She was a smiley, sassy one-year-old. A firstborn, Emma was always on the lookout for other kids. From the time she was old enough to sit up alone in the grocery cart, she was constantly turning from side to side, scoping out the store for other kids. "Kidz" was one of her first words (along with ball, light, and Geez for Jesus).
I suppose that's why it seems to me she has grown so well to fit her name. Emma Ruth means "all-embracing" and "friend." The all-embracing friend, that's been so true to her personality. Never have I known her to choose not to be friendly with another child or adult, and it is only after many tears of anguish and regret that I have ever heard her express her difficulty with any one individual. She has a determination deep in her heart to love everyone as each comes, and it pains her to find that not all relationships can be harmonious all the time.
Perhaps that's why it is still so natural for me to refer to her as the "Sunbeam." There's a light in her that keeps being renewed. She's truly shiny. Oh, like all teens she has those times of angst, those times of needing her space. Like all firstborns with many younger siblings, she has those times of needing to withdraw just to reclaim her own identity. But on the whole, she is positive, looking at the future and laughing.
I first called her "Sunbeam" when she was just three months old. At birth, she was a shock to me. Of course I loved her and wanted her, but who doesn't look in a sort of disbelief and fear and perplexity at the very first newborn PERSON--right, a whole PERSON--who just emerged from one's own body? It took me a few days for that deep, bonding mother-love to kick in. At first, I admit, I was confused and curious and overwhelmed by her sudden and always present existence in my life. Her features were too new. They were peculiar. She was at least three weeks early, so it was as if her face hadn't quite emerged yet and it was shrouded in this ruddy (jaundiced) temporary visage that looked more old man than baby girl.
But after just a few days, her color began to normalize and her features smoothed out and her eyes weren't so puffy and she began to look around. And at three months old, she started to coo and smile and kick and flail all at the same time, whenever she saw me. And I fell head over heels in love. The light behind her eyes and the joy in her smile seemed to introduce a literal ray of light directly spot-beamed onto my heart. So in her nursery one day, at three months, in the big house we had just moved into, in the upstairs room with Mowgli and Bagheera and Baloo painted on the walls, I laid her on the carpet, in the light of the window, and I basked in the reflection coming from her.
"Sunbeam," I said. "You were just what I wanted. How did God know? I didn't even know, until here you are. Just exactly what I wanted."
It's still true. I could never have planned what she'd turn out to be like. Besides, she's still working on that. (Aren't we all?) She's taller than I am now. Tan and green-eyed. Fun-loving and determined. Driven to do what she is capable of, including working hard to become an Honors student--something that seems to come much more naturally to some--and an athlete--again, something she has had to train and push herself toward. Her efforts were rewarded just this month with invitation to the National Junior Honor Society and her school track team's "Rookie of the Year" award.
But her heart is to share joy and health and well-being--shalom, really--to others. She has just begun finding her place in a new youth group. The main draw for her was not the size (though there are many kids there--and she still loves "kidz"); it was not the music (though it is contemporary and very engaging); it was not the games or scavenger hunts or promises of pool parties over the summer. Her main draw, the one thing that she found MOST appealing about that youth group, was the fact than unbelieving kids attend. Some come with friends from public school. Some are invited from larger neighborhoods. But they're there, and she wants to know them. She wants to be able to talk to unbelieving peers about the hope she has in her Jesus.
Longer term, she remains committed to a vocation she felt a calling for when she was just six years old. When her sister Miriam was born, and almost lost at birth, Emma got her first introduction to the NICU unit at Mission hospital. She was escorted in to the unit with her four-year-old sister to meet her baby for the first time, face to face. Little Miriam was on a ventilator. A tube was inserted through her mouth and taped down so that most of her face was obscured. She was bound to the incubator bed by straps because seizures were predicted. Her little hands had been given rolls of gauze to grip because her body had reacted to its trauma with such muscular contraction that the NICU nurses suspected her fingers could seize that way and possibly atrophy. The gauze rolls were to keep them adequately spaced to prevent such atrophy. A huge mass of tubes and wires and electrodes were attached to baby sister's body and head, including an IV line inserted into a vein there. She was still covered in blood and gore from her birth.
And six-year-old Emma was not shocked or appalled or frightened. She was overwhelmed with love for her baby. She spoke to her, and Miriam's eyes--the only part of her that could really move then--rolled toward Emma's voice. It was right then that Emma decided she would become a NICU nurse and that she would help babies wherever they needed it most. Years later, conversations with missionaries convinced her she wanted to go to Africa and serve in medical and biblical missions there. As a NICU nurse, she was told, she would be practically like a full-blown pediatrician there, so great was the need. She is choosing her classes for her first year of high school based on that strong desire: Latin for medical school, all the science she can get. She has never forgotten either Miriam or the other babies there and the calling she felt at the time.
I'm amazed at how busy her life is already. And yet, the time we have together is so good and so precious. She is, so far, of all the children, the one most interested in seeking parental opinion. She is reasonable, even when she's hurting, and recognizes the need for adult input to affirm or gently redirect her at times. So far we've been blessed to not have to police her in any way at all regarding boy-girl issues. She is natural and at ease around both boys and girls. She doesn't feel the need to try to look older than she is or to present herself as provocative. (Perhaps it helps that she already does, naturally, look a few years past 14, but she isn't pushing for 20 like some girls her age seem to experiment with--and I think I did.) Her confidence seems to lie in something else. I pray it is in something eternal.
On the day of the spring semi-formal, some of the girls were leaving directly from school to get manicures, pedicures, and professional hair styling. (Even if we could afford that, I doubt I would do it for a middle-school semi-formal banquet, but I admit I almost certainly would for a Jr.-Sr. prom and of course for her wedding, if I can get her to agree.) Emma stuck around to see if her track coach had any workout assignments for her. "All the other girls are going to get dolled up," he said, "but Emma. Emma's going to the ball as Emma."
It was so true. And I'd have it no other way.
Psalm 5:12 -- "For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield."