Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gabriella Joy Acosta

One of my good friends from Illinois, Beth, just had her FIFTH baby, Gabriella Joy Acosta. I remember CLEARLY the first time I met Andres and Beth. We were attending parents night at Northwest Christian Academy because our firstborn son, Grant, was about to enter pre-school. Curt and I were both really nervous about venturing into the school arena, particularly because Grant had an incredibly difficult time potty training and was coming off some complicated health issues that could put him in a position for embarrassing accidents. I was petrified for him and Curt and I had talked about delaying his start at school, but decided to meet his teacher first before making our decision. All the adults crammed into a classroom made to house 10 4-year olds. We squatted on pint-sized chairs around tables that were 2 feet off the ground and listened to his pint-sized but full of life pre-school teacher introduce herself and give us the run down on what to expect for the school year. Beth and Andres casually sauntered in late and Mrs. Bilinski greeted them by name. They asked no questions, were laid-back and it was obvious this was not their first time in pre-school orientation. I admired their ease in handling such an incredibly "stressful" situation! I was pregnant with our fourth child and after orientation, one of the moms said, "Did you meet Beth and Andres? You should really introduce yourself. You have a lot in common. They have four kids - a boy and three girls."

Beth and I met shortly thereafter and spent the school year getting to know each other. We marveled at how many things we had in common. Her four children had been born in a 5 year time span. Our fourth baby was due to be born a few months before Grant turned 5. Her firstborn was a son named Antonio and he was two years older than Grant. Their next three children were girls: Raquel was in Grant's class, and Sophia and Isabella were the same ages as Katie and Alli.

Over the next few years, Beth and I slowly crossed the line from acquaintances to casual friends to really good friends. Our kids followed the same pattern and before we knew it, Grant had a serious crush on Raquel, Katie and Sophia, Alli and Isabella were best friends. By default, Antonio was forced to be Paige's buddy, but he never complained and was always sweet and kind. Beth always made a fuss over Paige and would get her "baby fix" whenever Paige was around. She longed for more children, but thought God had said no to that longing, so she loved on my baby instead.

I admired how Beth seemed to juggle so many things and do them well. She loved the Lord and it showed her life as she worked almost full-time outside her home, loved and cared for her husband well, and shuttled her four active kids to ballet, soccer, baseball and gymnastics without ever seeming frazzled, tired or short of patience.

Last February, we took our girls to a Fancy Nancy tea party at the library. The girls got dressed up super fancy, drank tea, ate cookies, sat around tables and decorated "purses" with too much glue, beads, fake flowers and ribbons. The moms hovered around the tables talking and pitching in to help with the craft as needed. As we were catching up, Beth said, "Guess what?" There was something about the smirk on her face and the glint in her eyes that stopped me dead in my tracks and dropped my jaw open. She finished her sentence before I could ask. "We got two puppies." I closed my jaw, got giddy laughing and said, "Wow - I thought you were going to say you were pregnant." It was her turn to laugh when she said, "Well, that too." It was such a surprise blessing hat seemed to come out of nowhere and we all jumped around and hugged and grilled her on how far along she was, how she was feeling, and when she was due.

In May, Beth and I stood in the parking lot after school gabbing. Often we'd stick our kids in their car seats, start to say goodbye and 15 minutes would fly by while we chatted about life, ignoring interruptions from the kids as they begged for a trip to McDonald's for a play date. She seemed discouraged on this day and I asked her if everything was okay. We shivered in the spring air and cried together as she told me that one of the standard first trimester tests revealed there was a high chance their baby had Downs Syndrome and the doctors were recommending further testing. We talked about her medical options, how this could impact their family and about the way things can change overnight. Then we embraced, cried and prayed. We asked God to heal their baby, give them wisdom about what, if any, tests to move forward with, and to restore their dreams for their baby.

In June, we packed up everything we owned and left our comfortable life in Illinois to start a new adventure in Portland. I asked our kids who they wanted to spend their last day with. They didn't even hesitate as they all screamed, "The Acosta's!" Even though Beth was pregnant, she took all four of our kids and they played together all day while we managed the moving crew and watched our home lose all it's identity as ours and transform into a blank slate for the new owners. After we said goodbye to 2865 Liberty Lakes Boulevard, we headed to the Smith's house. The Acosta's met us there and we spent our last night in Illinois with two precious families that we have shared life with. We let our kids stay up way too late, ate Chicago style pizza, made s'mores in a back yard fire pit, and bawled our heads off when we said goodbye. It broke my heart that I wouldn't be in Illinois for Baby Acosta's arrival. I hated that I would only know this baby through photos and email updates and now that my family is complete, that I wouldn't be able to get my baby fix from their sweet little bundle.

Last week Beth called me while I was jogging. We'd been playing phone tag all week to find a time for her to give me all the juicy details of Gabriella's arrival: how she came early and fast and was almost born in the car, her birth stats, how the family was adjusting, and what she looked like. I must have looked like a total idiot as I jogged down the sidewalk of a busy highway, cell phone to one ear, pushing the stroller with my free hand! Beth excitedly told me what a gift their Gabriella was. They decided on her middle name of "Joy" before she was born because they knew she would bring great joy to their family, regardless of her health status. She looks a lot like Sophia and is a great healthy size, weighing in at just under 9 pounds.

Then Beth told me through tears but with joy in her tone, that after multiple tests, Gabriella Joy tested positive for Downs Syndrome. There are a lot of things to be thankful for: her heart and lungs are in great shape and she doesn't appear to have any of the really major complications that often accompany Downs. She's eating well, getting over some severe jaundice and gaining weight. Beth and Andres are working on equipping themselves with information and a support structure to raise a child with special needs. Their older children are a great help and are already charting her progress: "Look Mom. She can do a high five. She's not slow at learning at all."

As we cried and prayed together again, this time across the miles, with me huffing and puffing between strides, we thanked God for His wisdom in choosing the Acosta family to shepherd and love little Gabriella. If there is any family in the world that knows how to have fun, laugh, love and live, it's the Acosta's. We asked God to help Beth and Andres adjust their dreams for Gabriella and to deal with the grief that accompanies finding out your child has health issues. And I cried because I couldn't give my friend a hug, bring her a meal and get my baby fix from kissing sweet Gabriella's super chubby, adorable cheeks.

When I got home, I looked up the meaning of Gabriella Joy. It means "the LORD is my strength and delight/joy." Then I searched for the phrase and look at the verse I found. Psalm 27:8, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song." I laughed at how God gave us all this verse. The promise of STRENGTH and PROTECTION when times are tough and don't go as we planned. The confidence to TRUST in Him. The promise of His HELP, which the Acosta's will need. A promise of living with JOY, Gabriella's middle name, and a thankful song of praise to God for all He has and will do.

I looked once more at the photos of Gabriella, and my heart filled with a song of thanksgiving to God for His perfect plan!

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