters. We are learning who we are. Nothing can remove that love, and knowing ourselves as Beloved means we can feel safe, secure, and content, and take emotional risks. Only then can we reach out to others in a more kind, loving, gracious, and compassionate way, because we are so loved.