Today is Gracie's birthday. This day has been greatly anticipated at our house for weeks. Not only by Gracie (who announced in frustration one day last week, "Mama, my birthday is NOT coming!"), but also by all of her brothers and sisters. So finally it is here. And I spent the early morning hours crying at the kitchen table. That's probably not a big surprise to those who know me well. I'm a cryer. But these tears honestly took me by surprise. I did cry when Boo turned five last year: I cried because she was my baby, and five just feels like the end of "babyhood" to me. Five is such a...well...a big girl. But I was looking forward to Gracie's birthday with no hint of any such feelings. Then last night before bed, Boo started asking me to tell her what she was like when she was one. And what she liked to do when she was two. (She was in the mood for some bonding time with me, and she knows just what buttons she can usually push to get it!) I answered her questions, but I did it quietly, and with some discomfort, because I was so aware of Gracie in her bed on the other side of the room. I had just given her the "last hug as a four year old." And as I reminisced with Boo I was all too aware that I could never answer those same questions for Gracie, although she has already asked some of them.
So this morning I sat down at the kitchen table, making a list for an early morning run to Kroger to take care of Gracie's special requests for her birthday meals. I wasn't thinking about anything deeper than whether I should buy a cake mix or make it from scratch, when a wave of images and grief washed over me. This is the day when we are celebrating her birthday. The images that were hitting me hard and fast were of a precious baby born in a hut in rural southern Ethiopia. A dirt floor. A sweet cry. The grandmother (who I know was present at her birth) holding up the baby in satisfaction. Damp, warm brown skin. Curling tendrils of black hair. The tired mother smiling. The father clapping his hands together. Even as I write it the tears are coming again. I want to be there. I want to hold that sweet baby, and drink in the smells and sounds...breath the warm African air of her true birthday. And I want to see her take her first steps across that dusty ground, and hear her first laugh (I love that laugh so much) and her first throaty words. But no matter how vivid my imaginings are, those memories will never be mine. They belong to Meselech, Gracie's first mother. The realization that hits me, though, is that no matter how deep my longings are, I would never truly wish for anything different. I have to often remind myself that God's plan for Gracie is perfect, and better than the easier, less painful way I would have planned for her. Those first four years in Ethiopia have formed this child and made her who she is now. And it cries out to me of her Maker. Did anyone ever wonder why I call her "Gracie" here? She is truly a picture of God's grace to me. God has carried her through poverty and hunger and loss and grief, and He has protected her and drenched her with His grace. She is a joyful, cheerful, funny bundle of little girl. Having experienced losses and hardships I can hardly imagine, she is not bitter or angry of afraid. She spent 6 months in an orphanage which, by many reports, was rife with abuses, and seems to have been surrounded by angels there. She accepted the new family God gave her with hardly a glance backward...with a joyful abandon that has continued to stun and amaze me. I have so much to learn from her. Oh God, if I could face trials without being afraid, or without ever holding onto bitterness. If I could let go of what You take, and latch on to what You give, and be truly thankful and joyful throughout it all.
So I am sitting here now and relishing the knowledge of the amazing grace that God has lavished on my daughter and on me. Our family is memorizing Psalm 139 right now (we're only up to verse 4 so far!), and really I chose it for Gracie and Little Man. I know she doesn't understand a lot of those words, but she is parroting them back right along with her older sisters and brother. And I'm praying that some day these words will be as meaningful to her as they are to me when I consider God's path for her life:
For you formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me
When as yet there was not one of them.
Happy birthday Gracie.