November 1, 2017 11:30:25 AM
I've have often said of my middle daughter, Zayley, she carries with her a potent fire. With it, she can either light a room or burn it down.
Until Sunday morning, I've meant that characterization euphemistically. But as the musical prelude rang in the 11 a.m. worship service at First United Methodist Church in Starkville, our newly minted 9-year-old acolyte marched slowly down one of the aisles carrying a long brass stick with a small flame peeping from the top.
Her task: Light one of the candles at the altar, put out the flame at the end of the brass stick and go sit down -- all without burning herself, the other acolyte or setting the pulpit ablaze.
This was not a drill.
Zayley was worried, too, which didn't give me comfort. Neither my wife Amelia nor I had mentioned to her we were nervous because we didn't want to alarm her or show anything she could construe as a lack of faith. But on Friday, she admitted she was "a little worried" she might "burn down the church."
We assured her she wouldn't and secretly prayed we were right.
Everything, though, went off without incident. It seemed like it took about a hundred years for her to move through the process and sit down in safety, but she did.
As the service progressed, she dealt with each acolyte task with growing confidence, at one point standing in front of the congregation with a look of such pious satisfaction it was slightly disturbing.
"That's her church smile," Amelia whispered as she chuckled. "She's probably thinking that's how Mary would look at the baby Jesus."
The whole service, for me, was a microcosm of everything that is parenthood.
Whether I want Zayley to be or not, she is old enough to acolyte. Regardless if I thought she was mature enough, she proved she is.
Most notably, as bad as I wanted to grab that candlestick and do the task for her -- to keep her safe from harm, embarrassment or whatever other boogie man I had created for the situation -- she had to do it herself. That was hard but well worth it.
As Zayley, our oldest Julia (11) and even Pfeiffer (2-1/2) have shown us time and again, they all have a strong tendency to rise to the occasion. We're incredibly proud of them for that.
We also try to facilitate occasions to which they should rise and encourage them along the way. But sometimes it's hard for parents -- at least for me -- to not imagine all the worst-case scenarios as the process unfolds.
That, apparently, becomes even harder as they get older and the stakes of these occasions rise even higher.
I suppose I should calm down and "take a chill pill," as it were. It's not like these kids are driving yet, or dating, or picking a college, or getting married or having their own kids -- all those terrifying things are "just around the corner" I'm told.
Besides, I've got more immediate things to fret about.
Julia will be an acolyte for the first time this Sunday.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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