The darkness holds fears that the light would never tolerate. The dark obscures helpful realities that, in the light, would serve to assuage the irrational fears of the night. For example, it is obvious in the light that a wolf does not live under Lila's bed. But when the sun sets and her eyes get wide with the threat of our departure from her room, it's hard to believe that the shadows don't conceal a lurking beast with claws that will scratch at her legs and nip at her toes while she sleeps. "I need a taller bed," she asserts somberly, "that way the wolves can't reach me."
Every night we pray with Lila that Jesus would protect her mind and her heart and her body while she sleeps. We pray that he would protect her imagination from scary thoughts and dreams. We pray that he would put a guard at the door of her mind - a mental bouncer of sorts whose job is to keep the trouble makers off the premises. "Give her happy dreams or no dreams at all," we pray.
"Leave the door open," she implores, "so that if the scary things do come in, they can get back out again."
"They won't come in," I assure her, "Jesus won't let them. He's bigger and braver and stronger than all of the scary things and he LOVES you." I leave the door open just the same.
I imagine the Dream Bouncer with his muscled arms crossed, allowing rainbows and flowers and ice creams and fairies to flit past into Lila's dream world, but standing foreboding and stern in the face of wolves and bears and the other spooks that haunt her imagination in the night.
When I was small, I had a white-painted rod iron bed with an arched headboard. I would fall asleep gripping the metal posts of the headboard, convinced that if someone tried to kidnap me through my bedroom window I would be ready and able to hold on for dear life.
I would also station our little white terrier at the foot of my bed, trusting that his bark would alert me to any dangers that may trespass. This, it turns out, is not a reliable method of keeping fears at bay because small dogs are susceptible to misreading threats. They have been known to bark unnecessarily or worse, to utter a low growl while staring fixed on the slightly ajar door to the closet, which of course stirs up a whole new pot of imaginary fears, now originating behind that open closet door.
My grown-up spooks come to life in the darkness, but they are much more terrifying than my childhood anxieties because, by the generosity of God, I now have several things in my life that hold great value to me: namely the Husband and my daughters. The other frightening factor is that a simple dose of light-laced reality cannot cure my fears anymore. My wolves DO live under my bed. Figuratively speaking. Experience has shown me that some of my fears cannot be chased away with rational thinking and hope in the realities that the morning brings. I have friends who have lost husbands and children. I have come too close to both myself.
Lila learned how to ride her bike. Without training wheels. I watched it happen before my very eyes. One moment she was putting her feet down to steady herself after each uncertain pedal push, and the next she was soaring around my parents' patio. We went from counting the number of pedals she could do before putting her feet down to catch her balance (9, then 12, then 20, then more!) to counting the number of laps she could do. It was a magical transition. It just clicked. And I cried.
The catalyst of her bike-riding feat was seeing a little girl down the street who could ride her bike without training wheels. The true impetus, however, was the reality that the little girl is younger than Lila. Her sense of competition kicked in and she was inspired. If Violet could ride a bike sans training wheels, then she could, too! And, by golly, she did it. Her will is a mighty force. Believe me, I know.
So the next day, we went for a walk and Lila rode her bike. I pushed Faith in the stroller and the Husband took the dog. We started out cautious, making her stop a great distance before an upcoming intersection and having her walk her bike across. But as she proved her control and her ability to stop and slow, we all became more comfortable and confident. But then…the hill.
I knew it was coming up. I coached her, "You don't need to pedal down a hill. Just coast and keep your foot on the brake. Try it a little and then stop." She performed this act with ease. "Keep your foot on the brake and don't get too far ahead." And she was off.
At first she seemed okay. Then it was clear that she was going a bit faster than she wanted to. "Brake, Lila," we cautioned calmly. But she didn't slow.
She's going to crash, I thought. But she didn't. She just kept going and as the incline became steeper, her speed increased.
We started walking faster. "Go in the grass, Lila!" we called with a little more urgency in our voices. Within seconds, the urgency turned to panic as with each turn of her wheel she got further and further away from us.
She screamed a panicked scream and took her foot off the brake to begin dragging her toes in a desperate attempt to slow herself. "Go in the grass, Lila! Go in the grass!" we yelled.
And then I realized that the worst case scenario was not that she would crash with some serious scrapes on her knees and elbows, but that she would not be able to stop before the next intersection at the bottom of the hill. My heart leapt to my throat as I remembered that the cars crossing that intersection did not have a stop sign. "Oh God!" I prayed - the most desperate of prayers - and then to the Husband, "Honey, RUN!"
He ran and I ran as fast as I could while trying to keep control of the stroller with Faith inside. "HELP!" I yelled to anyone who might hear, "HELP! HELP!" I was in a complete and utter panic as my little girl hurtled down the hill ahead of me at increasing speeds and there was nothing I could do to stop her. I was too far away. "HELP!" I choked, begging any bystanders to read my mind and do what I couldn't - rescue my daughter.
It all couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds. And then, just a foot, maybe two, from the street, her front tire - almost gently - aligned perfectly with the vertical pole of the street sign and bounced off of it, bringing her to a stop and sending her tumbling, unharmed, to the ground. Not a scratch. Not a scrape. But petrified and screaming. The toes of her shoes were ragged from being used as emergency brakes.
The Husband got to her seconds later and scooped her up. I careened down the hill, giving Faith a wild ride, and stole her from his arms as I got to them. The tears came then; I shook with them. Neighbors were running to us to be sure she was okay. A man (angel?) who had been crossing the street with his dogs had planted himself in Lila's path to keep her from going into the street. I saw the fear in their eyes and my own fear was compounded. This confirmed how dire our situation had been just seconds before. If she hadn't stopped, if that man hadn't been there, if a car had been crossing, if she had hit her head just wrong, if….
I tried to push the "If" thoughts away, but they were stubborn. They insisted on being considered. They forced themselves into my consciousness, forced me to examine the reality that I could have lost her. In a split second, the narrative of our family's story could have changed irreparably. We could have lost her. We could have lost her. We could have lost her.
We could have lost her.
I still can't get past it. I have watched her the last few days - being her charming and wild self - and have thought with each little word and song and story and argument that these could have been wiped from existence if just one factor had changed in that moment. Small things like watching her run up the stairs to get her glasses feel holy now. It's melodramatic, I know. Or maybe it's not.
Never have I felt such fear, such helplessness as in that moment. My worst fears that for so long I managed to shoo away with reminders of good health and good parenting and good hopes from a Good Shepherd came crashing into reality and I remembered that I don't believe in a God who promises to keep me from grief and harm. He just promises to redeem those things when they do happen. I know he is able to command his angels concerning me and mine to guard us in all of our ways. But I also know that sometimes he doesn't. Which is confusing and heartbreaking, but still, somehow, does not make me trust him less.
So I'm sitting with these things, allowing them to weigh heavy on my heart because I think that's wise. When something strikes to your deepest part and refuses to leave, it's silly to not acknowledge it. There is something to be learned, something that may change you in helpful and holy ways. Even if it is as small as treasuring peanut butter smudged cheeks and filthy summer feet. Even if it is as big as once again, choosing to hand all that I hold dear over to the One who is trustworthy to keep them in his care.
The trick is to not let the fears take up residence. I could easily become the worst version of myself and keep my kids from happy experiences just because they are experiences that might also bring them harm. In other words, I have to leave the door open. I have to let the fears come in and teach me what they must, but be ready to shoo them out the door when they have overstayed their welcome. I have to set up my own mental bouncer and trust that Jesus will only let in the things that will bring about my holiness.
In the Old Testament, God's people would stack stones to mark and remember things that God had done for them. I have my own little collection of stones - small moments from moments in our life where we have seen God's care or providence in our life. The clothes Faith wore when she came home to us. The candle from the Christmas Eve service when the Husband proposed. The bead that had temporary residence in Lila's nose. Some extra hardwood floor boards from our first house.
These blessed shoes are the newest stone: