On New Year’s Eve we celebrated your fourth birthday and discovered you have grown two whole inches since we adopted you.
When you came into our lives 20 months ago, you were simultaneously the most charming child we’d ever met, and you were angry and out of control. You constantly stopped strangers in delight just by your smile and your zest for life. But you also grabbed other kids’ toys and threw them in the trash out of spite. You hit your grandparents if they didn’t give you what you wanted. You knew very few words, but “no” was one of them.
You had a smile that lit up the whole room, but you wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.
You and your brother Gabe hardly acknowledged one another’s existence.
Every.single.thing. was a battle. You were frustrated. We were frustrated.
You had the fiercest will of all our kids and tested every limit. Again and again and again.
And yet. Your thick black eyelashes and ambling run, your gentleness with babies and animals, your exuberance over bugs and rocks and “snow-cones” (pine cones) melted our hearts. You could outlast your three older siblings on a hike (except when you didn’t want to hike. then you became a load of bricks). You made our whole family get outside and your enthusiasm for God’s great big world taught us how to live in wonder.
And then, little by little, you learned to obey. You began to stop hitting and stop grabbing (or grab less at least). You learned to come the first time we called, but you sure stomped those feet. You still argued with just about everything we said.
We kept at the discipline through your bad attitudes because we love you so much and we wanted to see the real you, the Noah that God created. We knew — through life’s many painful lessons — that living for yourself is a prison, and it’s only through obedience that you’re set free.
Today you are four and I stare at you because you’re a different child.
The transformation has been in fits and starts, two steps forward and one back. Until lately. Nowadays it seems way more “starts” than “fits.” Not only do you obey, but more and more you obey the first time, with respect. The stomping and temper is giving way to wreaths of smiles and shrieks of laughter.
You still test the limits. You still have to learn to obey. But we also want to guard that fierce stubbornness that, when channeled properly, will get you far in life. You are so very loyal to the people you love. You’re compassionate and empathetic, patting your sister gently if she’s crying and saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
Where at first there was indifference or just neediness, you now throw yourself at your Dad and me for hugs. You tell us you love us, words I at times honestly despaired of ever hearing from you.
You say “please” and “thank you.”
Where there was once sulking at family worship, your heart is now becoming tender toward Jesus. You say, “Mommy, Jesus gave me a clean heart.”
Last week we drove to the library and you said, “Where’s my Daddy? I want him to come too because I love him.”
The best way I know to describe you today, at four years old, is this story from the little family birthday party we had for you and Papa on Saturday. You opened your gifts and we discovered that your grandparents and cousins accidentally gave you the exact same toy.
As you tore the wrapping paper off the second gift you said, “Oh wow! Here Gabe, this is for you!”
That’s just the kind of person you are.
We love you so much, Noah.
Mommy and Daddy