Maddie starts kindergarten this year.
Maddie is my oldest niece. She’s also my goddaughter, and I wanted to send her something to commemorate her first day at her parish elementary school in another state. So I went shopping at my local Christian bookstore for the first time.
After considerable browsing, I picked out a devotional book. But while a book seemed appropriate for a first day of school, it didn’t quite fulfill the purpose I had for the gift. I wanted it to be relevant to my role as godmother and the beginning of Maddie’s Catholic education. The book certainly met those purposes. But I also wanted her to like it, in the non-dutiful sense of liking something. The kind of like that inspires an “oooh!” when opened, rather than the obligatory, parentally-drilled thank-you. The book probably wasn’t going to get me the oooh.
Plastic and Purple
So I circled the store again. I found a small display of jewelry. There were the WWJD bracelets. Too big for a five-year-old wrist. There were the typical gold and silver crucifixes. Too expensive for my budget. Then I saw a basket of cross necklaces. The plastic crosses were neon purple, pink and green. The necklace was a silky neon rainbow ribbon. Maddie would love it, I thought.
I took one and looked at it more closely. It was cheaply made, as the price tag indicated. Holding it in my hand, it suddenly felt irreverent. I hesitated, recalling my own Catholic schooldays, the dull navy and green plaid uniform skirts, the plain white blouses. Maybe the school wouldn’t like her wearing a neon cross, I thought. I put it back.
Again I circled the store. Being there kind of felt like an out-of-body experience. Plaques with embossed Scripture and Precious Moments figurines are not my style. In fact, I feel uncomfortable in places where I find them displayed. Ergo, Christian bookstores are not places I frequent. But it was basically a Hallmark store with more books, I discovered. Not even an evangelist radio station was audible. I started to relax a little.
Bubbling and Babbling
I meandered back to the jewelry display. The plastic, neon-colored cross necklaces were bright and colorful and fun. Just like Maddie. A memory of an incident at Mass a few years ago, when Maddie was just two, came to mind. It was my wedding week and I’d arranged for a Mass to be said for my late father. At the sparsely-attended weekday service, Maddie’s babbling was not inconspicuous. My sister-in-law sheepishly apologized to the priest afterward. “That’s OK. She’s just filled with the Holy Spirit,” he replied.
He meant she was bubbling over, unable to contain herself. Like the crowds who witnessed Jesus’ early miracles, or the women who found the tomb empty. Very unlike the passive faith that I’m comfortable with.
But would Christianity have spread around the world if those early converts weren’t bubbling over? Who would they have convinced if they went about it all solemn and reverent and preachy? Maddie should start on her faith path with equal enthusiasm, I thought. I rummaged through the basket, found a purple cross, and headed straight up to the cash register before I could change my mind again.
A few days later I called my brother and sister-in-law to see if the package had arrived. It had, and apparently was a hit. Maddie loved the necklace, my sister-in-law said. “Mom, I’m going to wear it every day,” she’d vowed upon opening it.
On the other end of the phone, a grin spread across my face. I didn’t get to hear the “oooh,” but that report was better than any thank you I could imagine. I’d hit the trifecta—perhaps I should say the trinity—a gift suited to the occasion and my role as godmother, and one that Maddie would simply like.
And though Maddie’s only starting kindergarten, the experience of shopping for her gift—and more significantly, her response to it—taught me something, too.
Shouldn’t our faith be something that we wear every day? Shouldn’t it be a bright—dare I say neon—spot in our lives? Shouldn’t it be exercised spontaneously and allow us to express ourselves as the unique individuals we are to God? For me, faith is something mostly taken out on Sunday mornings. It’s an obligation to check off. My relationship with God is too often something I try to conform to observed standards of reverence or holiness, rather than a personal one I create to satisfy and deepen my own faith.
Or at least it was. I might just go back to the store and buy another neon cross necklace. This one, I’ll keep.