life at six. a letter from her mama.

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Dear Skyla,

Girrrrl…happy birthday! My heart is smiling as I watch you skip into six with all the passion inside you. This day…you’ve been ready for it forever! It’s amazing how you, my sweet girl, look forward to turning another page, another chapter of your life. You can’t get there fast enough. And me, your mama whose nearing forty, wants to keep the page secure and in place – for you, for me – because right now, the innocence and wonder and softness of this world feels just right for you, so natural.

I wanna stay. You wanna go.

There’s something in you pulling you forwards. There’s so much in me that pulls me backwards.

You and me – we have this little dance we do. The pieces of who you are draws me in, shapes the way I embrace mothering, and keeps taking me to places I’ve never traveled before. Our relationship reminds me that I’m brave in really ordinary ways, just as much as it reminds me of all the ways I can get stuck, all the places that still need healing. And then the parts of me that spill out onto you…they’re shaping you, too. I see it show up in how you talk and how you move, in what you care about and don’t care about, and in your little, big personality.

We dance, we disconnect, we come back together, over and over again.

And about this little, big personality…it intrigues me, it ignites me, it infuses into me. I see you. I notice you. I’m learning what it means to know you – what frightens you, what delights you, what hurts you, what your heart needs to soar, how your body and brain crave to feel protected.

You have this charm that makes those closest to you want to stay right beside you.

You have this intensity that goes into almost everything you do, which keeps your independence and strength fiercely untouchable. (We believe this will become an asset someday.)

You have a curiosity and wonder about the world that makes the simple, everyday things in life new and alive, waiting for you to discover and understand.

You have this certainty – that life and people are for you to embrace, wholeheartedly, with conceit.

You have a desire within you to feel safe – with your surroundings, in relationships. You always have. It shows up in unpredictable and surprising ways, knocking me off of my feet, just as much as I presume it knocks you off yours too.

You have this sincere honesty that never makes us question what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling. It’s up front and forthright, learning to wrap itself with grace and kindness and respect.

And then there’s this vulnerable and tender part of you. Sometimes I forget it’s there, but I see it. Oh, girl! I want you to know how much I see this part too. When it shows up, it melts away all the hard that comes with parenting in a matter of seconds. You let me in to the most true and sweet places of your soul, and it feels so good to be right there, with you. And even if it’s just for a few fleeting minutes, I hope something in you knows that during all the moments that this part of you is tucked away, it’s so worth it to wait for those few moments where it feels like we’re together, when all is right in the world.

And ohhhh, those milestones you reached this past year: switching from four wheels to two, losing your first three teeth, learning how to read, memorizing Christmas program songs, navigating around on the computer and iPad and TV, practicing “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” and “Let’s start over,” and the way you’re just about to finish all-day Kindergarten with flying colors. Each progression is part of growing up and being human, yet each one in it’s own way comes with great bravery and perseverance and a new kind of freedom, both internally and externally. We celebrate these accomplishments and feel gratitude for what has needed to develop and mature in order to execute each experience.

Oh, Honey Bee, there’s so much I want to show and tell you about the world – to protect you, to prepare you, to help you learn what it means to offer your truest, most best self. Yet what I’m learning, what I’m being humbled by, is that you have to experience the shortcuts and mountains, the edges and crevices, the tension and restoration, yourself. I keep being reminded that this parenting journey isn’t about carving out a perfect path for you. I think Jesus had something up his sleeve when he gave me to you and you to me. However his sovereignty impacts us, I know that what we’ve shared in these six years, he’s using to make my heart soften so that I can awaken to my opportunity, not duty, to teach you less about “my” world and more about “his” world, and how he invites you to jump into it with all of who you are. He’s so good like that. And however it happens, as I parent you differently from my own experience, there’s this profound sense that God is mysteriously reparenting me in the fragile places where I need a bit more nurture and grace and love. Wow.

And I love…the way your affinity towards your brother keeps growing, how you make him laugh so hard, how you teach and tell him what to do and what not to do, how you help him and care for him and play with him. I’m grateful for how everything that you are adds to all that he is, and more. And, I love that all of who he is, adds to all of who you are. I love my Korean/Norwegian/Dutch sibs. So much.

And that daddy of yours…you draw him in. He’s so proud that you’re his daughter. He tells me late at night when you’re all tucked in and sleeping. I love hearing him talk about you and what enters his life because of your life – the challenging and confusing and hilarious and entertaining and special things. I’m so glad he talks to me about all of these things, because that’s what makes me know he sees all of you. The eyes of his heart are wide open, and I watch him offer something I wish I could do more of…so much grace, so much acceptance, so much presence. Girl, you’ve got your daddy’s heart.

So, year five leaves you stepping a little more away from our influence and protection. We’ve watched how the “outside” world grabs at you in subtly powerful ways as more experiences have found their way into “your” world, defining what’s cool and what’s not, new words and “bad” words and hurtful words, clothing style and lifestyles, peer pressure and paradigms. They just come in, unannounced and uninvited – through technology and public places and people. We pray for God’s divine discernment in how to respond rather than resist. We pray that your heart will be open to all the good that we have to offer, alongside of all the good the world has to offer. May you know, deep in your soul, what you have to offer – in friendships, in our family, in our community, for the kingdom. And, as the world flies by you or sticks to you or confuses you or pleases you, may you lay your head down on your pillow each night knowing how good your heart is, how loved it is – by him, through us.

So, together we skip right into six, with you. Taking all that has been with us, and allowing it to to complement and be used for all that is needed for this year, a new year. There are parts of me that wish we could stay right here, in this season, but onward we go. And maybe on the way, we’ll get a glimpse of Elsa’s Ice Palace, or maybe first grade, or maybe new friends, or maybe even more love.

So, let’s go, girl!

Love you…so, so much.

Love, Your Mama

***My song, this year, for you: Never Grow Up (Taylor Swift)

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life at three. a letter from his mama.

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September 25, 2013

Dear Zane,

Happiness and love to our boy – our tough and tender three-year-old! It’s a day to celebrate, a day to remember fondly upon, a day filled with wild life and excessive joy as you literally jump out of two and march triumphantly into three. Oh, how you’ve made our hearts enlarge and soften as we’ve watched you grab onto everything around you with peaceful intent and calm curiosity. We’ve loved watching you play and laugh, process and figure out, soak in and execute. With each new experience your world bursts with possibility and excitement.

Since you follow the first born, your eyes and ears and body were plunged into a routine that’s been mostly patterned for her. Yet, as we’ve navigated her path, we’ve also attempted to help you create your own path, your own rhythm, inviting out your personality and style and passions. We’ve wanted you to be uniquely you, and the things that set you apart from her shine. She’s introduced you to a pink and purple princess world, along with her colored-haired ponies and mermaid tails. You’ve introduced her to a world of objects and wheels that move fast and furious, on the ground and in the clouds. You watch her. You imitate her. You giggle with her. You compete against her. She antagonizes you, and in the same breath, applauds you. There’s something that fascinates her, us, about you. Maybe it’s the way you move about with ease and comfort, maybe it’s your growing independent spirit, maybe it’s the strength of your masculine soul. Whatever it is, we’re intrigued by both your differences and similarities. We watch, we participate, we manage, we rally. Mostly, though, we delight in how you complement one another and enjoy one another and need one another. Pals, provokers, teammates.

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You’ve got this way of grabbing our hearts (and ears) the moment your mouth opens with that high-pitched, soft, sweet (until you get mad) voice. Your wavy brown hair, your deep, brown eyes that smile, your love for blankie and puppy and “baby,” your tender heart and courageous leaps, your giggle and scream and soft, little hands – they naturally draw us in with ease. Oh, how we marvel at the precise and spectacular ways God made you and how he is maturing the little spirit inside of you. We stand in awe that he chose to give you to us, and at the same time, acknowledge that he made you for him. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to express his very nature as you keep moving and defining and expressing who he’s created you to be.

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You’ve transitioned from diapers…to more diapers. The potty chair is entertainment and exercise and duty. Your crib is still your bed, which most nights, we’re grateful for the ways those wooden bars keep you confined . You’ve gained opinions about clothes and shoes, and what tastes good, and what shows are worthy of your eyes and time. The Maxwell sugar gene assuredly has been passed on to your DNA, which means candy and chocolate and cake and ice cream are not options, but rather necessities. Your preferences are clearly stated and loudly retorted when denied. Let’s just say, for as easy-going as you are, you know how to use your voice.

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Our trips and excursions this past year brought wonder and thrill as you journeyed your way into water parks and splash pads and beaches and parades and restaurants and play lands and barnyards and museums and parks and carnivals and boats and swimming pools and hotels and cottage trips and fairs and train rides. There’s no question that you were made for fun and adventure. There’s no question about what excites you and fires you up and invites out your brave spirit.

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So as you jet into this next year, eyes wide open, we pray God’s protection and love and grace and truth over you. We continue to ask for discernment for what it means to nurture your sweet soul, and what it looks like to invite your voice and heart and mind to the table, in our family, in this world. We, without hesitation, believe in you – your strength, your tenderness, your goodness – but even more, how when God looks upon you, his eyes smile too.

With much love and adoration,

Your Mama

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year 10.

May 15, 2013

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years this week since you passed away, since we said goodbye to you, since you got to hug Jesus. Each year the calendar turns to May, my thoughts return to you, especially those last weeks with you…watching your body fade, missing your facial expressions, listening to you breathe, watching the lake water out the living room windows, curious about what you were thinking and feeling, observing dad offer every ounce of himself so you would feel comfortable, wondering what you were thinking of and wishing for and remembering…about life, about me. Your skin was soft, your hands were weak, your spirit was weary. I can still close my eyes and be transported right back into your living room as if it were yesterday.

That year, it was Mother’s Day that Sunday, your 60th birthday that Thursday, and then Jesus took you home that Saturday. I was young. I was quietly in shock, absorbing what life was giving me.

Each year, each May, I find myself reflecting on and remembering and honoring you.

This year, this May, I find myself wondering…what would you think of me today, 10 years later? I could easily get lost in my mind thinking about this, but today, this day, your birth-day, I wanted to share with you a few ways that I’m finding you in me – ways that have surprised and humbled me, ways that are bringing out the best in me, ways that have helped me see more of you, more of Jesus.

So, a little birthday letter to you…

I started a tradition with Skyla and Zane of writing them a letter each year for their birthday. It’s a way that I can sum up how I’ve experienced them throughout the year and what has made my heart leap because they’re in my life – the hard stuff, the silly stuff, the surprising stuff, the divine stuff. Obviously, it’s more for me at this age, but I hope that someday they will read them and know my heart for them as I watched them grow and learn and become. It’s a way to help me stay grounded and grateful because as you well know, parenthood can be utterly crazy and hard and wondrous and life giving all in the same day, sometimes even in the same breath.

Skyla’s birthday was last week. Every year I’m so grateful for the gift that God gave to me by bringing her life into our life in the very month that had felt so heavy and sad and hard. He’s sweet like that. It reminds me of how both death and life can exist together. It reminds me of how sitting in that reality, in that tension, gives me the opportunity to experience more of him.

I so wish you could experience our kids. I so wish I could experience you experiencing our kids. They’re full of life and passion and energy – both of them. People have opinions about who each one takes after, but I think they’re a great blend of us both.

Let me tell you a bit about Skyla because she has been the one that has initiated my reflections on you the most. She just turned five and the way she steps into life is determined and cautious and innocent and sweet and expectant. She radiates the feminine soul with her love for beauty – in her shoes and clothes and hair and glasses – fake glasses – and lip gloss and princess attire. She’s a playful realist.

Her strength, her fear, her resilience – they show up in unique ways that I know you also experienced as you parented. I wish I knew then how weary you felt, how lonely it must have been, perhaps maybe even how you doubted yourself and your parenting ability, how keeping life simple was necessary and good, how easily it was to isolate yourself because all your energy went into protecting your children and home, how much courage it took to say “no” to the things that may have brought you life because you had to bring forth life in our home, but…how losing yourself led to finding yourself through the desperation of falling into the arms of Jesus, because there were most likely days you had nothing left but what he could offer. And then, you kept going. Whatever you found in his arms, it sustained you – hour by hour, year by year. Not only do I have a clearer and subjective understanding of that now, but a deep respect for what you went through, how it drained you, how you allowed it to bring out the good in you, and for what you sacrificed and offered on behalf of our family. Thank you…from the bottom of my heart.

I know you would love being with Skyla. I think you would understand one another. I can’t adequately describe her, because I think you just have to absorb her to know her. I’m certain that you would be teaching her how to cook and how to throw an amazing dinner together so that people could gather around a table and share a meal with one another – and have a name card by each plate. You would show her the difference between “top cleaning” and “deep cleaning” and when each was needed. You would take her shopping and find the best deals. You would treat her to a special lunch, maybe even one with tea cups. You would instill in her the importance of chores and hygiene and self-care. You would remind her how important it is to have good manners and send “thank you” notes and cards in the mail. You would model dignity and grace and the importance of wearing the “right” colors and that it’s not polite to chew gum in social settings or church. And, for sure you would show her how to walk and sit with good posture! Oh, mom…you would have so much to offer my little girl! You would teach her what it means to be a lady, a woman. And, my prayer is that, as your gifts and strengths poured out into me, that I am offering her some of those very things…in intentional ways, gracious ways, kind ways.

I wish I had you here. Some days the wish is for practical reasons – to call with a recipe question, or ask you to help watch the kids while I step out into the world, or hear your perspective on things I need to make decisions on, or how to get chocolate out of clothes. And then some days, my wish is for the more unseen things like listening to me vent about what’s wrong with the world, or how to best meet my kids’ emotional needs, or how to respond to a marital disagreement, or reminding me of how capable and strong I am. Your voice would be one of belief in what I have to offer the world – the encouragement and support that only a mother can give. In your absence, I’m so, so grateful that God has given me some amazingly beautiful and strong women who are living life “ahead” of me, who encourage me, believe in me, teach me, mentor me…who cheer me on. They offer a maternal voice just when I need it most. I’ve come to believe that God shares mothers with those who don’t have one.

So today, I honor your life in the midst of missing your life here on earth. Thank you for choosing me – not just the little Korean baby you saw in my first picture, but for choosing to love me in the way you best knew how to love a daughter. I’m learning to love and accept and forgive and trust and lean…on God. I fail and I flop, but I’m finding God’s grace in those moments and he always brings me back to life.

Happy 70th birthday, mom!

Love, Carissa

Celebrating our little girl…her life, and all the life I find in her.

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Skyla Rae – month one

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Skyla Rae – year one

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Skyla Rae – year one 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year two 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year three 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year 4

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Daddy – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Mommy – year 5

life at two. a letter from his mommy.

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Dear Zane,

Happy Birthday to a boy who shines like the stars! Today we celebrate what came and changed with year two, and begin anticipating all that will come and change with year three. Happy, happy day to a boy who brings us so much laughter and delight as he soaks in the world around him. Our hearts keep soaring and melting as we’re continually blown away that you are ours, that we get you. Our gratitude for you, your life, the amazing way that you are knit together, flows deep.

This past year we got to experience you exit the little baby stage and literally step into the energetic – yet laid back, the sweet – yet determined, the playful – yet peaceful, the simple – yet detailed little toddler you’ve become. There’s something so innate, so mysterious, so deep in you that makes you all boy. From the banging to the jumping, from the semi-trucks to the clouds, from the animals to the tractors, from the outdoors to the cars and motorcycles and trains, you inherently gravitate towards things that define the masculine soul. We love that! We celebrate that!

We love that your cheeks and nose and tummy and toes are so cuddly and cute, and love how each of those parts love getting cuddled. There’s something so innocent and peaceful about your spirit. Maybe it’s the unique, raspy, sweet giggle that you possess, or perhaps the smile that radiates your insides, or that cute little voice that comes out in such a tender and spirited way, or maybe even your wispy, wavy, spirally hair that falls against your forehead. Whatever it is, we sense that you have a foundation that is both tender and calm, along with a quiet strength that allows you to remain secure and comfortable as you move into the world around you.

There’s this sister that utterly adores you and we marvel at the way she makes you laugh, even at the smallest and most silliest of things. Her eyes light up when you wake up from your nap and when we bring you out to the family room in the morning to greet her. She loves to teach you (we remind her that’s one of the jobs she gets to have) and entertain you and play hide-and-go-seek with you. She’s fascinated by all the things that make you smaller than her and all the things that make you different than her. She’s your helper for sure, teaching you how to talk and brush your teeth and go potty and how to hide from daddy and about TV and Talking Tom and “swiping” and jumping on the trampoline and ucky buggies and eating on the couch and dancing and headstands and how cool it is to explore the “big city.” You’ve figured out that you’re a brother of an intentional and assertive sister, and for sure there are times when her determination gets to you. You’ve found your straightforward way of saying “No, I don’t like that” by yelling, by pulling her locks of hair, and even at times, by finding the perfect place to sink your teeth into. We manage and distract, connect and correct, and then you show her in your own sweet way that you’re sorry by gently rubbing your hand on her arm. She’s got a lot of tricks and surprises awaiting you as you grow older, but for right now, she adores her little brother and she loves showing you how much with her hugs and kisses and smiles and jokes, and even by holding your hand. We’re so grateful for what you two share and pray that the connection between you will only grow and deepen as you play and enjoy and complement one another.

We are utterly grateful for all the ways you remind us of how good it is to live life with wonder and mystery, awake and enlightened. We so believe in you…how loveable you are, how capable you are. We are humbled by the ways that we are able to speak truth into your soul, and by how you mirror the amazing creativity and passionate love of Jesus. May your heart remain soft and open to his love, and may we remain open to how he shows his love through you.

Love to you, Boo! Happy Birthday!

Love, Mommy