“I’m a queen, Mama,” my daughter declares, looking up at me as I help her into her favorite sparkly twirling dress. Her eyes glow with the same determined assurance that comes through in her voice when she stands transfixed by a ninja warrior performance and declares with calm certainty, “I could do that.”
As we dance around the living room floor, swaying and twirling, each of us in our own beautiful and awkward ways, I can’t help thinking about my complicated relationship with the royalty analogy—the idea that young Christian women can ground their identity in being part of God’s royal family.
Years ago, I led retreats for young women. I called them “Daughters of Royalty” retreats. Now that I have my own daughter and I am several years farther down my own healing path, I struggle to know which messages to toss and which to keep. There’s the voice saying that if I was innocent and devoted enough to my heavenly King, nothing bad would happen and I would have a perfect marriage. There’s another voice saying, “You are enough.” Yet another chimes in, “If you had tried harder, you could have resolved your body issues by now.”
Integrating my own background in purity culture and perfectionism with my deep desire to help my daughter cultivate a vibrant and unencumbered sense of self and wholeness can feel overwhelming, or even impossible. But as I lightly hold her hand while we twirl around the living room, I wonder if it may be possible to hold the pain and the beauty of my own story loosely in one hand and hold her development loosely in the other, without being torn asunder.
The longer we dance, the more self-conscious I become.
The voices in my head continue telling me I will never fully be comfortable or at ease in my own body, that I am permanently damaged by the messages I absorbed as a young woman and taught as a young professional. But there are also other voices chiming in—voices of wisdom and courage, telling me I am not a bunch of incompatible pieces, but a warm tapestry woven of many threads, each coloring or adding texture to my emerging story.
“Dip me, Mama!” she calls out as she grabs my arm and pauses in front of me. Feeling her weight relax into my arm and then bound forward into more skips and twirls, I am taken back to a line from Yolanda Pierce’s book In My Grandmother’s House: “I am left,” she writes, “living in the tension: gratitude for what I have inherited, sadness at the unfinished work of what we can be. In this tension, I must trust in God.”
Thinking about her words, I realize that in writing her story she held the elements that were in tension with grace and acceptance. What would it be like, I wonder, to consider my own story with the same awe and appreciation I felt when reading Pierce’s depiction of the various facets of her background—parts she wished to release as well as parts she wished to pass on to future generations? Just like my little princess throws herself so easily into my arms as we dance, I long to embrace with increasing ease the unfinished and unfolding story that is mine.
Watching my daughter, I’m struck by two things: the ease with which she moves from one activity or posture to another, and her direct and unaffected way of voicing her needs. While I am still caught up in trying to find a way to be fully present with her in our dance, she stops abruptly and turns her back to me, exclaiming, “Mama, I’m hot!” As soon as I unzip her dancing dress, she throws it off and settles on the floor to build something beautiful with her magnet blocks.
You really are a queen, I think to myself as I look at her, with dignity and self-determination that will carry you forward in your own journey, even (or perhaps especially) when you face the inevitable challenges of sorting the voices competing for your attention while also composing the life you long for.
Jody Washburn is a scholar, teacher, musician, writer, artist, and life-long wonderer. She lives in Walla Walla, WA, amidst the wheat fields and vineyards near the Blue Mountains. Jody’s current joy, besides outdoor adventures with her family, is her work developing a course on compassion and wholeness. Her “Letters to my Daughter” series and other writing can be found at https://www.religionforher.com/blog