It Only Gets Better (Dora)

Dora and I have walked through life's bumps and twists together. When I read her post I felt like we were having an amazing talk while our kids were napping. Her insight on life is eye-openning. She knows what it's like to have someone taken from her and then someone given to her graciously. She is my hero, my precious reminder to be thankful in all circumstances. I miss her and I am blessed to give you a glimpse into her life and her heart.

I met Natalie in Missouri. During that time, she became pregnant with Vitali, and I was told it would be difficult for me to conceive without professional medical help. I celebrated with her and she mourned with me. When I have friends going through hard times, I try to think back on the things Natalie did that made me feel so understood and well-cared for so that I can do those same things for others. It was a difficult but meaningful time. Now, four years later, I live in Asia with my husband and our daughter, Shaddai. Our purpose in being here is to assist and empower minority people groups by helping to meet their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs in sustainable ways. We love what we get to do, but not a day goes by that we don't miss living across the sidewalk from the Falls family. When I first I gazed into Shaddai's beautiful eyes and realized I was a mom, I also realized my mom was a grandmother and my grandmother was gone and one day my mom would be gone too, and then me. It sounds morbid, I know. But I tend to be a planner and it was just the realization I needed to not plan away my baby girl's life. Sure enough, time flies fast enough on it's own, even when I intentionally try to slow it down. My bald, chubby baby has somehow morphed into a slim, fun-loving little toddler. Each day, I affirm her increasing independence with bittersweet applause. And that was the first thing I learned as a mom. I am finite. Life is fleeting. Every moment is precious. I have also learned that I'm only half of a parenting team. I've loved seeing the tenderness my daughter has brought out in my man's man, mr. fix-it, trek-through-the-jungle-for-weeks-with-just-a-backpack husband. I've learned to say "yes" whenever possible. I have learned that different cultures have different answers to the same questions and there is so much I can learn from other moms in any country at any stage of life. (Although, honestly, I'm still not buying that Shaddai's frequent bouts of hiccups are a result of her being cold, like the grandmas here would like me to believe. She had them all the time in utero and I'm pretty sure it's not cold in there. They have lots of other really great advice though.) I have learned how much I take for granted. On my most difficult days here, far away from family and Sprouts Farmers Market, I still have it so much easier than the hundreds of thousands of other moms in this area. For us, really good medical care is an hour and a half away by plane and when there are no flights, it's 6 hours by bus. I would make this trip in a heartbeat for our baby girl, but few other mothers in our city have that option.

I've also learned that there is so much I can learn from my daughter. She has taught me to love everyone no matter how bad they smell and to always hear and enjoy music whether it's someone's cell phone ringing, an obnoxious street vendor, or even Justin Bieber. She has taught me to depend on my heavenly Father for everything just like she depends on me.

I've learned that no matter where I am in the world, my questions and concerns are the same. "Is she happy? Is she thriving? Does she have everything that she needs? Am I making the best decisions possible to protect, nurture and cherish her each day?" I second-guess myself a lot and I'm still learning to entrust her to the One who gave her to me in the first place. I've learned not to take myself so seriously. I was never going to be the mom that forgot to put an extra outfit in the diaper bag and had to wrap her baby up in a sweater. I was never going to be the mom that made up silly songs and rhymes about every day activities. I was never going to use the word "potty." I was never going to think my kid was saying things they probably weren't yet capable of saying. But earlier today I heard myself exclaiming to my husband that when I was feeding Shaddai breakfast, she shook her head and I thought I heard her say "Buyao" (the local word for refusing something). She thinks every animal says, "mmmmmm" but she's bilingual already?! It's possible, right? Yep, I am that mom. I've done all those things and have loved every minute! (Except the word "potty"—that still grosses me out a little.) I've learned that, like every parent's child, my daughter will have opportunities to serve that simply aren't available to me. I was so concerned about moving Shaddai to the other side of the world. Even though she's still very little, we talk to her constantly about loving people and being a blessing to others, and more than that, we try to show her by our actions and attitudes that we genuinely care about those around us. I had heard that local people in our city can be very overwhelming in their affection for foreign children and I really had no idea what to expect. We decided ahead of time that we expected her to be respectful but that was all, at least until she was older. It's one thing to commit yourself to a life where you're constantly stared at and pointed to; it's another thing altogether to ask that of your child. Before arriving, I found out the culturally appropriate ways to ensure she had enough space and memorized phrases graciously encouraging people to back off, if need be. I rarely ever have to use either because Shaddai has handled it so well. It turns out there are very few foreigners in our city and in a country where people love children, our children are especially adored. People always want to touch her face, her hands, even her feet. They're constantly hugging and kissing her. They want to take pictures of her and with her. They say she looks like a baby doll and "look at those eyelashes, but where is her hair?" She always responds by smiling and waving and blowing kisses. Sometimes she lets them hold her and will even kiss the ladies on the cheek after they've kissed her. The local people repay her with gifts of fresh fruit, candy, balloons, baked goods, small toys, and the occasional corn on the cob. We have yet to return to our house without some kind of schwag for Shaddai. We still do our best to continue respecting her space so she doesn't burn out. The second she starts to wave "bye-bye" or sign "all done," we're outta there, but this too is rare. Even before we came, I knew in my head that this was not only God's best for us but for her too. I knew He hand-picked her—not just to be our daughter, but to be a source of joy and hope in this dark place. Seeing her thrive here has solidified this in my heart and not just my head. I still have days when I cry after we're done skyping with my mom. Shaddai may not always respond so positively to all the attention and that's okay too. But in this season of our lives, God has used her sweet spirit to calm my fears and really bless others, opening her up for a lifetime of opportunities to share true peace and comfort. And finally I've learned that I have so much more to learn. I love that with Shaddai there is never a dull moment—from being breech and an emergency c-section after I was already in transition, to this morning when she decided everything tastes better dunked in coffee. I also love that she keeps us laughing—from her first hours of life when she scowled at everyone who came to visit her in the hospital to recently, when she decided to feed herself for an entire meal using only chopsticks. I had no idea being a mom would be so much fun, that every single day would be such an adventure. I've never laughed so much before in my life. When I was pregnant I would dream about all the things she and I would do together, the places we'd go, the people we'd meet. We've been so privileged to do a lot of amazing things as a family, but none of it compares to the joy of snuggling with my girl when she first wakes up in the morning. In my dreams, I never imagined how her laughter would be my favorite sound on earth, second only to the sound of her sweet voice saying, "Mama." 15 months later, she still seems to good to be true. Every night as I lay her down to sleep, I have to consciously restrain myself from squeezing her too tight. And I'm told it only gets better.

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© 2014 Natalie Falls