a letter to my daughter

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Hayleigh Girl,
A lot is going to be changing in your little life in the next months. For starters in a few days we are going to have an ultrasound that will tell us if the baby in my belly is a brother or a sister. Both Braxton and this baby will be born into that role-the role of being a sibling. You, however, being the oldest get to experience growing into that role. For all of you it is thrust upon you. No one asked you if you wanted siblings. But for you it requires adjustments that you will need to consciously make. Your reality will shift, instead of just being born into that reality. Being the first born has its privileges and challenges to be sure. You are, after all, the only one of our children to ever have extended periods (2 years and 2 weeks) of undivided attention. You are the only one to know, even though you have probably in the conscious sense already mostly forgotten, what it is like to be an only child. With that being said, you are also the only one who has that blissful existence shattered and adapted to make room for one more. You will always be the first one to go through a stage or try something new-good and bad. You will probably (and already do) feel the need to pass on your knowledge to your younger siblings like hand-me-down clothes. You will be the bearer of more of our parenting mistakes and shortfalls as Daddy and I learn how to do it better the next time around. You will probably suffer from our highest expectations. You will be able to say that you have known your siblings their whole life. You get to shine in the role of being the one they look up to. I know all these things because I am a first born child too. That is a bond that we will always share- in all its perks and challenges. 

I wanted to write to you before we knew whether this baby would be a boy or a girl. You so desperately want a sister. Actually, you refuse to even entertain that the possibility that you could have another brother. Whenever we mention that you look at us confused and say matter of factly “Uhh, I already have a brother".” Clearly in your mind a sister is the only logical possibility. You say things like “when you get my sister out of your belly I am going to hold her and kiss her and love her sooo much!” This cracks me up and warms my heart at the same time. Brother or sister I know you will adore this baby and beam with big sister pride as we welcome him or her into our home. Even though God already knows the gender of this baby, we don’t. And so in a few days our reality will change. I wonder whether you will grow up with a younger sister-another thing we would have in common, or you will spend your life as the girl among the boys. Either way, you are so special to me. There is no doubting or changing that.

There will always be a special corner of my heart that swells and beats with love for you my Hayleigh. Nothing could ever make me stop loving you, or love you even a tiny bit less. You often ask for reassurance of our love. I enjoy the privilege of loving you and will never grow tired of telling you how much I love you-even if you ask me twenty or thirty times a day. I know your three year old mind is wondering “if another baby is coming, will this mean Mommy and Daddy will love me less?” Let me take this opportunity to put in writing what I will tell you verbally and by my actions as many times as you need to hear it: No. It is a logical thing to think that the love will need to be divided. But the truth is, as it did when Braxton was born, the love will not stay the same to be split three ways. It will grow. I could never, will never, love you any less. The time unfortunately does not grow. So you will need to share Mommy and Daddy more, but that does not mean we love you less. It is not possible. And even if it were possible, we would never choose to let that happen even if we had one hundred kids! 

Nothing you ever do, or don’t do, will ever make us love you any less either. I tell you everyday that I love you all the time-even when you are naughty, even when you don’t obey and you make me sad. Even if you choose to stop loving me (the thought of which wrenches my heart with pain), I will always, always love you. Even if you decide you don’t want to believe what Daddy and I believe about God and how to live your life (the thought of which grieves my heart) I will always, always love you. My love for you is not based on what you do. It is based on who you are. You are my daughter. 

I think the main reason God gives children to be born to parents is so those parents can point their children to God. I hope you know that the unconditional love which Daddy and I have for you is only possible because of the unconditional love God has shown to us in the first place. God loves Daddy and Mommy as His children. We learn how to love as a parent from God-our Heavenly Father. God loves you the same way, Hayleigh Grace. Paul who was once an enemy of Christians, who then endured all sorts of suffering for the sake of Christ, said in Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  There are lots of kids who don’t have Mommies and Daddies who love them. That breaks my heart. It makes me want to hug you a little tighter. The truth is that God didn’t do anything wrong by giving those kids to parents who do not love them unconditionally. Rather, those kids can find comfort in the unfailing love of their Heavenly Father. The same is true of you. God gave you parents who love you, yes. But He also gave you parents who are going to disappoint you, hurt your feelings, make mistakes, have bad days, sin against you. I am not proud of my sin, but I am proud of the fact that my God will use it for your good. God wants to use your imperfect parents to help you to appreciate and run to the perfect love He has for you. So whether I am loving you as I should or whether I am messing up, I have the honor of being used by God to demonstrate His character of love that He bestows on you. 

God loves you not because of what you do, but because of who you are-His daughter. That position carries much more weight than being my daughter. It also lasts into eternity. I long for you to understand your identity as a child of God. Earlier in the same chapter of Romans Paul summarizes what it means to be a child of God: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” I rejoiced the day you were born into our family. No one could have doubted the joy I felt, or taken it away. I pray for the day when you come to understand what it means to be God’s child and you are “born again” into His family. I will be filled with even more joy! 

I took the opportunity during Braxton’s nap the other day to snap a couple photos of you. You don’t usually cooperate with looking at the camera, taking the time for photos etc. But I bribed you with a cookie. I know, not a good parenting move. I think it was worth it though. I got enjoy your smiling face through the lens of my camera and I am always happy to spend one on one time “girl time” with you. 

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Oh, how I love all your faces!

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:17-19
Love Always, Mommy

Peter’s birthday and Father’s day newspaper article

(I wrote this for Peter in Word and printed it in newspaper format to give him. I just copy and pasted it to the blog which is why it is not formatted in the original way and some of the photos are a little blurry.)
Local Man prepares for the ultimate day of celebration
This Sunday, June 17, 2012, in a rare occurrence, an Irondequoit man will have his birthday occur on the same day as Father's Day. Peter Gavenda will turn 26 years old on the same day as men around the country are celebrated for their fatherhood. In an effort to understand more about the man who can manage to juggle two exciting celebrations in just one day we met with his family who include wife Emily, 3 year old daughter Hayleigh and one year old son Braxton.
Hayleigh began the interview by clarifying that her father is in fact, Daddy. Her favorite things to do with Daddy are play outside, get "flown" up in the sky and ride on his shoulders.
Daddy's eyes are blue, his favorite foods are cheerios and chicken, his favorite color is green and his favorite team is softball. He is special because she can give him hugs. Hayleigh then demonstrated by giving a rather aggressive, choke-hold-esque hug to the interviewer. Needless to say any man who can withstand hugs of this nature must be extremely strong. Hayleigh also mentioned that her Daddy's favorite thing to wear is clothes, but he sometimes takes his shirt off. When asked why he does this she replied "because he does. He takes his shirt off for the picture". This was such a hysterical thought for Hayleigh that she needed to take a break from the interview because she was overcome with giggles.
Braxton refused to comment except to say "Daddy" repeatedly and lay his head on our camera while making kissing sounds.
Peter was not present for the interviews because he was at work, trying hard to provide for his growing family. The Gavenda family will welcome one more addition this November, although by the looks of Emily it seems she could be due much sooner.
When asked how she was preparing for the duel celebration, Emily replied that while making one day doubly special is a very daunting task she was up for the challenge. To begin she is making a special cake that Peter has never had before. Usually he chooses a "funfetti" cake but this year he has shown that he is capable of growth and change and has selected an Orange Sherbet and Angel food cake.
This will be the eleventh of Peter's birthdays that they have celebrated together. She mentioned she is proud of the person that he has become over those past eleven years. She had only dreamed of them having a life this full of love and happiness and can't wait to see what else is in store in the years to come.
Hayleigh agreed that they should make cake and also suggested making a birthday card and a flower for Daddy for his birthday. She specified that the flower should be pink and added that her Daddy would also like cupcakes. Braxton was not available for comment as he was upstairs napping.
Our interviews have yielded some very interesting information to be sure. For one thing, this man seems to really like cake. Secondly, he has a family that really loves and respects him. He must be a very special man.
We wish him the happiest of days and hope it is full of relaxation, grilled meat, Genny Cream Ale, laughter, family, old stories, high fives from drool covered hands, neck hugs, Kanye West and Weezer, debates about the Chicago Bulls or Yankees, mesh shorts, Dunkin Donuts coffee, trips to Amans and Balsam Bagels, Carmelo candy bars, long range three pointers, retro Jordans, Sticky Lips BBQ, morning coffee and quiet time, comparing chest hair with other mid-twenties friends, vacation days from work, Indiana Hoosiers beating Duke, retro Jimmy G's pizza, The Office before Steve Carrel left, Slurpies, Sportscenter, date nights, lots of sales, small group, old friends in town, summer evening walks, Will Ferrell movies, bedtime stories, maybe a game of catch and of course cake.

A letter to my son

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Oh B,
How I love this face! I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say it is one of the things I live for. Lately, I have been seeing much more of this scrunchy, silly smile. And I couldn’t love it more. The past couple weeks you have really come into your own and developed quite a bit. You are much better at communicating what you are thinking or wanting, you are playing more-especially with your sissy, and you are just a happier version of yourself. I think you being able to do more “big kid” things has made a difference for you. It has really made a difference for me too. Not that you didn’t bring me joy before, because you definitely did, but I find so much joy in interacting with you now that you have a desire and ability to interact more effectively. You are also much more affectionate. When you first learned to walk, you had no time for slowing down, much less stopping to cuddle or kiss. Now you actually ask me to read you books and will give me “mwas” without me even asking! The other day, when I was feeling a bit tired and dizzy you sat in bed with me for about 15-20 minutes. You love to look at the old pictures of Daddy and me on the wall and you love to pull back the blinds and peek out the window. But you kept plopping your head down with your face right next to mine. You would give me your sweet, scrunchy face and say “mwwwaaa Mommy!” and then put your face pushed directly up against mine and smother me with drool and love. It really could not have gotten any better for me. I tearfully thanked God for this rare moment of cuddle time with just me and my sweet boy.
While those moments are incredibly wonderful and are increasing in frequency, they are not the norm for your days. You are almost always on the move. I sometimes jokingly call Daddy into the room to see you sitting down with a toy, but usually by the time he gets there you are up and moving again. I love watching you learn and discover and explore. You are so proud of yourself when you accomplish something new and you are firing off new words everyday. It also warms my heart to see you and Hayleigh laughing and playing together like best buddies.

You had your fifteen month appointment this week and I just can’t believe you are already that old! Where has the time gone…no but really? We have always called you “a little man”, even Hayleigh will call you a “silly man” or a “messy man” or things like that. To be honest though, I still see you very much as the little baby brother, my sweet baby boy. Sometimes I have to look into the future a bit and remind myself that, as our goofy nicknames suggest, I really am raising a man. That is very much uncharted territory for me, and honestly a little scary. Having grown up in a house full of girls, as overwhelming as that may be to some, that all makes sense to me. Raising a girl in this culture is pretty terrifying as well, but it is a familiar terrifying. I say, half jokingly, that I don’t know how to raise a boy. The approach I have taken thus far is not looking at you as “a boy” but as you. I am raising you. And you just so happen to be a boy…and a pretty great one.

That being said, I have desires for you that are different from your sister. I pray that you would be a man of courage- that the source of your courage would be the security and significance you find in Christ alone. My hope is that you would be so rooted in your identity in Christ that your relationship with Him would empower you to be a man who fights for what is right in whatever arena God puts you in- whether that being bold and outspoken when the situation calls for it or leading by a humble example in other situations. I pray that you have the courage to be who God made you to be while always striving to also be who God calls you to be. There will be countless situations throughout your life where your understanding of who you are and who God is, along with courage, will help you to act in ways that honor and reflect God. I long for you to be a man of courage- a man who is willing to fight for Truth when others are debating it, a man who chooses virtue and integrity over selfish, dishonest, immoral choices, a man who fights for his purity in a culture that is anything but, a man who leads his family with Godly love and faithfulness. I know this sounds like a lot to desire of you and I also know it will not be easy. Courage is not foolish, wreckless abandon. It is not the absence of fear. Courage is acting in the face of fear to do what you know is right, even when, especially when, it is difficult.

I look at the life of Daniel. He is a wonderful portrait of courage. It is my prayer that in the midst of persecution, temptation and fear you have the courage to make God-honoring choices. Surely you will face lion’s dens of your own and if you stand up for what is right I have no doubt that God will honor your choices. David Jeremiah dissects Daniel’s courage in his book “Hopeful Parenting”, which Daddy and I read before Hayleigh was born. He says that Daniel was uncompromising, demonstrated conviction, maintained courtesy, exhibited unflagging confidence, and maintained consistency. This is a high calling but Daddy and I will be here every step of the way to help you. I want you to know that in everything, no matter how trivial or monumental, Daddy and I want to talk to you; we want to be a help to you.

You are a wonderful boy. You are only fifteen months old and I can already see that God has great plans for you. I see your independence, your determination to try and accomplish new tasks. I see your affectionate side and your desire to learn from those around you. Sometimes you are content with wandering around, trying things all on your own, and sometimes all you want is one of us to read a book to you or play with you. The dichotomy between both sides of your little personality are interesting to me. You are a mix of independence and co-dependence, of stubbornly being busy and persistently soliciting affection. Either way, you do your best to let us know exactly what you want at any given time. You are insistent and persistent. Traits which I can see God using as a leader who brings about change. I don’t entirely understand what is going on in your head yet, but I am sure the more you learn to talk and express yourself you are going to wow us by what you are thinking and how you interpret the world. I can’t wait. Well, in some ways I can. I am really enjoying this stage of life with you right now. I love to see your excitement at learning new things. You love to show us the parts of the body that you know or entertain us with your lion roar, dog bark or monkey call. Lately our house has been ringing with your laughter, usually brought on by your big sister. I love that. Your giggle is perhaps one of the most contagious things I have ever encountered. I love seeing you happy. I love watching you be you, and I love learning more about who “you” is. As you grow into yourself more, I have no doubt that it will be clear to everyone around you that God is going to use you in great ways-big and small, to further His Kingdom. It is my prayer that Daddy and I equip you to be the man of courage that you need to be to glorify God in this world today. I love you so much my sweet boy! I am so blessed and proud to be your mommy!

Love always,

My Mommy War

The other day I read an article on the Desiring God Blog. It was not extremely long or much of anything I hadn’t heard before, but for some reason it just grabbed ahold of me. This quote from the post summarizes it pretty well:
"The real mommy wars are not against flesh and blood, but against the one who seeks to destroy the next generation of those who would rise up to praise God." Carolyn McCulley

The scripture which the article was based on was Ephesians 6:12 which says:

“our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

When I read this I had a combination of an “aha!” and “oh, wow. I suck” moment. I don’t know why I had never before made the connection between this verse and being a mom. Surely I view parenting as a battle, and a spiritual battle. I pray for and think about my children’s spiritual well-being almost obsessively. Although I am left wondering if day to day I recognize the gravity of what it means to be a mom. This article left me with a convicting revelation.

As I thought more about why it this struck me so, I realized it is because at this point in my life I am battling all too much against the physical-the flesh and blood. I get so easily distracted and consumed by the things that I am not really supposed to be fighting against. Lately I literally feel like my body is battling against me. This past winter I was sick more than ever and now I am pregnant and dealing with nausea, insomnia and the second trimester’s new gift: migraines. Some days are battles just to get through the day with a three year old, a one year old, an oversized belly and an undersized wellspring of energy. Braxton runs everywhere, gets into everything in a moment and I am left lagging behind, trying to pick up the trail of toys behind him and keep him from killing himself. Last week while I was cleaning up from lunch he got a stool, set it up and climbed into the kitchen sink. Oye! Hayleigh is incredibly needy emotionally, demanding energy and attention that sometimes I just don’t have it in me to give. Just trying to write this post I have been interrupted three times by kids who are supposed to be napping. Sometimes the physical is just so much more obvious to me than the spiritual. Sometimes I get so caught up in “battling” with my kids sometimes that I forget that my job is to be fighting for them not against them.

Maybe this was just the reminder I needed to get me through the moments of strife, strain and exhaustion that come with the physical battles. I so enjoy and love my children. I love the toothy grins and slobbery kisses that Braxton gives me. I love to listen to him learning new words but still loving his old standbys “dog”, “ball” and '”bubble” all of which he says in a hilarious Southern drawl that makes me laugh every time. I love to watch his adventurous spirit lead him to explore and try new things. I love to listen to Hayleigh babbling away in her pretend world having conversations with characters that only she can see. I love when she says to me, “Mommy, I just want to ‘lax with you. Can you hold me?” And I love to see her tender, caring spirit flourish as she interacts with other people. These moments far outweigh the negative ones. Just as the eternal implications of my parenthood far outlast the temporal ones that I tend to let get in the way.

The reality is that my job is to raise up adults who are ready to battle against Satan. And he is going to fight me tooth and nail every step of the way as I try my best to succeed at this gigantic task. How should I be thinking and acting differently in light of that…or better yet how shouldn’t I be thinking and acting differently?

Would the little inconveniences really matter so much? Would I be so quick to lose my patience? Would I be more vigilant and attentive to the example I was setting for my children? Would I be more purposeful about taking advantage of teachable moments? Would I spend more time on my knees in earnest prayer for the souls of my babies? Would I be more faithful in  my own spiritual journey? Let me tell you something; if I knew that a person was going to try to harm my children any way, or I knew someone was going to try to come into my home and take one of these precious little ones, I would be a crazy lady who stopped at nothing to protect my children. In fact I would go on the offensive to preemptively thwart their plans. Why is it so different when it comes to the spiritual battle I face as a mother? If it any less real a threat? Actually, this threat is a promised one. Oh how I have faltered from my high calling.

As I mulled over my failure in this area two other verses came to mind. 1 Corinthians 10:13”…God is faithful; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear.” I think for me I am tempted to lose my perspective too easily. God never said it would be easy, just that it would not be too much to handle. He also says in Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls”. Lately I have longed for rest. I know my body is yearning for physical rest but perhaps my soul is also crying out for spiritual rest. I tend to run to God in moments of crisis or during stages in my life where I just cannot make “it” happen on my own. There is no crisis or overwhelming situation in my life right now, just the day to day real life. Yet, I feel God telling me to turn to Him because I need Him to get through even the day to day life. I wish this was a more natural tendency of mine. I know if I had this right I wouldn’t struggle so much with these “Mommy Wars”. I am so thankful for a God who has given me a life where I am exhausted by my many blessings. And when even the day to day seems like too much to do on my own (which if I am being honest is really all the time; I can’t do anything apart from God) He is there lovingly reminding me that earthly mommies need their Heavenly Father.

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