AJ was 18-months-old when we brought him home a special, non-returnable gift: his first baby sister. AJ was pretty excited to have a baby in the house and he took really good care of BJ from day one.
Unlike AJ’s 15-hour birthing marathon, BJ made her appearance quite rapidly. We checked in to the hospital a few minutes before 6am on a gloriously sunny December day. I had called my mom who was already on her 45-minute commute to work, and told her we were in the hospital awaiting grandchild number ten. She planned to work a half day, then she’d call and see how we were progressing.
At 6:15 I was setting up our room, making sure the camera was ready for pics, arranging my little corner where I would try and snag some Z’s in between contractions when I realized that the doctor who had come to check on Traci was still in our room, leaning up against the closet. I knew doctors didn’t generally have a lot of down time and so I asked, “are we about to have a baby?” I think I woke him up from some profound inner discussion because he kind of snapped awake, looked at me a little a stunned, and said, “yeah, any minute now.”
I actually panicked. For some reason, I wasn’t ready for this to happen yet, and now it was go time! Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually have any role in the birthing process, but I wasn’t mentally ready to help my wife. More importantly, I knew the hot dog vendor that sets up outside the hospital wouldn’t be there for another 4 or 5 hours...how was I supposed to celebrate this birth without him?!?
By 6:30am, BJ was launched into the waiting hands of our doctor and a few minutes later, she was nestled comfortably and quietly in Traci’s arms. I remember calling my mom, who still wasn’t actually at work yet, and letting her know she was the proud owner of yet another beautiful granddaughter; Bethany Joy Castaneda was eager to meet her granny.
I wish every father could experience the joy and preciousness of having a baby girl. I thought I wanted all boys like several of our friends had, but after holding my sweet little girl for the first time, I was hooked. Of course, when the dating scene starts up, I’ll probably wish I had all boys, but until then...
BJ was different from AJ in every way. As AJ grew up, he wouldn’t say words unless he knew how to same them correctly; BJ would say whatever sound came to her mouth. AJ was generally pretty quiet and could be entertained easily; BJ was never quiet and she always wanted to be in close proximity to other people. Still to this day, she rarely likes to be alone in her room or in a corner by herself, she loves to be around people. In fact, as I write this, she is sitting across the room from me and despite several reminders that “dad’s working right now” (and it’s only 6:45am) she keeps asking questions and trying to engage my opinions about her latest drawings.
BJ feels everything fully. When she’s happy, she’s VERY happy. When she’s angry, she’s VERY (very!) angry. When she’s sad, she’s VERY sad. Whatever emotion she’s experiencing, she’s experiencing it fully. And she has no problem expressing the fullness of that emotion. It really is one of her best qualities.
And maybe it’s just part of her emotional make up, but she expresses herself through performance, too. She loves to sing, and dance and entertain people and has from day one. I remember walking with her at our Winco grocery store in Salem, when I looked over at BJ who was eye-balling the register candy. She was dancing to the music the store was playing. Up until that point, I didn’t even realize there was music playing, but BJ did. She always hears the music that’s playing.
I think it’s that uninhibited expression of feeling, that desire to belt out the words to the song, that is so instructive. BJ doesn’t hesitate to sing, and to sing loud, whatever song comes into her mind. AJ, the quieter, in some ways less-confident, child, would never sing louder than everybody else. BJ doesn’t even think about the volume of others, she just figure if you’re going to sing, you should sing loud.
A few years ago I remember looking out the window of our home and seeing BJ on the sidewalk in front of the house. She had a stick in one hand as a microphone, and I could tell, she was performing to the “audience” that was in front of her. She was singing LOUDLY for all to hear, even though there was no one to hear her song. And she was singing about whatever she was looking at. It was like having Elf out front: “I’m singing...I’m singing...the grass is green, look at the birds in the skyyyyyyyyy!”
Too many of us are too worried about what other people think. We want to make sure we always look good, we want people to only see our “good” side, and so we try to hide our true feelings, we bury our emotions and we ignore our God-given design in order to please or fit a social norm. While BJ’s emotional outbursts can sometimes be frustrating, her expressions of joy, her laughter and her rich love of life are contagious.
You see, Traci and I have made it our goal to teach her how to express her anger without sinning. We tell her all the time, “you can’t always control how you feel, but you can control what you do with what you feel.” In other words, feel it fully, but be careful how it comes out of your mouth! Our goal isn’t to quench her emotions, but to help her be more careful how she expresses them. Because if we quench how she feels angry or hurt or frustrated, we will also quench how she feels joy, victory and confidence.
According to Psalm 139:13, God designed us, inside and out. So when we stop trying to live our lives to please others, and start embracing who God made us to be, we can start to experience the greatest joy and satisfaction this life offers. This is NOT an excuse for sin -- It’s not ok for BJ to yell at someone simply because she is frustrated or angry. But I believe this is an excuse to allow yourself the freedom to feel life fully; to step toward your God-given design and not away from it.
Who are you most trying to please with your life? Are you holding back because of what others may think? Are you living in the shadows because you’re not sure if people will like who you are? Your greatest joy will come when you start to recognize and embrace who God made you to be, so that you can best do what God made you to do. My daughter BJ steps into her personality fully, and sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming -- but it’s never dull or boring! And while she’s learning to be appropriate, she’s also learning that it’s ok to be her. And I’m learning that I want to be more like her, so that I don’t miss some great opportunities God has tailor made, just for me!
So if you see me singing on the sidewalk about birds in the sky, the color of the neighbors pansies and the crookedness of the fence posts, you’ll know that I’m becoming more comfortable with who God made me to be. How about you? You ready to start singing?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!