Those Years When Her Body Knew No Embrace, and He Loved Her

She let me in on the conversation in her head as she casually cut tomatoes on the kitchen counter.

“I can’t believe all those years in Africa I never knew what a hug was.” Said just as matter-of-fact as “Mommy, these tomatoes are ripe,” her words pressed, heavy, on my chest.

What was enabling this kind of adult-like retrospection? Nate and I have grown to live in this sort of analysis of our children. When she pulls back and her body stiffens as I lean in, compassion comes when I understand her history. And when I bristle at toddler-like behavior in her big-girl body, it’s obvious I’ve forgotten where her feet have walked.

But how did she get there, this night?

I couldn’t shake it — these words I knew, but now spoken from her mouth, had new weight. Years of life with memories that didn’t include love translated through arms surrounding her bony frame. Oh, it explained so much. All over again, to me.

When she brushed past me on her way up the stairs for bed that night, as if we were roommates and not bonded by all that happens when you share the intimacies of life with another person, day after day, I saw her restraint through new eyes.

All those years in Africa she didn’t know what a hug was.

And in the same way, when she looked up at me — hours earlier — from underneath the eyelashes that so often hide the torrent of emotions her young-heart can’t harness, and cracked a smile of understanding at my small word of correction — instead of a scowl — I counted it as great gain for her heart.

He knew the years when her body knew no embrace and He celebrates her still, small movements towards love as great victories.

Girl Holding Flower MJ


I’ve inherited my mother’s ability to plan to feed 5,000 when only 5 are coming for dinner. As the story goes, she once ran out of food for a family party. Once. Since then, my mom and her minions have never under-delivered in response.

It was a family night. A picnic. Just the six of us, but the combination of that blessed story (for which I wasn’t present but live as if I was) and my desire to “wow” my kids on this particular night had me in the kitchen for hours.

This night was not thankless. My crew, who still seems to be making up for lost time, sure can eat. And this night they were feasting with gratitude.

We came home sticky-faced, still wearing our watermelon, after hours of kicking the soccer ball and climbing on the jungle gym, and as I tucked them in bed, I had this one thought: I missed the chance to spend time with each one, individually, today.

It snowballed as I walked down the stairs and eyed the rubberbands hanging from the foyer light fixture and the doll-dress wedged underneath the guest room door and the six crayons that found a new home in the corner of the room — far from their designated bin. I am missing my chance to teach them, young, how to order their world.

Always missing something. 

Barbed Fence MJ

My thoughts hang out there.


When He shares His eyesight with me, for her, I celebrate when she lifts her head and looks a stranger in the eye and introduces herself. My heart takes a little leap when she cracks a smile instead of hiding behind her hands when faced with discomfort. I want to hold tight to the moment where she rests her head on my shoulder as if it has a crease there, just for her.

Small things, maybe. But not to Him.


The timeless God who is able to both cast a perspective on our life and growth over decades, and see, deep, into the minutes of our day, wants to share His celebration with me.

Though I am tempted with her, just like with myself, to see all that she’s missed and the gaps so obviously there, He celebrates what is barely detectable to the human eye. He remembers she didn’t know an embrace until she nearly hit double-digits. 

The still, small is stunning to Him.

He doesn’t measure her by who she is not, but by the room she has inside of her for Him to be all that He is against her weakness.

When I climb right into that perspective all of my home life looks different. I see Nate according to his strengths, not the areas where he may have failed me. I see the places where the littles have grown, not the stumblings they had that day. I see the God-prints all over circumstances — the ones I want to avoid and the best of them — not the ways they are making me want to leave my life and run.

I see the paintings on the walls, not the dust in the corners.

And I begin to understand how He sees me. I’m not the one who missed intentional moments with four littles in one day, or who is failing to teach them order; I’m the one who spent hours in preparing for a picnic. Just for them. I loved big that day — according to Him.

It will never get old to be reminded of this perspective of His, on me — because nearly every place I feel like I’m all stopped-up for growth goes right back to the faulty understandings I have on how He sees me.

Pictures Clipped MJ

We can’t love with a love we don’t know. We’re at risk of spending a lifetime passing out appetizers — bite-sized perspectives on God — when He wants us to feast on a love that goes well beyond what our human perspective can make of it. I can’t convince anyone to come to a feast I haven’t partaken of myself.

Road Trees 3 Cherish

He qualifies me to partake in something way too big for my understanding to fully grasp, and far beyond what my actions allow me to deserve.

Wondering why you’re stale, stuck? Could it be that you have misconstrued His perspective on the very composition of yourself?

Friends, is it time to fall in *this* kind of love?  It can start with one, simple prayer: Father, I barely know You. Awaken me to who You really are and how You truly see me. Only His Holy Spirit can take us there.

We can say it a thousand times — “Jesus loves me” — but until we are so starved for an encounter with this kind of love that we make our life a desperate cry to experience it– to know it for ourselves– we will live stagnant.

One encounter with the kind eyes of the Lord could make a radical out of anyone.


For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 139:13-16 | 1 Peter 2:9 | Ephesians 1:4-5 | Psalm 18:19 | 1 Samuel 16:7 | 1 John 3:1

First through fourth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Fifth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

And (a little bit of a gasp here), I just took the plunge and am on twitter (amazing for a girl who can barely shut down her computer on her own!). You can find me here: Be gracious with this slow adapter ;).