There was a time (not so long ago) when I almost certainly would’ve been oblivious to the “flashing neon sign” that read “I’m Hope” that I encountered on my Christmas Eve walk. And you hardly could’ve blamed me for that back then, any more than I can fairly sit in judgment on you (and millions of others) who likely walk right past similar “signs” in their own lives without giving them a passing, let alone a second thought. Truth is, the scene was fairly ordinary in appearance at first glance: A young couple, dressed in their Sunday best (he in a sharp blue blazer and tie and she in a beautiful red dress) standing in the perfectly-manicured front lawn of their home with their approximately 18 month-old daughter (like mom, in a pretty red dress, albeit accessorized with an adorable red head band and bow) intent on capturing a magical moment on film. And they likely would have done just that had I not been walking down the sidewalk and quite unintentionally caught the “I’d-really-rather-be-doing-just-about-anything-else” eye of that precious little girl.
I wish I had the skill to adequately paint the picture that unfolded before me in words: the image of her leaning as far as she could to the right, so that she was hanging over the edge of the sidewalk, making doubly sure that I saw her; the spontaneous smile that almost literally exploded across her face, as if I were a cherished friend or a favorite grandpa she’d eagerly been anticipating seeing all day long; the sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes; and the fully outstretched right arm and hand that seemingly couldn’t wave its “grippy hello” anymore enthusiastically! You know the wave I’m talking about – the one where the 4 tiny fingers quickly and repeatedly clench into a fist, while the thumb, in a fully upright position, stays put. I’m not sure whether it was the smile, the sparkle, the “thumbs-up” or a combination of the three, but the message that nearly froze me in my tracks couldn’t have been any clearer:
“Look at me,” she was saying (to her parents, to me, to anyone, in fact, who cared to listen) – “I’m Hope! My mind is an empty chalkboard eager to be filled with the fruits of my creativity. Please don’t limit it by insisting that I always ‘color in the lines’ and criticizing me for every stray mark. My voice is fresh and unique. Properly validated, encouraged and strengthened, it may inspire a generation. Please don’t force me to swallow it by your indifference, intolerance or insistence that yours is the only one that matters. My spirit is still unblemished, gentle, compassionate and trusting. One day a soul in need of healing or replenishment may depend on it for a moment’s respite from the storms of life. Please don’t allow reckless insensitivity and bullying to trample upon or break it. My dreams are big and boundless, so big that their realization may one day enable others to realize their own. Please don’t ground them before they take flight. Above all else, like you, I thirst mostly for love and acceptance. Please don’t demean or judge me. Offer me your heart instead – vulnerably and unconditionally – especially you dad, no matter what happens between you and mom.”
As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that, given that it was Christmas Eve, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I found hope in the most ordinary of places – a child – even though this one was wearing a red dress and matching headband! I also shouldn’t have been surprised, having been there a time or two myself, that, in their eagerness to take the picture they wanted to take, the little girl’s parents completely missed the priceless moment they were meant to capture. What is surprising to me, however, and what I’m eternally grateful for is that we keep getting “second chances” to “get it right” – not only in our own lives (and those of our children), but in the lives of the estimated 120 more little girls just like my new friend who were born in the United States alone in just the time it took to write this post! I think it’s about time we fully commit ourselves to making the most of those chances – don’t you?