If someone had told me at 14 that I would give birth to my first child at 30, I would have called them crazy.
If someone had told me in 1996 that in the year 2012 I hadn’t been back to Kenya, I would call them a liar.
If someone told me at 16 that Rochester would forever be known as my hometown and that I would still be living here 7 years into my marriage, I would call them mistaken.
If someone had told me my senior year of high school that I would someday marry a drummer, I’d laugh. I’d laugh loudly.
If someone would have told me in my music theory class at Roberts Wesleyan College in 2000 that I would be a music major, theory tutor and opera singer at Nazareth College in 7 years I would have cried. For so many reasons.
If someone had told me three years ago that I would be working part time and a mother full-time, I would have told them they had me confused with someone else, unfortunately.
Every season of my life is characterized by a different plan for my future. I am a master at dreaming up extravagant plans for my life. At any given point over the last 20 years if you were to ask me about my future I could have potentially answered with any of the following aspirations:
I am actually very amused as I read through old journal entries at the elaborate plans I was so certain of. I truly have a large and creative imagination when it comes to my talents, dreams, skills and options.
No one could have told me that on April 16, 2012 I would be a first-time mom of a four month old daughter and married to a graphic designer who volunteers by playing drums at a church that I am employed at in the Kids Ministry department, part time, in Rochester, NY. I can find about nine phrases in that one statement that I would have never thought to be true, let alone actually enjoyed and desired. (And that is just one statement of many that I could make about my current status). Nevertheless, I am thrilled to be here and honored to be living this life.
Now, I would be lying if I said that every time one of my expectations of life isn’t met its because something better replaced it. I don’t live in fairy tale bubble. I’m not trying to paint my life as perfect, by any means. But, I am trying to say that I really don’t know best all of the time. I sincerely do not always know exactly what I need and when I need it. The moments I fall into the trap of believing that I do know what’s best all of the time, I limit myself more than I realize.
Often times, I don’t realize until years later just how little I knew. Just how small my dreams were. Just how inaccurate my perceptions were. Just how wrong I was in my thinking.
I’m coming to terms with finding peace in that. In trusting that my expectations are not written in stone when it comes to my future. In trusting that there is Someone who knows better. In trusting that my life is not my own.
I love the way the Message paraphrases it:
“Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.” — Proverbs 16:1 (MSG)
Honestly, I can’t find a conclusion statement for these thoughts. I guess I’ll leave it at that. And let Him have that last word.]]>
A few weeks later, when I had my first doctor’s appointment, they set up a “dating ultrasound” so that I could have a more definitive date to prepare for. The ultrasound gave me the date December 15, 2011. You would’ve thought those extra three days were an eternity. But, the countdown began. The end was in sight. I had a promise and I had a date when that promise was to be met by.
I love those kinds of promises. Promises with definition. Promises with guidelines. Promises with clear expectations. I tend to get frustrated with the more open-ended promises. The promise of “soon”. Or the promise of “someday”. I wait with eager expectation until that subjective “soon” or “someday” comes to pass.
One of my friends recently wrote about the lesson she’s learned when it comes to making promises to her young daughter. If she were to say “In two weeks you’re going to have a new backyard playground.” That young girl has no concept of time and lives everyday as if it is the day she is going to get her new playground. And she will ask, every ten minutes, when the playground is arriving. My friend has learned that it is best to simply tell her daughter any exciting news within the hour that it is going to happen. Otherwise, she needs to be prepared for hours or days of “Is it time yet?”
That got me thinking.
Remember the promise God made to Abraham? The promise that he would have offspring as abundant as the stars in the night sky? The promise that his barren wife, Sarah, would give him a son? That promise first came to Abraham when he was seventy-five years old. Do you know when God finally gave Abraham a “due date”? When he was ninety-nine. At ninety-nine years old was the first time God put a “due date” on His promise of a child. “Within a year your wife Sarah will bear you a son.”
What were those twenty-four years like for Abraham and Sarah while they waited for this promise?
I wonder if the first year was filled with expectancy. Everyday Sarah woke with wide eyes and hope that maybe today would be the day she would know that there was a life growing inside of her. I wonder if the second year rolled around and Abraham began to ask God “is it time yet?” I wonder if by the seventh year, Abraham and Sarah were like small children on a long car ride “Are we there yet?” I wonder if their every waking moment was filled with anxiousness and if their beautiful hope turned into anxiety and impatience.
One thing we do know, is that it took ten years before a dreadful decision was made. A decision that has often haunted me when I make plans or take action in certain situations. The decision was made that they would “help” God keep His promise. The decision was made to allow the “maybe’s” to overrule the faith. The decision was made to take matters into their own hands.
Sarah offered her maidservant to Abraham so that she could birth a son for them.
Now, I choose to believe that this decision was completely well-meaning. I don’t think that either Abraham or Sarah honestly thought that God couldn’t keep His promise. But, I do think that for some reason, after ten years of waiting, they chose to believe that God might need their help in making the promise a reality. They decided to give in and choose a route that had definites.
We’re talking about a father of faith. A man who is noted throughout Scripture for his unshakable faith in a God few knew at the time. A man who had packed up everything and headed to a land he didn’t know yet, but knew that God would direct each step along the way until they got there. A man who trusted God with his everything.
I don’t think it was a definitive moment when his faith wavered and Sarah’s offer of her maidservant suddenly made perfect sense. I think it was the wait time. I think it was the lack of a “due date”. I think that over the course of the years he began to think of his God differently. He began to view him as a God who needed help in keeping his promises. He began to view himself as a person who could help God keep those promises. He began to view himself as a better author of his story than the story his God was writing. He began to think that he might just know something God didn’t. And that he was just going to help God out with this one.
As I read through Scripture I realize how exceptional the promise God gave Abraham at ninety-nine years old is. I realize how rarely God gives a “due date” to His promises.
Instead, He provides promises and truths throughout Scripture and asks us to be children who trust their Daddy-God. Trust that He won’t give a stone when we ask for bread. Trust that His Word is true and His love endures forever. Trust that His thoughts towards us are thoughts of peace and abundance. Trust that the story He’s writing through our lives is a story that points to Him as our Source and our GOOD God. Trust that when He gives us a promise, He’s a God who will keep it. And He’s a God who doesn’t need our assistance in making it happen.
The main thing I’ve been learning as God’s been teaching me about trusting Him to bring His promises to pass is: whether or not the promise He gave me has a “due date” that He’s been gracious enough to share with me, no promise He gives has an “expiration date.” If He said it, He will do it. No questions. He will. Whether it happens in my timeline or not. Whether it happens in my lifetime or not. My God is not a man that He should lie. His promises hold true. No matter what.
So, that due date I received for my little love from my doctor. December 15, 2011. She decided to wait till two days later. December 17, 2011. And let me tell you, during those two days I found myself wishing that a date had never been given to me in the first place. Wishing instead for a “due range”, not date. So that I could simply wait and hope without a definitive end date in mind. So that I could simply enjoy that portion of my journey, instead of loosing myself in anxiety and impatience (similar to the three year old mentioned earlier).
In the end, the date my little girl and God had agreed upon for her arrival couldn’t have been more perfect. His timing always is.]]>
The other day I read to you one of my favorite children’s books. But like many children’s books, the message of the story is so applicable to adults. And I have a feeling it was written in retrospect, when the author was thinking “I wish I had learned this sooner.” The story is “A Hat for Ivan” by Max Lucado.
A young boy lives in a town where everyone is identified by their hat. And Ivan happens to be the son of the Hat Maker. This Hat Maker is known for sitting with each individual to learn all about them before creating their hat. This hat defines who they are and what they are becoming. Ivan’s Hat Day is quickly approaching and he is anxious to see and wear this hat that will carry his identity.
Long story short, Ivan has many well-meaning neighbors who decide that they want to make Ivan’s hat. He’s a very talented and sweet young man, and everyone has dreams of him becoming just like them. Ivan, being a very thoughtful and sensitive boy, tries his hardest to make each of these hats work for him. However, each of these hats make him feel tired, clumsy and confused. But, he is trying so hard to please everyone else so he wears them.
Finally, Ivan hears the heart of his father. He is saddened by his young son’s desire to please and make everyone else happy. Wishing that his son had simply waited for the hat that He was creating; the hat that was specifically made for him, just for Ivan. Saddened that his son thought he could fit in the hats everyone else had so thoughtfully created for him, even though hat making wasn’t their skill or calling.
This book has always spoken to me because I relate a lot to Ivan. From a young age, I’ve been very capable of filling many roles. I may not excel at any of those individual skills. However, I throw myself 100% into any task and make sure it is done with excellence. From a young age I was often directed to wear a certain hat. And I did it happily; wore each hat with pride. Secretly fearful that if I didn’t wear that hat well, that it was evidence of my inadequacy and inability to do something well. And I wanted to do everything well. I wanted to be good enough for everything.
Honestly, the skill of being able to wear almost any hat is a much desired skill. Very sought after in many circles. Selfishly, I love being desired and sought after. So, the more hats I could wear, the better (at least in my very obstructed view). And to be completely honest, I don’t think I’ll ever stop wearing so many hats. And, my sweet girl, if you’re anything like me, I have a feeling you’ll be good at wearing a lot of hats too.
The trouble isn’t in wearing so many hats. The trouble is when you allow your identity to be wrapped up in those hats. When you allow those hats to define you. When you race to change your hat quickly, simply to please one of the many hat makers in your life. When the multitude of hat makers are given the key to your insides. When those hat makers, well-meaning as they may be, are the source of your self-worth and self-image. When the hat makers that surround you are your focus. When their happiness and their pleasure in your abilities is your goal.
Aria, you have one Hat Maker. And it’s not me. It’s not your Daddy. It’s not even you. Your Hat Maker is a loving Father who names each star, counts the hairs on your head, is the ultimate Author of your story and who has thoughts towards you that are out of our reach, but are better than our wildest dreams. When you allow Him to be the source of your identity, your self-worth and self image, those several hats you could wear will be beautiful and much desired. But they will be just that. Pretty hats. Exactly what they should be. Nothing more, nothing less.
When you settle into the hat that the ultimate Hat Maker creates for you, life becomes “easy.” Not that you won’t face hard times or struggles. But you won’t succumb to the pressure to strive. You’ll move effortlessly and purposefully to the rhythms of His grace in your life. Walking with confidence that the hat you proudly display is one created just for you. No one else can wear it the way you do. No one else was created with that specific purpose and direction. The Hat Maker only made one, just for you. Others might come close, but none can compare. So it’s useless to try.I pray that you discover your hat early. That you wear it proudly. That you never give in to the temptation to compare it to anyone else’s. That no one ever carries so strong an influence in your life to convince you to remove it or replace it. And most of all, that the pleasure you see in your Hat Maker’s eyes when he watches you wear it, is the only affirmation you need. His pleasure and pride in you is worth it. Believe me.]]>
The doctors predicted your due date as December 15, 2011. However, in early November after a brief scare of a false labor; it was suggested to me that I make sure we were ready for your arrival sooner than mid-December. It made those last five weeks drag on and on. Every day I walked into the office and heard “Still pregnant?!?” For the last three weeks, you decided to practice labor every night. Every night for three weeks I would have 1-3 hours of “practice” contractions. At first I spent every evening thinking that you were about to arrive. Then, it became routine. A very annoying routine.
Thursday, December 15 arrived. It was my last official day of work and I thought for sure that I would walk out that door at 4:00 and labor would just start. But, it didn’t. It was an evening like all the others. Just “practice”. I had been sitting on an exercise ball whenever I was at home, bouncing and talking to you. Trying to convince you to come out and meet me. I went mall walking for hours. I ate spicy food and eggplant. All of the myths. But, you were content to simply stay inside and practice.
Friday morning I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t think anything of it as you generally woke me up at that hour anyways. However, when I returned to bed after a brief visit with the bathroom, I knew something was up. I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t find any spot in bed that worked. I lied there. I fidgeted. Until at 7:00 I decided to go take a shower and try to relax you. Stood in the hot water for a while until I decided to turn the shower into a bath. At 8:00, while soaking, I decided I would begin timing these contractions, just in case. But I thought for sure that you were just practicing again. By 8:30, the contractions were 6 minutes apart and beginning to become more intense.
I walked into the bedroom and calmly woke your daddy. I asked him to wake up and shower just in case today was the day. He thought nothing of it. Got out of bed and went to take the longest shower he’s ever taken in his life. By the time he came out of the bathroom at 9:30, I was pacing like crazy.
Contractions were 4 minutes apart and I was quite uncomfortable. I asked him to call the bakery and finish packing our bags while I called the doctor. That was when it hit him, “Wait. This is for real?!?” He called the bakery (we had a prearranged agreement with them for announcing your arrival, yet they tried to tell daddy that the order wouldn’t be ready until the next day. I had to help him convince them that we needed the order by that afternoon! They worked with us and did it.) The doctors office asked me to come in to them first and they would check me out. I had just been in earlier that week and heard the words I was dreading: “no progress.” I was horrified of hearing those words again.
Your Aunt Liv had an appointment scheduled to check up on your cousin at 10:15. I sent her a text asking if she was on her way in to the appointment. Her response was “should I bring my bag and meet you at the hospital?” And I can only imagine her face when I responded that I thought that was a good idea.
We met at Dr. Tripp’s office and both saw Peg, the PA. Peg’s words to me were “You’re definitely doing some hard work. But you’re only a couple centimeters and 80% effaced. They may chose to send you home, but I’d like you to walk to triage and have them monitor you.” So, with the ladies at the office cheering me on, that’s what I did. I asked them to send my sister down after she got done at her appointment.
The walk from the office to the birthing center took what seemed like forever! I had to stop every 5-10 paces and hold onto the wall as the contractions became more intense and more frequent. Once in triage, I was hooked up to the monitors and they began to track each contraction and your little heart’s response to each contraction. Your Daddy sat in that room with me and advocated for me. All I wanted was to walk. I wanted to speed up labor and it was really the only way I was somewhat comfortable. Lying in the bed was torture. But, after twenty minutes, they told me that your heart wasn’t responding well to some of the contractions. So they shifted my position and had me lay there for twenty more minutes. Daddy and Aunt Liv took turns sitting with me (they only allow one guest in triage). They were both so great. I got nauseous and the contractions became harder and harder.
After the forty minutes passed, they examined me. I was now three centimeters and the contractions were between 1 1/2 -3 minutes apart. They finally let me walk, but asked me to come back in 40 minutes to get examined again. Daddy and I lapped the birthing center several times. Stopping every minute or so to grab onto the bar on the wall and breathe. Soon, squatting at the wall was the most tolerable way to manage each contraction. Just as we were making our final lap and heading back to triage, one of my worst fears manifested. During one of the contractions, while I was squatting by the wall, I puked. On the carpet. Directly in front of the nurses station. I was mortified, but they were so sweet. Just very quick to send me back to triage with a bucket.
The triage staff made the decision to admit me at 2:00 because I needed to be on an antibiotic for 8 hours if I was going to deliver you naturally. And though my body wasn’t progressing quickly, the antibiotic took precedent and I was not about to go home with those contractions so close and my pain becoming excruciating. Aunt Liv sent the text to our list of friends who were anxiously awaiting the message stating that you were on your way. Nani and Papi D’Angelo were there within moments. And Nana & Papa DeGroat, Uncle Jer and your cousins weren’t far behind. I made sure to walk out to the lobby to see your cousin Ella. She gets concerned very easily and wanted to see me to make sure that you and I were OK. She gave me a big hug and sent me back into the unit to go meet you.
I had great plans of delivering you naturally, without medication. I had dreams of lapping the birthing center and laboring in the jacuzzi tub until you were ready. However, the pain was crazy. As soon as I was admitted, I asked our labor nurse, Olivia, for a shot of nubane. I wanted to simply relax for a couple hours so that I could regain strength and be ready for the big moment. After the shot I was fast asleep for a couple hours. After that nap is when things start to get pretty fuzzy.
I spent some time in the jacuzzi tub after the nurse was sure that the nubane had worn off. Daddy sat by the side of the tub while I continued the contractions every 60-90seconds and fell fast asleep in between every contraction. Olivia said I was very focused, that she had never seen a more focused laboring mother. I remember breathing, very controlled breaths, during every contraction. Then I remember needing to get out of the tub because of my “sleeping” and needed to be monitored again.
The next several hours are a blur. I know that your Daddy and Aunt Liv were in the room and I apparently asked them to talk because I liked listening. I know our nurse, Olivia, was wonderful. I also know I was asked to lay on my right side, as that was the only position where they could keep your little heart beat consistent through the contractions. I remember grasping the side of that hospital bed and shaking it every time the pain would start and then “passing out”, still gripping the side of the bed, in between every contraction.
Olivia explained to me that I was having back labor, that you were “sunny side up”, which is why squatting and walking was the most comfortable. However, she also explained to me that you must have some issue with your cord since they were having trouble keeping your heart consistent, so I could only lay on my right side (one of the most uncomfortable positions for back labor). She explained that they were hoping you could turn naturally.
At some point they decided to break my water. I remember asking if it was gong to hurt. It didn’t.
At midnight, the midwife, Corinne, came in and sat at the end of my bed. She told me that they needed to let me labor longer, to see if you could work these issues out on your own. She also recommended that I get an epidural. She provided a good logical explanation; knew just what I needed. The main reason I didn’t want an epidural was so that I could labor in the tub and while walking. However, because of your little heart/cord issues, they couldn’t let me out of the bed. Because of the way I was laboring- “be it self-hypnosis or shock from the pain”- they were worried that I wouldn’t have the strength to push or be awake to meet you when you arrived. I figured I had tried naturally long enough and was ready for the epidural. Somehow, somebody got me to say “yes” and I am so very grateful I did.
I slept through the administration of the epidural and within 15 minutes I came back to consciousness! Olivia was amazed, she said she felt like I was a completely different person than who she had been with for the last ten hours. Corinne told me that they needed me to labor longer to see if you could work your self to where you needed to be. She said they’d be back at 3:00am to check, unless I really needed to push sooner.
This was not what I wanted to hear. Three more hours?! AND- Olivia’s shift ended at 3. I didn’t want a new nurse just when I was going to start pushing! I wasn’t happy.
I decided to let everyone who was in the waiting room come in to say hi, since they had been patiently waiting for so long out there. I had missed the Falco’s who had stopped by earlier. We thought you and Levi might be born on the same day! (But, it didn’t work out that way). I had also missed Marlize and Chloe who had stopped by earlier in the evening. But, your grandparents, Uncle Jer, Aunt Meg, Aunt Bec and Aunt Rach got to come visit. Poor Ella and Josiah had to keep waiting in the lobby. They were such troopers! We have a video of the waiting room that I can’t wait to show you some day. Everyone sharing their opinions of if you were a boy or girl. The intense game of Words with Friends. And the anxiousness to find out who would win the birthdate competition. (Aunt Bec won, by the way. NOT the Words with Friends game, believe me, but the birthdate guess.)
When Aunt Bec and Aunt Rach came in to say Hi we asked them to grab their cameras to be ready for your big reveal. We had planned on one of them being there to capture your first moments, but you planned your arrival time for the only time both ladies were actually available- so we have shots from two views during your birth. I treasure those pictures.
3:00AM arrived and they came in to check me. Corinne explained that we would do a practice push. Your heart was still acting inconsistent, so they wanted to make sure that pushing would be OK. If the practice push didn’t go well and your heart didn’t respond well, we’d have to discuss a C-Section. I was determined to push well and I prayed that you were too.
Actually, in my desire to always be transparent and my fear of being wrong; I actually discussed my pushing skills with the nurse and midwife. I had a fear of pushing wong. I don’t like to be wrong. They told me to push like I’m pooping and I responded “Well, I’m an excellent pusher, then.” (Oh, Arie. May you never inherit that trait from me, the incredible fear of failure.)
But, my statement rang true. After your Daddy got positioned at my right leg (which he wasn’t planning on), Olivia at my left leg, Becca near my feet, Rach near my head and Aunt Liv assisting Daddy- I did one perfect push They told me that your heart rate dropped a bit, but that if I was on oxygen between every push, we could start pushing! Because, I actually was an “excellent pusher”. They said I was like a veteran laboring Mom. That helped my pride quite a bit!
It was go- time!
I began pushing with everyone in the room cheering me on and rooting for you. Your Daddy was my biggest cheerleader- looking right into my eyes and encouraging me with with his smile. But, a bit into the pushing his face changed a bit. I had a horrible fear that he would pass out and miss it all- so I told him to take a break. He grabbed Aunt Liv and traded spaces. After a brief bathroom visit for him, he was back and ready to coach (but near my head this time!).
Finally, after an hour, it was time for the big push. They went and got the doctor. Within minutes, at 4:04am on Saturday December 17th, I heard everyone’s gasps of delight, watched their faces beam and heard your Daddy say “Aria!!!” I was shocked and said “What?!?” Through his tears and huge smile, Daddy looked at me and said “Aria!”
We cried. You were finally here- with your cord wrapped around your abdomen three times and through your legs once. We hugged for a moment while they cleaned you up (you pooped on your way out!).
And then I met you. They handed you to me and I fell in love. I just kept saying “You’re really here.” You held my finger from the beginning and stared at me all wide-eyed. You were finally here. And you were an “Aria!” I was shocked.
Your Daddy and I stared into those gorgeous eyes while I heard your Aunt Bec tell the nurse your name and how to spell it correctly. Your Aunt Liv was overjoyed. Aunt Rach was such a huge support and hung right there with me and Aunt Liv while they took you across the room to get cleaned up and measured. Your Daddy stook over you, examining your every move and greeting you saying. “Hi Aria. I’m your Daddy and I love you.”
And our nurse, Olivia, was there to welcome you and congratulate us. She stayed overtime to meet you. And when she left the birthing unit, she told your crowd “I cannot confirm or deny anything else, but I can tell you a baby has been born.” Olivia came back to visit the next day. She wanted to be sure to see what she called her “miracle baby” after being born with your cord the way it was.
After a successful first attempt at nursing and 14 stitches later- Daddy went to tell the waiting room about your arrival. He walked the long hall to see faces plastered to the doors, so anxious to see him and find out what was in the box he was carrying. The doors opened and he opened the box to reveal sugar cookies, frosted purple and saying “Aria.” The screams of delight were enough for a nurse to come scold them for being too loud!
They took shifts coming to meet you. You stole everyone’s heart from the moment they met you. You were perfect. Greeting your public with those wide, discerning eyes and perfect rosebud lips. You looked identical to your Daddy. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I couldn’t hold you close enough. You were finally here. You were mine. All mine.
So, my dearest Arie. That’s the story, long story, of your arrival and the day that changed my life forever. It’s the story with as many details as I can remember, though I still feel that there is so much I forgot. It’s the story of the 23 hours I would repeat in an instant just for that first moment our eyes met and your little hand held mine. It’s your story. It’s our story. And I love it.
I love to sing and for a good portion of my life, it’s what I was known for. A huge part of my identity. Both leading worship in church and singing-singing (real singing, as you’ll hear me say often). When I started school at Nazareth for Music Therapy, I was horribly intimidated by all the kids, my fellow schoolmates, who had been singing, real singing, their whole lives. I was merely a “church singer” who didn’t know the difference between a hymn and an art song (someday I’ll tell you that story). Regardless, by the end of my four years at Nazareth, I had grown to love real singing (and I’m told I was decent at it too).
Through my encounters with recitals and operas I had come to learn what an “aria” is. It is a solo piece, usually performed by voice and typically from an opera. It was the moment when a character had the opportunity to step forward, all eyes on them, and show off their beautiful voice. However, the word “aria” itself carries a much deeper meaning, the true reason you’re named “Aria”.
The solo melody came to be called “aria” because it means “air” in Italian. As in the air or countenance of a person. The way a person carries themselves. The grace with which they are recognized and known. We desire for you to be a person of grace. That when your presence enters a room, you bring an air of grace with you. That you are known for having a countenance that resembles Christ’s. That this grace and countenance would be such a deeply rooted part of you, no one would have reason to question your integrity. That grace would simply “leak” from your being as you go about your day.
As if that isn’t strong enough, when I looked up the meaning of Aria as a name, I found that it isn’t only rooted in Italian. Aria is also a Hebrew word meaning “lioness”. Such a strong meaning. Not only do we want you to resemble and exude the grace of God in every situation. We want you to carry the strength of knowing He is always with you, dwells in You, and if He is for you, you have nothing to fear. You carry the strength and boldness of a lioness.
Your middle name is “Lynn” which is also your aunt’s middle name. Your Aunt Liv, my sister, is my best friend and who I want to be like “when I grow up”. She has such a strong sense of right and wrong and is wise beyond her years. The boldness and strength she has exhibited over the years is admirable and, quite honestly, unbelievable, unless you were there to witness it. I would not mind one bit if you grew to be a lady just liked your Aunt.
Beyond being named after Aunt Liv, the name “Lynn” means “waterfall”. Which again, to me, is the perfect combination of grace and strength. Very few pieces of nature have the calming, peaceful “countenance” of a waterfall. And yet, it is one of the most forceful pieces of nature too. So much power can come from one single waterfall. To sit and watch or listen to a waterfall can bring such peace. But come in direct contact with the waterfall, and you will experience its undeniable strength.
My sweet girl, you’re already living up to your name. I cannot tell you how many people who have held you have experienced that instant peace and grace you exude. The way that you make any one breathe deeper who takes a moment to pause with you in their arms. As one of my friends put it, you’re our pacifier. Your sweet spirit is already so evident.
But don’t be fooled, the strength that lies within you has also already made itself evident. If you are mad, the force behind your cry is intense. The look in your eye is fierce. The strength with which you already control yourself has even amazed your doctor. You are a strong girl. And so deeply desire the control (a trait I’m sure I had something to do with and will be helping you learn to surrender over the coming years). You amazed us. You already embody, so beautifully, the traits we’ve been praying over you since Day One.
So, every time you hear us call you “Aria Lynn”, I pray you don’t simply hear a pretty name (though it is quite lovely). But instead, that you realize we are intentionally speaking grace and strength over you. That we are praying that God’s grace be so real to you from a young age that you are able to extend that same grace from a young age. And that His presence be so strong in your daily life, that fear has no place, no room.
My sweet Aria Lynn, you are a young lady of grace and strength. And we know it will only continue to multiply as you grow. And we pray that as parents, we help you grow and cultivate these traits daily.]]>
When I turned 13, your Nana and Papa DeGroat threw me a big “coming-of-age” party and I had to give a small speech. I declared in this speech that I was officially renouncing my former goal of becoming the first female president for an even grander call in life. I wanted to be a mom. I realized that my ability to mother (well) and run an entire country probably would cause conflict, so I chose the role I thought better. The role of a mother.
The summer after I turned 13, I got to accomplish my life-long goal of going to Africa to work with orphans. I had a 4 year old girl ask me to be her Mom. My heart broke realizing that there was no way possible. The passion I had for the kids I met was contagious and explosive. I came home and immediately began planning my next trip back to these orphans. My desire to mother them, to teach them, to love on them, to raise them, was so strong. In all honesty, I started to wonder if this overwhelming desire to be a Mom was going to be fulfilled through my role with the motherless in Africa.
Years down the road I became very active in Kids Ministry through a couple different locations, a couple different opportunities. Every week I would see kids who needed a voice speaking life over them, needed a hug and a smile when greeted, needed to be checked in on during the week to see how their spelling test went. This opportunity became a career. I got a “job” doing something I absolutely adore- pastoring kids. In a way, mothering them. Even though many of them have beautiful moms who devote everything to their kids, I got to do a spiritual mothering that few have the opportunity to do.
Once again, in all honesty, I wondered if this career, this calling, was going to be the fulfillment of my lifelong wish of being a mother. I had received prophetic words about being a Mother and a Mother to the Nations. Everything in life, all of the random circumstances began to point to my career, my calling, my “job” as being the fulfillment of this desire to be a Mom. I was slowly coming to terms with this idea.
And then one quiet April morning that all changed. The moment I realized that you existed. The day I found out that this life-long goal was quite literally going to happen. Not “just” through other opportunities, but in real life- I get to be a mom. I get to be YOUR mom.
These past few months have brought about several transitions, several circumstances, several stories that I’ll tell you as you grow up. I’ve been learning a lot about me, my giftings, my calling. The most significant transition is that I have been given the opportunity to devote more attention to you and less attention to my career, my job.
One thing you should know about me is I tend to think I’m Super Woman. I tend to think there’s nothing I can’t do; there’s nothing I can’t conquer. If a task is put in front of me, I’m going to complete it. I have trouble admitting when something is too big for me to handle, for me to control. God’s taught me a lot these past few months about that. About trusting Him to be in control. About being realistic about what I’m gifted at. About recognizing that I don’t just hold myself back, but many others, when I try to do everything myself (especially the things intended for someone else to do).
It was a tough realization to come to. The realization that similar to my decision about backing off my desire to be the first female president for the sake of devoting my abilities to being a Mom- my ability to manage a huge career and my ability to be a good mom, might conflict. One would ultimately suffer. The realization that there are a lot of people who can do my “job” but only I can be your Mom. Only I GET to be your mom.
I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do both, that I couldn’t handle both. But, a very wise friend made a statement one evening that drastically changed my viewpoint. One evening while seeking prayer during this transition, seeking support- this friend said this:
“Think of it this way. You have been devoting everything you have to nearly 1,000 kids. And you’ve been doing it well. God, for whatever reason, is calling you away from the thousand to devote your everything to 1. You have no clue who you’re raising. But, if God thinks they’re this important, I’d venture to say your full attention is going to be required.”
I get to be your Mom. You are the fulfillment of a life-long wish. An ultimate goal. You are incredibly important. You are deeply significant and special.
Thankfully, I get to remain a part of the team I work with and I get to continue to pour into over 1,000 kids lives every week. That isn’t changing. But, you get my first and best attention. You get to be the priority. These two roles won’t have to conflict.
Anxious to meet you my Little Love. And very ready to give you my best, my first, my all.]]>
“The only thing constant in life is change.”
— Francois de la Rochefoucauld
My Little Love, if you can learn this at an early age, you’ll be far better off than me! I actually prefer to paraphrase this quote to say: “ShiFt Happens!” Some people are really good at it; at navigating change. Others, not so much. Your mom, not so much.
This sad fact was brought to my attention again last night as I begrudgingly went through the iPhone update to the new operating system. “New” means “change” which means I have to “adapt” and learn how to navigate something I had formerly “mastered.” Its quite pathetic, if I’m honest. I’m genuinely a quick adapter, but its taking that first step thats always the hardest.
Change means that something will no longer be predictable to me. And I love predictability. When something isn’t predictable, it means that I can’t know or control the outcome. And I love knowing and controlling. Another horrible confession from your mom: I won’t start a game unless there is a 75% chance that I’ll win. If I can’t predict those odds, I will most likely find a reason to sit out. If I can’t sit out, I will play with such little effort that it is incredibly obvious to anyone involved that I am not trying. (And if I’m not trying, it’s not my fault if I lose. Disgusting logic.)
As your Dad and I prepare for your grand arrival in just a few short weeks, we’re realizing just how much change we’re about to encounter in our lives. Good change, we’re sure. But, change nonetheless. Thankfully, God must have planned pregnancies for people like me. By the time you arrive, I will have had just short of 40 weeks to prepare for this change. And 40 weeks of preparation is beautifully ideal!
Sometimes in life you’re going to know when a change is coming. You’re going to be given a heads up and choose to take that time to prepare for change. You can successfully close the chapter you’re living in and boldly walk into the next chapter waiting for you. You can be mindful of every single moment, knowing that the moments you’re savoring will soon be memories. You can prepare your mind to have a positive mindset about the change taking place. You can navigate the change gracefully because you’ve had time to prepare and embrace it.
But life doesn’t always happen that way.
Unfortunately for people like your mom, most times change comes and it’s as predictable as the wind. It will catch you by surprise. Even during the times you think you’ve prepared for the change, something will catch you off guard. My advice to you, is do whatever you can to live a life ready for change. Live your life in such a way that no matter what obstacle plants itself right in front of your face, you’re ready to face it head on. Live your life knowing that these changes are being orchestrated by Someone with far better thoughts, views, plans and purposes than we could ever dream of. And then allow Him to orchestrate those changes with no resistance from you. Remain pliable, flexible. Hold onto things loosely, with an open hand. Knowing that ultimately, whatever you’re holding onto is far better off in His capable hands than yours.
Trust God’s plans for you and stay closely on His path. If you can confidently declare that you are on that path, there’s great comfort in knowing that even when there’s a turn in the road or huge road block- you’re on His path and He’s directing you and He knows about the changes, even when you don’t. If you leave room for any doubt. If you try to forge a path on your own. Those turns and those blocks will be much more intimidating and effective in rerouting your course. Don’t try it. It’s not worth it.
My Little Love, I can say this with great confidence: You are the best change ever. The best turn in the road that we are thrilled to be experiencing. The changes you’ve already caused in our lives have been embraced and it is so easy to see His obvious hand in all of this. You’re already teaching me a lot. And you’ve given me great hope that change is good. Good to experience. And good for me, period. Thank you. You’re already being used by God to shape me into a better “me” and I am super glad that He chose YOU to make these shifts happen. Some are long overdue.]]>
The biggest word God has been working in me has been “trust.” I used to claim that I trust quite easily. I think what I should have said is that I love quite easily, I believe-in quite easily, I fall-for quite easily. But trust, I’m learning, requires something that I don’t do very easily: give up control. I find great comfort in being able to control something. I feel fulfilled when something I’m controlling succeeds. I love to have the answers anyone is looking for. I pride myself on being able to do nearly any challenge put before me.
But, sometimes (actually, all of the time) trust, true trust, requires giving up control of something. This is the lesson I’m learning.
I am a big day dreamer. I spend many car drives and many pre-sleep hours in bed allowing myself to “live through” different situations in my head. I’ve always been this way. It’s a nice little escape, but at the same time, these “ideal” situations I dream up have a habit of becoming goals or even worse, become situations I feel nearly entitled to live through in real life. I make the situations in my head so appealing, so fulfilling, so desirable that I begin to truly believe that nothing could be better. That anything I dream up is the absolute best way a situation could be lived out.
I’ve been doing this for years. I can remember being 14 years old and God beginning to reveal small, minuscule parts of His plan for my life. I would get so wrapped up in those tiny tidbits and begin to dream up my ideal life, not realizing that I was building dreams, building my castle, on what was meant to be just a small part of my future. I became like a race horse with the side-blinders on and ran full speed ahead into my tiny tunnel-visioned idea of my future.
As soon as I’d start running, God would go and mess up my plans by showing me something else, another part of His plan for my life. BUT, that didn’t fit into the beautiful dream I just created. It couldn’t possibly be right. I had done such a beautiful job of drafting up a masterpiece blueprint for my next 50 years. I had a lot of trouble realizing that God doesn’t reveal everything all at once. That would require no faith on my part. He reveals whatever I needed for that moment. And, the next moment could require something completely different.
I continued to neglect the fact that God knew better than me. That God could dream bigger than me. That God desired the best for me. That God’s dreams, visions, plans were on a plane entirely different that the small tunnel-vision tidbits I had access to.
I just needed to trust Him. And in order to completely trust Him, I needed to give up control. I needed to put down the pen that was drafting the book of my life and allow Him to be the author. I needed to be content being the character that He was developing. I needed to trust that my Author knew the best way to write my story. He has the most perfect ending. He sees the bigger picture. He has access to all of the behind-the-scenes.
And even bigger than that.
I needed to admit that He could write a better story than I could ever dream up.
So. My Three Words. To describe what God has been doing in me, developing and growing in me over the last several years.
Give it a try. You might be surprised by how much He actually loves you and desires for you to live a great story.]]>
“You can’t choose what happens to you. But you do choose how to respond.”
Not sure who ever said that, but its been a motto I used to use with my clients and now remind myself and others of that truth very often. If you’re able to learn this from a young age, its going to save you from a lot of unnecessary craziness. If you do have the power to choose what happens to you, you’re a freak of nature.
As your mom, I can already tell that I’m going to want to protect you from any unexpected curve ball life throws at you. But, at the same time, I know I shouldn’t and honestly can’t. If I could protect you from everything, then I’d be the freak of nature!
Your daddy and I complement each other very well in many ways. And when I think about the many obstacles you’re bound to face as you venture on this journey of life, I hope you get the best qualities in each of us to help you face them.
You see, I have this ability to love deeply and forgive quickly. Some people might choose to call it simply being naive. But, I choose to see it as a supernatural grace. Honestly, sometimes I wish I was able to hold a grudge and remain mad for a while. It seems natural. But, I’m not like that. When I really love someone, there’s nothing they could do that would keep me from forgiving them and choosing to keep them close. I hope you get that quality from me. I hope you love people unconditionally and choose to have the strength to forgive quickly. This trait has helped me face head-on the many obstacles that life has thrown at me.
The quality I hope you inherit from your daddy when these unexpected challenges approach you is his strong backbone and conviction about what it right. Your dad has a very strong ability to know right from wrong and will forever stand strong and speak boldly about what is right. No one stands a chance against him if he believes in something. I told you this from the beginning, you want him in your corner. (And believe me, he already is.) No matter what comes his way, his backbone is strong and he speaks truth.
If you can inherit both of these traits, my ability to love deeply and forgive quickly and your dad’s backbone and ability to speak up for what is right- combine this with a knowledge of God’s Word and a sensitivity to His direction- and I think you’re going to do quite well when life presents challenges and you have to respond.
In the end, you aren’t held accountable for anyone’s actions except your own. So, choose your actions wisely. Choose your words wisely. Realize that every action you make and every word you speak reflects on your character and leaves an imprint on your legacy. In moments when the world will tell you to lash out in anger, choose to love. When you “ought” to push for your own way, put the needs of others first. When you have the opportunity to speak, choose words that honor and words that will build instead of destruct. Those reactions, those words, those moments are what you will be held accountable for. Let God handle the rest. He’s more than capable.
Sometimes life is going to hand you huge, unexpected, unmerited blessings (much like you are to us!). Other times the story of your life is going to take unexpected turns, good or bad. There will be moments when choices are made that effect you, even when they shouldn’t, again, good or bad. That’s life. Anything less would be boring, and we D’Angelo’s don’t “do” boring!
My Little Love, I need you to know that from the day we found out about you, you have effected each action we take and each word we speak. We realize that it is our legacy being left for you and we want to be parents you can be proud of. Be assured, that with each bump in the road over the last six months- your cute little face is the first thing we see when the moment comes to respond. You’re our priority now and every decision we have to make requires you to be put at the forefront. And believe me, we don’t regret that or take that lightly. You’re our future, our legacy, our kid!
So, choose wisely. Don’t do things just because everyone thinks you should. Do the right thing, make the right decisions, react the right way, simply because it’s right and you have a Heavenly Father who’s watching. I can guarantee, you won’t regret it. God will make sure you won’t have to!]]>
If you don’t know Matthew and me very well, let me explain something. We “have” a lot of kids. Kids we love, care for, help raise and absolutely adore being a part of their lives. I put a decent amount of effort into helping these kids see just how much we love them. Yet, it is always Matt (Mr. Matt, Uncle Mutt, Uncle Mack, Uh-Oh Matt)- that they ask for. Kids just love him. Love being near him. Sitting on his lap. Falling asleep in his arms. One little kid in particular.
In January of 2004, the biggest love we’ve known entered our lives. Our niece, Ella Dawn Missell. I have watched this little girl love her uncle SO much since the day she was born. Ella is one of the strongest girls I know. She’s seen so much in her short 7 1/2 years of existence. But, her Uncle Mack has remained a steady constant through every change, every transition.
I can remember her as a little baby being so squirmy and active and crazy! The moment Matt would hold her, she’d sit still. She’d lay on his chest, silently, for as long as he’d let her. As a toddler, if there was a movie to watch or a backyard fire to sit at, she’d curl up on his lap and it seemed to be the safest place in the world.
Whenever we’d have Ella over for sleepovers, I’d have these extravagant plans of how to spend our time. Instead, she’d take a chair to the front yard to watch for her Uncle Mack to get home so that they could play video games together or toss a frisbee while dinner was cooking.
On a family vacation to the outer banks, Ella was scared of the waves in the ocean. She’d sit with her uncle or only go in if he was holding her hand and had proved that he’d lift her up if a wave came. When the rest of the family was doing crazy pool tricks and splashing, she’d find her uncle and stay with him in the corner where the water splashes couldn’t reach her. When I’d be getting ready for the day, I’d come back into our room to see the two of them giggling in bed- Uncle Matt teaching her how to use a camera.
He’s excellent at teaching her things. When she was two he tried to teach her the word “onamonapia.” He’s taught her how to get out of every tough spot in Lego Batman. He taught her how to skip rocks on the lake last Labor day. Any time I see the two of them together, he’s passing along wisdom of some sort!
This past week we were going to be having a campfire in our backyard. Ella is always asking for a fire in our backyard- so many memories there. So, I asked her dad if she could come over and spend the night. When I told Matthew that we’d have Ella for the night, the genuine excitement in his response made my heart swell. We stayed out by the fire until pretty late, so Uncle Matt laid a blanket out on the ground so that Ella could just fall asleep there in front of the fire. When it came time to go inside to bed, watching him carry this 7 1/2 year old girl brought back all these memories. Seeing her in his arms, and the smile on his face as she leaned into him, reminded me once again that my Love is going to be the best daddy around.
There was a time when we weren’t sure if parenthood was in our future. I remember a very dear friend telling me “I cry when I think that there might not be a child who gets to call Matthew ‘Daddy'”. I have found myself crying tears of absolute joy these past few months as I realize that there will be that child. Someone blessed enough to have the best man I know as their father.