She was turning eight on the first birthday that she celebrated with us. I think this was her first birthday ever, as the first years of her life had been undocumented.
And I was overwhelmed – a likely coupling.
We’d just completed our most recent adoption of two more children and my head was still spinning. Life hadn’t stopped to let me more deeply absorb the impact of melding lives and histories and cultures all under one roof. I still had to cook dinner every night. We all needed clean underwear.
In the times of transition like this, I was most aware of how limitless life can feel. We’d just adopted internationally and outside the birth order. I could find hundreds of blogs and dozens of articles to inform this transition. I was cooking for six now, not just four. And there were countless sites I could search for recipes and women offering advice on the screen about how to feed a large family. I was homeschooling – certainly no dearth of resources there to tell me what to teach and how to teach it. And in an effort to keep myself sane, I was still running several mornings a week. According to the sites, barefoot running was the new trend for the well-studied runner.
Never mind all that, it was her birthday (and this was before pinterest) so just a few clicks to give ideas and we’d be throwing the bash of a lifetime.
But this was not our year for big birthday parties. Big events and celebrations can often serve to send the child spiraling who is still adapting to life in a family. This year would be small, an intimate circling around her.
Days before her birthday – my plan for the day already in place – I prayed for her and her siblings, line by line through Isaiah 61. Heal their broken hearts, open prison doors that bind them, comfort them as they mourn. My mind stayed on her, the one with the most years outside of our family.
Replace her ashes with beauty, I prayed, feeling a little bereft against all these lofty words. I knew what our everyday looked like.
And then this phrase dropped into my spirit: Beauty is a birthday party.
Immediately, I knew in the there’s-no-way-I-could-pull-this-off-right-now-unless-I-was-sure-it-was-God kind of way that my plans were being shifted.
So we planned a surprise birthday for her, this child who had only months earlier learned what a surprise was.
This was an interesting proposition on behalf of a child who was still shedding her shy skin and whose closest acquaintances were only those few adults who had frequented our post-adoption incubation period. My children were still learning to make friends out of siblings – we weren’t yet focused on making "family" out of friends, as was done throughout their orphanage life.
Our guests came bearing gifts of words on quilt squares, pieces that made up one resounding message.
They sang the age-old song that her ears heard for herself the first time, ever.
And, she received. A layer of the hardness of years of being orphaned was rinsed away in song and cake and surprise squeals.
That night, she turned a substantive corner.
All after a birthday party I had feebly cobbled together in just a few days. And all because of a whisper from God.
Mamas, all that is available to us – the countless resources and images and stories we hear in a day that can inform the way that we live-- are a profound gift. I have more ideas today about how to approach my life and home than I did last week, thanks to the help of authors and snapshots into friends’ lives whom I admire. But.
These will never replace the power and beauty of the whisper of God into our finite life.
And sometimes we just need to shut it all out a bit, so we can hear the Best Voice informing how we raise up those young ones.
We so often respond to that tired cry of ours -- “I just can’t do it all” – with less sleep and more drive and amping up that internal conversation where we coach ourselves into more output. We respond by … doing more.
When “I just can’t do it all” pretty much sums up our humanity.
My best parenting moments come when I’m weak and feeling incapable and He shows up, strong and more-than able. Sure, I get great ideas from Instagram, but on many days it’s the quiet nudge in the laundry room that I get from Him (the one that doesn’t require me to pour myself in to something I could never carry through while I grumble at the little people getting in my way) that creates the most beauty in my home.
God is a really good leader.