Friday, February 22, 2013

Our Valentine Girls

I thought it might dampen their spirits that everyone except Mom was sick on their sixth birthday.

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But it didn't. They rolled happily along with the day, helping me prepare dinner, stirring cake batter, setting the table, arranging gifts.

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Big sis was camped out on the couch most of the day with bronchitis, but she managed a quick smile for the camera. 

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Dad was flat in bed with a stomach bug (love that handsome, unshaven look).

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And little brothers were unusually mellow - recouping from the same bug. All of them, however, rallied for presents. 

The contrast of energy between the birthday girls and the catatonic crowd on the couch was comical.

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My parents (who were out of town) left Ali and Sami two big packages of play dough to open. The girls were most excited, however, about the cards Grandma made them. Each with a picture of them when they were babies. 

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Doug's parents gave them each an American Girl doll outfit. Too bad Jim and Renae were on the other side of the world and couldn't watch them open their small red boxes. There was such excitement as they rustled tissue.

A chambray dress for Caroline.

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Complete with tiny blue shoes. 

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A purple party dress for Emily. 

Thank you Jim and Renae. We miss you so much!

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And this was the moment I asked, "Who would like a bike to go with their helmet?" Of course, there was a unanimous yes. Something they can look forward to when spring comes... and REI has their big sale.

But the sweetest gifts of the day were the ones Ali and Sami gave each other. 

Ali looooooves Raccoons. Not sure how the endearment began. She certainly didn't get it from me. Cleaning up strewn trash after coons hit our garbage cans in Illiniois was enough to leave me wanting in affection for them. But I can see why she thinks they're so cute. She's been asking for a stuffed raccoon for over a year. And you can bet we've been looking. But cute coons are hard to come by. 

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One day Sami and I were at our favorite garden store. I was waiting to pay for our purchase while Sam surveyed the gift shop area. Suddenly she was by my side, jumping up and down, holding THE softest little coon I'd ever seen. 

"We have to get this for Ali! We have to! We have to!" 

And she was absolutely right. We had to. 

She was so excited about it, she spent her own money on most of it and Eliza chipped in to cover the rest. To their credit, they kept it a secret for over a month!

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Ali and I found the perfect kitty for Sam. Same brand as Ali's raccoon. Have you ever held a jellycat? They are the softest, most sumptuous stuffed animals. The ultimate for snuggling. Made by a London company, but you can find them on Amazon.  

Eliza was in cahoots on this one too. She and Ali spent their own money to buy Sami's kitten, and bless their hearts, they kept their lips buttoned.

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I thought they would BURST as they watched each other open their thoughtful, hard-earned presents. Giving really is more fun than receiving. They named them Milky and Bluberry. Bet you can guess who's who.

I love these two. Can't believe they used to jabber across the room to each other like this.

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I have seen Ali mature so much this year.

She is quiet, but quick, clever, astute, and helpful. She responds as soon as I ask for her assistance with something. She sees needs without me pointing them out. She dotes endlessly on her brothers, dances from somewhere deep inside (I love to watch her when she thinks I'm not watching), and has a genuine desire to do what is right. 

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Samantha is the life of the party. I think she'll keep us laughing for many years. She is the only one who can consistently make the boys giggle. They would follow her through fire and ice, all the way to Timbuktu. She easily parts with any belonging that will make someone else happy. She is without guile, sensitive, pure-hearted, and smart. She loves to sing, write sweet notes, and is first to give her frustrated mamma a hug.

I miss those two little bodies, but I love the lengthening, capable girls they have become.

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Our sickies were troopers. They perked up a bit by the time we were ready for cake.

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I made separate cakes this year. A first. Two hearts, with six candles each. Together, the girls made silent wishes, took a deep breath, and blew!

How I want a good, beautiful life for them.

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Every year I reflect on the great miracle that allowed them to stay with us. I wrote about it a while back for Segullah, but this year Meridian picked it up. You can read it here.  It ran the week of their birthday. To my sadness, one mother commented that she, like thousands of others, was one for whom the miracle didn't happen; she lost her babies. 

Oh, how I hurt when I read her words. All day long I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. My story had caused her pain and she told me so. She felt stories like ours were better suited for a journal, rather than the public. I was crushed for her, and I understood. After watching Kara lose her precious Isaac only three months ago, I knew better than before, the anguish. 

So I must clarify here when I write of a vigilant God who knows our needs. I am not implying that when things don't work out as we hoped, God is not mindful of us. On the contrary, God's awareness and love during times of loss or hardship are especially real. And tangibly felt. I cannot pretend to know such sorrow. I cannot pretend a knowledge of a vigilant God will fill the emptiness. It won't. But it can fill us with confidence and trust.

This small exchange made me wonder... Why do we bristle when someone receives the miracle we didn't? Why do we droop when someone receives what we want but still long for? Should their joy or success diminish our own? This is not criticism. I am guilty of it too. And yet, the Lord reminds us in his parable of the laborers, how we ought to act. 

"Why be jealous when I am kind?" (Matthew 20:15 New Living Translation)

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Sami and Ali, ten days old

We do not know the mind of God. We do not know His purposes.

But His hand is evident in every life. And we can trust His ways.

Kara told me just today, that yes, she lost a son, but it has not made her question God's love. 

I look in my girls' eyes and I see that love - the kind that preserved, protected, and saved. I look in Kara's eyes, where I once saw the most excruciating pain, and I see light. Light embodied in a love that comforts, heals, cradles, holds. 

Aren't we commanded to confess His hand in ALL things? How else will we know the grand scope of life experience if we don't read it all? The miracle stories, to know they are possible. The stories of loss and brokenness to know we can move forward, be healed, made whole.

While I celebrate the miracle of our Valentine girls, I sorrow for those with questions and empty arms. In all circumstances, even the most incomprehensible and disturbing ones, I know God loves us perfectly, and in his own time will give us all he has, make all wrongs right. 

Also from Matthew 20,

"Take [what] is thine, and go thy way. I will give unto the last, even as I did unto thee."


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I deleted my earlier comment…not sure that it said exactly what I wanted it to.

    Just thank you for your heart and your compassion.

    Happy Birthday to those sweet, sweet girls of yours! Hope you are all on the mend. Love you.

    1. Anne Marie - I was lucky enough to read your original comment before you deleted it. It had such beautiful clarity and perspective. I wish others could have read it, but I know how it is to worry over words, feel like they aren't quite right. I particularly loved this line, and I have to repeat it: "God is in all of our stories, regardless of the "endings"…because they're not the end at all." Would that we could remember that in every hard moment, every disappointment. I would love to hear more about how you have seen that in your life recently. We need a heart to heart some day at a cafe. ;) Thanks again for your ear and your words. xoxo

  3. Tried to write a long comment. It didn't work! Dang phone. Your girls, the miracle of their birth, your compassion for those who have had different all fills me with gratitude for you and for Heavenly Father.

  4. Cath - I remember the years before we had kids and how hard that was for you. Yet you were always (at least in public) the biggest cheerleader when others got pregnant and bore children. It was fun when you and I were pregnant together for our first kids, and I am glad that both pregnancies ended in joy. I think that for many of us, it is a whole lot harder to see the grace of God in our trials. While in our joys it comes more naturally. It doesn't diminish either of your experiences, and I am glad that you shared your story for others to read. In fact, I think that counter stories are often shared, and just as moving. I hope that the commenter gets to share her story in a time and place appropriate to her and that the experience might give her a little comfort. We can lift each other up more effectively when we understand, love and deeply care for those around us.

  5. Hi! I love your blog... I've been an avid follower for quite sometime :) I recently started my own blog (3 posts so far!) about my life, my family, motherhood, etc. It is new and I do not have any followers yet. Would you like to follow/subscribe to my blog? In case you are wondering, I am a mother to 7 (almost 8 children!), including 4 biological children and 4 adopted children. I also homeschool and have two children with special needs. I plan to blog about everything I just mentioned. Would LOVE if you'd follow/subscribe/spread the word about my blog!

  6. That was very powerful. A wonderful thing to think about and contemplate. Hearing others sorrow and experiencing our own, launches us towards greater compassion and charity. Joy and sorrow are both experienced in this life for a great purpose. Happy Birthday to those sweeties of yours:)

  7. Beautiful. Thank you Catherine. Happy birthday to your dear twin girls.

  8. Kerri - I know you've known loss. heavy loss. Wish I could have read your long comment. (I know the frustration of phone pecking/typing!) But thank you for your goodness. "It all" fills me with gratitude too.

    Shells - As I wrote this, I remembered those long years of wanting babies too. I can honestly say, while all our friends were having babies, I did want it so much, but the fact that it actually worked for people just astounded me, and I was so happy for them. I really was. Ironically, I am embarrassed to admit, I have bristled over less important things on occasion. But it is good to remind ourselves, the journey is about others. Wonderful wise point: "We can lift each other up more effectively when we understand, love and deeply care for those around us." Love you friend.

    Katherine - wow! what a wide scope of mothering you are experiencing! And almost eight!? Amazing. I sense immediately the bigness of your heart. Blessings, and I'm so glad you're blogging. No doubt you have much insight to share!

    Michelle - I agree with you. The opposites of joy and sorrow are not a senseless part of our life experience. All things are used for God's teaching and purposes. I appreciated this woman's comment so much - as you said, it opened me to greater compassion and the constant need for sensitive writing. Hello to your darling family!

    Kristen - Glad you're home. Thanks for the kind wishes. xoxo

  9. I am so sad that someone would question the appropriateness of you sharing your experience. This last year has been one of trial and trauma in our family--one in which God has not answered our prayers like we have wanted. But it is when I read stories like yours (which I had read and remembered from Segullah before) that I am comforted. I have a harder time seeing his hand in this year of really not getting what I wanted, but when I see the clear evidence of his hand in the miracle of your babies, I tell myself that he is also with me--even if it is not as easy to see now. We have had several truly miraculous things happen to people close to us recently and I hold on to those things tightly in my heart, knowing that God cares for us just as deeply as them, and that just because I can't see the miracles in my life right now doesn't mean they're not there...


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