"A New Thing" by Robyn Fickes Bles
My husband’s voice floats into our room as I hear him laughingly say, “That’s right, that’s you – you’re our new thing.”
I smile, knowing exactly what’s going on in our daughters’ nursery. Our second daughter, a precocious and spunky 16-month-old stands on her changing table – because what other posture would one take on a changing table than to stand? With her hands perfectly placed on the picture frame, she is face-to-face with this piece of art: “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" – Isaiah 43:19
I know her eyes study the image as her determined, chubby fingers bang on the frame. She is a very focused child – one who perceives much and is springing forth with new things by the day.
She is delight and laughter. She is insistence and finger tugs as she directs you where she wants to go. She is twirls in the kitchen, and lip-smacking, sticky finger grab-ahold-of-you kisses. And yes, she is the new thing that we patiently waited for as our grieving hearts ached over the loss of her older sister.
You see, our delightful daughters share so much in common. The shockingly sunny blonde hair to their parents’ brunette locks; the piercing blue eyes, chubby cheeks and slightly turned-up, bobbed noses are identical. Despite their short years in life, they share the same determined focus and stubborn strength that we’re calling “spirited.” In so many ways, our second daughter is not so new, but rather a complementary match to her sister. They are quite the pair. And they are so shimmeringly different from the other that we hung this scripture in the nursery so that our second, longed-for daughter would know that she is loved and welcomed into our family as fully herself.
The window of our girls’ lives seems to be separated by the whisper of a closing door. Our eldest daughter taught us how to be parents, how to be better people; and when she passed away we also began preparing for the arrival of our second daughter. We knew the sisters would have a relationship we wouldn’t fully understand; but as is the case in early parenthood, we knew we had a hand in shaping how that relationship took root. So we passed down big sister’s room, treasured toys and adorable clothes. Hand-me-downs are the curse and blessing of every second-child and things would be no different in our house. Though these practices are not new to families, the ways our daughters would interact and know one another would be different.
We were intentional in adding new things to the room – things that, like her, were wholly unique. Special and set-apart. In our grief and the absence of our first child, we added new things, this verse in particular, so she knew that, like our hearts, like most of our lives, this room holds so much grief, struggle, joy and hope. In a way, we were saying in the furniture arrangement and decorations that this room holds love, for really the suffering and delight of life is where love is born.
And so, like all things new, it’s always born into what is … what is pre-existing and even old. This gives this newness a place to land, to take root. It becomes the first, hopefully fertile ground, for the new to take shape and flourish. This makes sense to me for it’s what I try to do every day. As a pastor, I live by the liturgical calendar, the rhythms and flow of the faithful where every season we enter a well-known and often traveled time; yet every year we enter it anew. We are what is springing forth, but most often I do not think we perceive it.
It is now 2 years since our first beloved child passed, and though the heavy lifting of grief has subsided, for now, it is a faithful companion in my hurried path of parenting. New things are always bursting forth from our little one as she plays with new sounds. The other day she was “b, b, bub, bub, bub-ble, bubble” as new words are literally bubbling forth from her. I stand in awe of the new things she is capable of doing – things I easily do, but how often do we truly see the birth of our everyday, ordinary, awesome reality?
For that is truly what we live, every day. What is routine, mundane and familiar every day is also awe-inspiring. The depth of struggle and sorrow that my family has endured, that I hear about every day, makes me wonder, how do we persist? The heartache, brokenness, and grief that is experienced in all of our lives takes my breath away when I actually stop to perceive it. And yet, despite any rising cynicism we might (rightfully) hold, and (understandable) wails of “how long, O Lord?” we might lift up – in this rhythm and cycle of our faith communities, in the ebb and flow of the care for one another, for our neighbor, we discover so many gifts.
For you see, we hung that scripture because we thought our daughter would be the new thing – the new gift we would recieve. We wanted her to know that her wholly distinct individuality was the newness we loved and celebrated; never really stopping to perceive that the new way of being family was also springing forth. Our first born, our Milly, she is with us in every moment, reminding us of the gift of presence with one another. Our second born, our Rosey, is showing us with every wave at her sister’s picture that, though it is not what we envisioned, we are perceiving family.
When you choose to participate in this economy of caring for one another, the struggle is very real and the gifts are very abundant – if we only have eyes to perceive it.
I know my faith community is about to enter the season of Lent. This is a tough season, for it invites us to really see: to see what is broken, to feel what hurts, to hear who cries out. This season calls us to be present to all of the mundane, awesome and awful aspects of what it means to be in relationship with one another, with our world. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s work. It makes sense that Lent is not the sexy fun season that makes people come flocking into our doors. But it’s also the season that invites us to be real. It’s the season that says we’re part of the human family – and no, it’s not what you envisioned. It’s not how you would design it. But my friends, it’s where you are wholly welcomed, celebrated and loved as you. For when we perceive one another, the new that springs forth from our suffering, from our delight, is love. Do we have the eyes to perceive it? Do we dare receive it?
A big SALT Project thank you to Rev. Robyn Fickes Bles, Associate Minister at West Des Moines Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and theologian extraordinaire, for these beautiful words and for her beautiful heart.