Parenting, as it turns out, is a giant crap shoot.

The thing is, you pour your heart and soul and very life into your kids and then just hold your breath, hoping something, anything, sticks.  Results may vary.  And seeing how each person grows and develops at their own pace, it may take many, many decades to see how you did.

In the trenches, it can be overwhelming and, at times, discouraging.

A few weeks ago, after Jac and Max were away on camp out, they came back, took some showers and we prepared for Mass.  Lucy did her level best to let everyone in Cathedral know that she was being tortured.  Trying to stand, in heels, and keep a 25 pound willful toddler in my arms while she thrashed and pitched and bucked. . . it was exhausting.  Then we bolted from there to a holy hour out at Terra Sancta.  By that time, Lucy had perfected her escape tactics and Gemma had spent her patience.  I hustled them into the hallway.

I meant to just let them stretch their legs (and allow everyone else the chance to pray uninterrupted), but the Lord had other plans.  Following her sister down the hall, Gemma came upon the larger than life Pieta statue.  For a moment she stood transfixed, staring up, head back, onto the anguish of Mary cradling the body of Christ.

“Mama,” Gemma breathed, tenderly reaching out to caress Our Lord’s chest, “THIS is my favorite friend.”

I had been standing back, watching her from the periphery, so I couldn’t hear her well.

“What did you say, Gemma.”

“I said this is my favorite friend.” Her eyes studied his face, slowly moving down, taking it all in.  She traced his ribs with her tiny fingers and outlined the hole in his side, sticking her hand in like a little Thomas.  “Jesus is my favorite friend.”

For 20 minutes she visited with Jesus.  She told me about him.  She talked about Mary. She asked countless questions.  She began by facing him, reaching up to ‘soft’ his beard, remarking how it was bigger than Daddy’s and that she liked it.  She was sad he was so sad. . . She was praying for him. . . She tried to sit on his lap but found that sitting beside him, she could place her hand in his.  It was a good fit.  Why did they bam his hands. . .?  She could make him feel better. . .  When she was big, she would stop them so he wouldn’t die. . .  She switched sides and gently pet his other hand.  She leaned down, resting her cheek on the cool plaster.  Jesus is big. . . Bigger than you, right mama . . .?  And his mama is, too. . .  She is sad that Jesus is dead. . .  I am sad, too. . .  Then she stood and reached up and up until I asked her what she needed.

“I can’t reach Mary’s tears and I need to.”

I lifted her up and she felt each drop, outlining them softly and holding Mary’s cheeks in her hands.

“Gemma, do you know why Jesus died?” I whispered into her ear.

She froze.

“Because he loves you so much and wants to be with you in heaven forever. Your his favorite friend.”

Her head whipped around to look upon Jesus’ face again.

“Yeah, I am.  And I love him, too. Do you, Mama? Even when you’re big?”

She was assured that I did and dad did and all her siblings and Bridget and Elizabeth and Randy and Susan and . . . everyone she knows and loves, they all love Jesus. He’s our favorite friend and we love him because he first loved us.

Before we headed back into the chapel, she lingered for a second before she announced, “Jesus isn’t dead because he’s my friend.”  Then she skipped off and my heart skipped a beat.  Somewhere, she picked it up and it was sticking.  Yes, there are many years and choices to go, but right there, right then, it felt like we were winning.  With an abundance of grace, we are winning.