Cynthia J. Dahlin: What I learned About God from My Daughter, Margaret

Sermon for Seekers Church
May 19, 2002
Cynthia J. Dahlin 

What I learned About God from My Daughter, Margaret


This is a wonderful day for our family. Ron and I, and Margaret’s grandparents, Phyllis and Maurie, are proud to celebrate Margaret’s impending graduation from high school. It is a time of transition and she has shown that she has the judgment, skills and knowledge she needs to move on and thrive.

Therefore, I am not worried about her — she will fly! — so let’s talk about me. I want to talk about what I have learned about God from mothering Margaret.

I want to take you back about 17 1/2 years when Margaret was born. She was a huge baby, 9 pounds 13 oz., and I was in labor 30 hours to get her out. I tend to get crabby when I do not eat–and they do not let you eat once you are in labor–so Ron was just as eager as I was for Margaret to enter the world so that each pain would not be blamed on him.

Then there was a miracle! Margaret was born, and we loved her instantly and intensely. It was very complicated to feel and talk about that love. In the feminist era when Ron and I got married, 25 years ago next week, love was fair, equal and negotiated for us. As you all know, our kids have a mix of last names, a testament to the times. Ron and I had really worked on our relationship. Yet, after a few hours, I knew I would have thrown myself in front of a train to save my baby daughter. Where did this instinctive love, which had not been earned or bartered, come from? Then, Margaret started waking up, taking in the world, and I was aware she was a separate soul with her own personality, learning about the world in her own way.

I discovered God exists. There is a source of creation and love, and my daughter had shown it to me. I had been active in church my whole life, but I had thought of my church as a place where people try to keep good morals and do community work. Now I believed in an ineffable source of life and love. A couple of hours later, another miracle occurred. My father, Douglas Dahlin, was a man who thought constantly about honor and duty. I had never seen him break a rule. He came to Fairfax Hospital to see Margaret. A sign in the nursery said "Fathers Only." His grandfatherly love made him tell a lie–at least a lie of omission. He wanted to hold Margaret, walked right in, and picked her up. I walked into the nursery at this point. A nurse challenged him: "Are you Mr. Dahlin?" She used my last name, as babies were labeled with their mother’s names there. He knew she was trying to ask if he was the father — she was sure she had seen another man, Ron with her earlier. However, my father chose to take her question literally–a lie of omission–and said "Yes." and continued to hold Margaret with such happiness and a dash of devilish mischief on his face. A love strong enough to make him pull this trick was amazing to me.

As time went on, I learned more lessons about God from Margaret. I learned some things that led me to more disciplined study of theology and to a Christian community where we all talk a lot about our spiritual lives. First, I learned about presence. Concentrating on what is here and now, and valuing this moment. Margaret was an intense toddler. She would get interested in something and want to see it, hear it, do it, over, and over, and over…and over. When she started Montessori preschool, the teacher called me in for a conference. "Look at this!" she said. Margaret was sitting at one of those little tables doing some puzzle or "work" and Judy, her teacher, started pulling the table slowly across the room. Margaret did not look up from her work, but kept scooting her chair so she could stay centered on her work. In a few minutes, the table was across the room and Margaret’s concentration had not been broken. I thought about this a lot. I was working as a consultant doing strategic planning for Federal agencies when Margaret was born, and I was always thinking three years ahead. To be absorbed in what I was doing now, now worrying about what was not being done and to pare down my schedule was a challenge, but watching Margaret’s happiness in this minute helped to introduce me to the presence where we find gratitude for what God has given us.

Another thing I learned was that we are perfect beings in God’s eyes. Our imperfection and silly deeds and misdeeds are part of our perfect humanness. Margaret did things her own way. I had initially thought I would "teach" and "mold" her. I was wrong. For example, she was getting to be 14 months and not walking or crawling, and I tried to hold her up on her hands and knees and teach her how to crawl. She rolled back on her back, sat up and then would pull the things she needed or wanted to her by pulling her blanket toward herself. She did not need to crawl. When she finally wanted to move, she scooted around on her bottom by moving her feet. She would scoot down the halls of my office chanting "Good girl, good girl, go, go, go!) People would come out to watch her and laugh. She did things her own way, and affirmed herself for it. I thought this is how God really wants us to be.

Now I have to get this sermon off sappy reminiscences and tie in the liturgical season and community issues. Today is Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles and all gathered 40 days after Jesus was crucified. In addition, this is the week the Star Wars Episode 2 movie came out–who has seen it already?

Now I am going to tie all this together:

  • Pentecost was the time when the coming of the Holy Spirit let the Apostles and believers really know, see and experience God’s presence and power, and go forth to use it in healing and forming communities.
  • Margaret’s birth brought to me an understanding that God can be present but invisible until a wonderful life event changed my perspective.
  • Star Wars is a saga about how Luke Skywalker grows aware of and learns to use the power of the Force for good.

This graduation ceremony is the time when we have blessed Margaret and Chris to go out into the world and choose good paths for themselves. This is a time to learn about self and build skills and experiences. Later, we want you to remember some lessons from Seekers. "Go forth and know that God is with you." Moreover, those of us in relationship with you will be watching, still learning from your adventurousness, and will continue to be changed by what you do and who you are.

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