When Jody sent me this post last week my first thought was “I wish I had written this”. She writes so simply and beautifully about a little thing that can make a big difference – those small reminders of what brave can look like. And as someone who’s done her fair share of moving, this definitely struck a chord.
My daughter and I have taken up a new hobby of sorts. Anyone who knows me would gasp at the thought of it. It’s something I’ve never been known for, and it borders slightly on the shallow.
We’re growing out our fingernails.
I know, I know. What’s the big deal? Lots of women have long fingernails – smooth, painted, manicured, pretty. I’ve watched them, I know how they look. I know because mine have never even come close to pretty. I’m a chewer, a picker, a peeler. For years, I’ve kept my nails as short as humanly possible because they are weak, brittle, and prone to hangnails. It’s a nervous habit that I’ve ignored for years, picking my cuticles until they bled, peeling my fingernails off in nervous moments. I’ve rationalized that my nails are inherently stubby, weak, ugly, chipped, and breaking, so no point in paying them any mind.
My nine-year-old daughter, however, has beautiful nails. She inherited my husband’s long and beautiful nail beds, and they naturally grow into a ‘pretty shape’ without any attention or care. But just recently, she started chewing on them. It’s her first week at a brand new school over 2,000 miles from the town she used to call home, and everything around her is glaringly new. While she tackled the first days with a steady resolve and confident spirit, the complete lack of familiarity is rattling her core as the days continue. Understandably, she’s taking it out on her fingernails.
But I don’t want to pass this unresolved habit of years of bleeding cuticles and peeled-off fingernails along to her. I don’t want my brokenness to show up on her hands too.
So, I decided. We’ll grow our nails out together.
I broke down and bought some nail strengthener and a file (neither of which I’ve ever owned). I’m letting my nails grow, nourishing the cuticles, smoothing the rough edges. Every so often, I catch myself staring at them, admiring how they shine, how the sliver of white extends just beyond my finger tip.
Last night, I climbed in bed with my daughter and slathered on a coat of sparkly turquoise polish on her stubby, broken nails. She hates to mess up pretty polish, and we’re both hoping this plan will stop the nail biting cold. I showed her my newly extending nails, and we ooh-ed and ahh-ed together at their growth.
As shallow as it sounds, the tiniest step of growing my fingernails is making me brave today. In reality, I’m just as nervous as my daughter about all of this newness. As an adult, I’ve acquired the ability to keep the tears from spilling over when I fear that no one will play with me on the playground, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it too. What I’m learning in this tiny step toward bravery is that it being brave takes movement, no matter how slight.
Moving from brokenness to wholeness means seeking regular nourishment, rubbing away the rough spots and being patient while growth occurs. It means attempting something I’ve never tried and don’t really know how to accomplish. It means letting my daughter see my weakness and walking alongside her in hers.
“Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it,” wrote Marilyn Robinson in her novel Gilead. “I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave–that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”
Truth be told, I need this reminder desperately. I need it burned deeply in my heart, posted boldly on my walls, painted brilliantly on my fingernails.
Just you wait, I’ll have bright pink polish on them by next week.