Happy fourth birthday! Even though this is year four of your journey, it’s also been a year of firsts! Your first year of preschool, your first steps, your first time as a big brother.
At four years old, you’re favorite question is “Where we going?” You ask it when we’re putting on shoes, when we’re riding in the van, when you’re bored at home and want to go out, or just when someone walks from one room to the next. It’s your question du jour. And I wish I could capture in words the sound, the intonation, the upward tilt of your voice when that question comes. I hope it’ll forever be imprinted in my mind just the way you say it now.
Unquestionably, you look like your daddy, but you also think like him. When daddy and I first got married, I told him that under no circumstances should he ever EVER listen to me if I gave him directions somewhere; no matter how insistent I sounded or how angry I got that he wasn’t following my directions, he was not to listen to my misguided navigation attempts! Your mama is hopeless when it comes to good directions, but your daddy, he’s a human GPS. So every time from the van’s backseat that we hear “Where we going?”, I smile at the 29 years younger version of your daddy. Inevitably, you’ll follow-up my answer with “Where?”, searching for the right word to continue our conversation. You want, you need more details. And so sometimes I navigate our drives out loud, while pretty sure you’re downloading all this information so that one day you can navigate just as good as Daddy. And one day, I’ll tell you too to ignore any road directions I ever give you.
Sometimes, buddy, I wonder where we’re going, too. Where will your journey take us? What will it look like, feel like, be like? I can’t look into the future. But I can look back at the last four years that have brought us to right here, right now and I’m confident that we’re going somewhere that only you can take us. Mostly, I’m confident in the One who created you and I celebrate His creativity in making you YOU.
We love you buddy!!
That way? No, a little boy sleeping in a hospital bed doesn’t ruin a vacation. Just delays it. But it’s my heart that reduces a gracious gift to an ash-heap of unmet expectations.
A week counting down through crayons, glue, and decorations meant to land us at the beach but instead we were washed up in the hospital. His three year old lungs, struggling through asthma, couldn’t get the breath they needed. And so for two long days we lounged in a sterile pediatric ward instead of on sandy beaches. I watched pictures post on Facebook of my family playing, lazing, eating up the sunny rays. And a soured haze settled over me. We were supposed to be there.
I started counting up how many hours we were missing for building sand castles. How many minutes were dwindling away hooked up to monitors and medicine. How many seconds could never be recovered for splashing in the waves.
So you would think when we were finally released, that my disgruntled disposition would have evaporated. But there’s ingratitude’s lie. It sees less rather than enough. It demands instead of giving thanks. It overlooks instead of believing.
So the demanding, lessening, disbelieving trickled out even once we finally made it to the beach. The boys were waking at 4 a.m. The sun peek-a-booed behind the clouds. Our boys cried and whined for the first two hours we spent on the beach. (For the love of all things good, whose children cry at the beach?) I got sick the next to last night at the beach. My one year old cried unless I was holding him. Relatively speaking, the hospital kinda sounded better.
Present gratitude would have staked her flag in the sandcastles that were built, the peek-a-boo sunshine that made an appearance, the tremendously amazing food that was shared, the hilarious and endearing family shenanigans, the decadent homemade ice cream, the bay shore breezes, little boys’ hesitancies that turned to playful digging and toe dips in the water. Because all these things happened, too.
Vacations (life, really, too) aren’t ruined by what didn’t happen but by our sometimes unwillingness to let go of what we expected, for instead, what is.
Cakes and feasts and celebrations and gifts all roll right into one another as my birthday and anniversary and Mother’s Day coalesce into May.
But, I’m not good at receiving gifts, I’ve learned. Not in the respectable way — you know, the I wish everyone wouldn’t make a big fuss over me kind of way. I’m not good at receiving gifts for exactly the opposite reason. I like gifts; I like gifts being given to me; and I expect gifts that are exactly, precisely what I wanted.
So pity the poor fool who gifts me a token that doesn’t meet my expectations. I’ve been known to pout. To cry. To huff and puff. Such a picture of graciousness, right? I grew up a girl obediently writing out precise gift wish lists for birthdays, for holidays, for milestones. And usually, those much-desired gifts arrived in beautifully crisp, bow-tied packages, simply waiting my approval.
What happens to this list-making girl when she’s gifted with something quite unexpected? A gift that never crossed her mind. A gift that actually didn’t even seem like a gift but much more like a strangle-hold.
I came face-to-face with that girl holding her unexpectedness, and I saw Entitlement leaning close in to my ear. What you have isn’t a gift.
That shocking lie, that brazen label, ran a desert right through my heart. My soul starved of truth, shriveling, dried-out roots. You can’t love what you have because it’s not good (enough).
But now I’m learning, grace turns death into life. Scrapes away lies to see truth. Fills us full when lies have emptied us out. If I treat God’s gifts like I treat my birthday lists, I’ll never experience the true freedom found in the paradox of grace.
Being last and least makes you the victor. Gain life by losing yours. While we still opposed him, He sought us. Death births life. Triumph through surrender. Infinite treasure in these dusty jars of clay. Healing through brokenness. His power perfected in my weakness.
It’s always been this grace paradox that helps me right the upside down world where little boys are born with genetic disorders. And grief in all her smallness and bigness grows her roots right into each and everyone’s lives.
But grace. Though it might not change the circumstance, it always changes me.
One year ago we were just getting acquainted, you all fresh and new, me learning again how to become a mama when no two babies are exactly alike. Your nana took the first flight from South Carolina that three-week early Sunday you arrived and our families here, there, and everywhere called and smiled and beamed about you.
You and your dimpled cheek and plump legs and sleepy sighs. Your daddy held my hand as the doctor worked to bring you out, and you, you became ours.
We didn’t pray the just-be-healthy prayer because we’ve learned of greater grace than that. Reed signed baby, coming brow-to-brow with your tiny face, as he snuggled you by his side for the first time. We now pray earnestly that your brother-hearts will be knit together so that you’ll always stand for and with one another.
So fitting that the name we call you means Bringer of Light. You’ve filled us up with light and laughter and smiles (and more than a few sleepless nights). Nothing brings that baby grin faster than when people talk and laugh with you. In the sometimes weariness of life, you kindle brightness and cheer in our home.
Bubba, our greatest hope for you is that you’ll grow in wisdom and grace to know the one who is Light.
Love you so, so much.
Mama-ing two small boys pushes me to the brink of me. Stretched to boundaries of what I conceived beyond the realm of possibility. Then my mind escapes that moment, convinces me I can’t keep doing and being. But I do and I become. But with joy?
A backwards parenting resume of all the things I cannot do and am not equipped for. All the reasons why I’m not the best hire. The bold header reads these boys could do better. The lack of experience neatly bulleted down the page. Interesting how tidy these lies come packaged.
With joy? I want that. Need that. But cannot seem to grasp it for more than a fleeting moment. The anger wells up, hot and sharp. If I can’t even find the joy in the doing, in the becoming, then what? Especially then why?
The wisened joy-soul Ann Voskamp reminds me that no one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect. No? Not even by trying to follow all the rules perfectly? No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect. No? The truth is that perfection isn’t the goal? No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect. Perfection means I haven’t arrived? Joy won’t be waiting with a hug and kiss around my neck when my day, my morning, my hours, my minutes — overwhelmingly interrupted by two little boys — is perfectly uninterrupted? When my facade is perfectly constructed so that even I’m deceived? No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
There. The perfection myth cracked. But I’m cracking, too. Tiny spider-webbing cracks encroaching on my life. All running together until maybe the fissure runs to deep, too wide. Then what?
Leonard Cohen shoots straight, telling me
Forget your perfection offering.
There is a crack in everything -
It’s how the light gets in.
Then to remember of what I’m made. Dust and water. Spun and formed as a clay jar. What the ancients would have considered mundanely ordinary. And yet He, the one who is Light, considers us as triumphs of His grace. This cracked, perfection-hungry mama a triumph only in His grace.
Three years has unfolded an observant nature. A giggly, silly, make yourself laugh personality. A determined and sometimes stubborn spirit. A gentle, kind soul. And a love for all things that can (and often shouldn’t) be thrown.
You were born on the cusp of summer’s end, just hinting at fall. A beautiful season where summer’s memories are stockpiled and autumn promises things that warm and fill the soul. I remember leaning on the cusp of becoming something, someone, I never dreamed.
People want to know things about you. Are you walking, talking, learning more, yet, or enough? Have they learned yet? The world never says to any of us enough. Time’s impatient yet is scattered like seed on everyone. None of us measure up with our more.
But that’s why we don’t build our life on more, yet, and enough. We nourish a life on this moment present , on daily given grace, on a never giving up kind of love. And we declare all of this exceedingly enough.
You, Samuel Reed, are loved beyond measure. Your ma and daden (as you would say) give thanks for the little boy you are and the beautiful person you are becoming.
Happiest of birthdays to you, bubba!
He watches, intently absorbing each movement, each smile, each something, every everything. And then the smile, the grin, appears. Sometimes a baby laugh tumbles forward. And the watching fueled by curiosity trains his eyes on us.
But Luke studies Reed closest of all. He’s enamored with this bigger-than-him brother, percolating a fascination, reserved especially for his strawberry-headed brother. Luke’s round, blue-eyed perspective reveals awe, amazement, and excitement about Reed.
Simply, Luke sees better than most of the rest of us.
See differently, Mama. See him as my big brother who will teach me to do — to be — so many things.
My American-made performance, perfection, preoccupation with perception (others’ mainly) self seems awkward and gangly, mis-shapen and out of place between these two brothers. The older made me a mama, the younger is showing me a new way of knowing Reed.
How could I have known brotherhood would teach me so much about motherhood?