Last week Eliza turned six and we started a new tradition. A birthday prayer.
The idea wasn't mine. It came from my wonderful friend Saydi. While talking about traditions once, she mentioned it and I listened. The thought of praying for my children on their special day - their small frame next to mine as we bent divine ears - felt meaningful and right.
Prayer. We strings words - simple and honest - with the purpose of harnessing hope, laying down fear, giving voice to promises and dreams. A soft reaching for the future. So I sat on Eliza's bed and asked her, "What would you like me to pray for? Is there something you'd like to share with Heavenly Father? What's important to you today?"
She screwed up her face and thought for a moment. Then she said the words slowly, carefully, almost with a question mark. "That I won't dream the bad dream I keep having."
I asked her if she wanted to tell me about the dream. She didn't. And I didn't press her. Sometimes talking about our fears makes them less big, but sometimes it gives them life, makes them stronger.
"Yes, of course I will pray for that" I said. "And what else?"
"That I will be able to jump off the high dive at swimming lessons this summer. And that I will have a good experience when I lose my first tooth this year. That it won't hurt."
These are the concerns of a bygone Kindergartner - a girl of six years who appears confident and carefree, but deep down tosses worry, just like me. We discussed the daunting diving board, the inevitable separation from her baby teeth. Then I asked if there was anything else.
"Yes" she said. "That I can run as fast as a bird. So I can be with the birds, or catch a bird."
My throat narrowed and I could feel it wringing tight. I swallowed. In that beautiful wisp of a dream I heard her faith. Undiluted and expectant. It made me smile, made me tear, made me finger thick the stuff that faith is made of.
We talked about birds and how they live. How they fly independent. How they don't want to be caught. She understood. But wouldn't they be happy if she could run with them, fly with them? Yes, I would pray that she could run as fast as a bird.
I held her hand and it was warm. Warm as my chest full of burning as I spoke His name. She squeezed my palm. Maybe to say she loved me and that she was happy with what we were doing, or maybe it was unintentional. I didn't know. But I interpreted it as love - a signal that she could feel what I felt.
I prayed for her protection, that she would be a good example for her sisters, a leader in our family. I thanked God for her happy spirit, her creativity, her energy for life. I prayed she would enjoy words and books this year, that she would be healthy, and that God would help me know how to be the kind of mother she needs. I prayed that she would feel the Father's love for her, and Jesus too. I thanked Them for her life, that she came to us when and how she did.
Then I prayed the words she wanted me to pray, and together we said, "Amen."
As soon as we broke grip, she collapsed backwards on the bed - as if every last ounce of energy had been spent trying to kneel still. "That was too long Mom. And I'm missing my movie with the girls!" First thing out of her mouth. But what can I expect? She's six. And my prayer did go long.
We hugged tight and I kissed her cheek.
"Are we going to do this every year?" she asked, as she hopped off her bed. "Even when I turn sixteen?"
"I hope so." I replied.
I hope so.