The oldest of my eight grandnieces and grandnephews, Julie Katherine Neff, celebrated her 13th birthday on St. Valentine’s Day.
It was a thrilling day for Julie. To say that she had been looking forward to becoming a teenager would be one of the major understatements in the early years of this new century. I am convinced that she began to long for that exciting day as the clock chimed midnight at the end of her 12th birthday.
I have always considered it a grace to be able to watch Julie, her sister, Megan, and all of their cousins grow up. There is something deeply life-giving and spiritually nourishing to me in watching our young ones grow and mature. So many “firsts” that are mileposts in the process help us to gather and reflect on the memories and mystery of life: the first hours of life, the first word, the first step‚Ä¶tooth‚Ä¶day of school‚Ä¶fall‚Ä¶report card, etc.
To watch Julie’s gradual, sometimes back-and-forth transitions from little girl to young woman has been a special joy. It’s wonderful to note that the little girl fades more and more into the background, ceding place to the emerging young woman. An example: A couple of years ago, I gave Julie a birthday gift. She could tell what it was by its feel through the wrapping and said to her mother in a whisper I wasn’t supposed to hear, “Oh gosh Mom, it’s clothes”. And, it wasn’t an exclamation; it was a groan.
Now, of course, clothes have risen rapidly in Julie’s hierarchy of interests. Not long ago, she was in a whimsical mood and delighted some of us with her impression of a super model sashaying down the runway at a high fashion show. It really was a great take off. But, as such things go, I have asked her twice since to do the impression without any success.
As I write this, I find myself wondering what Julie will be like five years from now. Will she still look as much like her mother then as she does now? Will she mind it as much when people comment on that resemblance? Will she keep that whimsical way combined with a measure of shyness? What will be her intellectual interests? And, to what course in life will her gifts and inner life attract her?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I know that all of us who love her will do all that we can to support her and help her to achieve her goals. But, none of us can control the mystery of life; much less can any of us shape the life of others according to our own hopes for them.
God will watch over Julie and guide her just as God has been with her all the days of her life ‚Äì from the first moment‚Ä¶word‚Ä¶tooth‚Ä¶fall, etc.
As with Julie, so with the rest of us. I have a lot of years on Julie and so do many who will read these words. God has been with us from that first moment, remains with us today and will abide in us for the rest of our tomorrows. It is not a passive presence keeping things just as they are. It is an active presence, ever leading us to new life, calling us to deeper levels of maturity.
It is a good thing to remember such things during this season of Lent, a time when God calls us to come closer to the Lord, to enjoy a deeper level of friendship with the one who is our brother, our friend, our savior.
Peace to all.