This summer, I’m babysitting – in the loosest sense of the word – fifteen-year-old twins, a girl and a boy. Today I got to chauffeur the girl around town to get ready for her big 8th grade dance. She came home from school in a panicked tizzy, throwing on makeup and clothes and throwing careless shrieks at her brother when he tried to help and got in her way. He was embarrassed I heard, I think, but I was fine. I’ve screamed at my brother that way before, probably getting ready for my own eighth grade dance, and I’m positive I yelled at my mom getting ready for prom (sorry again, Mama). It’s one of those panic-inducing things for us girls, getting ready for something big and something beautiful when we look in the mirror and just see ourselves.
On our way to her hair appointment, she mumbled “I’m sorry” from the backseat and hesitantly met my eyes in the rearview mirror, and I smiled. It’s okay, I was fifteen once, too. I’ve been there.
This girl in my backseat, she reminds me of me, not just on one of these high-stress, big-and-beautiful days, but when I’m running late and I snap at my roommate, when I’m stressed so I stand up a friend when she needs me. When I don’t feel enough, and I take it as truth and out on the world around me. Sometimes when people compliment me, encourage me, I smile and shake my head and think of those moments I’m alone and overwhelmed and the mistakes that I make in those moments, the words that I shriek in the name of stress that I can’t get back. And as grateful as I am for their kindness, i sometimes wonder if I’ve just gotten good at wearing the mask when it comes to more than just a couple of select people, and what that really says about me. Some measure of control is worthwhile; hiding behind togetherness and tenacity rather than working through my anxiety or working on my heart is no solution at all.
I had this epiphany driving home from Brentwood to band practice, back in the fall. It was homecoming weekend, I was getting a million texts a minute and a lot could go wrong. I started to change the music to something with a beat, with an edge, a harsh kind of confidence, when I stopped. Because I realized that I wasn’t just changing the music, I was starting to put pn my mask – you know the one – the capable-over-compassionate, controller-of-the-chaos mask. It felt like it fell to me to handle all the catastrophes, to work for the calm. Until I realized – that it wasn’t actually true at all. God had this weekend already planned out for me – every freshman who forgot their socks, every note I hit and field goal the football team didn’t. I could step into the power of calm, the power of prepared, without having to try to do anything at all other than be myself, in every moment, and watch them all unfold as they would. It’s a subtle change, but it gives you choice – and when you take ownership over your circumstances not in the pursuit of control, but rather in assuredness of His control, their power over you is radically diminished. You can breathe again.
I think this all through as I watch this girl close her eyes and take a deep breath in the salon mirror, open them and peer at the progress through pieces of half-curled hair. She faces the opposite direction for awhile while the stylist braids and twists, then I happen to catch the moment she swivels forward to reveal her reflection in the mirror. Her jaw drops and her face lights up, and my heart is happy for her.
Because these are the moments we live for, but what I wish I could tell her is that the moments are best when you breathe them in, and you can’t do that when you never stop running so hard and fast that you’re gasping for air. We sing along to Taylor in the car ride home, she’s thrilled with her curls and asks me every few minutes if they’ve gone flat any (they haven’t). She tells me about her friends and meeting for pictures, I tell her a couple of prom stories, we smile. The trick is learning how to lean into every moment, to breathe deeply when you most want to run, to take it one step at the time. That is true beauty.