At 21 She's a 10

God gave Brenda and me a boy, a Mary Poppins “practically perfect” toddler who made parenting easy. Days before he turned three, God gave us a girl – the polar opposite of her older brother in many ways. She climbed and cut and cried, complicated daily life and convinced me that two children would complete our little household.

Brenda and I each have one sister. Like our homes growing up, our home would have two kids – a boy and girl, the perfect little family. When I expressed to older friends the difficult time we were having with two kids, they laughed and said, “Wait until you have three!” On the way home, I told Brenda I did not want any more children. Two was enough.

Apparently, I protested the idea of more than two children so much that when Brenda became pregnant with our third child, my expectant wife didn’t tell me about the pregnancy for weeks. When Emily was born, 21 years ago today, God changed our family and changed my bad attitude about his gift of another child. The child I didn’t want is the young woman I can’t imagine being a family without.

From her youngest days, Emily brightened nearly every room she entered. As a tot, her blonde ringlets drew a great deal of attention. As a young woman, she makes everyone in the room feel like they are the most important person. In reality the person Emily is talking to at any single moment is the most important person in the world to her. It’s no wonder people are naturally drawn to her.

The reality is she cares about people without regard to how they might contribute to her. When she was in middle school and a budding pianist, she joined me at the local senior living center for our Thursdaychurch service. She accompanied me and the older residents as we sang their favorite hymns. When I stood to preach, she’d sit next to an elderly woman and flash her inviting smile. Since she’s been away from home, she no longer accompanies me, but the residents still want to know how Emily is doing at college.

I laugh when I recall our entrances into the room. I’d offer a general “Good morning” to those assembled in wheelchairs or sitting slightly slumped as age has made good posture impossible. They’d respond, “Hi, Emily!” as if I was invisible now that Emily entered the room.

She was probably 14 when we left the room after one Thursdayworship. We closed the doors on the truck, and I said, “Remember Mrs. Jones? She wasn’t here today because she died last week.” Emily’s eyes flooded with tears. She knew Mrs. Jones only from the Thursday gatherings, but Mrs. Jones was the most important person in the world on Thursdays when Emily was talking to Mrs. Jones.

The little girls in our church flock to Emily when she’s home from college. They show her their dresses and tell her their stories from school or volleyball or soccer or dance. They gravitate to her because each of them is the most important person in the world at that very moment.

Emily exudes joy and happiness. Laughter comes naturally to her. She laughs at herself and the funny moments of life Providence brings her way. It wasn’t long into her toddler years that I began to call her, “the child with more personality than one child should be allowed to have.” And she shares that happiness with others. I cannot be in her presence long without feeling happy. I don’t know what spiritual gift that falls under, but it’s a rare one. God gave it to Emily, and she uses it every day to bless the people God brings her way.

Everyone knows Emily plays volleyball at a very high level. She’s good – really good. God gave her hand-eye coordination that makes some volleyball moves second nature for her. He also gave her a competitive streak that rivals Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, or Lindsey Vonn. She is tenacious on the court and will grin ear-to-ear when she delivers a set to teammate whose swing knocks over an opponent across the net. If you can’t serve receive, ask for a substitute when she walks back to the line because she will find you, and she will make you look bad. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve laughed out loud at a play she’s made wondering how she did it.

What few people see is how she got to this level of play. God blessed her with good hands, above average athleticism, and a keen mind, but he didn’t make her six feet tall. What she’s achieved has come as a result of thousands of hours honing her skills. Most boys I know could not complete her summer workout routine. She may get beat by an opponent, but it won’t be because she didn’t prepare. She works as hard as any athlete I’ve ever known to be the best she can be at what she does. You won’t hear from her what she’s doing because that’s not how she rolls. She simply works and gets better.

The same tenacious quality on the volleyball court is true in her Christian life. Her commitment to the Christian disciplines of Bible reading and prayer remain unseen to most. The fruit her time with God produces is seen by all. She possesses her grandmother’s evangelistic zeal and readily shares the gospel with peers, faculty, and anyone in Superior, Wisconsin, or Duluth, Minnesota, who will listen to her.

Today, God’s gift to me of Emily turns 21. I am ashamed to admit I did not want any more children before she was born. I am humbled by God that he gave me a priceless, beautiful, joy-giving girl when I thought another child would be anything but good for me. I was so foolish, but God is so wise.

The years will march on for Emily and me as they do for everyone. She no longer sits on my lap though she still calls me daddy. Someday a young man will be the recipient of her joy-giving on a much more frequent basis than I am. But I do not wish time would rewind so she could be little again, nor do I wish for time to stand still so she can stay just like she is. I thought I knew what was best before she was born, and I could not have been more wrong. I’ve learned my lesson and will receive with thanksgiving what God gives to me. And I am thankful he gave me another girl who calls me daddy.

Happy Birthday, Emilou! I love you.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.