I was in the Little Miss Dothan pageant in 1972 when I was in the 2nd grade at Girard Elementary School, where all self-respecting girls wore charm bracelets. The participants were each given a mustard seed charm. I put mine in my jewelry box with the charms that Aunt Betty gave me every Christmas, and that Mama was going to take to the jeweler “soon” and attach to the bracelet, also given to me by Aunt Betty.

In 1999, because Daddy died young, my family moved in with Mama to take care of her after early onset dementia. My twins were 5. My baby was 1. I was 34 and suffocating. Mama had no siblings, and Granny was still living. She moved to Auburn into the Spencer home, where she was loved on mightily.

In preparation for our move, my sisters’ families helped clean out Mama's house to make room for the Conners. I found my jewelry box. I tossed the other charms but took the mustard seed to the jeweler and bought a short chain, not expensive, but not cheap. I needed a tangible reminder that I could move this mountain. This wasn’t my first mountain, and I knew it wouldn’t be my last, but I felt I was looking up at Everest.

Over the past two decades, I've worn my necklace more days than not. Actually, my fear/faith level can be gauged by that necklace. If I'm cocky and “I’ve got this,” I leave it hanging in the closet. When I have not a lick of faith in my body, I wear my faith around my neck. Some days my mustard seed of faith gets used up simply by fastening the clasp. Some heavy, pity-full days, I see it on the dusty dresser and abandon it there.

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) I’m no theologian, but I don’t fancy that’s a literal statement. I don’t see any reason to move a physical mountain from here to there. On the contrary, I see lots of reasons not to. I imagine moving a mountain would knock down trees and displace people and critters and cause earthquakes, mudslides, and tsunamis. I’m not entering the environment debate. I’m just pondering the statement about mountains and faith.

When I ponder, I fidget with my mustard seed necklace and twist my hair. When I fret, I suck my cheeks. I fret about my figurative mountains. When I wallow, I wail that my mountain range is the Himalayas and that I need faith the size of the combined pits from an orchard of peaches, not a speck of a seed from a mere mustard plant. Sulkily, I listen to conversations of friends during lunch dates and of strangers at the checkout. And fiddle with my necklace. My mountains are not the same as other’s mountains, but they induce the same sleep-stealing fear. They devour the same breath-giving faith.

Faith that the rain will come. Or that it will stop.

Faith that the beloved will return. Or at least touch base.

Faith that modern medicine can fix it. Or that time will heal it.

Faith that tomorrow won’t devastate.

Faith that the mountain will move.

Sometimes folks preach, “You’ve just got to have faith!” like it’s as easy as putting on socks. Maybe that’s true for them. But it’s not for me. For me, finding mustard-seed faith is a rocky, uphill, winding route, scattered with death, and haunted with threats of avalanche and yeti. I grieve. I woe. I twist my hair and suck my cheeks. I make my lists. I stock up my equipment and summon my encouragers. I clutch my necklace. And cautiously, steadily, shovelful by shovelful, I move my mountain.

Celeste King Conner is a tired excavator. Tell her about the mountains you’ve moved at celestekconner@gmail.com.

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