But wait there’s more!
~ the late Billy Mays
As though we hadn’t had enough Bloggy Mama Love to last til Kingdom come, there was even more in store for the weekend. On Sunday, we had plans to meet up at the beach with Jeneil, her beautiful daughters, Rhema and Hope and her delightful (and heroic) husband, Brandon.
While searching in vain for parking spots at the very, very, very (no, seriously – VERY) overcrowded beach, we decided together to pull the rip cord and caravan back to our house for some good old fashioned sprinkler jumping, popsicle slurping, swinging, slipping and sliding.
As soon as we got to the house, the girls hit the ground running. They took to the play set, each finding a space to call her own. They danced around each other for a while, apparently content to weave in and out of each other’s space.
Rhema discovered the Air Pogo, which is essentially just what it sounds like. It is a long stick with a platform on the bottom that bounces up and down on an elastic cord attached to the top of the swing set. She sat down on the platform and quickly discovered that she could make it spin by pushing off of my legs to gain momentum. I was amazed by her strength, agility and coordination – attributes that were obviously innate, rather than learned as with (both of) my girls.
I was delighted when she reached for my hand and put it on the pogo stick. I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do, so I asked. “Bounce? Do you want to bounce, Rhema?” I was thrilled when she ‘answered’ by grabbing my other hand and putting it on the stick next to the first. I bounced her up and down, gleefully sing-songing, “Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!”
Eventually she tired of bouncing and pushed off of my leg again into a dizzying spin. She lost her balance and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, but thankfully bounced right back up, unscathed. As she did, she saddled up again, grabbing my hand and putting it back on the stick. “Bounce, Rhema?” I asked again. “Bounce?” She grabbed my other hand. This time I waited. “Bounce? Bounce?’
“Boun” came the soft, but unmistakable reply.
I screamed to Jeneil, who came running over. I tried to tease it out of her, but Rhema seemingly had no interest in saying it again.
She spun and bounced for a while longer and then wandered around the yard. She searched out every nook and cranny. She opened every door and peeked around every obstacle. Her curiosity and desire to interact with her surroundings was insatiable. She made her way from the shed to the sandbox and finally through the bushes to the farthest reaches of the yard, exploring its far corners.
I watched Brandon and Jeneil. I knew it had been a tough week for them. They were on guard.
The challenges around our parts tend to be intellectual and emotional. They have those too, but their challenges are also immediate and physical. They are constantly moving, perpetually chasing this glorious little whirling dervish of activity, trying desperately to keep her safe.
She made her way to the Slip and Slide where she splashed on the mat and ran in and out of the streaming water. Once, she imitated a noise Katie was making ‘Boing!” as she jumped and we all erupted in surprised delight. Katie was thrilled. “Mama! She said, boing! Did you hear that?” Jeneil and I were already celebrating.
Katie stepped on the edge of the Slip and Slide, causing the water to shoot up into the air. Rhema began to giggle. Encouraged, Katie did it again and again. Rhema’s giggles erupted into full on laughter.
As readers of Rhemashope know, Jeneil and Brandon are people of God. Their faith – while truthfully quite foreign to my existence – is beautiful to behold. Their trust in God structures and defines their lives.
I bring this up because I have to tell you, I saw God’s work in my backyard that afternoon. Not because Jeneil and Brandon spoke of Him. No, God was simply there, His presence spread across the grass and over the tops of the trees. Yes, God’s presence soared up into the clouds and came back to dance through the leaves when that beautiful little girl laughed.
I grabbed my camera. I needed to capture that laugh for Jeneil – to record the joy that was that moment – to give her something.
Rhema laughed with every fiber of her being, I clicked and my backyard was alight in God’s grace.
While Katie and the girls ran in and out of the water, Brooke reached the end of her rope. Despite the oppressive heat, she went into the house and changed into a favorite soft, long-sleeved shirt (which she wore backward – hood in front) and comfy pants. She came out and climbed into the playhouse where she sprawled out and lazed alone in the shade. She had no interest in anything going on around her. She was done. We had asked an awful lot of the little punker over the previous two days. A full house, a sleep-over and brand new friends are enough to do my girl in. Hell, I was cooked too.
So when little Hope began to call her name, it was more than she could handle. “Brooke! Brooke! Brooke!” she shouted to her, adorably relentless.
Brooke reverted back to an old response.
“Hee! Hoo! Hee! Hoo! Hee! Hoo!’ she hooted back, anxious and clearly out of words.
When she reaches that point, most kids at the very least give her a sideways look. But not Hope.
“Good calling, Brooke,” came the response.
It took me a minute to put it together. I could barely make sense of the fact that, since she had obviously mistaken Brooke’s distressed hooting for “Hee Hope” she had gone on to PRAISE her for using her name.
Hope is two. Though she has cheeks for days, she is a tiny little thing. Two. And she was praising and thereby rewarding my girl for using what she thought was her name. Two. I looked at Jeneil for confirmation. “Did she just say, ‘Good calling’?” I asked. She nodded and explained that she was in a peer modeling group.
I spent the rest of the afternoon watching her in awe. I continually reminded myself that this incredible little creature, the one who had language for days, the one who asked Katie if she wanted to play with her, the one who engaged each and every one of us in turn, the one who ran with abandon onto the Slip and Slide and swung like a little monkey on the swings – is TWO.
I watched her make her way joyfully through the scene. “This child,” I thought, “this little tiny person with wisdom and patience and determination well beyond her meager years – will lead us. She and an army of compatriots – kids like Roxie and Katie, will show us the way to where we need to be.”
Having watched the three of them over the course of the weekend, it became clearer than ever. There is so much to learn from these little wonders. They are patient, open, expressive, joyful, magnanimous, thoughtful, compassionate, wise and constantly affirming. They have hearts that contain the very best of all of us.
Indeed, for the second time in a single afternoon, I saw God. The collective grace of our children was nothing short of divine.
I often marvel at the way in which Jeneil and Brandon live their lives. Their faith is an enigma to me. It imbues their every action. For me, faith is new and a little awkward. It is something that stops by periodically, since I had children. It nearly always shows up unannounced.
When I first got to know Jeneil it didn’t take long to find out that she is a Christian. It’s as simple as knowing that she is a woman or a mother. It just is who she is.
I have always been of the live and let live mindset. Whether you choose to worship Jesus Christ, Allah or yellow pencils, I have always been hell bent on respecting and defending your right to do so. As long as (and this is big) you give me the same leeway – as long as you don’t feel the need to tell me who or what you think I should believe.
The capital C Christians that I have encountered over the years have always viewed me as a pet project. Their need to prosthelytize was very difficult for me. And so, based on my past experience I was concerned when I first met Jeneil that I might find myself at the other end of an uncomfortable sales pitch. Over time, I saw that my fears were unfounded. Or so I thought.
Jeneil and Brandon don’t sermonize. Apparently they don’t need to.
They simply bring God with them wherever they go. They bring Him in Rhema’s laughter. They bring Him in Hope’s very presence. They bring Him in their own faith and abiding love. And in so doing, they leave me no doubt of His existence.
Pretty sneaky, guys. Pretty sneaky.