How a Four Year Old is Like a Bouncy Ball. (And Other Profound Thoughts on Your 4th Birthday)

February 25, 2015
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Today you begin the fourth year of your life, Haven girl. There will be sugary treats–enough to satisfy even your sweet tooth. There will be packages to open–carefully and with great precision like you are wont to do. There will be songs to sing–loudly and enthusiastically as is your habit. But first, allow a mommy a moment to look back and remember this last year. 

I know this face–it’s your tentative and fearful yet direct gaze. We saw it a lot this last year–most recently when I ushered you in to a room full of unfamiliar faces at our new church.

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This year brought an interest in drawing. Here you told me an elaborate story about monsters and doughnuts and theft.

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You continue to be a playful, chatty, social creature. I love it! Sometimes I have to tell you it’s time to be quiet or that this is your last question or that you don’t actually have to immediately utter every thought that comes into your head, or that it’s good to be alone sometimes. This not so chatty, somewhat introverted mother often wonders where you came from. But how I’ll miss your little voice– talking to me over the breakfast table, talking to me while we clean, while we drive, while we cook, while we do laundry, as I’m on my way out the door of your bedroom at night, in your sleep when I come into check on you– when the inevitable happens and the arrival of the next birthday qualifies you to start Kindergarten.

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After much coercion (and a convenient local flood that temporarily and unexpectedly displaced us for a night) you gave up your paci this year. Celebratory ice-cream followed.

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This year saw an increase in your ability to concentrate and stick to a task. Here you’re stripping wall paper in our new house with G-ma Rodman. 

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This year you conquered your fear of long, covered, twisty slides. You often ask me: “Remember how I went down the big water slides at Key Lime Cove?” Blurry picture…

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Full of self-congratulation =)

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It was said of John Adams that he had a “heart formed for friendship.” The same is true of you. You love people! You’re playful and fun, yet serious and sensitive. (and a little bossy, but we’re working on it!) This year, you formed a sweet little friendship with Lacey. And this year, you left your self-proclaimed BFF back in Detroit when we moved to Wisconsin. You still talk about her every day. 

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Like most children, you’re sweetest when you sleep!!

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One of the best developments over this last year has been your growing understanding of your sinful heart. You are quick to acknowledge that you sin. You are quick to acknowledge how powerless you feel to do what is right. You have confessed your sins and asked forgiveness many times in your prayers. You have shown compassion to those who don’t understand who Jesus is and why he came. We love that sensitive heart of yours and are trusting God to shape and direct it.

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I like to tease that I really enjoy my kids until they’re three, and then I don’t like them so well again until they’re five. I have friends who find the baby phase intimidating. Not me–I eat up those baby fingers and toes, I sleep train with the experts, and I just generally enjoy those early years of sweetness and innocence. But something changes around three. Suddenly things aren’t so enjoyable. My days are measured out in moments of correction and instruction, and I find it all wearying. 

A few years ago while shopping at Target, I got sucked into the dollar section vortex and finally emerged with a pack of several small bouncy balls. I pulled those balls out one rainy day and none of us had ever seen such high, erratic bounces from such tiny rubber balls. The things just went everywhere. Sometimes I feel like training and teaching a 3-5 year-old is a bit like playing with those bouncy balls. Their boundless energy seems to multiply with every bounce. They hit an uneven spot on the floor, and they’ll dart off in a new direction. They’re constantly reacting to whatever they encounter, sometimes with spastic bounces, sometimes abruptly stopping, and sometimes rolling off into unreachable places. And you’re either chasing and grasping or standing and staring, unable to account for what just happened.

Haven–when your bounces are high and consistent, there is nothing better than being your mom. But consistency isn’t really your thing. Not at 3. And probably not at 4 =)

Fortunately for you–I’m a little wiser this time around. I’m a little less reactive myself. I know that over the next year much maturing will take place. I know that I need to stay the course, be consistent, calmly teach and calmly re-teach. I know I need to practice patience and spend a whole lot more time on my knees. Your growing independence, your determination to have your way, and your intense reactions to everything have made this last year challenging. Some days my perspective is good and I can see through the fears, through the hysterical reactions and the continual correction, and see what the fruit of these years could be. And I love what I see. I see how if you submit to the discipline, allowing yourself to be trained by it because you’re certain of how much the ones who discipline you LOVE you, then you will become like that tree in Jeremiah 17:8 that “does not fear when heat comes…or has no worries in a year of drought, and never fails to produce fruit." 

And in those moments of clarity, I realize that you and I are not really so different after all. I still have a hard time submitting to the loving discipline of my Heavenly Father. I don’t always connect the dots between difficult circumstances or frustrated desire and His faithful love. There is a direct correspondence there. I can see it clearly when I put the boundaries up in your life, when I require obedience, when I withhold things that you think you want. really, really want. But the logic connecting the two seems a little thin when the things I think are good are withheld from me. Like the good of having well-behaved, mild-mannered, calm, obedient children =) But faith supplies what my logic lacks. You see, I’m in your life to train your character and you’re in my life to produce the kinds of circumstances that will refine mine. 

God disciplines us for our good–so that we may share in his holiness. He makes us what we should have been. If we call sin’s bluff, rejecting its empty promises of pleasure and freedom, and we follow hard after God, there is so much joy, so much delight, so much good living His way. We get a preview of what Heaven will be like and what Eden should have remained. So, let’s be less like those bouncy balls. Let’s be less reactive and more rooted like that tree. It is my prayer that you’ll taste all the sweetness of God’s good purposes as a child in our home. It is my prayer that you’ll experience the often un-looked for pleasure of obedience and that you will not chase after the vacant delights of sin. For when the chasing is complete, the promises of sin yield only the bitter fruits of guilt, despair and death. But the promises of God given to us in Jesus bring about forgiveness, hope and life! My dear girl, in this next year, taste and see that the Lord is good! 

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