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Annelise Rose–

Happy birthday sweet girl!  You are THREE years old.  Mommy can’t believe it because three is so … grown up.  This has been the year of you shedding the final remains of your babyhood and blooming into a full blown toddler.  You’ve lost the little baby fat you still had.  In fact, you have, like, abs.  It’s crazy.  Your hair has finally grown.  This time last year, people at the store were still mistaking you for a boy.  Not anymore.  You have, as you would say, long hair to the ground (like Rapunzel, duh).

Year three has been the year of language.  You just have had a speech explosion this year.  You speak to me in full sentences, and you pick up words from everywhere and continue to learn new words every day.  Just last night, you were hiding in your closet and told me that you were hiding because “The dragon is going to get me”.  Where do you come up with this stuff?  We’ve never talked about dragons before.  You must have seen it somewhere.  You just blow me away.

You have a lot of cute little speech idiosyncrasies (some which you’re already correcting…sob!).  My FAVORITE thing that you do is say “my” instead of “I”.  So you’re always yelling, “Mommy, my coming!” or “My have snack?”  You also say Papaw instead of Grandpa, and it’s so adorable.  

You basically make my heart explode every single day.  I just love watching who you are becoming and I love talking to you to find out what you’re thinking and how your little mind works.  You are the sweetest little girl I know (so much so that the name I call you the most is Sweets).  You are vibrant and just love life.  You still never stop moving, but you’re much more controlled now.  And you actually listen to Mommy most of the time, which is just such a blessing.

You have embraced your role as “big sister” and love your sister so much.  You girls have so much fun together…running around, laughing, playing with the dollhouse together, singing, reading books, playing with Play Doh, spinning in the living room, going down the slide in your room.  You include your sister in all your games, and you love to “help her”.  Sometimes I have to remind you that “Mommy is the mommy. You don’t get to be the mommy” because you just want so badly to take care of “Sister”.  (Also, the way you say Maribelle slays me every single time…ahhh!)  You are so generous with your sister.  You give her your binkie when she’s sad.  You give her your snack.  You bring her books to read together.  I pray that you girls remain best friends.  Seeing you together is such a gift to Mommy.

You are brave and fearless, but you also like to have Mommy’s reassurance.  The other day, you wanted to jump off the top of your slide and looked at me to see if it was okay.  I told you that you could try it, but you might get hurt.  You tried and jumped off that thing with perfect long jump form and landed on your feet.  You were proud.  And I was too.

One sad thing this year is that you got scared on a ride at the Pumpkin Show, and you haven’t wanted to ride any rides since, even though you used to love them.  I hope that you get over this fear, but the hardest thing is just seeing you experience a fallen world and missing out on fun things in life because of a scarring experience.

One thing from this year that made me SO proud was that you potty trained.  In one day.  I had prepared myself for this to be the hardest and most arduous thing about parenting so far, but although it was hard work, you mastered it so quickly.  You had one accident on day one and from then on (pretty much) told me every time you had to go and then went on the potty.  It was pretty awe-inspiring to see you learn something so quickly.  I’m pretty sure you set me up for very unrealistic expectations for future children in this department.  Oldest children do that sometimes.

As far as your personality goes, you are fairly shy when you first meet new people, but as soon as you warm up to them, you become such a ham. A very loud ham who sings. A lot. Loudly.  Did I mention that you can be loud?  You sing with a lot of … gusto.  I absolutely love it.

When you made me a mom three years ago, I knew that being a mom would demand a lot from me–my time, my freedom, my sleep.  I thought it would feel like a really big deal, and when I zoom out and look at my life from the outside, it would appear I’ve sacrificed a lot for you girls.  I rarely get an uninterrupted nights’ sleep.  I rarely get to eat when I want.  I stay home almost every night while you sleep.  I have little time to do ministry, which I loved.  I have stretch marks on my previously unscarred stomach.  I die a thousand little deaths every day to meet your needs instead of my own.

Bu honestly, when I think about being a mom, the thought that pops into my head, my natural gut instinct thought is “I never made a sacrifice.”  I know a missionary said this once (probably Jim Elliott…he gets credit for all the good missionary quotes), and I always thought it was crazy because he lived far away from his family and gave his life for the advancement of the Gospel and sacrificed so much.  But I think I understand it now.  He never made a sacrifice because what he got in return was so much greater than what he gave.  He never made a sacrifice because he loved Jesus so deeply that giving to Him was a joy.  I understand that now.  I understand loving someone more than I love myself.  I understand that because of the way God has used you.

And because I love you more than I love my to do list when I hear you call to me with one of your three favorite phrases of the moment:

Mommy, come here!

Mommy, come play with me!

Mommy, come sit with me!

I’ll come, sweet girl.  I will always come.  

Love you.

Mommy

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I’ve spent a lot of Maribelle’s life feeling guilty that I don’t *know* her as well as I *know* Annelise.  You know, that innate mother’s way of knowing her children and what they need and like and what each of their little sounds and faces means.  I know that it’s impossible to compare your experiences with two children…like I probably don’t accurately remember how well I knew Annelise at certain stages of her life.  And I had only Annelise to deal with when she was a baby so of course I felt like I knew her more.

But today, I was laying Maribelle down for her nap and as I did, without thought I put an extra binkie in her hand.  And it struck me that I did this because I *know* Maribelle.  And I know that she likes to be holding something when she falls asleep.  That it helps settle her down.  I would never have done this with Annelise because she didn’t care about holding onto something while she slept.  And I probably won’t do it with future children unless they seem like they need it.  I do it because I know my Maribelle.

It feels good when you have those moments with your second-born.  I don’t want to take them for granted.

(And now she’s up from that nap…gotta go!)

This Is Love

Annelise is my soft-hearted little girl. Oh yes, she has her toddler moments.  But she is my tender heart.

No one is the recipient of her love and care like her little sister.

Yesterday, Annelise had her binkie and Maribelle fell down and started to cry.  She did not have her own binkie so Annelise immediately ran over to Maribelle and gave Maribelle her binkie.  Her binkie is the thing she loves most in the world.  And she knew her sister needed it more than she did so she gave it to her.  Freely.  Willingly.  Lovingly.  Without a second thought.

You guys, I want to be Annelise.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. -Luke 6:31

Maribelle Joy–

Happy birthday sweet girl!  The first year of your life has flown by and yet it is hard for me to remember a time when you weren’t part of our family.

I have a vivid memory from when I was a little girl of when my mom told me she was pregnant with my little sister.  I remember excitedly saying, “Yay, now we’ll be a family!”  Of course, my mom told me that we already were a family, but in my five year old brain, I thought a family meant a dad, a mom and TWO kids.  One child just didn’t constitute a family to me.  So, in a way, you came along and made us a family 🙂

I have loved learning about you and getting to know you the past year.  You are an incredible joy to me.  It’s funny because you’ve gone through so many stages…as a newborn, you were the easiest baby ever.  You ate well, slept well, and never cried.  Somewhere in the 3-4 month range, you stopped sleeping well.  I got so desperate that I had you sleeping swaddled in your carseat because it was the only way I could get you to sleep for more than an hour at a time.  That was, let’s just say, a hard phase.

Then, around six months old, you started crawling.  You learned to clap and play peek-a-boo and you loved to laugh, especially at your sister and her crazy antics.  Almost as soon as your started crawling, you started “cruising”.  You have amazing balance and control of your body.  When your sister learned to stand and cruise, she would inevitably end up falling straight back on her head.  You, on the other hand, would slowly bend at the waist and plop down on your bottom Every Single Time.

At 11 months, you finally decided to walk.  And there was no looking back after that.  You have the most adorable walk in the entire universe.  I wish I could capture it for all time (which I mean, I can on video, but it won’t be the same).  You sort of do this side shuffle, where you keep one foot in front most of the time and you take these teeny tiny adorable steps like a little old lady.  It just melts my heart every time I see you coming.

Right now, your favorite things are climbing on anything, being noticed by people at the grocery store, playing with your sister, eating, laying on soft things, waving, shaking your head at me until I do the same and you crack up laughing, blowing raspberries on my arm, going on runs with Daddy, saying “Da Da” (don’t get me started on this and how Momma should be your first word), and climbing in and out of your car.

Your least favorite things are getting your diaper changed, getting your clothes changed, riding in the car, not being picked up by Mommy when I’m cooking, teething, anyone you love leaving the room, and your sister dragging you around the house by your hand while you flop on the ground crying.

In my biassed opinion, you are very smart.  You are so good at climbing and figured out quickly how to get back down too.  You know to go feet first off the couch or off your stool or down the stairs.  You watch people and things very carefully and you like to imitate what you see.

You are pretty easy going, but, boy, do you have a temper if things don’t go your way.  You definitely have strong opinions about certain things.  Especially your food.  And getting put down when you’re being held.

You’re fairly serious most of the time.  When you do smile, it is like the highlight of my life.  Your smile is just so, so sweet.  And your laugh?  It floors me.  You have my favorite laugh in the whole world.  I almost cry every time you laugh because it melts my heart so much.

If your sister is a clone of Dad’s personality, you are a little Mommy.  It’s funny because already God has taught me about myself through watching your personality come out.  Especially in your desire to be independent and anger over Mommy trying to help you.  I think that will be a challenge in parenting you.  You will likely be a mirror of myself, which at times is wonderful, but at others can point out my faults and shortcomings.

My prayer for you this past year has been that you would know that you are seen.  And I think you do.  I remember the first time I took you to the store by yourself and you got to ride in the cart instead of in your carseat and EVERYONE commented on how beautiful you were and your blue eyes.  It warmed my heart because it was an answer to prayer.  And I think the older you get and the more your little personality develops, the more people see you and love you.

So to you Maribelle Joy– the completer of our family, the blonde haired beauty, the chunky monkey — Momma wishes you a very happy first birthday.  You are a blessing beyond measure.  I delight in you and love you to the moon and back.

Love you,

Momma

Bend lower, Liz.

*****

It all started over the summer.  I was getting Annelise and I ready for church because Royce left early to lead worship.  The phrase “getting Annelise and I ready” sounds so simple, but at this stage it’s definitely not.  She’s at that awkward age where she won’t be confined to a play device anymore, but she’s not old enough to be trusted on her own.  So I was hugely pregnant and had to wrestle every bathroom item away from her as I strategized in my head how to shower, get ready, get her ready and get out the door.

By the time we left (late of course), I was so frustrated.  Mad even.  I had this dialogue in my mind the whole way to church.  “There is no way I can do this.  I’m exhausted before I’ve even left the house.  Royce just can’t lead worship at church anymore.  Not during this season.  It’s just too hard.”  I got to church, dropped Annelise off at childcare and walked into the service partway through the songs my husband was leading.  I settled into my seat and looked around.  At all the people in our church being led in worship by my husband.

And God said to me, very gently and very kindly, “Liz, he can’t do this if you don’t do that.”  

And I started to cry.  One, because honestly I was kind of mad.  This wasn’t what I signed up for.  I wanted to be noticed and appreciated.  No one will ever come thank me for getting our kids ready for church (and putting make up on, no less) so that my husband can lead worship.  

I also cried because I knew that God was right.  My husband is an extremely gifted worship leader.  I would say he’s one of the best.  God could have knocked me down in my pride and frustration and sin.  But instead, He gently asked me to bend my knee in humility.  To serve my family so that His bride could be served by my husband.

He asked me to bend lower.

******

I read a blog (http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com) about a 22 year old missionary to Uganda named Katie.  She has adopted 13 little girls and is raising them on her own.  She is an incredible servant.  One day in June, she wrote a post about bending low and meeting Jesus.  That we become more like Him as we serve.  

She said, “I bend to sweep crumbs and I bend to wipe vomit and I bend to pick up little ones and wipe away tears. I bend over a big pot of stew and I bend to fold endless laundry and I bend over math books and spelling sentences and history quiz corrections. And at the end of these days I bend next to the bed and I ask only that I could bend more, bend lower.  Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant. He lived bent low. And bent down here is where I see His face.” 

God put words to the feelings I had been having.  

Motherhood is an inherently selfless venture.  You give up all control–when you eat, when you sleep, when you go the bathroom, what your agenda for each day contains.  You must stop stirring the soup because you must bend down to pick up the little one clamoring for your attention.  You must get on your knees every night to check for toys and other treasures under your couch.  You must fold endless piles of tiny clothes.  You must get out of your warm bed on a cold night to feed a baby who needs you.  Don’t get me wrong, there is great joy in the venture, but it is a daily dying to yourself for the sake of another.  

A daily bending lower.

*****

I read another blog (http://sammyadebiyi.com/blogs/sammy-adebiyi/wait).  My good friend Sammy talks about his dreams when he was younger of being the youngest, most anointed preacher in the world.  I think back to what some of my early dreams as a Christian were…

I wanted to be the next Beth Moore.  I wanted to speak to crowds of thousands of women and tell them about Jesus.  It sounds very noble, and I’m sure the fruit of a ministry like that would have been enormous.  But as I remembered this dream, I had this thought, “That would have been cool, but I think what I’m doing right now is making me a lot more like Jesus.  I might have been able to tell more people about Him, but I think this (daily serving) is making me more like Him.”

So I bend lower.

*****

I’ve wrestled for a long time with the passage in scripture where Jesus talks about feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty and visiting those who are sick and in prison.  I’ve battled because honestly, I just don’t see those people in my everyday life here in Cincinnati.  I was afraid God would one day look at me and tell me that I didn’t serve the “least of these”. 

I asked God over and over what to do.  I know we can (and do) give our money.  But I felt frustrated.  What was I to do?  Load my girls up in the van every day and drive to downtown Cincinnati and see if I can find some people who seem hungry and thirsty and give them some food?  That’s a grand idea, but I can barely make it to Target.  I don’t think a trip downtown would be very practical in my day to day life.

Then, one day, God told me to look closer to home.  And I saw it.  It’s not very glamorous, but I have two little people for whom I meet every need they have every day.  When they are hungry, I feed them.  When they are thirsty, I give them something to drink.  When they are sick, I look after them, even in the wee hours of the morning.  They are my “least of these” right now.  I get to serve Jesus when I serve them.  

The privilege of bending lower.

*****

I still forget a lot.  I look at the Lord and grumble and complain.  I beg Him for more sleep.  I resist the serving.  I try to maneuver my life in such a way that my needs get met.  I run from the responsibility of living out the Gospel in my home.  It’s too hard sometimes.  But still, when I look to the Lord and stop complaining for a moment and listen, He whispers to me, “Bend lower, Liz.  It’s worth it.”  He reminds me because He loves me.  He reminds me because He wants me to be more like Him.  He reminds me because those who are last will be first.  He reminds me because those who are great in His kingdom are those who serve…those who bend.  And I, well, I want to be great.

So I bend.

Two Years

My sweet Annelise–

Happy birthday little girl!  You are growing up so fast.  Momma can hardly believe it.  You’re like a real little person now, not at all like a baby anymore.  Two years ago today, you made me a mom, and I’m ever so grateful to have you in my life.

You’re doing so many fun things right now.  You’re talking to us ALL. THE. TIME.  You learn new words almost daily.  You say mommy, daddy, help, up, down, off, bite, sister, yeah, no, please, amen, poop, meow, dog, baaaa.  I could go on.  I’m so proud of all the words you’re saying now.  And a bit relieved.  Just a couple months ago, I called a friend who is a speech therapist to ask her about you.  I was starting to get worried that you weren’t talking enough.  You would only say two words at a time.  You would say them all the time for a couple of weeks and then you’d retire them and work on a couple new words.  Now, you’re finally bringing some of those words out of retirement, and Mommy is breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s really fun for me to be able to talk to you and understand you and see you see the world.  I love driving in the car with you.  You’ll be sitting quietly or singing and then you’ll shout out something you see.  “Dog!” “Slide!”  I’m looking forward to sharing more and more of these little moments with you.  Moments where we really understand one another and can interact with the world together.

You are also such a big helper to Mommy right now.  You throw things in the trash for me.  You bring me the wipes when it’s time to change your sister.  You carry your own bag when we go places and walk very nicely with me, holding hands in the parking lot.  You help put toys away.  You bring your sister her binky or a toy when she starts to get fussy.

You are a very loving big sister.  Sometimes your love for your sister can be a little over zealous or misguided, but you definitely want to love her and help take care of her.  You sit by her and put your arm around her to read at night.  You run to tell me “Sister cry” when she is sad.  You insist on helping sister roll over when maybe she doesn’t need help with that…

You are an equally good momma to your babies.  You carry them around, snuggle them, walk them in their stroller, lay them down, cover them up.  You tell me when they cry and bring me diapers when they poop.  You have also seemed to name all of them “Sister”.  I feel so proud of the way you care for them.  I pray for you often that you will grow up to be an includer and love others well – with the same kind of love you show your babies now.

As good as you are most of the time, you definitely have your toddler moments.  The other day you laid on the kitchen floor sobbing and kicking the floor because I wouldn’t let you play with the dishwasher.  I’ll be honest, I really don’t know how to best handle these displays of emotion.  So I videotaped you and sent it to your dad.  I’m sure you’ll be happy to watch that back some day 🙂

Every day that hour before dinner is a rough time of day.  You’re hungry and needy and I have to be in the kitchen cooking.  Usually Daddy can distract you so I can cook.  I’ve thought several times about putting up a baby gate so you can’t get in the kitchen during this time.  But, I don’t know…I guess when you think back to when you were a kid, I don’t want your memories of me in the kitchen to be of me trying to keep you out.  I’m trying to think of ways you can help me more because you love to be my little helper.

Your personality is evolving more and more.  You are active and hands on.  You love to climb things…especially Daddy.  The two of you wrestle and tickle and play on the ground every day, and you just laugh and laugh.  You are very wary of strangers and give them the stare down, but around people you know well, you are a ham – the center of attention.  You love to look at books and point out all the things you know.  If you do something that makes me laugh, you will do it again and again and again.  Even if it’s borderline dangerous.  You sing in your bed.  You play hard and sleep hard.  You are an early to bed, early to rise kind of girl.  You have no fear.  I love your bigger than life personality.

I want you to know on your second birthday, my dear Annelise, that I love you more than I ever could have imagined.  Being your mom has been the greatest joy, the most humbling privilege of my life.  Even on the longest of days, I wouldn’t trade a second of it for life before you.  You have added life to my life.  You have multiplied my love.  You have deepened my understanding of the Father’s love.

I love you forever.

Momma

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Maribelle Joy–

I’m sitting on our couch tonight, snuggling with you in my lap, and I think it’s time for your first letter. You must be laying with me as I write tonight because as content as you are to spend a lot of your day in your bouncy seat while I run around taking care of your big sister, evenings are our time together.  We lay on the couch together and keep each other warm.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the day…the few hours I get to have with just you–getting to know you, paying attention to you and trying to figure you out.

Thus far in your little life, you have lived up to your name.  You are a beauty and a total source of joy.  You are hands down the easiest baby I’ve ever known.  You are just happy – All. The. Time.  You rarely cry, and if you do, it’s more like this cute little squak.  You’ve gotten really worked up a couple of times, but generally if you are fed and warm, you are totally content.  Also, you have the sweetest little smile and you’ve started making little noises.  Needless to say, they melt my heart.

I have to say that we were pretty surprised to get such a fair, almost blonde baby.  With blue eyes that don’t appear to be changing anytime soon.  I prayed long before we ever had kids that God would give us one baby with light eyes.  It now appears that we’re 2 for 2 on blue eyes, which just makes me laugh in light of how dominant your father’s features are.  And as much as Annelise looks like him in almost every way, I think you’re going to be a mini-Mommy.  You look just like my baby pictures, and it delights me to have a daughter who might take after me.

Significant memories from your first couple months…

…You rolled over yesterday!  From your belly to your back.  At about two and a half months.  Maybe you’re motivated to get moving quickly from fear of your older sister and what she might do to you.  Whatever the motive, your daddy and I were very proud of you.

…You were a good eater and a good sleeper from day one.  Daddy once called you a “workhorse” when eating.  He was right.  When you are eating, nothing distracts you.  Not even your sister poking your eye or sitting on you.

…Speaking of your sister, she loves you.  A lot.  A little over zealously at times.  She goes from getting as close as she can to you and saying, “Hi Baby!” to tickling your belly.  From tickling your belly to tickling your head.  From tickling your head to hitting your head.  She was also the cause of the early loss of your umbilical cord stump.  You tolerate her very well though.  I pray for the two of you, that you will love each other and grow up being the best of friends.

…The first couple months of your life, you had what I’ll call a “goopy eye”.  It was a blocked tear duct, and no matter what I did, it didn’t get better.  In fact, it just kept getting worse.  Your eye would be sealed shut sometimes because of all the goop.  Finally, one night, your daddy and I prayed for it.  And I do not say this lightly, but little girl, God healed your eye.  The next day, your eye was fine and has been fine ever since.  You were healed.  Because He loves you so much that He cared that your eye was goopy and sore, and He made it better when we couldn’t.

Becoming a mom of two hasn’t been a totally easy transition for me.  I feel guilty.  A lot.  Either I’m paying too much attention to you and not enough to your sister.  Or vice versa.  Or I’m paying attention to both of you and not getting anything done around the house.  It can be frustrating, but I’m learning and growing through it.

Having you has actually taught me more about unconditional love and maybe a little bit more about the way God loves me (which is really hard for Mommy to understand most of the time).  You see, on the longest days when I feel I’ve neglected you the most, whenever I slow down and look at you and say hi to you, you smile at me with the biggest grin.  And you talk to me.  You still love me, even when I haven’t been the mommy I want to be.  And to think that God loves me and that God loves you a little like that, even on our worst days… I am so thankful for that.

So, little one, thanks for being a source of joy for us.  We delight in you.  I can barely remember what life was like before you were in it.  It wasn’t as good as it is now, that’s for sure.  You’re my little girl.  My Maribelle Joy.  Daddy’s MJ.  Our workhorse.  We love you.

Momma

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