|photo taken by Ashley Michaelson|
There are so many rites of passage that happen to us simply because we are human. Our first visit to the emergency room. Our first kiss and then later on, the kiss that ruptures something inside of you and makes you see the world in color. The nursing of a broken heart, saying goodbye to someone you might never see again, or attending the funeral of a loved one. These are the fibers of our shared human experience and often the moments that make us feel that intense human vulnerability. I suppose that's what qualifies them as rites of passage. We leave something behind and move forward, somehow changed.
But I believe there are rites of passage that we can choose as deliberately as we choose the clothes we put on and the food we digest. These are the things we do on purpose in order to stake our life in a certain direction. It is a way of saying this is who I am and who I hope to become.
Last weekend my oldest daughter Madeleine was baptized. I know many religions choose to baptize children as infants, but I love, love, love that our church waits until the child is eight years old, the age of accountability. Over the past few weeks I have watched Madeleine participate in every part of the baptismal process and I am continuously astonished by her maturity. She met with our bishop. She chose who would speak and say the prayers at her baptism. As I helped her get dressed on Saturday morning she reached for a white pair of underpants, knowing without being told that it probably wasn't a good day for turquoise or hot pink underclothes. Nearly thirty family members flocked to our home to be part of this event and while the day was mostly a swirl of happy chaos, there were a few moments that remain frozen and exquisite.
Friday evening Madeleine approached me with tears in her eyes and said, I'm nervous. What if I get it wrong? Before I could say a word Jeremy intervened. With the confidence and certainty that every single child deserves to hear from their parent he knelt down and said, I am the one baptizing you and we won't get it wrong. Don't worry about a thing. I promise you will never feel happier.
And so the next morning I stood in the wings of the baptismal font watching my husband offer a prayer and then gently lay our daughter into the water to be cleaned and prepared for all that her life has in store for her. She came up out of the water with a radiant smile and climbed out of the font into the towel I held in my arms. I held her tightly and we retreated into the changing room so I could help her dress. We worked quickly and quietly, both intent on the details of drying her, sliding her white dress over her head and combing the wet tangles from her hair. I'm ready, she announced. I knelt down in front of her. Before we go back in I want you to know how proud I feel. You have chosen a path that will not fail you. I love you so much. Then I took her by the hand and we returned to the other guests.
There are so many uncertainties about my daughters' lives. I don't know if they will grow into happy, well adjusted adults. I don't know who or what they will choose to love. I don't even know how long we will have each other during this life! But this week my thoughts keep returning to my desire to create a few rock solid memories in their childhood that will beam a light on their future. I want them to know there were a few rites of passage that were beautiful, certain and true. I want them to remember their baptism as a time when they felt confident and loved because there will be so many times when they won't feel that way. I keep remembering that moment when Madeleine's wet, shivering body came toward the towel I was holding and I wrapped my arms around her. All of this is on purpose, I wish I had whispered. This is how a mother's love ought to feel. This is how Heavenly Father's love feels. This is where you want to be.
I would not trade that moment of holding my daughter in my arms for any other prize on earth. It is the sensation that every new mother feels when her newborn baby is handed into her arms. It is a moment I had been waiting for without knowing that I was waiting for it. There must be so many more of those up ahead. She is eight. She is baptized and accountable. She is radiant. And I cannot wait.