There’s one story I carry about my daughter that will always live on the altar for me, because of the tender teaching it continuously provides.
Several years ago, when my daughter Arayla was in her early teens, I began to overhear a phrase she would say almost every day to our little dog Freya.
She would look deeply into Freya’s eyes, meeting soul to soul, and with utter astonishment, she’d murmur, “Oh Freya, how can you be SO perfect?! How can you, though? How is it even possible?”
It was just a sweet expression of endearment from a girl to her pup, in moments of uncontainable affection. It was just another passing life moment, another breath of what’s fleeting.
Freya would wag her golden tale, drinking in the blissful affection of her favorite girl, her little dog heart bursting at the seams to be so seen and adored.
I’d happen to catch a glimpse of it, in the periphery of our shared living space. I’d be walking down the hall, and suddenly hear the familiar inflection of my daughter’s voice as she lay cuddling with Freya on the couch: “How can you be so perfect? How can you?”
I noticed my daughter saying this phrase, but somehow it blended into the sound tapestry of our lives, a small vocal thread appearing in the sound-weaving of our days.
I’d be massaging the kale, cutting up the avocados, simultaneously hearing my son’s basketball dribbling in the driveway outside, thinking about what I still needed to accomplish in my day, and there it was again, this expression of my daughter’s devotion: “Oh Freya, how can you be so perfect?”
At one point during that life chapter, I left home for a weekend of ceremonial retreat.
One of the many reasons I value taking time away from my everyday life and my children to sit in retreat, even if only a few times a year, is that it allows me to reflect on our lives together.
It’s amazing what arises when we get quiet enough to listen.
In the generous expanse of hours devoted to listening and prayer, I notice things I might have otherwise overlooked. Sometimes what’s revealed is painful: a recapitulation of hurtful exchanges perhaps, moments when I failed to embody sanity and love. Continuous opportunities for healing remorse and self-forgiveness.
Sometimes it’s a simple clearing, a bathing in luminous stillness. Other times there’s a chance for fresh perception, new insight, vision, or life directive.
In that particular ceremony, when my awareness went to my daughter, scanning her person and soul through the eyes of my softened heart, what I immediately heard was this ritualistic expression of hers to Freya: “But how can you be SO perfect?”
It stood out to me, this simple devotional phrase of hers, like a shining golden key she had left in my own consciousness for me to find. I opened wider to the place in my daughter’s heart that had given rise to these words, and I was struck by the blatancy of this clue she had been giving me for months.
Could it be that this expression of love she had formulated for Freya carried a transmission she herself longed to hear?
As I sat there in the silent warmth of contemplation, I considered the contents of Arayla’s special phrase, noting the inclusion of the word “perfect,” an ideal I had personally come to hold with a fair amount of sober disillusionment.
But it was easy to see that Arayla’s reflection of “so perfect” to Freya was not ensnared in the shadow of perfectionism, but rather conveyed an innocent acceptance, a wholehearted witnessing of the truth of “perfection”, free of comparison and judgment.
It’s interesting to notice how the words our beloveds need to hear are always encoded from the love language of their unique hearts, and not necessarily our own.
Perhaps our people are always dropping hints and clues about what they need to hear, but in the overfullness of our plates and the juggling of countless roles, it’s easy to miss even the simplest clues.
Perhaps in the dynamic complexity of relationships, and the honest ache of our own exhaustion and unmet needs, it’s easy to miss the breadcrumbs our beloveds are dropping in the path for us.
By some privilege, luck, and grace, I discovered this clue Arayla had dropped into the mundane soundtrack of our lives, and I tucked it close to my heart and carried it back home to her.
Later that night, when all had settled in our home and it was just the two of us, I asked her if I could share something I had seen in my weekend of prayer. She crawled over to where I sat in our living room, present and receptive.
I remember taking in her remarkable beauty, the radiance of her sincere openness. I approached the topic softly. “You know this phrase you sometimes say to Freya, my love? When you say to her, ‘How can you be so perfect?’”
Arayla’s face flushed, as she replied shyly: “Yes…why?”
I continued: “Well, it came to me that perhaps these words are something you would love to hear yourself—from me?”
Arayla was quiet, and her eyes shimmered, filling with emotion. She shrugged tenderly.
I trusted my instinct, asking her, “Would it be alright if I said these words to you now?”
She nodded her head slowly in agreement.
And so, from the depths of my devotion, meeting her soul to soul, I murmured with astonished wonder, “How can you be so perfect, Arayla Grace? How can you? How is it even possible?”
Arayla burst into quiet tears, as her own medicine of wholehearted acceptance came back to her, through me. I gathered her close in my arms then, my precious girl, and whispered again, “How can you be SO perfect? Just as you are?! Just exactly as you are?”
She relaxed fully, letting me hold her, letting me love her beyond measure, just as she is.
What an absolutely mysterious gift, when love hits its mark, within us, and through us.
Years have passed since that particular moment in our family, but the teaching remains timelessly relevant. As I receive the instructions to share this story with you, I’m invited to receive it afresh.
Dare we listen even more carefully to the hints we give one another about how we wish to be loved?
My children are years older now, and with every passing year, the sound tapestry of our lives changes and evolves. The older we all grow, the more nuanced and layered the clues and breadcrumbs we leave for one another.
What a tenderly complex task: to love each other well.
Humbled, I can meet the ache of how many golden keys, hints, and clues I surely miss along the way.
Just as I feel the grief of how many of my own are continuously missed, overlooked, and ignored.
How often we are left to listen and respond to our own heart’s needs, meeting ourselves in the very ways we wish we were met.
What a burn this can be—an invitation to feel the sacred, painful edges of our lonely human wants and needs.
How seductive for the meaning-making mind that spins tales of self-pitying woe. What an opportunity to resist the temptation of fueling a narrative of suffering.
And what a perfectly imperfect relational design this is: an invaluable aspect of growing into the responsibility of self-care and self-love.
Letting one another down, missing one another’s cues, failing to adequately attune—this just seems to be part of the relational deal here, inspiring endless causes for self-compassion, clearer communication, apology, and repair.
I missed it and I’m sorry. I hear you now. I see you. I love you. I love myself.
The inevitability of failure, alongside infinite opportunities to listen more closely, respond more truly, show up more fully, and love ourselves.
It brings poignant tears knowing soon my daughter will spread her wings and launch from our nest, taking all the precious, mundane sounds of her into her next chapter. How I will miss her stomping down the hall, her gorgeous, honest giggles coming from inside her bedroom while she’s talking on the phone to a friend, her love-talk to our pups, all her sounds.
Our psychic umbilical cord will need to stretch wider than ever before, and the ears of my mama heart will need to wisen to catch her hints and clues from afar. I’m ready, Daughter. I’m eternally up for the task.
How can she be so perfect, though? I mean, seriously. Holy wow: what a being.
And me too, so perfect, just as I am. Not without extraordinary flaws, heartbreaking shortcomings, and countless failures, clearly. Yet still, so perfect. So willing I am, and so true.
And what about you, my friend? So perfect, just as you are. So earnest, so relatable, so admirable, so tenderly human, so easy to love. Yes, you are, yes indeed.
So perfect. It’s astounding when we really let it in.
Be like Freya, her bursting golden heart, wagging tail.
Opening to receive the radical truth of wholehearted acceptance and embrace.
Be this seeing as love, listening as love, responding as love, over and over.
Never too late. Each moment is another chance for us.
Each moment another chance.