We've been planning this day for awhile.
Well, actually ten years.
But now it's here, rushing in without warning.
With no idea how hard it would hit, (like most of life's meaningful experiences) I crumble into the fetal position, spooned around her as we lay bare of walls and apologies.
It's like this... These are her last few moments of breath and I am helping her die.
That's how deep, how real, how intense, this hour is.
Sacred and holy, both of us clinging to each other, we cuddle on her bed in silence.
The ticking of her clock, the hum of the fan, and swirling thoughts of pain and confusion haunt us both. This is new territory... as in, not like anything else at all, thus far.
Not for us.
A gigantic high school where she knows absolutely no one.
Not one face even slightly familiar. Gorgeous groups of blonde, tall girls giggling in their tight circles of 5 - all sharing snapchats and sneakers and dressed exactly alike.
Cute boys in matching ball caps, tilted backwards and preppy shorts, orange and royal blue, topped off with wrinkly, collard button downs, just off their summer boat trips, posing for anyone's notice.
A few stragglers here and there, a healthy mix of culture, and all of it, just overwhelming, by anyone's standard.
And yeah, we're doing this to her on purpose.
Might be the cruelest thing I've done thus far.
Throwing her to the lions, pushing her off the diving board, sending her to bed without supper, and making her wear her retainer every night, all combined into one, pale in comparison.
This is what it feels like right now.
I'm doing something TO her.
I'm giving her no options. I'm not letting her come up for air.
I'm just laying down the law, making her face this Navy Seals training (of sorts), and not offering an ounce of mercy, no matter how much she begs for it.
I lay here holding her, my hand on her heart, feeling her chest go up, go down.
Being still to notice how this feels.
This primal desire to care for, to protect, to defend her.
And I too, wanting a way out.
Thinking about Jesus, under that tree, in the garden, begging God, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Not my will, but Thine be done." I want to pray that, to be that, to surrender to that.
I know what's best for the greater good and that isn't a way out, or around, or instead of, but through. Walking one tiny step after another, focused on what's coming, while present to what is and believing this movement is leading somewhere, I allow the silence and our breath to be enough.
Knowing this is life for her now.
This step, this rite of passage, this portal to growing up.
And with words failing me, I scramble to think of something, asking God to show up immediately and fill my lips with the wisdom she needs.
She's looking at me for a lifeline but I'm falling apart, searching my heart and rattling my brain for even just a nugget of hope; something kind and caring, but real and raw.
I can't help.
I can't make it go away.
It's a part of transition and it has to happen.
I receive more silence. Taking it in as an unwelcome guest.
Finally, these words come, and I fumble to speak,
"My darling girl, I'm right here. Struggling with some of the same things.
The loss of friends.
Fear of being unneeded, unwanted, wondering if I matter to anyone, even you sometimes."
Attempting to level the ground, I tell bits of my story, hoping to take away some of her isolation.
We're in this together.
All of us are. I want her to know that, if she knows nothing else.
New and unfamiliar days.
She turns from her distant, blank stare, looking up at me with glassy eyes and a helplessness, fit for anyone's final day, and all I can offer finally is this:
"The only way out is through and I'm here."
I can see in her despair and crippling fear, she's trying to bring me comfort, to be grown-up and helpful and yet clinging to childhood and the arms of the one who's supposed to be her rock. And somewhere between her kindergarten self and her teenage autonomy, she nods in peaceful assurance.
She gets it.
I get it.
And we just wait.
I play a song and sing her to sleep.
My pain is lightened some, but mostly the mutual ache persists.
I remember my sophomore year and can hardly replay the events without sobbing.
As she finds temporary comfort in my warm and sweaty embrace, I play back the time I was a young girl and had to make a difficult decision, and how the unpopularity of it cost me dearly in the social acceptance quest... Would I do it differently had I another chance? How might life have played out, had I not risked what I did? Could I have avoided the pain that so shapes me now? I anguished for another way then, but my Daddy encouraged the same sentiment I share with Ava now, "It's 'through' not 'instead of' that the greatest redemption happens. You can do this and I am with you."
And I see with new eyes as if I'm being held now in my father's arms.
I made it through.
And so will she.
And I'm here for her, like he was there for me.
As I carefully slide my arms out from under the crevice of her neck, mindful not to startle and awake her, I prepare to go, certain she is deep in sleep.
But to my surprise and a combination of delight and more pain, she slowly looks up at me and says, "Mama, you are my only friend in the world. Thank you."
We see through the mirror dimly.
We cannot comprehend in our trial that ease will ever come, but it does.
There's no way of knowing when or how, but it does.
She can't imagine she'll ever feel welcome into the tight circles or at the lunch table, and right now there's no view of relief in sight, but like you and me have made it through, over and over, difficulty after impossibility, so will she.
And so will your little ones, and big ones, and anyone who's walking on new ground as the seasons change.
If you're feeling alone, and certain there's no way out but through, stand up and walk.
There's brighter terrain ahead.
And, I'm here.