The shortest night of the year. The summer solstice. Out on my prayer walk, I watched the sky go from salmony blue through various shades of gray until it turned black. Right around the tree line, it looked like Christmas, the twinkling white lights playing peek a boo in the branches. I remember our peanut butter container with a red cap and air holes on top. Every single night, my littlest girl and her daddy would chase the fireflies and see how many they could catch in their jar. Catch, count and release. Some nights it was a little like the dudes who couldn’t catch any fish at first and then Jesus decided to give them so many their nets broke. I bet they giggled as delightedly as my baby did when her jar was full.
I tend to camp on those kinds of memories. I spent a few solitary hours scrolling through kid pictures of one of my princesses on her last birthday. My girls have varying levels of disinterest in childhood photos, but for sure, you’d never find them choosing to spend a riveting evening watching a slideshow of old iPhotos. Me? I’m always ruminating about the past, reflecting on the present and projecting about the future. Trying to assemble it like a puzzle until I recognize the picture. I started with the edge peices. Those formed the structure that contains the image. I like knowing there’s a frame and that I put it together, but the center can feel overwhelming and mysterious. I’m not sure how to fit the pieces together or even what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. Sometimes I want to just give up, put it away unfinished. Other times, I’m determined to see it complete. Most of the time, I find my reading glasses, sit down and fish around until a few stray pieces snug up to each other and then I set it aside for another day. I truly am trying to love the future, to harness the momentum of the past to live into it fully but, honestly, what I really want is a better do-over of what I’ve already had.
It’s not like that for my little women though. One of them told me that when she looks back on pictures of her childhood, she never feels the desire to backdate the time machine. She loves her life and her autonomy. The tough lessons she’s learned in the school of hard knocks, she has no interest in repeating.
Truth be told, I resonate with that. It’s not all the way back to my childhood that I want to go either. Being a kid is both so easy and so incredibly hard. On the one hand there are no bills to pay, no job to work, no image to present, no adult responsibility to shoulder. But children still carry their own heavy burdens on weak, tiny shoulders. They’re born into varying configurations of families. Their primary caregivers range the gamut of reasonably normal to entirely unfit. They come into the world utterly helpless needing to be seen, safe, soothed and secure—not 100% of the time because that’s impossible, but more often than not. That’s how they build healthy attachment patterns and when they aren’t, their inner world becomes a conflicted place of false narratives they weave together unwittingly. Because they aren’t abstract thinkers yet, they end up blaming complex problems on themselves and trying to fix multi-faceted dilemmas that are out of their control. Sometimes they’re abused and neglected. They’re often bullied and rejected and the uncharitable judgments children speak over each other stick. They want to be good, try to be good, feel pressured to excel, succeed and attain perfection but fail and lose instead. On top of their own disappointment, they are quick to recognize the look of dissatisfaction in their parents, teachers and coaches eyes and wounded when they receive berating comments. Children are often taxed beyond their physical and emotional resources. They don’t have the vocabulary for or the maturity to recognize their feelings and control their impulses. And the stakes only get higher as they move into puberty. Teenagers are unrelentingly exposed to confusing messages about gender and sexuality, porn and sex, drugs and alcohol. With undeveloped frontal lobes and insecure identities, they often make impulsive decisions that result in toxic addictions, STD’s, pregnancy and other long term health complications. Generally, kids are doing their best but their best doesn’t feel good enough. Some nights, they lie in bed feeling overwhelmed and scared, with no idea how to navigate through their raging storm.
When I look back at my kids’ pictures, I hear happy little voices creating, playing, exploring, giggling, singing and talking. But I also acknowledge that being a kid is way more complicated than it looks and I hope that in those images of the little people that they were, and even in the more archival photos of who I was, we can all see ourselves and feel delight, kindness, compassion and gratitude for our younger “me’s”. That we can frame our moments within God’s faithful companionship and trace His ongoing mercies in our stories. Fresh and new each morning. Always, always, always enough.