The first week in March, 2010 I was at a Greek IV staff conference in Orlando, FL. After sitting in some hard stuff that came up in my heart when we studied a passage in the Bible about Elijah, I saw something that made me smile. It was a picture of a baby.
Although coming to Florida for this big conference was typically one of my favorite parts of the year, it was different this year. I was leaving Greek IV staff, after having worked for the ministry for 4 years, and I was burnt out and disappointed. The staff leading this particular Bible study through Elijah’s story was helping us to identify and deal with some of the places in ministry or our lives that felt like death. This was fairly easy for me to do. I had a hard 4 years in ministry, and there was a lot that I just didn’t understand. I was still mourning what I thought being in ministry was going to be like and what actually happened. This Greek Ministry chapter that I cared so much about and wanted to see grow and flourish was actually dying. After identifying the places that felt like death, the Staff leader instructed us to look around the room where there were pictures hanging and to find one that felt like “life” to us when we saw it. When I saw the picture of the baby, my heart leapt. It felt like life to me. A new beginning. Rejoicing. Overshadowing sorrow. I wanted that.
2 days later upon arriving back home from the conference, I saw something else that made my heart leap. 2 pink lines on a stick. I was pregnant! God was giving me the gift of life.
Having a baby was not something that was in our “plan” for our first year of marriage. Our plan was to wait 3 years before trying to have our first child. God’s plan was for us to wait 8 months :). Funny how He works, and how He knows what we need so much better than we do! We didn’t know what to think, what to do, or how to re-arrange our lives for this new little person. We also didn’t know how love was about to take on a whole new meaning and depth in our lives.
Finding out that we were having a girl was an incredible experience for us. Although we would have loved our baby and been happy regardless of the gender, I was really hoping for a girl. We already had a boy’s name and a girl’s name picked out before we went to the Ultrasound, and the day before we found out Jordan leaned over to me and said, “You know… I hope it’s Riley.” And it was :). Knowing that we were having a girl named Riley made the whole experience so much more real to us. I started falling in love with her shortly after.
That was the first time I had tangibly experienced what true unconditional love is. At this point in her little life, Riley had done nothing good or sweet for me. As a matter of fact, all she did was give me nausea, heartburn, aches, fatigue, and make me fat. And yet I loved her more than life itself.
When they placed Riley Grace Maroon into our arms for the first time, at 1:18am on November 8th… well to be honest, I don’t even know how to complete this sentence. I do not think there are any words in our English vocabulary (or existence for that matter) that can describe what you experience when you hold your first child for the first time. But I’ll tell you what, that Jordan Maroon guy I married that made this whole thing possible? I had never quite loved him like I did in that moment. When I saw him hold our daughter, gazing into her eyes and singing to her, I knew that we had just entered a new realm of love that I had never been to before.
Ironically, some of my fondest memories of those beginning days and weeks were getting up to nurse Riley in the middle of the night. Although we were beyond sleep deprived, I was surprised at how quickly and instinctively my body responded to sacrificing and caring for my daughter at any and every moment that she needed me. When she would start her mid-night cries, we would lift her out of her bassinet, cozy up in our bed with her, and Jordan would turn on a dim light and play soft music so that I could stay awake to feed her (and not fall asleep and crush her. Which I was very paranoid about. I was paranoid about everything actually…). It was such a sweet, bonding time for our little family of 3.
Now, Riley sleeps through the night (praise the Lord). She no longer needs us to get up and feed her every few hours in the dark. As a matter of fact, she needs us a little less each day it seems. She has such an independent spirit! She even weaned herself from nursing (at just about a year, yay!), and insists on holding her own bottle :). She loves to play by herself, and just goes off in her own little world where she hides in cabinets, crawls into baskets, hugs her stuffed animals, puts tupperware on her head, and
reads turns the pages of and pulls the pop-ups out of books. Jordan and I take pictures and videos of every single little thing, and often look at and watch them at night and then realize that we have stayed up way past our bedtime! We love to look back at how tiny she was when she was so new, and we still puff up with pride when we watch the videos of the first time she rolled over, started making sounds (or coo’s), and started to laugh and smile.
I thought this stage would be hard for me. I thought my heart would break at her blossoming independence and that I would struggle with the dreaded toddler days. But it’s not hard, actually. As a matter of fact, I find myself only smiling big rather than crying as I write this blog post. It is the most incredible thing to watch Riley become her own little person. To learn about her. To see her laugh and play with so much delight and amusement.
So to my little introvert who hates big crowds but loves attention and applause, thank you for the most incredible year of my life (by far). I look at our future with so much joy and anticipation as I continue to get to know you, care for you, teach you, and learn from you. Here’s to many more birthdays, sweetheart. I love you more than I ever dreamed I would.