I popped on Sofia the First the other day. It’s a Disney show, where little Sofia twirls around in a sparkly blue dress with her other princess friends. She is a sweet little role model – open-hearted and kind. The only problem is the marriage of sparkly blue dress and princess-hood. Because now, when I put a pretty dress on Lily, and I tell her it’s lovely, she says “I am a princess!” And I say yes but I also tell her but it is God who makes you so.
And, if I could, what I really want to tell her is this, too.
My daughter, Sofia is sweet. Her friends are not so much. You see them all as princesses. What makes a princess beloved? What makes royalty? Is it tiaras and shoes and balancing a book on your head as you glide across the dining hall? Is it servants and ball gowns? This is what Disney is going to teach you sweet girl, and that story is not true. It’s not true.
We met a princess once. She is much older than Sofia, with dark chocolate, weathered skin. Do you remember that time we went to a terrible, forgotten area of South Africa? It was in Johannesburg, and we piled into the car with our new friends and found an old, locked warehouse. It looked like a parking lot, and you sped off into the dark as soon as you were freed from your car seat. It was pitch black, with no natural light. And slowly, as our eyes adjusted, we saw rows and rows of cardboard doors. Some had holes punched in them. Whole families were living behind these doors, cramped in a bed, many of them blind. We met a princess there, my sweet. She was caring for her grown-up daughter who couldn’t see properly, and a smiley teenage boy in a wheelchair. Locked in a dark old warehouse with not much food. And do you know what, my love? She would whisper aloud the beautiful words of Jesus every night to her daughter. Every night. She had hope and love in the midst of darkness. She didn’t wear a tiara or a sparkly dress, but she did shine. I think she was a princess.
We had a princess in our midst in Mozambique. You called her Mama Alima, but, you know, I think she was royalty. She loves us well, doesn’t she? Well we are not the only ones. Her son was very mean to her. He stole a lot of money from her and wanted to hurt Mama Alima badly. He was a very bad son. But a few weeks ago he was ill and couldn’t think straight. He was far away in another city, and Mama Alima boarded the bus and went to the hospital. She didn’t have anywhere to sleep, so she slept outside on the ground. Day and night, she waited and prayed. You see the way her eyes light up when she smiles? She shines too. I think she is a princess.
And of course, I can’t sit down and tell my daughter all this right now. I have one second of airtime before something awesome like tearing up toilet paper or scribbling crayon on the wall takes her attention. But still I say it is God who makes you so. You don’t need a dress.
A couple of days ago I smiled and told her: “You are so special Lily!” “I am a princess!” she replied. And I looked at her swallowing these truths as easy as air, with a confidence so rare in the grown-up world. She carried on in her jumbled two-year-old way, and said: “and Jesus… me a dress… and put on music and dance.”
What did she just say? I wondered. Is it possible Jesus told her that Himself? I have never told her that He wants to give her a dress, put music on and dance.
And I start to think. Perhaps He loves to put his princesses in dresses. Perhaps He loves music. And dancing. I mean, I know I love those things. But in my serious, big-girl skin, I’m quick to let them go. All that matters is the heart, I tell myself. I pick up my dresses and music and dancing and I lay them down at the cross, and I say, it’s okay, they are yours. I pick my dreams and desires and I lay them down at the cross, and I say, it’s okay, they are yours. And I pick up submission and surrender and suffering. Submission, surrender, suffering are of course, laced through Scripture, and are necessary and beautiful.
But then too, mixed into these lives that bear the glory of suffering, maybe – just maybe – Jesus whispers to my daughter that He wants to give her a dress, put music on and dance.
If He whispered those tender words in my ear today, would I hear it?
Perhaps Sofia has something to teach me. That in the kingdom of heaven there will be dresses and dancing and music – all stunning expressions of beauty, of royalty. That this kingdom wants to pour itself out on the earth, in all its glitter and glory and laughter. And it’s for all of us. For the Sofias. For the tired missionaries who can’t recall the sound of His music. For that princess sleeping in a Johannesburg warehouse, and for Mama Alima, hidden in her mud hut – those secret princesses, the ones that shine and shine and shine. Oh yes, it is for them too. One day they will truly receive their dresses and their music and their dancing. And their Jesus.