my very first seven-year-old

Happy birthday, sweetie.

chapman family©2017SarahLewisPhotography-53
(image credit: Sarah Lewis Photography)

You’re growing up so well. I feel like you’re right on the line between a little girl and a big one. I’m sure part of this feeling is simply that you’re first. You’ve been the one that made me a mama, and then the one that made me the mama of a toddler and a preschooler and now a seven-year-old, so you always feel SO BIG. But that’s not all of it. Your heart and your mind are developing thoughts and words and feelings around big-people concepts in ways that you haven’t before. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I only know that I’m not quite ready.

Last year, I watched you as you struggled with things I have wrestled with; this year, I am watching you fight with things I am wrestling. I was not prepared.


This birthday is the first I am truly nervous about. Not so much because you’re seven… it’s the day itself. This year, I’m blowing off parties, hoping to celebrate you in ways that allow me to be much more present and engaged in the day, and you’re really not sure how to deal. You keep telling me how boring it is that you’re not getting a party and how mad you are that you’re going to get fewer presents. It’s possible we won’t do it this way for you every year. Maybe this is a huge flop. But I so want you to learn the art of celebrating even in the quiet. I see your expectations and they just are not ones I can meet. (An Apple Watch and $200? Uh…) I want you to be happy and feel so very loved on your birthday, but with or without a big to-do (well, as big as my parties get, which is to say, not very big) I’m not entirely sure your happiness is up to me—it’s a matter of your attitude and expectations. I am trying to talk you through all of this, but I know in the deepest part of my gut and my memory: this lesson isn’t learned by listening to your mother. I remember these birthdays growing up where all my expectations (spoken or otherwise) were more than anyone could have fulfilled and I spent the day feeling sad and unloved. It’s hard for me to see this experience coming toward you, knowing that despite my best efforts and hopes, there’s not a lot I can do to teach you this lesson the easy way. It’s hard knowing I’m going to let you down today.

It’s hard to realize that I cannot be responsible for your happiness.

But then I remember our talk the other night. You told me, “I feel so small. I’m never good enough. I try to be kind to Katherine and Brian and they just ask and ask and it’s never enough for them. I try to be kind to Lilly, and she just shrieks at me.”

“I know this feeling,” I told you. “I know ‘never enough’ and I know ‘I can’t make them happy.'” The never enough is inside me. I have spent all of my years finding my worth in my usefulness, when the things I do were only ever meant to come out of who I am, not define it. I see this in you and I’m sorry. I still fight it, but I want you to know that you are lovely. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and so very loved. Your Daddy and I love you more than you can imagine (and you’re an incredibly good imaginer!) and God loves you so much more than we do. Your worth was clear to us before you ever did anything.

The can’t make them happy lives in the others. You can’t make Katherine or me or anybody else happy, at least not long-term, because her happiness is not your job. Watching you try to make me happy, especially on my hard days, is simultaneously the most heartwarming and heartbreaking thing. I love your compassion for others—that you want to make them happy—but then I see you assessing your value in your ability to pull it off, and you will come up short. Not because you’re not good enough, but because this job was never yours to do in the first place. We need to deal with our own expectations and insecurities and your job is simply to be kind and do right, not to make me or anybody else happy.


And here we are, with me struggling with my inability to make you happy for your birthday because I can’t do all the things exactly as you hope (and, truth be told, it wouldn’t be good for you if I did) and you struggling with your smallness and inability to make me and your siblings happy.

Baby, it’s going to be okay. Today might be tough as your expectations and reality collide. The story you’re probably going to tell yourself is that I don’t love you enough to do the things you want. Worse, that if you were somehow better—more worthy—I would love you enough to do those things. I know this because you’ve said as much and also because I’ve lived it countless times.

I will speak truth to your big, 7-year-old heart. It will take time for you to believe me—longer, likely years, before it sticks. (I’m still fighting this battle.) Eventually totes*, you will learn to recognize truth and speak it to your own heart and your own stories. It’s a really important part of growing up. I’ll show you how.

I love you, Jenna girl. You are such an incredible delight to my heart and a tool Jesus uses constantly to make me more like Him. I love watching you grow.


*for those of you listening in, “eventually totes” is a thing that Brian started saying a few months ago (“Brian, when do I get to go to bed?” “Eventually totes! Hahahahaha!”) It cracks us all up, and has become part of our family’s vernacular, so a lot of our “eventuallys” get followed by “totes.”

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I want to be like YOU

It happens when she’s the most stressed out and anxious and tired.

My six-year-old whines, “Mom! I wanna be like YOU! I just can’t be like you!”

Now, you should know that Jenna is like me in more ways than I can count. We’re both firstborns with a lot of younger siblings. We even both hit “oldest of four” status at just barely five and a half. She likes to write. She likes to take pictures. She sounds EXACTLY LIKE ME when she talks to the littler kids. She’s precocious and independent, as I was. She loves jalapeños, for heaven’s sake. Her strengths, weaknesses, interests, and mannerisms are eerily (sometimes frustratingly) similar to mine.

So when she starts fussing about wanting to be like me, I start countering with all of these things. “Baby, you are like me. You are so like me!”

She hears none of it. “But I CAN’T be like you! I’m only six! And you’re… far too old!” (I know.) “…and you have four babies! I don’t even have one in my TUMMY. And you know how to cook! And drive! I can’t do any of those things! I. JUST. CAN’T. BE. YOU.”

You know what? I feel her pain.

I have the same problem. I’ve been living this life as a follower of Jesus since I was younger than she is now, and I get frustrated.

He’s gentle and kind. Usually, I’m neither of those things. I want to interact with my kids in ways that are calm, consistent, and compassionate, but in general, I can hit two out of those three on a good day.

I get angry about really stupid things. For instance, nap time. When somebody wakes the little two during that sacred space in the afternoon reserved for glamorous things like bathroom cleaning and meal prep, I about lose. my. mind. I don’t think Jesus would get enraged at a random teenager playing basketball in the street because she caused His dog to bark and wake the babies. He gets angry, certainly, but not over inconveniences.

He is wise. I… try really hard. Most days, though, I’m at a loss. I have these little ones and I’m supposed to teach them how to be people, but I don’t even know how to be a person sometimes. I’m not sure what to do when my kid’s teacher lets me know that she’s been getting calls from other students’ parents because mine plays rougher than she should sometimes. I don’t know exactly what will connect with my kids’ hearts to impress upon them that sneaking out of their rooms at six in the morning to play with the iPad and go for a walk outside is SERIOUSLY not okay. I alternate between overreacting and underreacting. I want to parent with grace and truth, but I can’t find that line. I am fairly certain Jesus isn’t completely winging it like I am.

He is righteous, faithful, impartial. He knew Scripture very well (well enough to do battle with it when he was 40 days without food) and He was in constant communion with the Father.

He’s growing me in each of those areas, but I’m really not there yet.

As I sit here, listing off all the ways I’m NOT like Jesus, I’m tempted to be discouraged. All I can see is the ways that I fall short and how those insufficiencies affect the people around me. But then I hear Him telling me the same things I told Jenna the last time she and I had that conversation.

It’s fine.  

You have time.

That’s what you’re here for: to learn how to be like Me. That is the entire point.

 You’ll learn all of those things and it’s completely okay that you don’t have them all under control right this second. I’ll teach you when the time comes.

I love how much you want to be like me. You already ARE like me in more ways than you know. 

Try to get some rest. I love you.

 And, like my firstborn, I’m learning (very slowly) to obey and to rest in the truth that “God, who began the good work within [me], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phillipians 1:6, NLT)

We will get there, friend. Slowly, incrementally, but as sure as His promises, He’ll continue His work in us.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Little J!


Hey, Little J… 


Happy fourth birthday, little girl! I love you. Have I told you lately that I love how you’re growing up? Not to fast, not to slow… just right. It’s fun that you can have very involved conversations with me. (It’s fun that you frequently carry out both sides of involved conversations with, say, stuffed animals. Or infants.) I love that you know and use all the big words you hear us use. I also like that you still say “somefling” instead of “something.” I’ll admit that I’m not working very hard to teach you the right way to say that… I want to hold on to that very last hint of toddler in your voice. I still call you “Baby J” from time to time, but that’s more habit than anything. You’re less and less of a baby and more of a little kid. 


It’s fun (and sometimes scary) to see the ways you’re like me. You’re so empathetic. It blows my mind that a three- (now four)-year old can and will pick up and verbalize how people around her are feeling (and respond appropriately), but you frequently do. It’s so funny to hear you interact with K and B- you’re such a little mama. It’s like hearing me, but in a preschooler voice. (And sometimes you say “Oh, MAN!” or “Shoot!” and I realize that sounding like me isn’t always a good thing. I’ll work on that.) 

I love your fun… The twirls, the dancing, the fairy wings and wanting to “really fly”… I love your songs- both the ones you learned and the ones you make up. (I won’t lie- I appreciate that you have pretty good pitch, too. Much easier to hear 2,341 rounds of Frozen songs when they’re not off-key.)

I love how you see God. Every pretty sunrise or snowfall finds you saying, “Look, Mama! We should thank God for that!” And the questions. Oh, the questions. You give me a run for my money, child. (“Wait. So God sent Jesus? But Jesus is God! So God sent Himself??? That doesn’t make any sense.“)  I like that when you’re sad, you talk to Him. I also like when you ask him to make your toys “real.” (And I like that you tell me, “I asked Him, and I hope He does make my giraffe a REAL giraffe, but if He doesn’t, I’m ok with that.” Much easier for me that way, to be sure!) You’re such a fun blend of little kid and big kid. I am praying that this is the year you understand, really understand about “God’s rescue plan.” (Because, as cool as you are, it’s obvious you need the Holy Spirit every bit as badly as your Mama does.) I am excited to see you grow to understand “grace.” (Other than “No! Don’t take that away! Give me grace!” when you deserve discipline.) 

I’m excited for this year.

Things you’ll learn to read and write and add and draw.

Fun things you’ll learn to do. (Swim lessons happening when K turns 3!)

The way you’ll learn to relate to your sister and help with your brother. 

Greater control over your words and emotions. (Not perfect- heavens! I’m not that good at it!- just better.) 

Growth in grace and character and wisdom. (As much of those as a 4-year-old can soak up!)

Mostly, I am just excited to see you become more you.

Because you’re lovely. And we love you.