“Can I recite my poem, Daddy?” my daughter, Alyssa, asked at the very moment I arrived home from work.
“Absolutely not!” I smiled a sly grin as I wearily shut the front door.
She utterly ignored my mock refusal and began regaling all who had ears to hear with an elaborate story of polar bears, giraffes, mice, cats, monkeys, crows and swans all in a well timed and emotionally poetic voice.
“You know, Daddy, there’s only two more days before the speech meet,” she advised.
“Really? Only two?” I feigned surprise.
“You’re going to be there, aren’t you?” she requested.
“It’s kind of a busy time at work right now,” I noted her crestfallen face as I completed my thought, “but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
She giggled as she threw her little nine-year-old body in my direction. Alyssa had been practicing this poem for weeks, reciting it clearly and with great effect. She’d never been comfortable in front of people but she wanted to do this. She’d recite the poem at the breakfast table, as she was getting ready for school, between bites of spaghetti, before bed, almost any time that there was an opening in conversation and sometimes even when there wasn’t.
The morning of the speech meet I entered the cramped classroom filled with students, teacher, judges, parents, siblings and grandparents. Alyssa would glance at me trying with little success not to grin from ear to ear.
After we recited the pledges to both the American and Christian flags, Mrs. Clause provided a listing of the rules, then each of the students prayed that the morning would go well and that they would all remember their lines.
The first student recited his poem as his parents made sure the video camera was rolling. We all applauded as the young man took his seat and then we waited for the judges to make their ruling. The same scenario held true for students two through five. As the judges ruled on the skills of the fifth student, Alyssa‘s face took on a peculiar expression. She would soon walk the long row to the front of the classroom where everyone would fix their attention on her and she would spin a fine and memorable tale.
“Number six,” came the compassionate voice of her teacher and Alyssa began scared-girl-walking.
What others seemed to see was a terrified 3rd grader attempting to get through her poem without hyperventilating. They heard a poem devoid of much emotion. They watched a girl who didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, and eyes that refused to land on anything but her daddy.
The panel of judges cast quick judgment and summarily dismissed her from advancing in competition. Observers expressed visual remorse, but what did her daddy see?
I saw a little girl tackling something very uncomfortable. She had the poem memorized and didn’t struggle with the words. She never asked to be excused from participating and my heart grew two sizes in that knowledge. Was there more to see?
I saw an 8 pound, seven ounce baby girl who only had eyes for her daddy, then the 10 month-old girl who spoke her first word “thermostat” and the girl who showed me her first tooth held in a tiny fist. For a split second the speech-meet-moment had become the embodiment of every second I had ever spent with her. In that moment I refused to notice the stumbles, the lack of inflection, the pity expressed by other parents. You see, I was very proud of my daughter.
As she took her seat to the smattering of applause I walked to her side. She smiled and reached out to me for a hug, which I willingly and happily supplied. I gazed into her blue eyes and told her how awesome I thought she was. She beamed.
For a moment it seemed that there was no one else in the room besides my daughter and me. Perhaps in years to come, Alyssa will forget that moment, however in the annuls of my personal history this will rank among the most satisfying. I think God ‘the Father’ understood.
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! (Psalm 139:16-18 - NLT)