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She’s such a shining, starlit soul.

She walks through the kitchen, where I gently lift lettuce leaves with my fingers, sorting the torn pieces into salad bowls.

“Mom, what’s that?” She says, with a casual turn of her hand, a subtle gesture toward the line of butter yellow bowls.

I know she doesn’t really mean, what’s that, but the question makes me smile, because when God dotted the earth with bits of angel-bread to feed his desert-wandering children, they said the same. What’s that? “Manna” literally means, “What is it?” And nearly every day after school, Adam stands in my kitchen pointing at a pot of something simmering, and asks that same question. His inquiry is about assigning a label, their’s about the wonder of provision like dew on the ground–so much wonder the awe becomes the label, and Riley’s is a substitution for objection, a thought quickly processed away from complaint.

I tell you, she’s a starlit soul.

I want to honor her evasion, so I stick to the question. “Salad,” I say, watching her face.

“Mmmhmm,” she says, nodding.

“You okay with salad?” I ask, scattering a few plump blueberries over each one, reaching for the knife, to slice a carrot.

“Yea, I’m okay with it. I’m okay with salad.” She stands beside me watching, and I stop my slicing and let the hunk of carrot roll a little on the cutting board. I reach for her, laying a hand flat against her back. Together we appraise the salads, the scrolling blue and coral flowers twisting along the sides of the bowls. “I’m a little slow with salad.”

I breathe out quickly, a short burst through the nose. Right. Slow. These days she eats certain foods so slowly it seems she will never finish them. But she hardly ever says, “I don’t like this.” And on the rare occasions when she truly struggles to find something palatable, we discover it after the meal, when she gathers a dangling thread of Zoe’s distaste and says, “Yea, it’s not my favorite.”

“Do you like salad, Riley?” I suspect the answer is no, not really but it’s her heart–not her mother–that will not allow her to say so. From time to time, I start these conversations, just to tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t like a certain taste.

“Yes, I like salad. I’m just slow with that.”

“Mmmhmm, ” I murmur, resuming my slicing, gripping the carrot with my fingers, pressing it against the cutting board. “You know, it’s okay if you don’t.”

She nods. “Mmhmm, I know.”

I gather the bits of carrot to scatter them and reach for a cannister of pecans.

“What’s that?” She says.

“Pecans. For the salad. But it’s not enough. Do you like pecans?”

“Yea. I like pecans.”

I reach for some walnuts to cover the salads that are still bare. “Walnuts?”

“Umm, I’m pretty slow with walnuts. I’m not slow with pecans, but I think I’m pretty slow with walnuts.”

“So, if I gave you a choice – – salad with pecans or salad with walnuts – – which would you choose?”

She points at a bowl garnished with pecans. “Pecans. I’m not slow with pecans.”

She’s such a starlit soul.

It astounds me, the way her heart wipes out certain words and phrases, the way the shape of her refuses negativity. Can’t, won’t, don’t, these find no belonging in her life. She can; she will; she does. It just might take a little more time. And so she lives, unafraid of challenges, enduring discomforts without comment, pressing on without wishing anything other.

Our Riley cries most often over the negativity she perceives in the rest of us. Arguing of any kind, even a banter in fun that seems a little too real, causes her pain. We’ll slip out of our reverie and find her hiding her tears, unwilling to complain about our behavior and unable to stop her own grief. If we joke at all in the negative, she protests, correcting our words and smoothing them into something more affirmative. She shines.

Sometimes I think one of Riley’s greatest gifts to me is this showing me– in a way far more poignant than she might ever tell–what the Word of God means when He says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life (Philippians 2:14-16).”
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Even when life pricks her heart hard and tears run down her face and we ask, “Riley, why are you sad,” she denies that she ever could be. “I’m not sad.”

“Why are you crying, then?”

She drags her palms across her cheeks, blinking, shaking her head, and saying in a genuinely bewildered, if wavering voice, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.” It isn’t that she doesn’t understand sadness. No, she weeps over everyone else’s. She cares. She asks, “Why?” Instead, the profound truth is that her heart shines so brightly that it can’t accept the shadows long nor ever fully embrace them. In the light, no darkness remains (1 John 1:5), because the light at once obliterates and illuminates and radiates. I suppose that this is what it looks like to say that “in him it has always been ‘yes’ (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).”

My daughter’s only refusal is made against letting the darkness abide. She thinks on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” anything that is excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8)” and by example teaches the rest of us to do the same. She will not compromise on right –not the justification of opinion, but the undebateable direction of truth.

She’s a starlit soul, and so too will I be as love matures into obedience. May I live can, and will, and does—the stunning life of faith–even if it takes a little more time, a little more pressing through, a following with little room for giving in.

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