Friday, July 26, 2013

Firsts, Falls, and Fruition

We celebrated a first for our children last weekend. It was kind of a big deal, and this mom forgot the camera (not my mother's daughter). We were invited to a birthday party at a local roller skating rink. The kids have seen our roller blades and often played with them, so when we told them that morning where we were going, they bounced off the walls, declaring their excitement for hours before we actually left for the party.

I was nervous though. I knew it wasn't going to be as easy as they thought, and that they didn't fully understand the hard work it would involve. I was afraid they would be frustrated and wouldn't actually have any fun.

They got there, put the skates on, and attempted to stand. Chastity's legs would have fallen right out from under her if I didn't already have a good grip on her arms. I walked out to the rink with her and helped her for a while, holding her wrists tightly and getting an amazing bicep workout in the process, while her legs flailed about, independent from her body.

After Elijah was able to gather his balance and he learned to use the wall to help, Jelani took over for me so I could relieve our friend from baby duty. She, of course, wouldn't allow me to take Isaac back, and told me to put on my own skates. While Jelani was still trying to keep Chastity upright, I joined Elijah's slow progress around the rink.

After watching him fall a handful of times, I wanted to hold his hand so badly, but we quickly learned that it made it even more difficult because he would rely on me too much and lose control a little bit. So I let go. As I let go, and watched him fall, repeatedly, I learned one of my most difficult parenting lessons to date. I learned that I sometimes have to watch my children fall.

I was watching him fall over and over and over, on his butt, on his hands, on his knees, on his elbows, and doing splits. Not once did he even wince. His face was so serious and so determined, I  became concerned that he wasn't having any fun, so I would repeatedly ask him, "Elijah, are you having fun?"


"Do you want to take a break and sit down for a bit?"


He was always very clear in his responses. I continued to skate next to him, watching him fall from only an arms length away, knowing there was nothing I could do. And it hit me.

This is parenting. This is life. My concerns were unfounded. He was having a blast, but it was breaking my heart. It was the first time something fun for my children was not fun for me. I had to retire from the rink to take care of Isaac and I was relieved to have the baby to distract me. Elijah had to learn to stand on his own two feet. He had to fall. He had to learn how to catch himself. And he would eventually grow stronger and be better.

Similarly, when God watches us fall, I believe it breaks His heart. But He can't do everything for us. He can't force us to stay upright. He gave us the gift of free will, and He wants us to learn and grow through our challenges. But He is there if and when we call on Him, walking right next to us.

We do our children a disservice by trying to hold their hands through everything when what they really need is for us to just be there to support, love, and encourage them. Right then, Elijah didn't need, or want, me to hold his hand. He just wanted to know I was there...watching.

This week, the kids learned to skate, Elijah learned to ride his bike without training wheels, and Chastity learned to finger knit. Mommy and Daddy learned how to let go just a little; just enough to watch them stumble, pick themselves back up, and ultimately succeed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

10 Years With My Sunshine

Ten years ago today Jelani and I decided to be more than just friends. Ten years ago today, I made the best decision I have ever made, seriously. My dad always told me, when dating and thinking of marriage, look for someone who has the qualities and character you'd most like to see in your children. So on July 19th, 2003 I struck gold.

Over the years, the most frequently asked question I've received is, "How did you two meet?" I think our obvious physical differences are what usually prompts the curiosity. Really, I don't think people are nearly as curious about two similar people from similar backgrounds, but this little white girl, from a 99% white, small town, literally fell in love with a tall, dark, and handsome fellow, and no one would have ever imagined how "dark."

Similarly, I don't think any of Jelani's family and childhood friends would have imagined him marrying the whitest girl he had ever met. I know his mom was thinking, "Blond and blue eyed? Couldn't she at least be Italian with some darker skin and hair?" Joke's on her. I am part Italian and Native American even. Genetics are a crazy science, I tell ya.

Anyway, here's the story, as I know it. ;-)

In the spring of 2003 I had newly given my life to Christ. I was excited about all that I was learning, and as an English major who needed to take some summer courses since I was on campus for basketball anyway, I decided to enroll in Bible as a Literature for the summer. I could knock out some English credits and learn more about God's word with this class. Meanwhile, I had gotten a job in Alumni Arena as a monitor. I had to check student IDs as people entered the building, and was allowed to study and read at my post.

Jelani had just graduated and was an intern for Recreation and Intramural services, as well as a supervisor to the monitors. We had seen each other around during his internship in the varsity weight room that spring. In fact, I even thought he had a crush on me due to a mix up with a friend. She was telling me about someone else wanting to hang out with me, but when she pointed in his direction, I only saw the guy that someone else was talking to, which was Jelani. So for about a month I thought he was some guy with a different name, who had a crush on me, but was too shy to talk to me. (Really glad I didn't embarrass myself by making the first move there!)

The end of May, when I met my supervisors, I realized my mistake. As supervisor, Jelani had to make the rounds, checking in on all the monitors throughout the day. One day, he stopped and sat down across from me. Noticing I was reading the Bible, he began to interrogate me about what I believed. When I say interrogate, I mean that literally. He seemed angry and acted as though the Bible was foolish. I stumbled and stuttered, and didn't quite know how to respond. It was just two months earlier that I had given my life to Christ. I was so new at this, and had never really shared my faith with anyone, let alone an angry unbeliever. I panicked. I was thinking, Dang it! Here's this guy, searching, asking, and questioning, and I'm too new at this! I don't know what I'm doing! I finally just blurted out, as fast as I could, "I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead! Why? What do you believe?" Way to just rattle off what everyone knows Christians believe. Sheesh.

His eyes lost their intensity, and a smirk played on his face. "I believe the same thing. I just wanted to see where you were at," and he walked away, leaving me very confused and embarrassed. Now, instead of flubbing up and getting flustered in front of a skeptic, I did it in front of a peer who likely knew more about this stuff than I did.

After that, he would stop and talk with me for a while each time he made his rounds. Then he began coming in on his days off to work out, purposely during my shift, and he would often visit with me after his work out for extended periods of time. I knew very early that he was someone I wanted to spend a lot more time with. A mutual friend of ours invited a bunch of us over to her apartment to hang out and watch a movie. When Harry Met Sally was on the agenda, and happens to be one of my favorites. I called Jelani to find out if he was going, secretly thinking I would only go if he went too.

"Are you going tonight?" I asked him.

"Only if you are," was his perfect response, filled with what I later learned was a ton of false confidence.

We went, we laughed, and had fun in a large, safe group of people, and we all dispersed. After that night, Jelani and I began hanging out as friends outside of work. I looked for excuses for us to get together, usually involving a get together with multiple people. I had my first ankle surgery on June 27th that summer. He often helped me do my grocery shopping while I was on crutches. His smile lit up a room. I loved his smile so much I began calling him Sunshine. In fact, up until recently (silly, smart phone), he was Sunshine in my phone address book. :) We talked a lot, about things we wanted. We both wanted to be married by 25 and start a family young. 20 and 22 at the time, we joked that at the age of 25, if we didn't have anyone else (there was never going to be anyone else), we should just go ahead and marry each other.

The days leading up to July 19, Jelani was at an Exercise Science conference in Indianapolis. It was only a few days, but I missed him more than a person would miss a friend. On the 19th a few of us decided to head up to Canada to Crystal Beach for some swimming. With a bum ankle, I mostly sat in the sand, anxious for Jelani's return that afternoon. As we crossed the border back, after a long day of sun, I helped plan a trip out to eat for later, knowing it would give me a good reason to call Jelani (I'm so sneaky). So we all planned on going home, getting cleaned up, and then meeting up at the Outback Steakhouse.

I called Jelani to let him know of the plans, and ask if he'd like to meet up with us for dinner. He was just getting into town when I called. He said he might come, secretly very excited that I had called him.

I wore my cutest outfit (you've gotta rock something cute when lugging around crutches). And a group of about 6 or 7 of us went out to eat at Outback. We then moved the party to Anderson's for ice cream. As the evening was coming to an end, ice cream cones were disappearing, and everyone else was planning on going to a party somewhere I knew I'd be uncomfortable on crutches, I bowed out. Knowing Jelani was not the party type anyway, I casually mentioned I was just going to be watching movies at the apartment, and he was welcome to just hang out with me.

He took the bait, came over, and pretended to really like Lilo and Stitch, just to hang out with me. As the credits rolled, we again joked about our hypothetical marriage. He confessed to me that he had never really dated anyone before.

"You can't just marry me, having never dated anyone before!" I told him. "How could you possibly have any idea what you want?"

"I know what I want," he answered simply.

"Well, maybe we should date a little first, to see if it would work," I said, half joking, looking for a reaction.

He thought for a minute. "Ok," he said.

And he kissed me.

We never really talked about that night again. It was months before either one of us was comfortable referring to the other as their boyfriend/girlfriend for fear that the relationship was never really defined and we might offend the other.

Better yet, it was years before we ever mentioned that night again, and could laugh at how outrageous his response was, and how we swooped into a serious relationship relatively quickly based on an, "Ok."

But we already knew we wanted to marry each other. We wouldn't have bothered dating if we didn't. There was no real definition needed. Ok seemed perfectly legit and reasonable, and the best place to start what had already begun.

So, here's to the dating years, the funny pictures, the stories we have to tell, and the investment we made. Because on July 19th, 2003, I know I made an investment, paying handsomely into my future. God placed Jelani in my life at the most perfect time, and I couldn't have even prayed for all those awesome qualities I am finding in our children daily. I don't think anyone in either of our families could imagine life any differently, and no one cares that he's not white and I'm not black (or look Italian ;-)). Happy 10 years together, Sunshine!

p.s. No one has ever had a clue what was going on in that middle, right picture above. Don't bother asking. That is why it's one of my favorites. :)