In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here's number 10, to my firstborn niece, Rachel.
I always knew I wanted children, that was a given. But I couldn’t imagine being ready for that responsibility. We’d been married just under four years when you were born and we were definitely enjoying our freedom. Weekend trips, spur of the moment adventures, it was hard for me to imagine setting that aside for a couple of decades to raise a child.
And then you, my first niece, were born.
It was six weeks until I could get my hands on you. Six long weeks of you growing and changing that I missed. But finally, finally, I got you in my arms. I can still feel your tiny form, just big enough for your head to rest on my knees, your legs tucking in at my waist. I remember touching your brand new skin, inhaling your newborn scent. (Surely that is the aroma that flows from Heaven’s Gate.) Magnificence.
And that’s when I knew.
The epiphany came sometime between me reaching for you, and you looking up at me. In that very moment, it all became clear to me and I knew I would gladly give up any fleeting worldly pleasures for the joy of parenting.
Three years later—give or take a few months—-my first child was born. Oh how delighted you were. As far as I can tell, you’ve never stopped being enthralled with your Trellace--your "twin cousin." I’m so thankful that you love each other as you do.
I’m so proud of you sweet girl. You have grown into such a beautiful young woman, pursuing your dreams and, of course, making your own mistakes. I wish there was a better, easier way to grow up; I’d prefer you never had to have a bad day, much less learn a difficult lesson. But you’re doing it. You’re making it on your own, finding your own way. And I couldn’t love you more, or be more proud of who you are.
God gave you to our family, that’s true. And I do thank God for the gift of you. But you let me into your heart. You let me love you and you have loved me back. Thank you, beloved girl. Thank you.
I love you so my Rachel. Today on your birthday, I celebrate you, thanking God for your life, and thanking you for sharing it so generously with me.
I love my Rachel!
Technically, in the biological and legal sense, she's no relation. Meredith, daughter of my dear friend Debbie, was born July 4, 1995 at 25.5 weeks; her identical twin fell victim to twin to twin transfusion. Meredith lives 1000 miles away, but for nearly 15 years, our families celebrated Thanksgiving together. I'm so very grateful to have this grown-up miracle in my life.
My beloved Meredith,
Who could have ever guessed that a baby who weighed less than two pounds could make such a big impression on my life? You slipped into this world three months before you were due, right by yourself (your identical twin went straight to heaven, bypassing Earth altogether). Immediately, though, you found yourself surrounded by love—family, friends, medical staff—and found within your tiny little self, the spirit of a champion. I am so very thankful for you, sweet girl, and I thought it was time I tried to tell you how grateful I am for the gift of YOU.
Thank you baby Meredith, for surviving your shaky beginning. Somewhere in your amazing self, you found the will to thrive. So, after four months in NICU and I-can’t-even-remember-how-many days on the ventilator, you went home. It was only a few weeks later that I got to hold you for the first time. Thank you, tiny one, for smiling at me so readily. I can still recall the feeling I had, holding all five pounds of you (a pound for each month of your life), looking into your beautiful brown eyes. You made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Thank you.
Thank you little girl Meredith, for always being delighted to see me. (You’ve always been so easily delighted.) Thanks for crawling up in my lap, for letting me read to you, for playing games and watching movies with me, for letting me push you on the swings. And as hard as leaving always was, thanks for always holding on so tightly to me, asking me not to leave, begging us to stay longer next time. Oh how I loved every precious moment of those fleeting days.
Thank you middle school Meredith, for being so unexpectedly full of spunk. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m so grateful for the grit in your makeup that kept you moving forward. Middle school is just the worst, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that you survived those difficult times. Thanks for liking me when it was hard even to like yourself. It felt so undeserved and it felt like treasure. It still does.
Thanks high school Meredith, for sticking with it. It is just so very hard . . . being. Especially in high school. But you connected and found friends I’m certain you’ll have for life. Thanks for not giving up on my Meredith during high school. I’m eternally, endlessly grateful.
I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life, but I’m even more grateful that you let me be a part of yours. Thanks for emailing, Facebooking, texting, and SnapChatting with me. Thanks for loving me from far away and for still wanting me to be with you. I’m so very grateful.
You will have nieces and nephews of your own before you can truly know how gratified my heart is that you are a part of my life. So thank you dear girl. Thank you for being Meredith.
I loved you before you were born.
I met my soulmate the day I was born. Well, maybe not the exact day, but soon. The only thing I know for sure is that as soon as I was aware of my surroundings, I was aware of my sister.
She came into being 26 whole months before I did and thus had the necessary wisdom and knowledge to show me the ways of the world. She was my teacher, my mentor, my roommate, and my friend. It was always that way, though our roles shifted slightly as we got older. See I got married before she did and had two children before she got pregnant the first time. So sometimes it felt a little like I was the older sibling, the one with the advice. Long-distance advice--I lived in North Carolina and she in Maryland--but still.
Anyway, when she began to experience pregnancy itching, I knew just what she should do. “Lanolin,” I told her. “Or cocoa butter. Both are great for itchy skin.” But I was wrong; and it wasn’t itchy skin. (How we would later wish for something so easy to fix as pregnancy-related dermatitis!) Not even the doctors knew what the problem was, but they eventually settled on a diagnosis of an allergy to the amniotic fluid.*
Whatever it was, it was maddening. My sister itched from the inside out. And oh what a tease that itch was. My sister could never resolve it: not by lotions or medications and certainly not by scratching. She itched nearly everywhere. “Sometimes,” she told me, “I try to think about my teeth. I concentrate on that one part of my body that doesn’t itch.”
But the itch always won. It snuck in along her gum line and around her lips, up to her scalp and down in her ears. It was merciless, unrelenting, and just plain mean. She begged her doctors for some relief from the madness. They only had one thing to offer.
“Once the baby is here,” they told her, “the itching will be greatly reduced if not gone altogether.” Childbirth: my sister’s only hope for pain relief.
Finally, early one morning I got the call: she was in labor. It was wonderful, and terrifying, news. The doctors knew so little about what was going on with her. All we really knew was that things could easily go tragically wrong.
That day was February 3, 1997, one of the longest days of my life, and the day my niece, Emma Mitchell Weiss was born. A week later, I wrapped my arms around my sister, Emma snuggled in her mama’s arms between us.
That moment that I held them both . . . it is one of the High Holy Moments of my life. In the midst of that multigenerational embrace, God’s love overwhelmed me. I felt such divine mercy and grace, such unfathomable love . . . well, it felt like the Kingdom of God right here on earth. Thanks be to God.
“Happy 18th Birthday Beloved Emma. Your birth gave me a beautiful image of the love of God. Your life is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. So go be miraculous My Emma. Be you.”
*When my sister’s symptoms returned during her second pregnancy, she discovered (thanks to a brand new computer application called Google™ which led her to knowledgeable doctors across the world and right in her own town) what she really had was a disease called obstetric cholestasis. This rare disorder causes liver malfunction during pregnancy and a resulting incessant itchiness.
Interestingly enough, it turned out that even with the wrong diagnosis, the doctors gave my sister the right prognosis. Indeed, delivery brought the beginning of the end of her symptoms. Today, my sister and her two children Emma and Mitch are healthy and strong, showing no signs that liver disease threatened their well-being. To God be the glory.