We started the new year with an early flight to Costa Rica to go jump on a trampoline with two little girls.
In our seven days together, the girls went from being long-standing prayers in our hearts and the subject of stories over the phone to real-life giggly, squirmy, lovely nieces. I can hear their voices in my mind, feel Marilyn’s soft curls in my fingers and see Nicole’s concentrated face as she draws.
We had not been to see my brother and sister-in-law since our last mission trip there in 2011. We spent our week together mostly hanging out at their new home and going about their normal routine. We are so used to seeing them in a “mission” setting, that getting to do normal, everyday life things was a treat. It also gave us a better picture of what their new life as a family of four is like.
This particular week, the everyday routine involved waking up to play Barbies with Nicole in our pajamas as the sun streamed through her big window. It found us setting the table with their educational place mats and naming the strange anatomy parts of a horse in English. We had family tournaments of Mario Kart, dominoes and Uno. Nicole and Marilyn attempted to popcorn bounce Charlie on their new trampoline. Nicole gave me a detailed synopsis in English of the new movie Frozen.
We drove up the mountain and fished for trout which their friend Sammy fried up thirty minutes later. The girls ate their first s’more, and we learned that Marilyn prefers to neatly eat all the oozing marshmallow from the sides first before biting into her graham cracker.
I had tears in my eyes as Marilyn sang the chorus to one of our favorite Lumineers’ songs. Charlie and I caught each other’s eyes over her curly head in the backseat as she sang, “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart.” That’s one of our favorite albums, and to unexpectedly hear our little niece belting it out as we drove up and over a lush green mountain was a glimpse into the perfect plan of God.
I made up games with Nicole involving drawing various scenes, and she won every time. She tried to teach me to make a bracelet, but she ended up finishing the whole thing to give to Charlie. We watched Marilyn put on the princess dress we brought her for Christmas and were thrilled that the bright purple stripes in the scarf we gave Nicole matched the wall color in her room.
On Sunday night, we received handmade invitations to “A Special Night With God.” The girls ushered us into Nicole’s room where we took our seats and I held the “spotlight” as the music began. For the next hour, the girls danced, sang or both to worship songs. With only a flashlight shining on them, we watched as they worshipped in front of us.
It felt like God gave us that time to parade His two gifts before us yet again and say, “This is how good I am. This is what My love does.”
I just stared at them — Nicole as she sang softly, Marilyn as she lept out from the “side stage” of the bathroom — and couldn’t fully comprehend that these precious girls are our family. In my mind, I saw the scene from above: Charlie, Will, Ella and me sitting on a little girl’s bed in Costa Rica, watching their daughters put on a worship concert for us to praise the very God who knit them into our family. It was precious in every sense of the word.
I don’t know what we were expecting the girls to be like, and I’m not sure why sometimes I was caught off guard by how they are so much like other 5 and 11 year olds we know. For sure they have their own challenges related to a number of difficulties, but they also just have those universal little girl characteristics.
When we met Nicole at the door to her colorful room, I just immediately reached out to hold her close to my side. Anytime she stood near me, my arms went instinctively around her just to close the space between us. We missed 11 years with her, and I think I wanted her to know she’s family to so many people now who love her. Marilyn was a little harder to hold on to, but we squeezed her tight whenever her energy brought her within arm’s reach.
Of course we were so blessed to spend that much time with Will and Ella. Charlie realized before we left that this would be the most time he’d ever spent with them at once. We got to catch up on the many ways all four of our lives have changed since we saw them a year and a half ago just before we started our Florida travel nurse assignment. After ten years of marriage, they are suddenly parents to two daughters and they are awesome at it. I can’t imagine handling this sudden, amazing change in their lives with half as much grace and wisdom.
When we were back on the plane heading for home, it was almost as if we hadn’t even arrived because it went by so fast. Then I remembered hugging Nicole goodbye, while Marilyn held me by the legs and I twirled my fingers through her curls. However fast it was, each moment made it more and more real that these two girls are our family. We’ll see them through a lifetime of important milestones and everyday joys. Just this week, they started a new school year and we eagerly waited for the “first day” pictures to arrive in our Inbox.
The trip was fast but our journey together will, thankfully, take a long, long time.