I was there. Cheryl spent weeks, months in our small home getting the perfect nursery together. I wasn’t much help but I was there. I can still remember the colorful bears on the wall; the ones with the ballons. We didn’t have much but that small room became the sanctuary of our hopes and dreams. Soon she would arrive. We went to all those goofy classes, and I mapped out the best routes to and from the hospital.
We were just kids ourselves, Cheryl and I. We had been married for just over 3 years in our mid 20’s and thought we knew it all. Then she came, Amanda Leigh Rice. I was there when she drew her first breath. Suddenly the world changed. The planets realigned. Priorities were rearranged in an instant. I’ve never felt so small and so large at the same time. It was a magical, supernatural place.
I learned where they stocked the diapers in the grocery stores. We would soon ponder the many choices of Gerber’s baby food. Who knew you could buy apple cobbler all mashed together?
I was there when her eyes began to dart around. They would fix on me with a knowing yet curious gaze. I was there when she giggled and laughed. I still remember rocking her to sleep in that nursery. For some reason “Puff the Magic Draqon” seemed a perfect lullaby. I didn’t know all the words, but I knew enough and hummed the tune until she drifted off to sleep. It was something about growing up. There was that part about when the little boy didn’t come around anymore and Puff drifted into oblivion. I remember feeling it then, what I feel this week, a sense of inevitability. The day is coming.
I was there on that Christmas morning when she bounced out in her footed pajamas to behold a red and yellow “cozy coupe”, one of those plastic push cars that you could sit in and push around. We couldn’t afford the new one, so we had hunted one down in a garage sale that was not too dinged up. Cheryl had washed it up, bought some new stickers, and to a toddler it was like glorious mirage come true. I was there when she sat down with a smile that absolutely could not be contained, and then hopped right back out of that car and ran over to us and hugged us with all she had.
I was there that night on Clearwater Beach. It was one of those perfect evenings where God just really shows off in a Florida sunset. The sky lit up with colors. People were packing up and heading home. We had rinsed off in the outdoor showers and Cheryl must have taken Amanda’s swim suit off to rinse her off as you sometimes do with little ones and then somehow she just took off; naked as the day she was born. I watched as she ran across a tidal pool. It happened just south of the pier and I remember just watching her in all of her innocence and unmitigated joy. She ran across that water streaked with color and something told me to remember this day, to remember this moment, for I knew it would all too soon be gone. And it was. The sun set. The day ended. But it lives in my mind. I was there.
I was there for the ballet recitals and piano concerts. I was there for the first VBS when she marched in and recited the pledges. I was there when she wobbled and finally stayed up on the bicycle. I was there for her first ball tryouts. She had never played and really couldn’t catch the ball that well, though we had sure practiced the week before. She left devastated and embarrassed and cried on her bed while I tried to assure her that she would eventually get it. This day would pass, I consoled her. It did.
I was there when she marched in the band, sang in the choir, and learned to drive (mercifully her mother was more there than I for that one!). I was there in the back of the packed auditorium at Pensacola High School. I had snuck out of an evening service at our church and drove downtown because that night in a city wide youth rally, Amanda was to give her testimony. It was rainy that night, I think, or was it cold? I’m not sure; I just remember I wore a coat. I slipped in the back, found a seat, and then listened as my daughter stood up before hundreds of teenagers and spoke of her commitment to Christ and her desire to live a godly life. While everyone applauded I wiped away tears and slipped out into the night. Now the nights have slipped away into years, and here I am just days away from the biggest walk yet.
Four years ago she graduated High School. Two weeks ago she graduated college. In between she made life long friends, so very many memories, and prepared for her future. She also met a man and now in three days I am supposed to give her away—that’s what they call it isn’t it? Give her away. How precisely am I supposed to give her away? I held her, sang to her, protected her, danced with her, played with her, and carried her each night to bed. I spent Christmas mornings with her, helped her get over her fear of dogs, put a swing set together, and brought her flowers at the ballet recital. I did all of that and more. I was there. And now I must walk her down the aisle and give her away?
Who gives this woman in marriage, my brother will ask. And am I supposed to answer? Woman, what woman? You mean her? This little girl. My own daughter. The one who played dress up and sat in my lap. You expect me to give her away?
But of course she is a woman now. And of course I gave her away a long time ago. Sort of. I knew she was ours for only a season. I knew she belonged to God all along.
I think I’ll walk back out to the beach this week. I think I’ll stand a little south of the pier and hope no one else is there. I’ll hear the crashing waves and feel the breeze. Maybe if I look real hard I can still see her racing through the puddles. One last glimpse of