I knew how it would end when I heard the direction it was headed from the other room. One (half her age) was shouting his math facts at the prompting of eager parents. Two plus two was nothing for him. Five plus nine and twenty-three plus seven and sixteen plus three, this child was smart, adding numbers when most his age were barely counting fingers.
My girls, they squealed and celebrated. Their youth hadn’t given way to the plague. What one in their midst was doing didn’t have any bearing on what they yet weren’t. (At what age did we learn to see everything through the lens of ourselves?)
16 + 4, and
13 + 7, and
21 + 8.
The game went on.
Until one of mine chimed in, “let me play!”
Her age on a transcript would suggest this game would be easy for her, too. But I know her history.
“I can count to ten,” she says, unashamed. “1, 2, 3, 4, 7,” and she pauses. “9, 8 …10!”
They cheer, all of them children and unaware and celebratory of anything said through a confident gleam.
But we mamas, we know. And we notice. We inadvertently breed them for Harvard with what we text to the grandparents and the notes we hang on the fridge.
The next day I saw the second storyline. A whole day full of cousin-fun, my children’s favorite. Hours were like days, for all that they held. Dress-up clothes and dolls and croquet outside, in between hide-and-seek.
Somewhere in there though, my little girl (the one who could count to ten) had slipped away.
She’d holed herself up in the back office with tape and scissors and markers and emerged hours later with a stack full of love notes. She’d painstakingly made a card for each one and missed out on the day she’d been talking about for weeks — all an expression of who she was on the inside.
She passed them out like she was passing out giant chocolate bars, anticipating that the recipient would feel as full in the receiving as she did in the making. All — cousins and siblings — threw out a casual “thanks” for this construction-papered offering. And my little girl radiated light.
If the sum of her was her outward life, the questions we’d ask might be: will she balance a checkbook one day or read Pride and Prejudice? Could she study the layers of the Bible or give a public speech?
But there are always two stories in a person.
The child who couldn’t count to ten saw life and death before she turned ten. Blood spilled on her early childhood and her heart was at risk for years. The streets were her playground. She’d learned life and love and the lack thereof with dust and grit underneath her fingernails. No soapy bubble baths in Mommy’s bathtub for this wee thing.
She couldn’t count to ten, but she’d climbed the mountain of fatherlessness on earth … and found the heart of God.
Her outward life displayed delay but my little girl was finding the love of the Father in the darkest parts of herself.
“He said He loves me, Mommy,” she said one night, with her hand to her mouth and cupped around my ear. It was her secret.
It was the secret.
She found what would be fuel across a lifetime if she continued to lean into it: a secret life in God.
In our world where every movement can be documented — tagged and read and forever-saved for everyone to see — we still have access to the secret.
I drive my rusting-out suburban full of kids and balled-up tissues and moldy bread scraps from last week’s sandwiches to the grocery and we fill out our meal plan with the same old stuff we get every time while my baby sucks on the sleeve of my shirt. Everything on the outside of me looks routine. The rhythm of my life includes diaper changes and practicing piano and picking up disparate beads from a necklace they made two weeks ago. The thrill today was that the babe tried solids: one teaspoon of egg yolk and the whole house was cheering.
You might just say from the looks of me that my little western world is unremarkable.
But I’m learning this secret too.
When my outer-life gets pegged a certain way or I’m misunderstood or judged, it may all be staged by Him. No circumstance can inhibit my secret life in God.
Sometimes, even, He thwarts my externals so that my secret life in Him will thrive.
Even the seeming best of life — late-night conversations with Nate and heart-movements in my children and the day she read a sentence — isn’t fuel for a lifetime. Pages in a book and cached-pages online and lives changed are a beautiful gift, too, but they don’t fuel me.
The best things in life happen in the secret.
The parts of me into which He speaks, the parts of His Word that I sing when no one is looking, the internal nudges that surface into an external confirmation — His fingerprints all over the hidden part of my story — are what keep a heart alive for a lifetime.
There are always two stories in a person and a man or woman is marked by what only God can see.
Though my external life can reflect my internal reality, it isn’t the sum of me. And though my external life can be an expression of my secret-life in God, it can’t sustain me.
A secret life in Him may not win accolades or get her into Harvard but it will move the heart of the only One that matters.
I want to move His heart with my secret life.
For Your Continued Pursuit: Matthew 6:1-18 | Hebrews 4:12-13 | Psalm 139:1-18
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.