Putting Ellie to bed these days (she’s two and a half) is one of the highlights of my life. She has a knack for curing what ails you. If Democrats and Republicans each took turns putting her down for her nap on consecutive days, they would peacefully resolve their differences. You think I’m kidding, but something about a two-year old’s earnest sweetness strips away everything extra so you focus on what really matters.
She holds your hand as you walk her down the stairs to her bedroom. She stops two steps from the bottom (“wanna jump”) and leaps the rest of the way, landing perfectly, her curly hair flying behind her. She wants to sleep in her older sister’s bed instead of her crib, so you snuggle her down with her pillow and blanket and then lie beside her, a supply of books ready, because one story is never enough. (“‘Nother one”).
You read to her and she squeals with happiness when she sees the moon or mama llama or an ice cream cone in the pictures. She rubs her small hand over the soft sheep and the hairy lion and the sticky frog tongue. She leans into you, and all is well.
You tell her you love her and she says back, just as natural as you please, “I wuv you tooo,” and your heart is a puddle.
She wants a hug and a kiss, and then when you get up from the bed, she says, “one more big hug” and stretches her tiny arms up and you reach down to squeeze her tight, and then she says, “Night night, daddy” and the puddle turns into a lake.
You come out of the room deliriously happy, almost weak-kneed at the realization that this little person’s whole world is wrapped up in you. She trusts you utterly and completely. Without you, she falls apart. With you, she’s secure and content.
It takes so little to make her light up with happiness, those big expressive eyes gleaming with delight or maybe mischief. When her chubby hands grab your cheeks and pull your face right in front of hers, well, nothing else matters.
We need more of these moments. We’re so divided. We scream at each other in public and online because our politics are different. We can’t even conceive of basic decency because we are right and they are not and we must tell them, loudly and repeatedly.
And if we’re not fighting, we’re suffering. It seems like there is so much these days that makes you wonder what God is doing and how any of it can possibly be good. Pregnancies end far too early, while others don’t even get started, despite years of yearning. Icons you looked up to for years reveal they are not who you thought, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Women and children are abused and tossed aside, their dignity and humanity in shreds. Kids are ripped away from their parents and stashed in tents in the desert – maybe they’ll be reunited and maybe they won’t. Addiction takes over. A teenager fights for his life, healthy one day, gripped with infection the next. Parents worry about their kids: will they pass that test, will they make friends, will they get made fun of, will they learn, will they be okay?
These days are hard. There aren’t any easy answers.
But as my daughter puts her hand in mine to walk down the stairs to bed, as she rests her head on me while I read a story, as she hugs and kisses me, as she trusts me with everything in her – even when she doesn’t understand, even when it’s dark, even when she’s upset and scared – I’m reminded that we have Someone to trust too.
He will take our hands and whisper peace in the midst of the storm because he knows what the storm is like. He was human. He suffered. He knows, and he cares. He won’t take it all away, but he will be with you. Sometimes, that’s all the answer we get.
Though we may walk in valleys and shadows, we follow the One who spoke light into existence.
Oh, and if you get a chance, put a two-year old down for a nap – you will feel much better about life.