The Giving Tree

Every six weeks our school has a writing contest. We read a book about the assigned theme and then whoever wants to participate writes a story. This time our theme was love/sacrifice and we read The Giving Tree. Oh my word. That book hits you right in the feels. It’s pretty heavy for first graders and I usually get questioned about my watery eyes when I read it.

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Student #1: Mrs. G, are you crying?
Student #2: No, she’s not crying. I think she just has allergies.
Student #3: She is too crying. She always cries in books like this.
Student #4: Yeah, remember when she read us Love You Forever? She really cried a lot in that one.

And so it goes.

But really. That poor tree. Sacrificing everything just to make her boy happy. Giving of her branches, her apples, and herself, until she’s just a tiny stump.

So, as I went to write my story for the contest, I contemplated the ideas of love and sacrifice. Love is easy. I could write about Chris or loving my girls or the love of my parents. Chris makes sacrifices for me. I know my parents have sacrificed for me their whole lives, just like I try to do for Claire and Lucy. But true living sacrifice? Someone who gives themselves completely for the joy of someone else? Someone who embodies the selfless love of Jesus?

And then I thought of her. Lucy’s first momma. Of course. Her path crosses our family’s story at the intersection of Love and Sacrifice. That one decision she made – to give life – and to share life with us, have changed all of us forever.

And so I wrote. I wrote about our giving tree.

As she enters the room, that precious bundle in her arms, I see it in her eyes. Above the tear-stained cheeks, intermingled with the grief, it’s there. This is the day that will change all of our lives forever, and I can see it so clearly. I can see the love.

At home, we unpack the carton she sent with us, touching each item gently as we pull them out. The soft fur of a pink teddy bear, a snow globe with delicate yellow roses painted at the base, a plaque with the words, “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” scrolling across it. Tears fill my eyes as I place them on the new one’s shelf. So tiny and fresh, she doesn’t know yet how much these things mean. She doesn’t fully understand this love.

When the pictures arrive in the mail I see the courage on her face. And always I see the love in her eyes. When the e-mails arrive exclaiming over the pictures I’ve sent and the new one’s beauty, I hear the love in every word. I feel the pride she’s beaming, even when far away.

I don’t see the tears she cries. But I get to brush tiny tears off baby cheeks and hold a little one close. I don’t know the painful thoughts that must fill her mind some nights as she lies down to sleep. But I get to watch deep breaths enter and exit a little chest as my girl sleeps peacefully. I will never know the full weight of her sacrifice, but I am thankful every second of every day.

Love is not always easy. Love is sacrifice and giving beyond the place that it hurts. Love is painful and difficult and heart wrenching. And love is beautiful.

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To my daughters…

To my daughters…

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I had fallen asleep at school that day. When I told Daddy, he was convinced that our dream was coming true.  I agreed to take a test, and 3 minutes later, we saw those 2 little lines appear. Those lines that meant you were on the way.  Those lines that meant finally, after all the waiting and wondering, we would be parents. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Even though it was 11 at night, we called Mamaw and Papa and Gammy and Granpa right away.  We even jumped in the car and drove to tell our friends. They were excited too after they woke up and got out of bed.  You, our baby, were all Daddy and I could think about.

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DSC_0174We had wanted another baby for so long. My heart was longing to hold a precious little one close, to feel a baby’s soft cheeks brush mine, to cradle a tiny one in my arms.  Daddy and I had talked. We had prayed. We knew God would bring a baby at his time and in his way.  And He put adoption in our hearts.  The day we decided we would adopt, you became real to me.  I knew we would get our baby, and I am so thankful that baby is you. I began to dream of you. I imagined what you would look like and when you would come.  Joy had filled my heart.

 

DSC_0003We went to the doctor for my sonogram and my heart felt like it would burst.  Sitting in the waiting room, I felt like time had stopped.  All I could do was watch the hand ticking slowly around the face of the clock. I couldn’t wait for the official word that you, my child, were real.  When I saw that little morsel on the black and white screen, tears filled my eyes. You were real, and you were coming!

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DSC_0174We went to Gladney to begin our journey which would lead us to you.  I was so nervous. I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to look perfect, to act perfect, for everything to be perfect.  It had to be – because this was the first step toward our baby. We learned so much at orientation – what the process would look like, what we needed to complete. And we learned that we would have to wait.  I had no idea then how hard the waiting would be.

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DSC_0003When we heard your heartbeat for the first time I couldn’t believe how beautiful it sounded.  A tiny little heart beating inside a tiny little body.  Beating so fast – pumping blood to all your tiny parts. The doctor said your heart sounded perfect – of course I already knew you were.  My days were spent dreaming of you, wondering if you would be Claire or Connor,  planning every little detail of your nursery. I didn’t have a clue how much you would change our lives – how you would fill it up with joy and laughter, and how much I would learn from being your mommy.

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DSC_0174As soon as we got home from Gladney, we started the paperwork.  The huge binder full of papers.  As we answered questions about our jobs, our family, our marriage, our health, our house, all I could think about was you.  Each doctor visit, each fingerprinting session, each interview, was just a stepping stone to our destination.  Spending late evening hours at the kitchen table, with papers spread out in front of us, was a joy – because it meant you were on the way.

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DSC_0003I couldn’t wait for my stomach to grow. I started wearing maternity clothes out of desire, not need.  With each week that passed, I could see little changes, and they thrilled my heart. As time passed and I felt you move, my love for you grew even more.  I loved the connection that we already had, you living in me. I loved my big stomach, and the promise that it held.

 

DSC_0174I didn’t think our house would ever be clean enough for our home study visit.  I wanted the caseworker to see how much we wanted you.  To see how our hearts already loved you and were planning for you. As we made our profile books, we imagined your birthmom.  We wondered what she would be like, what her story would be.  We wondered what she would think of us as she looked through our book and read our story.  Would she think we were good enough?  We didn’t know then what a beautiful, amazing, strong woman she would be and how much we would connect with her, right from the start.

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DSC_0003In the final month with me as your home, I got huge. I was achy and swollen and just so ready to see your face.  Every morning in the shower I would pray that today would be the day. Every evening Daddy and I would sit on the couch, poking my swollen calves, and trying to set records for how long it would take for the poking marks to raise back up. I was tired of waiting. I wanted to hold you in my arms and stroke your cheek and kiss your head.  I wanted you.

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DSC_0174The 10 months we waited for you felt like an eternity. Every single day I thought this could be the day.  Every single day for 10 months, it wasn’t.  Every single day we prayed for you.  Every single day we dreamed of you. Every single day we checked our phones over and over, hoping for a call.  There were a few days when the phone did ring, but the calls weren’t about you. It wasn’t time yet. Toward the end I got really anxious. I cried.  I prayed harder.  I wished for you and my heart ached, missing you.  And then, the call came.  Our baby girl had been born, and she was waiting for us.  Finally, it was time.

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DSC_0003I woke up at 3:45 with heavy contractions that Tuesday morning.  I was sure it was a false alarm and decided to take my time on a shower, doing my hair, and putting on my makeup.  At 5 o’clock we decided it was time to go to the hospital.  After waiting awhile, I got admitted and the journey of labor began. Through the process, through the pain, I knew you were waiting.  You were the reward.  At 1:21 that afternoon, as I held you in my arms for the first time, with tears filling my eyes and joy filling my heart, the journey of the last 9 months came to a close. And a brand new journey began.

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DSC_0174We walked down the hall at Gladney, where we had walked two times before.  This time, though, it was different.  You were waiting at the end of that hallway.  Not just the dream of you, or the hope of you.  You – flesh and bones – were waiting for us.  In just a few minutes, I knew you would be in my arms.  And then, you were.  You were in my arms, with my lips brushing your hair.  You were in my arms, with tears streaming down my face. You were in my arms, and you were perfect.  You were meant to be. You were wanted. You were chosen. You were ours. The long, hard, journey to bring you home had come to a close.  And a brand new journey began.

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Being a Teacher

I’ve been seeing lots of blog posts and articles written by frustrated teachers in my news feed.  These teachers are writing about frustrations with administrators and the decisions they’re making.  They are frustrated with lawmakers and the constantly changing and growing legislation trickling down to those of us actually inhabiting these classrooms.  They are frustrated with THE TEST and how much it’s changing our profession and our students’ lives.

And I get it.  I understand where they are coming from.  In my nine years as a teacher I’ve seen some decisions made that I didn’t think were best for kids and they made me angry.  I’ve heard stories of educational leaders that sound like tyrants.  I’ve seen THE TEST grow and grow and grow.  I can only imagine how veteran teachers must feel seeing things change so much since they began 20, 30, 40 years ago.  It’s definitely a flawed system.

But as I’ve read these articles I keep coming back to this:  We’re in it for the kids.  We’re not in it for success or fame and we’re definitely not in it for the money.  And while we may not like what’s put upon us from above, the kids coming into our classrooms each day still need the same things.  They need love.  They need acceptance.  They need someone who will put in the time with them.  Someone who will help them learn to think and love to learn.  Isn’t that what being a teacher is all about?

Being a teacher is about teaching, but it’s about so much more than that.

It’s about pushing them to do more than they ever believed they could.

It’s about being that one constant thing when Grandma gets cancer or Mom and Dad split up or big sister dies.  Being constant when their world is crumbling.

Being a teacher may mean being the only smile and hug they get that day.

It’s being the one to introduce them to Jan Brett and Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss and teaching them to love books and reading.

It means being the one to say, “I’m proud of you” and seeing their face light up in a smile.

Being a teacher means watching them perform the dance they “choreographed” last night without laughing and clapping when they finish.

It’s being the one to give them a breakfast bar when they come to school crying because their tummy is rumbling so loudly.

Being a teacher is being the person who notices their fancy haircut or new tennis shoes or missing tooth.

It’s being the one to pull them aside when they just don’t seem okay and letting them talk.

It’s being the one who introduces them to The Golden Rule and using eye contact and respectful body language.

Sometimes being a teacher means being mom and dad, counselor, and motivational speaker.

It’s being the one who wipes their tears when they skin their knee or their dog dies or their cousins move away.

It means being the one who tells them they’re strong and tough and brave when they doubt themselves.

Being a teacher means being the one who watches their amazement when they look back at their writing from nine months ago and can finally see that all their hard work paid off.

It’s being the adult who teaches them to say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”.

It’s being the one to proudly wear their Rainbow Loom bracelet and tape their painting up on the wall.

It’s being the person who will not accept less than their best and will hold them accountable to be who you know they can be.

Being a teacher is all about teaching.  It’s about teaching them how to add and subtract.  It’s about teaching them how to read and write.  It’s about teaching them how to think.  But it’s also about teaching them what love looks like, every single day.

And no matter what laws are passed and how big and scary THE TEST gets, love will always be the same.

Pearl

Last night I lingered in the rocking chair with Lucy held tightly in my arms.  As I gazed at her face I was breath taken with her perfect, tiny features.  The gentle curve of her ears, her dainty pursed lips, her smooth round nose, and her delicate eyelashes.  As my lips brushed against the soft baby skin of her cheeks, my heart was filled to the brim.  This child, this precious child, is mine.  A child that was unknown to me just three months ago is my daughter.  She is so precious, so valued.

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As I sat there, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells in Matthew.

‘“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”‘

Chris and I were like the merchant.  We were looking.  We were longing.  We were searching for something of great value.  We completed mounds of paperwork.  We wore out the road between here and Fort Worth.  We didn’t sell everything, but we did make huge financial sacrifices.  We endured lengthy interviews and people perusing our home.    Our world was turned upside down in this search, this journey, to bring our Lucy home.

Lucy is our pearl.

And God has a pearl too.  In fact, he has lots of them.  He didn’t complete mounds of paperwork.  But he did travel the path from heaven to earth.  He gave up everything, the very thing he held most dear, his son.  He endured ridicule, beating, and eventually death.  He turned this world upside down in his journey to bring his pearls home.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.’ Ephesians 1:3-6

Adoption is our father’s heart.  He longs for his children to be in his arms.  He journeys and searches for each person.  Each person is wanted, desired, valued.  You are wanted.  You are desired.  You are valued.  You’re worth everything to him.

You are his pearl.

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She’s here!

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The baby we’ve been waiting for all these months has arrived.  She’s beautiful and precious and perfect.  Lucy Grace has come to our family at last.

My last post, about a new kind of waiting, detailed the week before we met our Lucy Girl.  That was quite a week – busy, so many emotions, and not much sleep.  We went to Dallas on Friday and on Friday evening met our birth mom in person.  As soon as we walked in the door of the restaurant I spotted her.  I don’t think I stopped staring all night.  She is captivatingly beautiful, with such a sweet spirit.  She’s a delight.  Dinner went beautifully – so comfortable and natural.  We are beyond blessed to be matched with an amazing woman who truly loves our baby.

That night I really couldn’t sleep. Everything felt so official.  Next step : Meet our baby girl!  All night long I lay tossing and turning, sleeping for brief intervals, and thinking, imagining, dreaming of our girl.  What would she look like?  What would tomorrow be like?  What would her name be?  So many emotions, thoughts, and questions, and mostly, so much excitement.  Like Christmas Eve when you’re 7.  Times 900.

At some point in all the tossing and turning, what we needed to name our daughter became clear to me.  We had two name choices going into the weekend, and wanted to wait and see her face before we decided.  The choices were Ava Mae and Lucy Grace.  I had been leaning strongly toward Lucy, and during the night it was decided in my heart that Lucy would be her name (of course, I hoped Chris would agree with me!).  As I lay there thinking, the meaning of the names swirled round and round in my head.  Lucy means light.  A light in dark places.  Someone who shines brightly and boldly.  And then there’s Grace.  Grace which we did not deserve, in being blessed with a child when a child was impossible.  It was perfect.  In the morning I told Chris and he smiled – I knew he agreed – but he still said we had to wait to look at her to decide.

The drive to Gladney took 7 years.  Seriously, every time I am in DFW I am reminded of how much I love Amarillo “traffic”.  The drive really did take about an hour, and it felt like an eternity.  When we got there, we met with our transitional care mom, who had taken amazing care of our sweet girl and gave us all of her information and medical records, hand and foot prints, pictures of her first week, and a beautiful blanket she made.  Then we signed papers to make everything official (Eek!).  Finally it was time to meet our daughter.  Placement was a very emotional time for all of us – Chris and I, as well as our birth mom and her family.  In order to preserve our birth mom’s privacy and Lucy’s story as her own to tell, I am going to gloss over the details of this part.

We met our beautiful daughter and I cried and cried, saying, “She’s perfect”, over and over again.  Thinking back now, those are the exact words I spoke when I saw Claire for the first time.  I know for every adoptive mom it’s different – feeling close and bonded right away, or it being a process.  There is no right or wrong in this, just different ways of loving.  For me though, it was instant.  When I saw her, she was mine.  No questions, no doubts.  She was my girl.  Chris was smitten too, and of course Claire was so excited.

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During Placement we decided on our little girl’s name.  Lucy Grace – a light into the darkness and a picture of God’s grace to us.  Also, in my research of the name Lucy, I learned that the first African American woman to win a major sports title was named Lucy Slowe.  Since we are a sports family and our birth mom is an athlete, this made the name seem even more perfect.

Being at Gladney and leaving with OUR DAUGHTER seemed surreal.  It was almost exactly a year ago that we first went to Gladney for our orientation.  Walking through the building last October our hearts were lit with excitement thinking of the baby that would someday be ours.  And now she really was.

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We took Lucy back to Chris’ sister’s apartment and loved her up.  The whole drive home I just stared at her sweet face.  Some friends of ours who live in DFW came by to meet our girl and it was so nice sharing our excitement with Chris’ sister, Chelsea, and our friends.

We drove back to Amarillo that night, and can I just say that doing things with two children does not take twice as long.  It takes six times as long.  We stopped to pick up food at Burger King on the road and it took 45 minutes.  45 minutes, people.  We finally made it home and came in the house to a beautiful welcome from our dear friends.  I’m pretty sure we have the best friends on the planet.

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The next day was spent admiring Lucy and showing her off.  Claire is absolutely in awe of her little sister.  I was so worried about how she would respond and she has blown us out of the water with her caring, nurturing spirit and willingness to help.  I am so thankful for her and her tender heart.

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And sweet Lucy.  She is a joy and she is already a light.  She is an answer to so many prayers.  Not just ours, but a whole army who prayed for us along this journey.  And now she is home.

Waiting – Part 2

Waiting is hard to do.

Waiting on a reply to an important e-mail.  Waiting in line to use the restroom.  Waiting for Christmas morning (even though I’m 30).

Know what’s really hard to do?  Wait for a baby.  I’d venture to say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

To say that we had become impatient in waiting for our baby would be accurate.  To say that we had entered the begging/bargaining stage in our prayers wouldn’t be a stretch.

Last Monday evening at bedtime, Claire was close to tears saying she missed our baby and wondering when the little one would be coming along.  Chris suggested that we pray about it, and he asked God to give us dreams about our baby and speak to us as we slept.

The next morning – Tuesday – Claire reminded us of our bedtime conversation.  “Well, do you guys want to hear my dream?”  We were a little surprised that she remembered, and of course, curious.  “I had a dream that our baby is now.”  Chris and I exchanged a glance, silently asking, What does that mean?  We asked for more information and heard matter of factly, “Oh, and our baby is a girl.”  I felt a thrill run through me and a fresh burst of excitement fill my heart.  But Tuesday passed without a word.

Wednesday and Thursday came and went.  Thursday evening I posted something on facebook saying how very anxious we were feeling to get our baby.

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Then on Saturday my phone rang.  I was doing my hair (after finally changing out of my pjs and showering at 4 pm), so I let it go to voicemail.  It was Melissa.  After all these months of waiting, all these moments awaiting this phone call, all the days checking my phone 10, 20, 30 times a day, THE CALL went to voicemail.  I quickly called back and Melissa filled us in.  A birth mom had chosen us and her baby had been born on TUESDAY .  Yes, on Tuesday.  The morning of the “Our Baby is Now” dream.

This was going to – most likely – be our baby.  A baby girl, weighing 5 lbs 15 oz, and 19 inches long.  Healthy and staying in transitional care – with a volunteer family – working for our agency.  But, it wasn’t a done deal yet.  The birth mom, “D”, wanted to talk with us on the phone Sunday evening.

So many questions, thoughts, and emotions were swirling through me.  What does she look like?  When can we see her?  What if…D doesn’t like us?  Something goes wrong?  What if, what if, what if?  And also, Wahoo!!!  Our baby girl is here at last!

Sunday night finally rolled around.  To say we were a huge ball of nerves would be entirely true.  I pressed three wrong buttons before being able to properly answer the phone.  Within the first minute of our conversation, we – Chris, me, D, and her mom – all confessed how nervous we were and shared a good, jittery laugh.  From there, our conversation went beautifully.  All I can say is that D is a delight.  We share so many things in common – from playing basketball, to being homebodies, to our dogs being similar.  After fearing this phone call for so long, we were unbelievably relieved with how it went.  We talked for 45 minutes and soon afterward heard from Melissa that D loved us as much as we loved her.  On Monday D met with her caseworker and at 11:44 we go the official word – this baby girl will be ours!

We will travel to Dallas to have dinner with D and her mom on Friday evening.  Then on Saturday we will meet OUR DAUGHTER for the first time  and get to bring her home.

One of my friends said to me, “Shannon, it’s like you guys have all the emotions of finding out you’re pregnant and having your baby jammed into the same week.”  That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

Life right now is a whirlwind – buying a car seat, bottles, and diapers.  Taking care of paperwork.  Celebrating with friends – and our friends have been over the top amazing – offering meals, making plans to care for Logan while we’re gone, setting up a fundraiser for us.  Calling the doctor.  Planning family visits.  And trying to remember how to take care of a baby.

To say that we are excited would be correct.  To say that we are happy would be perfectly true.  But to say that we are thankful – that just won’t do.  “Thankful” does not do justice to what we feel in our hearts.

I just don’t think there are words strong enough.

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Claire

The first night home from the hospital Claire stayed awake for eight hours.  Eight. Straight. Hours.  I didn’t know what we would do.  Up until then we had been running on adrenaline and pride, because, hey, we had just created the most beautiful creature to have ever graced the face of this planet.  And then – the night from hell.  At about 3:30 in the morning I called the nursery at the hospital to tell them that our baby was defective and could they offer some advice or maybe just keep her for the rest of the night.  They couldn’t.

And so it went.  You see, nobody tells you this before your baby is born, but there is no bedtime in the womb.  Yes, babies just party it up in there with no regards to what time it is or what they should be doing.  And then they are born and they think, Who are you, Mother, to tell me what to do?  I have been living my way in my cozy dark cavern and doing as I please.  I don’t intend to stop now.  And Chris and I thought, We are the parents.  We will win this battle.  And I printed up my schedule and carried my clipboard around and read Baby Wise 17 times, and yes, Claire learned to sleep.  At night and in her own bed.  Bless the Lord.

I remember at about 6 weeks into this adventure, looking around and saying to myself, This cannot go on any longer.  Life has to feel normal again.  And I moved the stacks of diapers from our dresser into a drawer.  And I found a cute little box for my nursing pads.  And I washed the sheets that had baby poop on them from a midnight diaper changing explosion.  And I felt like we would make it.

Life was changed forever, and life with Claire became normal.  And it was beautiful and hard and exhausting and rewarding and all I hoped it would be.

I love being a mom.  I love the milestones and the smiles and the memories.  Being a mom is the hardest job of all and the best.  The truth is, when you love someone with your whole heart, it’s a little bit scary and a little bit dangerous.  But it’s so worth it – to love that way – to hold nothing back and truly love.

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years that we’ve had our precious girl.  Sometimes I can’t believe how big she is.  You know how “old” people always say, “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it”?  Well now I am old, and I want to tell you that it is true.  It is so true.  Claire’s life is like a blur in my mind – it’s like thumbing through four years worth of photos and they all turn into a blurry picture of this little life.  Her life – her beautiful, divinely created life – made up of months, made up of weeks, made up of days, made up of moments.

Those individual moments – fragments of time.  Most of them so ordinary, so day-to-day – sleeping, brushing her teeth, running errands with her in the backseat.  And then there are those moments that seem to stop the earth’s spinning and silence the clock’s ticking.  Those moments that leave an imprint on your heart you know will be there for the rest of your life.

Those moments late at night in the rocking chair when she would gaze into my face with those big brown eyes, just watching me.

When she smiled for the first time – so perfectly – and I knew it wasn’t just gas.

The moment when she stopped eating her blueberries, looked right into my eyes, and said, “Mama”.  Her first word.

Afternoons when she would see me pull up in front of the babysitter’s house and stand at the door, smiling and waving, so happy for me to be there.

The moments snuggled up under the covers, reading together – laughing at Curious George’s silly escapades and wondering about Carl the dog’s amazing baby-sitting skills, and imagining taking a rest in The Napping House.

That special moment when she asked Jesus into her heart and to be her friend forever and ever.

When we sat in her room playing babies and I heard her speak so tenderly and sweetly to her dolls.

The moments when her face lit up with wonder and she got it –  she understood something  brand new for the first time.

When she asked me why I’m proud of her and I got to tell her.

Times spent at the park together – digging and sliding and swinging and laughing.

The moment when she prayed, “Jesus, thank you for letting those soldiers be mean to you and kill you.  And please help all the mean people in the whole wide earth to be nice.”

Watching her face beam with pride as she rode her big girl bike for the very first time.

That afternoon when she said, “I wish I could take Jesus out of my heart so I can give him a big hug.”

Times spent in the kitchen together – with her flipping pancakes, or mixing brownies, or stirring banana bread batter by my side.

When she said, “Mommy, I miss our baby.  It’s so hard to wait.”

That moment when she kissed my palm and told me to press it to my cheek when I missed her and even when I washed my hand with soap, and even when I couldn’t feel the kiss, the love would still be there.

These precious, beautiful moments, that make up this precious, beautiful life.  I am so thankful to share in these moments, and thrilled to imagine the moments that are to come.  Other sweet moments like these, and so many more – different and new.  I’ll blink again and she’ll be 8, and again, and my daughter is a teenager, and then, a woman.  And I’ll sit back and remember when she was just 4 and wonder where the time went.  But in my heart I’ll always hold onto the moments.

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