Two-year-old Daniel jabbed a small, pudgy finger at my face in the wedding photo.
“Mama,” he announced confidently, and then, “Papa,” as he pointed to his father.
“Yes,” I told him. “That’s Mama and Papa on the day we were married.”
He squinted at the photo for another moment before turning to me with an earnest question.
So began a conversation in which I told him for the first time about his beginnings. For the first time, this small boy attempted an understanding of the world that existed before he was.
Some of my older kids have coined a phrase for the time “before you were born.”
“You wouldn’t remember that,” I hear them tell younger siblings, “Because back then you were No Such Thing.”
No Such Thing. It sounds terribly sad, and yet by contrast, what a lovely idea for each of them to realize that one day they did indeed become Some Thing. And that it was God’s doing.
That day, when I told Daniel that God made him, saw that he was good, and placed him inside of me to grow, his brown eyes glowed. When I told him that he stretched and moved and grew until at last he was big enough to come out of the darkness and meet us, he beamed. When I described what a joy it was for us to see him, kiss him, and hold him at last, he wriggled with delight.
Every child likes to know how he began. And he especially likes to know that his beginnings were rooted in love.
Five-year-old Gabrielle has a budding interest in the subject of love. When it comes to romance, she is the giggling girl of a thousand questions.
“How did you know you and Papa were in love?” she asks with shining eyes. “Did he get hearts in his eyes when he looked at you, like what happens in cartoons?”
And then she waits, breathless in anticipation of the wonders I am about to describe. So far, my descriptions of two awkward teenagers holding hands with sweaty palms, writing long letters, and talking on the phone for hours on end have not disappointed.
One of Gabrielle’s favorite objects is a small rock that is covered with worn, pink paint, tiny red hearts, and the words “I love you.”
She never tires of looking at and asking me about this gift I made and gave to her father almost 20 years ago. When I tell her how her father used to work late at night and I would stay up, waiting for his phone calls and doing things like painting and writing to keep myself busy, she turns the rock over in her hand and smiles with wonder.
Back then, Gabby might have been No Such Thing, but the love that would make us a family was already there.
For me, the “I love you” rock is a reminder of the sturdy foundation my marriage is meant to be for our family. Dan and I might not spend much time painting love notes on rocks these days, but we still do love. It’s just a different kind of love that expresses itself in a different kind of way.
As intoxicating as romance feels in the beginning of a relationship, as happy as an in-love couple can be when they are focused only on each other, ultimately God means for them to give themselves to greater things.
Back when I had time for rock painting, I might have had an inkling of what our “greater things” might be, but I did not yet know their names.
Our eight “greater things” surround us today — playing, laughing, crying, spilling, shouting, fighting, and making all manner of joyful noise. They groan and roll their eyes when they see me wrap my arms around their father’s neck in the kitchen and plant a lipstick kiss on his cheek.
And yet they see security in that kiss. They see their roots and their beginnings. They see the love that allowed them to be. I know what they see because, though they roll their eyes, they smile, too. Just a little bit, they smile.