Hair wisps over her ears and into her eyes, straight and the color of straw. Her hands are fat as she reaches up from the crib, clinging to a stuffed dog named Hank that technically belongs to her big sister. It’s still dark outside, but the first moments of dawn are glowing through the cracks around the curtain.
I carry her downstairs, holding carefully to railing. My belly is heavy already. She is so very very heavy. But her head is resting in that spot between my collarbone and my ear, and her straw-hair is tickling my neck. For once, I’m the one up and alert and Daddy is the one still in bed. So I do the thing he always does for me, and I bring her to him. He sees her coming and makes a sleepy sound of pleasure and greeting. He opens the covers for her and she laughs as she reaches for the tunnel of warmth next to him.
“It’s pancake day,” he tells her in a gravelly voice.
“Peh-pehs day,” she giggles and gives him Hank to kiss before he kisses her. I carry my weight back upstairs to write for a little while, listening to their low mingled conversation.
“‘Thank you, Father,” I say under my breath.
How did these sweet things come to me?
Forty minutes later, I hear big sister wake up whimpering. She might have gotten that fever the little one had yesterday. I go in to bring water; I am always bringing them water and urging them to drink. When my husband responds to cries in the middle of the night, I hear myself saying “water,” before he leaves the room when I’m still half-asleep. Don’t ever let them be thirsty.
Big sister is four tomorrow. She has been waiting for months to be four. She asks all the time what new responsibilities she may have when she’s four. Will she be able to drink water out of a cup with no lid? Yes. Will she be allowed to cook meals by herself on the stove without help? No, but still with mommy yes. Will she be allowed to spank her sister? No. But she will be older than her five-year-old friend, right? No; I’m sorry but you’ll always be younger than her. Some people you’re older than; some people are older than you. Always. When the new baby comes, can it be my baby? Because I’m four? It will be your baby and ours too; it will be our whole family’s baby. But I won’t be a mommy until I’m a lady. Yes, if God gives you your own babies when you’re a lady, that’s when you can be a mommy.
I bring her water in the bed and I hear her little sister downstairs toddling out of the bedroom with Daddy. She heard big Sissy cry.
“Sissy ‘wake! Awww,” calls the two-year-old. “You awwight?” A minute later I hear them making pancakes downstairs; Daddy’s special pancakes for Saturday morning only. It’s peh-peh day.
“Thank you, Father,” I whisper to myself.
How can it have come to me, so many kindnesses?
Last night we had guests and the two-year-old pooped in her pants again and developed a fever. She has been holding her poo every day for a week, sitting on the potty fruitlessly, and then pooping her pants. Over and over and over. I have been muddling poop in toilet bowls all week, and remembering why I don’t do cloth diapers anymore. She is cheerful about it.
“Gose,” she says. “Poopy potty. Not poopy pannies. Poopy potty.”
Every night, my husband and I talk about the girls in warm reminiscence, as if we put them to bed a long time ago. We tell stories about them most. But we laugh about other things too. We pray for pressing matters in the lives of people we love; we discuss ministry things and adjust calendars. We are friendly together this season; yoked and working. We are cheerful in our work and I can see us changing.
“Thank you, Father,” my husband says. And at 36, he looks like a young son to me.
We are saving up energy now, soaking it in from the spring sun, because we know now that when the new baby comes the new baby will eat a lot of energy and we’ll feel dry for a while. It’s a blessed providence, the spring sun just before a baby comes.
A couple at our church will get a baby about the same time ours comes, Lord willing. Their baby will have to have heart surgery, and the surgery is a dangerous one. God has given them a different blessed providence; the church prays and weeps with them as they wait and learn more from doctors. The spring sun shines on both of our families. But we are saving up energy in a different way. They may learn something about the Father this year that we will never know.
I can’t get out of bed these days without spending ten minutes getting into varicose vein stockings and other gear. The pregnancy has been so long. But it is a blessed providence all the same. My sick stomach and sleep attacks, my heaviness and pain, these have all been opportunities for me to learn how to be cheerful when my body is not having fun. Can I know how to be cheerful in suffering if I never suffer? And if I’m cheerful all the time and never suffer, will I ever know where my help comes from? I am better at hard pregnancies this morning than I was six months ago. It’s a smallish thing to be better at, but it’s still something I didn’t know before. My Father is giving such gentle, such very gentle lessons to me. I expect in the future he will give harder ones, as he has in the past.
“Thank you, Father,” I breathe as I pull on my stockings.
One day, this psalm shouts easily into my ears and my ears accept it. Another day, this psalm seems like a truth that is a little bit deaf. Sometimes it seems like a drunk man; it’s too noisily rejoicing to hear what my heart thinks today. Perhaps this psalm didn’t hear about what is going on in the Robbins family, didn’t hear about Mrs. Smith’s week with cancer, didn’t hear what I said to my daughter yesterday afternoon while we were both tired. But this psalm strikes a note that is true always, just like the laments do:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!