She is 67 years old, and still casts her gaze downward as she smiles. It’s an awkward smile that stretches her lips from cheek to cheek. She was instructed as a child to always keep her lips closed when she smiled, with her lips pressed tightly to her teeth because they were too full to be considered attractive. This way, at least they looked less fat. At five, her parents divorced, and drug her to court so that the judge could ask her with whom she wanted to live. And at five, in the presence of her usually absent father, she, of course, chose him. And when they returned home, her mother cried and guilted and asked, How could you? How could you choose him over me? So she apologized and said she didn’t mean it, that really, she wanted to live with her.

And so she did.

Her mother remarried; he was an awful man. He drank heavily, and she feared him. She called him by his full name. At dinner one night, she used one too many napkins, and there was a huge fight and it ended with his hand wrapped around her mother’s throat, pinning her up against the wall. And once, she left the TV on when she went to the kitchen for a drink, planning to return to the TV. But he intercepted and she was thrown to the floor and her mother was slapped. She lived with yelling and hitting and drinking and silverware being thrown.

And it was always her fault. Everything.

Her father moved across the country and remarried and made another family. She visited him in the summers. I imagine her arriving to his home full of anxiety after a year of not seeing him, wanting so much for his love and attention, and finding him lavishing it on others. No matter how much he gave to her while she was there, they got to receive it year ’round. Why wouldn’t he try to keep her? How could he let her go every summer, back to a life of which he knew nothing? Didn’t he love her as much as them? So she would hide from him and wait. And he would notice her missing and frantically call out her name. Where are you?! What happened to her?! And she liked it. She knew from his panic that he loved her, that he worried about her. In those moments, she sensed that he ached for her. It was in these games {and maybe only during these games} of one-sided hide-and-seek that she felt the love a little girl wants to feel from her father.

If you knew this girl, would you love her? Would you hold her hand and tell her stories to make her smile wide, so that her lips would part and her teeth would sparkle and her eyes, dance? Would you tell her she is beautiful and wonderful and wanted and made in God’s love? Would you tell her that life is hard, but it is also wondrous beyond belief? Would you play two-sided games of hide-and-seek with her and dance with her and make art with her? Would you sing songs and take walks and share secrets? Would you tell her that she is unique in all the world and that she has gifts to share and that the world is better by her presence?

Summers would end and she would go back home. She went to school and she made friends, and she tried as hard as a little girl with no guidance knows how to try and she got average grades. She loved her grandmother, and spent hours with her on her porch, drinking lemonade or sweet summer tea from a hand-painted glass pitcher, that now sits on a shelf in her great-granddaughter’s home. I don’t know if this grandmother loved her, or if she just didn’t ignore her, and that made being on her porch respite. But it did. And the memory of her is that of love.

She knew God, this little girl of inconvenience, but she doesn’t know how she knew God, because her mother didn’t teach her about God or Jesus or religion or unconditional love. And when she ran away from home, over and over and over again {from the age of four}, they would find her in a charismatic baptist church in a neighboring community. Something drew her there, though she cannot say what. She thinks it was the warmth and the friendliness, the songs and the embracing, and she thinks surely, the ladies must have doted on her, this small child, all alone, who walked herself into their church. I think it was God, wrapping himself around her and ushering her there.

She grew up and got married and had little girls of her own. And I have no idea how she knew how to raise these little girls so well, having never been shown. She poured affection and protection and guidance and understanding and safe discipline when needed. Her girls felt love and safety and connectedness abundantly. They were raised in church, in a family that practiced togetherness, in a humble home that felt like a castle, with homemade meals and homemade desserts and homemade curtains and homemade dresses. They were taught manners and morals and to think of others before themselves. They were made to do chores and to contribute to the keeping of their home, because they lived there. They were taken blueberry picking and snowmobile riding and camping on a river. They watched fireworks on the Fourth of July, and picked princess pine to make wreaths and garland together at Christmas time.

How is it that she had so little, and I have so much?

I began my 31 Day series on Nurturing Her Self-Esteem for my daughter. I thought that by delving into this topic, studying it and researching it, I could be sure I was doing all the right things to nurture her self-esteem. I think success and happiness stems from confidence and healthy regard for one’s self. I think it’s important to know our own short-comings and weaknesses and to know that being imperfect also makes us unique. It’s also important to believe in yourself and your abilities and the idea of possibilities. But I think now, that I do this for my mother and any other little girls out there who don’t yet know that they are worthy and valuable and unique in all the world. I hope you’ll join me.

(oh Patty… thank you for this, for your heart, for the way God loves through you… friends, please stop by Patty’s place, here, and read the rest of her 31 Day Series on Nurturing Her Self-Esteem)