She is sixteen years old and standing in front of me. Just sixteen this past June, she says. Sixteen and hardly a wisp of a girl: her fiery curly hair tangling down her back and chest, her young eyes staring back at me, challenging me, searching me — I think almost desperately.
She has life spilling in and out of her membrane. Life tucked deep within the depths of her uterus, life that is eight weeks old.
The sun is setting next to us, behind is the barn we just danced in, the acoustic guitar strumming tunes in our ears. It’s teen week at the summer camp I’m working at, and she’s sixteen years old, here for the week. I think of the week I have with her, how a week can seem so short and sacred when all you want is a person to intimately recognize how deeply loved she really is.
Her bright eyes flash when she speaks to me. She scares people, I think. “When I put on this outfit I thought, ‘This is something Aliza would wear’.” She tells me.
I laugh. “I like your outfit a lot.”
“I’m already showing.”
“How far along are you?”
“Eight weeks.” I echo, taking out my phone. I bring up the baby app that I use to track the progress of my sister’s pregnancy, and pull up Week 8. “Your baby is the size of a raspberry!”
Her mouth forms a small o, and she glances down at her stomach. “A raspberry? The baby is so small.”
I keep reading to her.
“It says here that you can’t feel the baby yet, but the baby is moving his or her arms and legs, and the taste buds are now forming. And you’re probably extremely tired and have a heightened sense of smell. It also says you might be having some weird dreams.”
“I do have weird dreams! I thought I was going crazy!”
I laugh, tucking my phone away. “Nope,” I confirm. “You’re not crazy.”
“Just pregnant,” she quips. “With a raspberry.” She takes a deep breath, and I can feel the awe exuding from her. “A raspberry. The baby’s so tiny and it already has arms and legs? I can’t believe it.”
The sun is setting faster now, faster and bolder, a thousand colors streak and smear across the sky, and I feel small and tiny talking to her.
“Do you want to know something, Aliza?” She asks me.
“I think God gave me this baby.”
“What do you mean?”
She shifts her weight from one leg to the next. Her tough exterior has pin pricks, and I feel her soul sloshing out from beneath the gaps. I carry her soul kindly in my hands, listening to her, and I pray quietly in the back of my mind.
“I mean, I was being real bad before. I was drinking and doing drugs all the time, and then I got this baby, and I stopped cold turkey. I don’t do those things anymore.”
“I’m proud of you,” I tell her softly. She smiles at me, her teeth crooked in all of the right places.
“Can I ask you something? Can I ask you what you think of Jesus?”
She hesitates for a second, thinking.
“It’s like I’m in a candy shop. I’m in the chocolate aisle in the middle of a candy shop, and I see all the chocolate bars I could ever want. And it’s like I’m looking for the right God, or the right candy bar, but I can’t seem to figure out which one is the right one. I’ve tried lots of them, but they never seemed to be the right one. I’m still searching for the right one.”
“He’s there,” I say quietly. “He’s always been there, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”
She nods. “I think I’m starting to understand that now.”
We begin to walk, down past the barn and the grassy hill, and my dress sways soft fabric against my knees as we walk.
“I want my baby to be loved and safe.” She tells me shyly.
“It will be,” I say and look right into her bright eyes. “I want you to be loved and safe too.”
She nods. “So do I.”
She squeezes my hand almost tenderly, and her tough skin is shed, at least for this moment. She walks away, and I watch her. I can’t help it — tears are full in my eyes. I think about the dreams she should be dreaming: of traveling to exotic places or becoming a doctor or writing a book. I ask Jesus to give her dreams. I ask Jesus to instill that tiny raspberry baby with hopes and love and wholeness.
And I cry, asking Jesus to keep the sixteen year old girl with the fiery hair and spirit safe and loved, too.