I’m trying to remember how it began. Malina pulled me, lured me really, to the empty dining room table. The table was huge, perfectly oval, and ready for action. My sister nodded for me to sit, and with her hands, motioned for me to stay put. She was on a mission, and I liked it. Moments later she’s roped Leonie and Anjuli into the room too. Malina smirked as she revealed the cards of our childhood, Rook. She brought the sisters together for a game of cards! Over the course of our family reunion, we’d all been pulled in every which way, so it only seemed right that for one moment on our last day together, the four of us share our moment. And just like that, Malina started dealing. Anjuli, Malina and I were downright giggly over the fun that was about to be had. Leonie, who doesn’t do games, remained seated because she knew she didn’t stand a chance abandoning the giggly trio.
Without really noticing, our little covert, sisterly game of Rook wasn’t so covert anymore; the room started swarming with family. And as quickly as family settled into open seats and kids into open laps, a few voices started singing… “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine…” It started with a handful of cousins, but by the last chorus it was standing room only around that table. Like moths race to light; our family runs to music. Voices, upon voices, upon warm familiar voices soared into perfect sweet harmonious swells. The room could barely contain it. I’m pretty sure none of us knew what was unfolding. The hymn ended, another voice started “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea bellows roll…” and then another, “Great is thy faithfulness, oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee…” and then another, and another. We sang for hours, hours. No musical accompaniment, no ring leader, no words; nothing but a chorus of family singing songs weaved into the thick threads of our family fabric. I glanced around the room, following the voices to faces I love. I stopped singing and listened. This part gets me. Behind each voice is a story. Sometimes family stinks because they know all the nooks and crannies about each other, but sometimes it’s just the opposite. And this was that time. I heard voices that have walked deep, difficult valleys and yet still, they sang out in faithful song to a faithful God. It’s the voice that still sings after the hardship, after the dark night, after the brokenness that makes the song richer, fuller and more beautiful. We are that family. For one summer night in Idaho, with two generations before me and another on my lap, we sang rich, full, beautifully broken songs to our God who weaves our family’s story. And with all that one can do to hold a moment, I closed my eyes, pressed pause, and breathed in this beautiful gift. Aria Ellen (3 years): *At age 3, you got your first haircut! What does it matter that they only cut a centimeter or two, you still got it cut! And it looks gorgeous. *You are finally tall enough to be in the IKEA kids class. FINALLY. *Frustrated, I chased you to your room, “Aria do you understand? Aria do you understand?” All you would say is “but, but, but, but, but …” Finally, I said, “Aria, no more buts!” You stopped. Then you busted out laughing, and couldn’t stop “No more buts!” Ahahaha! “No more buts!” Ahaha! You laughed and laughed. I cracked and fell onto the bed laughing with you! “No more buts!” *When you, Naomi and Daddy flew around Payette Lake on a giant raft, you were grin to grin all smiles. And the only time you released your little hands from gripping the handles was to signal Captain Brad to go faster! Faster! Faster! You love speed. I can’t tell you how many times I hear you from your car seat commanding me to go faster. Or on your rope swing. Yes, your rope swing. No one swings on it as much as you do. It’s your go-to place. If you can coax me to push you, you always shout “Higher! Higher than the house mommy, higher!” Most of the time you don’t need me at all, you’ve figured out how to climb up the hillside and launch yourself off onto the rope swing! You are so coordinated, love. You still love to run. You run so fiercely. One day you fell hard, but not a tear. Nothing was going to stop you, you got right up and started running again. Your determination is shocking. *You were eating strawberries, “Mom, I’m going to eat the weaves. I weawwy weawwy like the weaves.” You crack me up. *Decked out in your princess attire, you came up to me and sweetly said “Hewwo, I’m sweeping beauty, do you want to dance?” I sigh, you’re so cute! One evening as you were praying you said, “Thank you Goh fo this gweat day, fo ouh famwy and ouh fwiends, thank you for Papa.” (Smirking, your eyes open) “I just pway for one peapoe.” (Big smile). You were about to drink water, but some of your hair was in your mouth, and you told your hair, “Excuse me hair.” And my favorite from the month, “I am Sammy. I have his shoes on. But I don’t have his face on! I have Ahya’s face on!” That’s right, you still can’t say your name. People ask you your name, you say in two syllables “Ahya.” They clarify, “Ahhh-yaa?” You shake your head, “No. Ahya.” This repeats over and over, until I step in with a little help with the R sound. Darling!! *As we descended the pilot announced we were about to land in Idaho, I watched you from across the aisle, you smiled so big, you scrunched up your little nose, made huge fists, and topped it off with enormous fist pumps. Oh Aria, I love you! Naomi Mariam (4.5 years): *First off, you learned how to swim! While we were at the Lasts’ home, you sweetly interrupted “Excuse me.” You waited. “Can someone please teach me how to swim?” You’re seriously that darling. You took to the waters and never turned back! On day two, you were fearless— jumping in with cannonballs! You totally figured it out! So proud of you, Naomi! *We learned something new about you, love. When you feel sad about something, you retreat. One day, when all our family was over for Papa’s 70th, Daddy and I couldn’t find you, and I remembered a moment earlier when you thought Ama was upset about something you did. I told Daddy to look for you in your bed, and sure enough, you were in your bed, your little heart shattered and sad. Your heart is so tender and wants so much to do right. We talked about it Frozen style. You were like Elsa retreating to her room/mountains after she felt bad for hurting her sister. But we talked about how it’s better to stay in Arendelle and talk about your feelings! Just like Anna loves Elsa, we love Naomi and want her to stay with us in the castle and not to run away when she feels bad. You loved this, and it so connected with you! Now, instead of running to your room when your heart hurts, you point to your heart, and I know that your heart feels frozen, so we hug and talk about your feelings together. I’m blown away at how effective it is and how you do great with simple steps to help you with your sadness. The way you learn and take things in, you are constantly impressing me! *While on a playdate, you didn’t like what the other kid was doing so you very simply said “Stop that. I don’t like that. Don’t do it.” It was as simple as that. The kid stopped. And I was stopped in my tracks. You nailed it, love. *You are really into role playing with your little figurines. Well, naturally, with all your princess figurines we also have an alien. One day you killed off the alien, banished him from the castle. You happily declared, “The alien is up in the sky with Jesus!” I laughed! *You’ve always been a natural cheerleader. In Idaho with all our family, you and Letta were the only girls playing soccer with all the big boys. If the ball wasn’t right near her, she wasn’t all that interested. But you ran up to her, looked her right in the eyes and shouted “We can’t give up Letta! We can’t give up!” During this soccer game played to ten goals, you also revealed you might have some of Daddy’s math skills— Eight goals were scored and you shouted “Come on everybody, we need two more!” There you go impressing us again. Juliet Mae (11 months!): Finally after 10 months in our 4th bedroom (aka master closet and very permanent pack ‘n’ play), you’ve moved into your own bonafide room! And you’ve blown us away with your adaptability! It’s been one month and you’ve slept through every single night. Amazing amazing amazing. *You clap! And you’re darling at it. It’s like your clapping only helps you better express your oozing happiness. I think that’s what people say about you most: “She is so happy!” *At Papa’s 70th birthday party, I held you close to my chest, but you wouldn’t have it, you wanted to turn around and face the party! You wanted to be a part of the action. *While we were in Idaho, we discovered that you don’t like being in the grass! Or perhaps it’s just a left leg thing! (See above.) For minutes upon minutes, you would just hold that darling, chunky leg up in the air! It was awesome. You know what else is awesome? You know your name! It’s just the best seeing you light up at the sound of your name. Aria calls you “Ju-yet,” Daddy calls you “Jujubee!” and Naomi calls you “Sweetie!” And you are just that, our happy sweetie who smiles enormously and so very easily! Maertz Family Memories: *Enjoy a Sunday attending Flood with John Mark McMillan. Joe gets a night out with the boys playing poker at the Lehmans’. *Sawyers come home from their first year in Taiwan! Hillary comes over the first night for a quick reunion nightcap! *Lots of swim mornings and afternoons at the Lasts’ with the Sawyers! *Playdate with new friends Tasha and Zoe, with a little guitar session too. *Janneke, Hillary, and Anjuli come over for a lovely long morning. The beautiful mornings that quickly become afternoons, and before you know it, we’ve spent most of the day together. So fun. *Couples group do a glowy globe-lit summer dinner in the Whites’ backyard. *More swimming at the Paschalls’! *Frozen princesses visit Hannah Buck’s 6th birthday, you girls are in awe. Beckett’s first birthday. *Kearny day, my dad takes a bunch of pictures of me during the 8pm from the front row, so I surprise him with a little “Happy 70th birthday tribute” from stage. Everyone is in awe of his story and celebrates his birthday with me! *Sweet Erin Peet watches the older girls so I can run to Costco with only one! * Papa’s 70th birthday in our backyard with hot pot and family pictures on our Purdum hillside! *Lots of trips to “Chickaways.” (Thank you to Aria for that pronunciation). *Night out with Hillary for Italian dinner and a late night Target run! *Kristin and Gretel come for a visit! *Dad’s second 70th birthday party at my parents’ home! *It’s Father’s Day at Hillsdale and one of you gets a fever. *Dad’s new refrigerator arrives! *Paschalls and we run over to the tire swing on Idaho! *At RB Inn’s “Veranda” for a perfect summer dinner with the Last family. *One hour with Kelli Stuart! *Idaho with the Lehmans, Whites and Heinrichs. Last minute I decide to leave Juliet in Boise, and I am a blubbering mess. Naomi and Aria are patting my back, comforting me, “Mommy, it’s just three sleeps, you’re going to be okay.” HA! I was okay, but it sure was hard to leave you girls. Enjoyed hours and hours of boat time, wake boarding, tubing, late breakfasts, more World Cup, later dinners, Rook, and lovely quiet time with just us. After three nights, we grabbed you three and tackled adventure after adventure with 8 kids (ages 5 and under) and 6 adults. We had a blast! Highlights: Naomi, Aria and Daddy riding the raft behind the boat! Aria kept signaling faster and Naomi jumped onto Daddy’s shoulders while zooming across the lake! Aria, you loved the scooter, you went round and round, kicking yourself around the circle drive. You improved with each stride! Little hike to a small lake, and Naomi you loved being the leader. Juliet, you just remained happy as a clam. *We spent the final five nights in Idaho at the Allens’ home in Nampa, and the Redding Reunion commences! It’s been nearly 20 years since we have all been together (outside of Grandpa’s funeral in ’06), and it was amazing how quickly we all reconnected. Ooodles and oodles of pool time at Carol’s and LeRoy’s. Soccer in the grass. A fun family softball game, and a kid’s kickball game that stole the show. Danya cutting away in the kitchen. Balderdash, and Manoah shocking us all with his word game skills! Dramatic World Cup matches. Fireworks in the driveway, or so we thought. A luau, complete with dancing! The boys had the time of their lives with stories and beers in the backyard until 2am. Field trip to the Allen farm— feeding a calf milk, riding an ATV all over the farm, shooting a bunch of guns! (Let the record show that Mommy was really good at shooting that day!) Girls, you drove a harvester! And finally the big night of singing together. It couldn’t have been better scripted. We had a wonderful time with our Redding family, celebrating Great Ama’s (Mildred “Millie” Margaret Kooistra Redding) 89th birthday!