I asked her if she wanted to hold my hand while we waited, and she gave me a slow, almost unnoticeable nod - the kind that only I might notice as the woman who has watched her so carefully these last eight years. I was grateful for that slight gesture, realizing that I might just need her reassurance as much, dare I say more, than she needed mine.
We stood together in the line inside our church. One line of many lines. She and I as equals in a way I had not yet considered as her mother.
Nearly one hundred eight- and nine-year olds were present, with families of all shapes and sizes, to this celebration of a Sacrament. As Catholics, we learn it as Reconciliation, the gift of God's forgiveness.
Though my heart knows that Reconciliation is overflowing with grace and goodness, my mind is absolutely terrified of the experience. The act of saying out loud to another human being my failings, mistakes, and sins is enough to cause me to break out into a cold sweat on a very hot day.
My daughter, M, woke up on Saturday, the day of her first Reconciliation, with excitement and anticipation. She wanted to go right to church to experience forgiveness.
I asked her repeatedly (I tried to space my questions to once an hour, but really...) if she was nervous to confess her sins. A simple "no" came back every time.
I just couldn't imagine it. Really?
The service was unlike any I'd experienced. Instead of the children and adults heading one by one into the smaller rooms, confessionals, to have a private experience, most of the priests were located right out in the open space of our church, with a chair set opposite theirs.
Thinking about this possibility of being seen during a very difficult conversation made me clammy. And, I had that moment where I wondered, can I get out of this?
But I pulled up my momma boots, and remembered just how important it is to be the example rather than talk about the example of what we want our children to be.
M didn't care which priest she went to or how out-in-the-open her experience would be. She took my hand and led me to the shortest line, right in the front of the church.
We stood there together, hand in hand, as children and dads and moms and older sisters and brothers came up one by one to experience the Sacrament. With calming piano hymns playing to drown out voices, I was able to watch forgiveness happen.
Have you ever seen it?
It looks like the jittery little boy who works up the courage to say that he's stolen something from his dad. It looks like this little boy's hands being held by a compassionate, smiling listener who reminds him that God's love is always there, even when we fail.
It looks like the father who comes with his head down, reluctant, who leans over to whisper his indescretions right into the ear of his confessor. It looks like that father then leaning back in his chair with a renewed understanding that he is good, he is always good in God's eyes.
I watched my little girl experience the gift of Reconciliation. She sat right on the edge of her chair and listened attentively to all the words the priest had to share. She smiled through her new set of braces and shook his hand in thanksgiving for the absolution.
She ran over to tell me it was my turn.
And then she perched herself in the pew and watched her mother experience forgiveness. She watched me muster up my courage and gesture nervously through hushed tones all the ways that I had failed.
When I stood to leave, feeling overwhelmed by grace, I saw her beaming blue eyes try to catch mine. She took my hand and told me she was proud of me.
She and I are equals. We offer our God-given gifts to the world freely. And we sin. We sin differently, but we both sin. We are human and make mistakes.
And we both experience the load-bearing release of forgiveness.
She's just braver to hold my hand.