Once Upon a Time. There was a day when these four small words would instantly transport my eldest daughter to another world. Her imagination and senses would engage. And she implicitly trusted that something rich and beautiful, something of dreams and intrigue; something that touched in deep and anticipation-filled ways was on the verge. She was a child.
Now she is a teenager. She has no time for such tales. At least not those of myth, of history, of fairytale. She is steeped in story, to be sure; but now they are narratives that create pressure and leave nothing to imagination. Boys. Body image. Behavior. They broadcast nonstop. Everything is blatant. Everything is seen. Everything is said. And a Once Upon a Time world, at least to her, feels silly, if not a waste of time.
I cried today. For her, for myself, and in remembrance of days gone by when I could hold her on my lap and make everything right. Now hard stories seem to abound. There is no fantasy for escape; no fairy godmother to wave a magic wand; no prince to rescue.
And so I pray.
I have heard that God, when beckoned, shows up for some in palpable and find-a-parking-spot ways. This is not my experience.
Sometimes talking to God feels as silly as the stories to which my daughter now rolls her eyes. God? Really? How am I to understand, to trust, to know there even is a God – who hears and understands, let alone acts on behalf of a 52-year-old mother and her 16-year-old girl? Please.
In all good stories the plot builds. We feverishly turn the pages, longing to see what happens next. And something significant always occurs – somewhere between Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. We lean forward in anticipation and hope (maybe even prayer), implicitly knowing and believing (maybe even having faith) that the tide is about to turn. We are rarely, if ever disappointed.
Nor am I.
God does show up. No magic wand or parking space. No “fix.” No miracle. Or is it?
A gentle wind blows through my mind and a sacred tale catches on the jagged edge of my heart. Grace whispers and soothes. And story returns. Once Upon a Time…
- Eve longed for more, reached, and desired.
- Noah’s wife, in the face of tragedy too excruciating to comprehend, survived.
- Hagar was abused, abandoned, and alone…but not forgotten.
- Hannah agonized over infertility and God heard her cry.
- Esther took incalculable risk to save a nation.
- Mary knew ecstatic joy and the depths of sorrow with her son.
- The woman at the well, lost in shame, was seen and loved.
- Mary Magdalene felt deep emotion, deep passion, deep love, deep heartache.
These stories and hundreds more are answered prayer for me. They hold and comfort. They accompany and guide. They lift me up. They calm me down. They bring me home – to myself and to the God who dwells within them. They remind me that I am not alone.
One could say that I find God in story. But truth-be-told, God finds me.
And this is miracle, indeed. For in this infinite finding, I return to Once Upon a Time. To perspective. To wisdom. To hope. To an epic quest and heroine’s journey. Plot twists and turns. Battles lost and others won. Ball gowns and scullery rags. Heights and depths. Laughter and yes, tears.
I cried a second time today. Deeply aware and profoundly grateful for a God who intimately and palpably reminds me I am not alone; who dwells in stories – others’, my daughter’s, and even my own.
Are there days when I wish for simple answers or a quick fix? Yes. Today was one of them. But given the choice, I’ll forego the God of good parking spaces Every Single Time for the God of Once Upon a Time.
A version of this post originally appeared as part of the Roots of She Summer Tribe, 2012.
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