Thursday, January 27, 2011

blurry and clear

the past six months have been a bit of a blur.  i know i have recorded all kinds of specific stories and detailed anecdotes in this blog.  i realize there have been great moments of clarity and intense times of gratitude.  but tonight feels different.   there was something about today.  perhaps it has been the past couple of weeks...but it finally just caught up with me.  bella is here.

she was funny today.  chattering away in the backseat of my SUV.  some of it distinguishable language and some of it not. this afternoon she sat on the steps of the front staircase cutting pink paper with safety scissors.  she made a mess.  a huge mess.  she grabbed my hand earlier this morning and said, "mommy, come on..."  she wanted to show me her water cup was on the counter and too high to reach.  she needed me and she knew where to find me.  today she chased her 13 year old brother around the kitchen table screaming like a banshee and laughing like a little clown.  she pulled her sister's hair and stuck her fingers in my coffee mug.  she whined for a snack before dinner and pouted when told no. she laid on the floor and colored almost an entire page purple.   she held my hand tightly on the way into the gym. she blew kisses to a lady at carpool.  today i found her in her room rocking a baby doll and singing softly.  as i was changing her tonight she took hold of my hair and wrapped it around her fist, repeating, "mommy. mommy. mommy." this evening she climbed up on her stool and brushed her teeth while wearing pink footie pjs with monkeys.   at bedtime she blessed everyone in our family and when she was done she added, all on her own, "fuffy" to the list.  fuffy is a favorite stuffed dog, new to her collection, but apparently important.   tonight i walked back into her room when she was soundly sleeping.  tonight i tucked around her the blanket she had kicked off.  tonight i stood at the foot of her bed and felt warm tears roll down my cheeks.  tonight i just wanted to lay down on the floor next to her bed and weep with the beautiful normalcy of this remarkable gift.  mind you, i don't often lay on the floor near the beds of my children.  it would completely disturb some of them if they caught me.  but it was just that kind of moment.  it was that kind of overwhelming.

i suppose i was a little raw walking back into her room tonight.  earlier i had been sitting in the middle of a pile of her adoption paperwork.  we are starting the process to have her adoption finalized in a US court.  not entirely necessary, but a good idea just the same.  we haven't felt any urgency to do so...but i know it is time to take care of this housekeeping detail.  so tonight i pulled out all of those heavy folders full of paper.  papers which i've had absolutely no desire to revisit since our trip to china last july.  nonetheless, there i was wading through a pool of both english and chinese documents.  i couldn't believe all these papers added up to our bella.  i couldn't make sense of how this enormous stack of words was the trail leading to the little girl asleep in a pink and brown room upstairs.   i remember a year ago feeling like this very paperwork might bury me.  i remember my complete frustration with the repetition of details and senseless minutia.   had  i only known...  had i only known what was waiting for us.  had i only known the beauty of this child we now tuck into bed each night.  had i only known the joy of her sleepy head on my shoulder.   had i only known the sideways look she gives me when she's being funny.  had i only known the indescribable blessing for our entire family.   had i known a year ago i would have completed this paperwork and ten million more documents eagerly.  willingly.  happily.  joyfully.  how thankful i am that God lead us through...pulled us through...and sometimes even pushed us through it all.   when we were tired or discouraged or flat out fed up....He kept us moving forward.

the blurriness of these past six months does feel crazy though.  one moment it seems like she's been with us forever.  a moment later i am astounded and can't believe she's really here.  it's like i can't make up my mind.  i suppose, for that matter,  no one is really asking me to.  it is both.  it is unreal and it is so very real.  it is utterly amazing and it is believably normal.  it is extraordinary and it is ordinary.  it is both.  it just is.  somethings in life are like that.  bella is one of them.

and so tonight i only wanted to write and record a moment.  a moment too full really to explain well. a moment too private probably to share.  a moment to which i must add words knowing otherwise this fragile and tired mind of mine would soon forget.   a moment which i pray i will remember years from now when she sasses me or disobeys or offends.  a moment which God wrapped up for me on this unassuming january night.  a gift which He encouraged me to open and peer see a glimpse of His immeasurable love and His astounding grace.    and whether blurry or clear...i couldn't help but see it.

Friday, January 7, 2011


today bella learned a new word:  wrinkle.  like any young child learning language, bella loves to point at all of the body parts and name them with confidence - sometimes with gusto!  we have pretty much covered all of the basics. she's got the eyes, nose, teeth, ears, head, hair thing down pat.  in quiet moments when i am holding her she loves to move her fingers across my face and identify each feature.  she is so proud of herself.  today as she was running her fingers from my cheek to my mouth she came across a little indentation.  i'd like to repeat the adjective, little.  i felt her fingers stop.  she looked up at me with wide eyes and asked, "that mama?"  i sighed and answered weakly, "umm...yeah, that.  well, that is called a wrinkle, bella."  her smart fingers moved to the other side of my mouth. she sort of gasped.  how delightful, mommy had two of on each side!  brilliant!   the deal with bella, though, is that when she gets something...she really gets it.  it sticks.  and just like those wrinkles are stuck on either side of my mouth...this word is now deeply implanted in her vocabulary. she has continued to impress me, over and over again, today with her new word.  i have heard it a half a dozen times or so already.  wrinkle. wrinkle. wrinkle. wrinkle. except really it sounds more like, winkle. winkle. winkle. winkle. 

well, okay.  yes, mommy has a wrinkle...or two.   believe it or not, i've also noticed.   i am not  completely despondent over this realization.  in fact, i am attempting to look on the bright side.  these two wrinkles are merely a couple of laugh lines.   they are not battle wounds, they are not worry lines, they are not traces of anxiety or evidence of a hard, harsh life.  but nonetheless, i am not entirely pleased when i apply my make up each morning.  i am not always thrilled at the end of the day when i scrub my face clean and scrutinize it in my mirror. i am completely aware these lines grow deeper by the day and i also know they will soon be joined by other similar friends already beginning to set up camp.
i am not all that fond of wrinkles on my body or,  for that matter, wrinkles anywhere.    i don't much like them.  i don't like them in my clothes, my pie crusts or in my plans.  i definitely don't like them on my face.  but wrinkles just happen to be something we get.   they happen to come with the territory of living.  there is no such thing as a wrinkle free life.  trust me, i've tried...i've looked...i've imagined.  i can get up on any given morning with the best intentions and the most fabulous plan for my day.  but chances are, it will end up looking a little differently than my original blueprint and dreamt up ideal.  why is this so hard for me to accept.  at 42 years of age,  i have lived long enough to see not only wrinkles near my mouth, but to see them daily in my doings.   as much as i know this is how life works, i still seem to be thrown off.  i still cock my head and wonder what in the world just happened.  i wouldn't argue terribly with you if you accused me of having a few control issues.  i am sure i have a bit of that in me. i don't have to control all things...but i definitely have my list of what i want to be in charge of.  my mom, who never curses, does swear she knew this about me by 18 months of age when she  was already having knock-down-drag-out battles with me over my clothes.  18 months.  yes.  believe it. i can remember one war over a pair of red corduroy pants at about age 10.  it is amazing we both survived.   i just wanted my way.  that was it.  that was all.  was it so much to ask at age 10?  we want that often, don't we.  we just want our way - (insert emphatic stamp of foot)!  my problem, or so i've been told, is that i usually think my way is the best way.  and that is part of the reason why i have such a hard time with wrinkles.  they are usually not part of my grand and (i'd like to think) most eloquent plan.

motherhood has taught me a lot about wrinkles.  it has also, i might write, added a few.  i didn't get that right from the start.  it took me a while.   when i was pregnant with our oldest, emily, i would sit in her nursery and rock in anticipation.  anticipation of the Perfect Life we would have as parents.   i dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.  i dreamed about soft skin and warm baths and tiny fingers.  i dreamed about tea parties and ballet slippers and bike rides.  i imagined her happily cooing and merrily murmuring underneath the beatrix potter mobile  hanging above her pillow.  i pictured her sleeping soundly in the white, wooden crib awaiting her tiny self.  and you know what happened:  all of that.  all of that has taken place at some point or another with emily or one of the other four children.  there have been many wonderful mother~child moments.  we have shared pages of life right out of a storybook.  BUT we've also had our wrinkles.  i had never thought to dream of those though.  i didn't really imagine them or plan for them or even expect them.  but they came, and boy, do they continue to come!  we've spilled tea at the parties, lost many ballet slippers, and had a few bike rides end with skinned knees and bruised egos.  emily didn't always sleep soundly.  when i was trying to encourage her to sleep through the night, i can remember sitting in the hallway outside of her nursery while she cried and cried and cried.   i sat in that hallway and cried and cried and cried too.  somehow, i had never pictured a night spent like that.   i remember putting emily under that sweet beatrix potter mobile only to have her whimper in fear of the spinning, pastel colored animals.   sometimes things just don't go as planned.  it was 15 years ago this month that i sat waiting in that rocker for the birth of our first child.   she has been with us all these years and we've added a few others along the way.  with each one i have learned, over and over again, to expect wrinkles.  don't get me wrong.  i still sit and dream for my children.  i have grand dreams about their futures and big desires for their lives...but i am learning to embrace the wrinkles along the way.  none of us escape.  we are all prey to the pesky, unwanted, and often untimely occurrence of bumps in the road.  truly, i am beginning to understand we are better for them.  they teach us something we'd never get from wrinkle-free living.  we learn how to persevere.  we learn patience.   we learn about the need to give and accept grace.  wrinkles have taught me how to be resourceful and flexible and, sometimes, just how to be thankful.

sometimes it is easy to believe when you begin to follow Christ all of a sudden life becomes rosy and perfect and wrinkle-free.  not so.  when Christ promised New and Abundant Life He wasn't promising things to be easier...or smoother...or kinder.  but He did promise them to be better.  better in His terms, not ours. key point.  those wrinkles which come along, well, He even uses those to shape us and grow us and refine us.  honestly, think about it:  what would we be like if everything just always went our way.  what would be like if all we touched turned gold and all we sought we found? it sounds kind of lovely, i know.  but let's face it,  we'd be spoiled. we'd feel entitled.  we'd probably be obnoxious.   no, sometimes following Christ means hard stuff.  it means alienation.  it means rejection. it can even mean persecution.  think back to the about some major wrinkles. geezsh!  and yet they were set before us to show God's amazing grace and constant faithfulness even in a Plan B world.  many of them wouldn't have chosen the path they walked, except they were certain God was on it.  He was ahead of them.  behind them.  alongside them.   He even carried them.   the path wasn't smooth or easy for isn't always smooth and easy for us...but if the God of the universe walks with you, it is, indeed, the right path.

i don't know.  i am pretty sure i would have been terrible at the martyr thing.  my daughter runs her fingertips across a wrinkle on my face and i have to immediately dash to the closest mirror and check its size.  has it grown deeper? more pronounced? more obvious?  should i buy a cream? a gel? call a specialist?   yikes - what's an aging woman to do!  but when the panic has ceased and the calm returns (as much as it can), i am able to look back into that truth-telling mirror and know my life might not be wrinkle-free, but because of Him, i am free.    my skin might not ever be perfect, but He loves me perfectly, wrinkles and all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

i'll be home for christmas

"i'll be home for christmas, you can count on me. 
 please have snow and mistletoe and pesents on the tree." 

i don't remember my exact age, but i remember being quite young when i first understood what this song was really saying.  i don't remember exactly where i was when i figured it out, but i can recall the sense of wistfulness and the touch of sadness it brought - even in my happy youth.  the thought that this singer would be home, but only in his dreams, seemed just not good enough.  it wasn't right.  it wasn't how it was supposed to be - at least not at christmas.  last year was sort of like that for our family.  even though bella knew nothing about us...nothing about snow and mistletoe ...nothing about home.  we knew enough about her and already loved her enough to have dreams of her home for christmas. but that was last year.

every christmas eve, since the children were babies, i have had the pleasure of surprising them with new pajamas.  even now, after all these years, they still act somewhat surprised.  it is the role they play. i aid this a bit when i pretend there just may not have been enough time to accomplish the pajama purchase errand.  it is a joke with the older kids, but connor, age 7, takes it all very seriously and, this year, asked me no less than 17 times if i had remembered the pjs.   he is like that.  funny how much tiny traditions mean to our children.  christmas eve pajamas is definitely one of them.
 in addition to the pjs, they also get a special ornament the night before christmas.  the ornament is usually a token connected to something specific in their past year.  my attempt is to capture a little piece of them - something tangible. a little memory of who they are or what they've done and hang it on the christmas tree year after year.  i suppose our tree is becoming a sort of 3D photo album...a type of family gallery.   with five children it is certainly becoming quite full with these special momentos.  i'll move out furniture and buy more trees before i'll give up this tradition, however.

okay, back to the pajama party.  one of my favorite parts about this evening is placing the pjs in the kids'  hands and then watching them race up the stairs or head for the nearest bathroom to shed church clothes for their comfy pjs.   there is energy.  excitement.  enthusiasm.   on most regular nights my children are not quite so eager to don pajamas.  sometimes they are downright resistant, knowing bedtime is soon to follow.  but not on christmas eve.  this year, even my two teenagers were quick to skip up the stairs whooping and hollering as they went.  it was a delightful sight for any mother.  i love nothing more than the parade of their re-entrance, modeling their new night clothes as they come. now just imagine bella in the mix. bella who had never experienced even the tiniest bit of christmas. ever.  there she was, this year, sitting with her two brothers and two sisters impatiently reaching toward me for her own new jammies, joyfully yelling, "mine!"  she had little idea about what was going on.  but she knew Something Certainly Was.  she was right there with them dancing around in tiny circles, hopping up and down with two year old glee.   you'd have thought i presented her with a pony as she carefully opened up the little package of pjs. utter and complete delight at nothing more than tops and bottoms with santa claus print.

it was well after 11 pm before we could usher this christmas bound crew into their beds.  another christmas eve tradition, started years ago by our oldest,  is the children all sleeping together in the same room.  and so away they went....all five of them.  covers and pillows and nightlights and favorite stuffed sleeping friends...all of them piled into one room.  it wasn't the fastest "put down" we've had...but i have to tell you it was probably the best.  all of them dreaming of christmas morning. all of them together. all of them home.  i am sure they had all kinds of colorful christmas visions dancing through their heads.  but the dancing vision for me was right there in that crowded little room.  yes, i was excited about christmas morning.  who isn't?  yes, i couldn't wait to see their expressions and hear their exclamations.  but i didn't need the morning to have a perfect sense of contentment.  i didn't need santa or 8 tiny reindeer to land on my roof this night.  i didn't need tinsel or lights or brightly wrapped packages under a tree.  for me, my present came when i walked back into that warm room, laden with five sleeping children.  there wasn't hardly a place for me to step.  but i stood there and took it all in.  i leaned against the doorway in a pool of dim hallway light and listened to the sighs and soft murmurs and dreams of my kids.  i stood there and felt the overwhelming joy of a true christmas miracle.  bella was home for christmas.  and it was so much better than any dream.