When Mane was born we passed the time noting "firsts." Her first smile. Her first laugh. The first time she held up her head, rolled over, crawled, got a tooth. Her first MayDay Parade, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter...birthday.
Since we met Vespera, another year of "firsts" have gone by... her first party with us was Mane's birthday. She came dressed in a wonderful, full-of-Mexican-flare black skirt. We blushed in our blue jeans and felt the cultural distance between us. The first time she spent the night at our house was after Mango's brother's wedding. She danced the night away with our neighbor's daughter, wearing out her feet in new sandals, and she slept soundly that first night. Difficult nights would follow, but that first night was sweet, blessed sleep. Mango and I lay awake in our bed holding hands with our two girls asleep in the bunkbed in the other room. Then there was the day she moved in. We gave her an ipod, a gift she uses more than any other item in her possession. We little knew how music would be a bridge between us. Our house has been filled with music since the day she moved here. Then there was the 4th of July with our neighbor's kids, the train ride downtown, and the fireworks on Nicollet Island. There was our first camping trip to Duluth at the campground with our weird drunken neighbor and days spent on the beach. There was adoption day followed quickly by the first day of school, soccer games, her first slumber party for her 16th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter.
Yes, Easter. We found out on Good Friday 2006 that her adoption would be possible. I wrote about that then, having no idea what lay before me. It was Easter, spring, a time for new life, a time to accept our new life in Christ, and, through the strength and awesome guidance of the same Christ it was a time to give the gift of a new, more hopeful life to Vespera.
That all sounds so holy. And it is. Yet, I am grateful that the year of "firsts" has finished with a sense that the newness has worn off. The awesomeness of it all still hangs heavy on my heart. The familiarity makes the awesomeness bearable. The year of "firsts" is coming to a close, just as Mane's year of firsts also came to a close. And we know ourselves better. We know each other better. We know God better. A feeling of family has crept over us as we lived and celebrated together. Moments that we thought would never end have flitted away, leaving us with something greater, something deeper. We approach each other with a more knowing love and, perhaps, a little less caution. Because it's safe. Because we trust. Because we have built the foundation, and the building will not crumble.
I am so grateful. I am grateful for a new interest in soccer and latin music and spanish language. I am grateful for the conversations about culture. About food. About tradition. I am grateful for Vespera's questions. And for her forthrightness in asking them. I am grateful for her interest in God and for the family devotions we have established because she is here with us. I am grateful for another woman in the house. I am grateful that Mane has a sister, someone to love and to share with, someone to take the focus off her all the time, someone for her to admire.
I am grateful for my dear, sweet Mango. I have admired him in ways I never have before throughout this past year. His compassion that propelled us into Vespera's adoption. His patience in relationship with her. His willingness to be vulnerable, to love. His willingness to devote time and energy when it seems that there is hardly any to be had or to be given.
Most of all, perhaps, I am grateful for Vespera's willingness to invest herself in a relationship with us. I am grateful for her ability to embrace life and to embrace us with arms wide open. I am grateful that she cannot live without some attachment to the people she lives with, that she forges connections in the face of the unknown. I could never have dreamed up such a honest, open, adventurous daughter for myself.
Thank you, thank you, Jesus, for this blessed, wonderful, painful, emotional, exhausting, fantastic year of "firsts." We are still here, still waiting on You. Still watching for your guidance with every step. We are still willing. We are still open. We ask for your blessing. We beg for your blessing in the things that await ahead. Let us be witnesses for you, for your name, of your love and compassion and grace and holiness to our children and to the people around our family. God, we beg for your divine intervention in the details before us, in the parts of Vespera's immigration that are still not finished. We ask for your holy will to be done. We ask that you would guide us in that will. Help us to listen. Help us to hear. We are here. We are yours. Our family belongs to you. May we bring glory and honor to your name.