One of the O'Dell boys' favorite stories right now is "Curious George and the Surprise Gift."
In this particular adventure the mischievous monkey is enthralled by a very large gift that The Man in the Yellow Hat has purchased for a friend's birthday. As usual, antics ensue and George unwraps every papered item he comes in contact with, including the bathroom walls. At the end of the story, George learns that packages can be deceiving when the very large gift he has been coveting is nothing more than a ruse to hide the very small birthday package hidden inside. I am assuming he learned this lesson, but if one were to judge on the graphics alone, it appears as if George loses all interest and stops paying attention the moment he discovers the gift is disappointing.
Maybe the tale is purposefully insightful, or maybe my brain is creating unintended depth as a safeguard against the tedium of reading the same story, on repeat, every single day for the last few months–which would not be as terrible if it weren't a compilation with five other Curious George stories just a few page flips away–stories we have yet to read.
Whether purposeful or imagined, I feel like the story reflects a larger arc of daily life. I see myself in George. I often (ok, always) judge the gifts life bestows upon me. I generally react in one of two ways, either dismissively rejecting or hostilely fighting against anything not wrapped and delivered exactly as I had envisioned it should be. I petulantly toss them aside, instantaneously forgetting about their very existence right up until the moment that life reveals why I was given that particular gift. Like George, I find myself in this predicament a lot–the gifts God lays at my feet rarely appear in the form that I would choose.
Archie was my largest surprise gift, though the gift was more the timing of his appearance in our lives. We found out that I was pregnant with Archie when Glenn was eight months old. To say I was less than ecstatic would be an understatement. I was still a new mother and new wife, both titles that I was finding big for my hands, and suddenly I was presented with a new life to take care of. I was terrified and in doubt of my ability to do either of these jobs well–mothering and wifing. I cared for the life growing inside of me. I went to the appointments, took all the supplements, made all the necessary arrangements even saving all of my PTO so that I could have the maximum amount of time with my babe after his birth. I prepared but I did not rejoice.
Corey and I had always planned for more children. We talked about it often in the years of our courtship. Four–Corey wanted a big family and secretly I did as well. A home filled with happy children, and boisterous excitement, sounds so different from those of my own childhood home. It was not Arch's appearance that saddened me, it was his timing. We weren't ready for him yet. A laughable concept, as God never gifts us according to our own timing. Life has an ability that we do not. It sees outside the bounds of space and time, well into not only the future of our own timelines but the lives of those around us as well. We are so limited in our perceptions.
Like me, life favors preparation. So much so that it often gifts us the things that will be of most use to us in the future. It was more than a year before I was able to see Arch's timing for the gift that it was. A year later, almost an exact year from the day that Arch was born, we found ourselves sitting in what would be the first of many evaluation meetings. That meeting was the initiation for a whirlwind of specialists and therapists, a whirlwind that would confirm our most painful suspicions. In the confirmation of our fears, an unforeseen reality was revealed. There would be no more children.
I knew the limitations of my own hands. I could not give to two special-needs children what I could to one, whether fear or truth it is not a risk I can take. In this knowledge was the clarity of realization that if Arch had not already joined us, he never would have. If given the option between choosing the path of preparation and the unknown, I will always pick the path I can manage.
Life knows this of me, and in knowing this truth it gave me my second child at the time that I needed him, rather than when I wanted him. When I was pregnant, I had only my own limited vision of the future to influence my wants. I did not expect the drastically different way that future would unfold, but God did and gifted us accordingly. He gave us a home filled with happy children, and boisterous excitement even though it arrived in a very different package than we had expected.
While Archie was a very large surprise gift, most of God's gifts are much smaller. Oftentimes they are things that seem infinitesimal, too small to be of any notice, let alone of any importance. As we move into the new year, instead of my usual slew of resolutions I have decided to set an intention. The intention to pay attention and more readily receive all of the gifts in my life–the gifts that life makes available to us all, in all moments, if we choose to accept them.