February 23, 2012

The Truest Example

Dear Isabel,

Time has never sped by as it has since you came into our lives and there are still so many lessons for you to learn from me before you go out into the world, all on your own. They are important ones, and I worry that all the years you will spend under our roof will not be time enough for you to understand just how crucial some of them are for your life.

This is one of them.

You asked your daddy just the other night, at only six years old, who you should marry. I know you wanted a name, and baby, one day you will know it. But for now here is what I want to bury deep in your heart so you keep this lesson close by as you search for him and wait for him to find you too.

Marry a man who loves God more than he loves you. Only by knowing his first love will he be able to love you when you are most unlovable. And you will be, often.

Marry a man who understands how deeply he has been forgiven. Only that understanding will allow him to forgive you big and small. And you will need it, over and over.

Marry a man who is truly humbled by his faults and keenly aware of his virtues but who is keenly aware of your faults and truly humbled by your virtues. Only then will he understand how you complement each other. And you will both need the reminder, many times over.

Marry a man who is your equal in intellect but who is not threatened by yours. Only then will he push you to think and grow and to challenge yourself and him. And you will become his best sounding board and he, yours.

Marry a man who understands your dearest passions and supports you as you pursue them. Only then will you feel encouraged to fulfill the calling God placed in your life. And you will need him to cheer you on when you are ready to give up, for you will.

Marry a man who thinks you are beautiful and who will tell it to you often. Only then will he see your beauty when your hair turns gray and your skin sags and the lines plague your eyes. And you will crave those words from him more than you can imagine now.

Marry a man who knows his True Citizenship. Only then will he see as countrymen and women all fellow humans, and work for the good of everyone regardless of race, nationality or creed. And together you will extend your love for your neighbor far beyond what you can see from your backyard.

Marry a man who does not “help” you with the chores or “babysits” the children but rather shares on the chores and spends time with his children. Only then will you be true partners in the journey, even if you stay at home and do most of the chores and spend the most time with the children. And you may.

Marry a man who thinks the role of a father is crucial in a child’s life. Only then will he work his hardest to be the daddy your children deserve. And you will never feel alone in the overwhelming task that it is parenthood.

Oh, baby, there is so much more I want to tell you about the man I dream for you that words fail me. But words are not the strongest tool in my hands and so I’ll leave you with this: keep your eyes open, baby girl.

Keep your eyes open and your ears ready.

Because nothing I can tell you will show you what a godly man looks like, acts like, sounds like, prays like, and loves like better than living in this house. 

Because you see, Isabel, I practice what I preach…

Happy birthday, Matt. You are a precious gift to me and to your children.

February 18, 2012


We walked hand in hand into the Goodwill looking for nothing in particular, as we often did. Me, the lover of books, would peruse the paperbacks and find some treasures for a quarter. Matt would spend his time in the house wares finding salvageable oddities. But we always avoided the children’s section. Too painful. Too pointless.

Except that day. I don’t remember if we had already started the process of adoption or not but as we looked through the store we found ourselves walking down the last isle, next to the wall covered in broken toys and teddy bears. Up on the top shelf I saw it. It was a brown, fuzzy, child-size bear with a blue scarf around his neck. It caught my eye because it looked expensive and new. It was a Gund bear. The kind you find in fancy toy stores but at Goodwill discount. We took it down, inspected it, and carried it away.

And I named him Brownie.

On the way home I dared to dream a little of a time when Brownie may accompany a child into the land of dreams and protect him or her from the bad ones. It was the perfect bear for a little one: soft and friendly, seeing the world from the same eye-level, a relatable companion.

A couple of years went by. Isabel came and filled our lives with joy. Still Brownie was relegated to live on the guest bedroom bed. When Isabel went through a phase of dressing animals as people I held a silent hope for Brownie, who could wear her clothes easily. But Brownie was overlooked and left alone on his bed in favor of smaller Pooh.

 A few more years went by and we grew by one more when we brought Noah home. One evening as I prepared the kids for bed, Noah, not quite four-years old, asked to sleep with an animal as was his custom. This time he selected Brownie, who had moved from the guestroom into the large bin of stuffed creatures that now lived in the kids’ shared bedroom. Brownie, who was almost as tall as Noah, never left the bed again.

The fuzzy bear I dreamed so many years ago as a friend to the children I was yet to know  became more than a sleeping prop. Brownie is now the star of many adventures. He has traveled the world, he has lived in many countries, he has survived eating poison, he can breathe under water, he would put James Bond to shame and yet he has never left our house. He is also the baddest bear in the land. He steals money from Elmo, he lies and disobeys Noah and gets put in time-out a lot. He hits his friends and provides me with many teaching moments, as I explain to Noah why Brownie’s behavior is wrong and smile at Noah’s vicarious living through his unruly bear.

We chuckle to hear our children begin conversations with each other like this: “Remember when Brownie…” and we have to walk away so they don’t see us laugh when the other one replies: “I remember and he also…” filling one more detail of an adventure neither one of them witnessed.

I don’t know why Isabel did not take to Brownie. Maybe she had too many other choices. Or maybe their personalities simply did not “click.” My daughter is nurturing and prefers small creatures she could wrap in blankets and hold as babies in her arms. Brownie is a big bear, more of a pal than an offspring, so his charms did not work on her.

 It took a quirky little boy with mischievous eyes to see the possibilities this bear’s company had to offer. They are best buds. Brownie wears Noah’s clothes and, in exchange, Noah has made Brownie the star of his childhood adventures. It is endearing. And a little nerve-racking. The way this bear acts sometimes I worry he can be a bad influence on Noah…

I would have danced in the middle of that Goodwill with Brownie in my arms if I had known the life he would live and the small friends he would keep.  But the afternoon we met, I cautiously held him by the ear, trying hard not to get too attached and trying not to think about his loneliness and mine, were he never to have playmates.  

Sometimes you have to take a step of faith and buy a bear for an empty home, believing God keeps his promises. Sometimes those promises take you on a journey you did not expect because God’s crafted a different plan than you anticipated. And sometimes the earliest evidence of God’s plan in your life is brown and fuzzy, and wears a blue scarf around its stuffed neck.