Dear Kenya,

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A couple of weeks ago you came to me after I had a terrible parenting fail moment just before bedtime. It was a moment that turned into an opportunity for grace, for that sweet draught of it that we all breathed in sharply, after I had been a little too ranty about people not helping out or doing what they are told, kids sitting around while it took me forever to get the baby to sleep, after I couldn’t stop talking about it, couldn’t stop my rant and couldn’t stop it, even as I was angry with myself for pulling you kids into my self pity, for being so ungracious. Until finally. I shut my mouth and I lay on your bed with you and Kai, my head on your stomach, tears in my eyes. Then I told the two of you that I’m glad God still loves me when I’m acting like that, when I’m feeling sorry for myself and being stupid and I can open up and just feel the love he has for me.

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You came to me after all of that, when I was walking into the kitchen to get to work on the dishes. You offered to help me and I saw your sweet heart and I let you, even though it was far too late, and then I shooed you off to bed. You hugged me and said, “The love you have for me and the fact that I can help you fills my heart with joy.” You said, that, Kenya, at nine years old. I was struck by your grace, in that moment. I felt glad that there is something bigger than me in all of this, that behind every bit of clumsy parenting, God breathes grace, a larger gift than I can give.

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I think you’ll need this lesson more than any other, the love of God that surpasses all of these things, because of the girl you are and the way you want things to be right, to be perfect. The way you’d like to make everything right all by yourself and when you can’t you are frustrated. This might be the most important lesson you learn. I don’t have to teach you kindness, you are already so kind. I occasionally have to remind you about gentleness (there is a reason you were nicknamed the Sweet Punisher as a little girl). But I often have to remind you about grace.

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I’ve been wanting to write you a letter, ever since you turned nine at the end of March. Here it is, late, but then this is one of those years, I’m coming to realize, when we all need to exercise a little more patience, when none of us get to things quite as quickly as we’d like. Here is your letter, love.

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Nine is turning out beautiful for you. As an eight to nine year old you became even more of what you already are, more beautiful and stretched out with your long arms and legs. You become more vivid with every day that passes. You are forever making things with glue and string and paper and colors and feathers and beads- anything you can get your hands on, heading off to the art store on your bike to find something you need.

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You pick up your violin and play it, you play the tin whistle now too. You are the kind of girl who makes friends with someone you is walking down the street and then receives a gift in the mail from that friend, weeks later. You have the hands of a surgeon, or artist. You’ve softened your dream of living under some trees in the jungle when you grow up-- now you think you’ll like to be on the far edge of a town, just close enough to get in on occasion. You are so confident in who you are: a dancing, singing, nature-loving, face-scrunching girl. In the last few months you fell in love with reading, and now I can always come across you and your brother, both deep in books in your big bed, piles of books all around your head.

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Sometimes you have difficulty with auditory processing and it frustrates you, especially when you have to ask what something means or what someone said more than once. The other day we were talking about this and I told you it’s only fair. Your ability to process things visually is astounding, your art and story layout gets better daily, the way you watch someone do something once and then get it for life is wonderful. Everyone has weaknesses and strengths, daughter, and your strengths are so strong. You can be stormy, impatient, frustrated, but your softness is brilliant, like clouds with the sun behind them.

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The other day you told me about something about your face that you didn’t like, and I had a huge sinking feeling in my chest. No, no! I wanted to say. Not yet! Not my beautiful.  But I know that this is part of it, that this is part of what it means to be a girl growing up. I remember it in myself, I will help you any way I can, love. The truth is, daughter, you are beautiful, inside and out, full of joy, like you said. I love you. And grace may be your life long lesson, just like it is mine. Grace is like a constellation, Sometimes you are walking along and all you can see is a trail of your own mistakes but you may just remember to look up, and when you do, you see that the stars are telling a story, and that story, like the story of the flowers in the garden or the frogs under the bushes, is all about love for you. You only have to look up.

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