"Hello, princess!" I greeted Smallest One, resplendent in a white sundress as she ran gracefully toward me at the door of the church. I scooped her up, pushing her blonde locks behind her shoulder and smiling down at Little One, smoothing hair that was darkening to match my deep brunette.
"What'd you bring me?" Smallest asked and I reached for the jewelry boxes I'd had for years, smoothing the dust from the velvety top with my thumb before flipping both of them open.
"I bought these," I showed her the cross necklaces - one simple, one containing a sparkling ruby, "years ago but I saved them for your baptism. I carried your sister at hers - she was just a baby - but you get to wear yours today!"
She selected the one with the ruby, turning and holding her hair off her neck so I could fasten the clasp and admire the sparkle once she flounced around again.
She's just finished 2nd grade, Smallest One has, and Little will go into 5th grade in the Fall. Their mother remarried and I rather like their stepdad. He coaches softball. Helps with homework. Cooks dinner. And takes them to church where he plays in the band.
He - Stepdad - was baptized first, wading into the pool on stage while the lights went deep blue and the electric guitars quieted. The pastor prayed over him before motioning for him to cross his arms under his chest and lean back into the water. I smiled when Stepdad plugged his nose, emerging to slick the water from face.
He hovered while Smallest carefully went down the steps into the pool. She looked angelic as she grinned at Stepdad then her pastor.
And I wept as we prayed over her. I was just so proud - feeling that rush of 'I remember when you were born!' that hits me at dance recitals or school plays. But this - the cementing of a relationship with Christ - an immersion in a faith I pray will sustain and strengthen her - was profound.
"She will serve God valiantly," the pastor said and I nodded, gulping back a sob and dabbing at my eyes with wet fingertips. For she is valiant - a powerful force who shares snacks with those who have none, plays with the friendless, gives freely of what she has with the simple trust that she'll find more.
We had lunch about a week later and I grinned back at her after handing over a $50 bill.
"Katie," Mom scolded, "she doesn't need that."
"Yes, I do!" Smallest insisted. "That's why I made her feel sorry for me - so she'd give me money!" For she is as manipulative as she is darling and I shake my head at how very often she gets her way.
But, watching her on that stage, plugging her nose, closing her eyes and reclining into the water, I said my own prayers and curled my hand on the empty chair beside me, praying that Dad got to see and rejoice with us, and cried a bit more.
For while I may feel stagnant at times, the Ones rarely are. So I brace myself for exhaustion as they visit again today.