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The space between white dresses

I still remember walking into the little boutique shop and heading straight for the tiny white dresses. I didn't have anything specific in mind but I was determined to find just the right dress for my tiny girl. I looked, and looked, and looked. There were dozens of different dresses, each one a little different and each one beautiful, but none of them felt like "the one". Then I saw it. It was a simple but elegant long, white satin gown with a few delicate ribbon flowers across the front. (and a reasonable price tag) It was PERFECT, except one thing. They only had a size 3-6 months. There was no way my 7 pound baby could wear that. I looked through the 0-3 month dresses again, hoping I had just missed it before, but no luck.

Then I turned around and saw a smaller version of the exact dress hanging on a high rack that I hadn't noticed before. I took it to the register where the nice lady tried to talk me out of buying a newborn size dress and reminded me several times that all sales are final. I fought back the tears of a stressed out, sleep-deprived mother as I explained to her that yes, I understood that newborn size meant up to 7 pounds, and that try as I may, I couldn't get my almost 2 month old to grow so I was sure the dress would be fine, and I bought it. And it was perfect. It fit her like it was made for her.

The morning of her baby blessing is a blur now, as are many of the details of her early life, but I do remember trying to time things so that she wouldn't puke, and waiting until the last minute before laying her on a blanket on the floor and slipping her into her beautiful dress. I crossed my fingers that she wouldn't puke on it while I snapped a couple pictures of her, then strapped her into her car seat and covered her with a bib and blanket, which she did puke on. Her blessing was given to her by her wonderful father, who has done an amazing job on all of our kids' baby blessings. Afterward, we gathered in our home with family and friends to celebrate Raya's blessing and her older brother's birthday.

Almost 8 years have gone by since that day. So much has happened in her 8 years of life. On the day of her blessing, we knew that she was a little different than our other babies had been. Her spitting up was similar but worse. Her muscle tone was different. Her head was a bit misshapen and always seemed to tilt to the left. She seemed more fussy than the other kids had, but on the day of her blessing, we had no inkling of what was to come.

All 5 of our babies received blessings, and out of those 5 blessings, the only specific thing that I remember Donny saying was part of Raya's. He blessed her that she would, "have a healthy body and be able to enjoy the activities of life." That statement hit me like a ton of bricks when I heard him say it. At the time, I didn't understand why that one statement impacted me so much and was instantly ingrained in my memory, but I do now. It became evident in the space between her two white dresses.

During the hardest times with her, I would remind myself of that promise. Early on when we had no idea what was wrong or how deeply it would impact her future, I would remember that she was promised that her body would allow her to enjoy the activities of life. That promise was a comfort to me in a way that nothing else was during those long, desperate stretches when nothing seemed to be going in the right direction. I knew it didn't mean that God was going to just take away the problems she was having, and I didn't expect Him to. I understood it as an encouragement from a loving Heavenly Father to not give up on our hopes for her future just because we couldn't see past the struggles we were facing with her health at the time.

On her 8th birthday earlier this month, Raya and I walked hand-in-hand back into that same little boutique store to pick out another white dress, this time for her baptism. She could hardly contain her excitement, and I could hardly contain the tears of joy that kept threatening to spill over. Watching her dart back and forth between racks of beautiful, white dresses while proclaiming that every single one was the prettiest dress ever was one of those sweet moments that helped heal my heart a little bit more from some of the hurt of her early days. She picked out 3 dresses to try on, and giggled and bounced with delight the whole time. She decided on the one that fit her the best, and it just so happened to be a long, simple satin gown with a white fabric rose pinned to the sash. Her only request was to swap the white flower out for one that was more her style: hot pink.

I found myself dabbing tears from my eyes more times than I expected during her baptism. I think it was a week or two before the baptism date that I realized I had never really thought about that milestone in her life the way I had thought about the older kids' baptisms. It wasn't that I ever doubted she'd get to the point of being old enough and able to make the decision to be baptized. I think it was more that I have spent her whole life focusing on keeping her nourished and healthy, making sure her physical/emotional/psychological/behavioral/sensory/social/developmental needs were being met and have had a hard time stepping back to just breathe and enjoy her and enjoy our family. In a way, her baptism and the week or so leading up to it was a time of reflection and healing for me, and my focus was entirely on Raya as a whole, not just on making sure all the required tasks were being done. The day of her baptism, we of course still made sure she got her medications, formula, and food on schedule so that we didn't disrupt her system, but the focus of the day was on Raya, and on her receiving the ordinance of baptism and being confirmed a member of the church. It felt amazing to just forget about the day-to-day struggles and only focus on that for a day.

I've been re-reading some of the posts I wrote when Raya was a newborn and all of this was just starting. In one of them, I shared this quote:

"...every life has peaks and shadows and times when it seems that the birds don’t sing and bells don’t ring. Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result." --Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

The past year of Raya's life has been a year of incredible growth and development. In so many ways, she is wise and experienced beyond her years. She is so tough and so brave. She even had her first public speaking engagement earlier this year in front of about 100 people and pulled it off like it was no big deal. She constantly amazes me, both with the way she manages to hang onto her childlike innocence, and the maturity with which she handles herself in difficult situations. She is reaching an age where she is realizing more profoundly some of the things that separate her from her peers, but even when she gets frustrated with those things and gets tired of dealing with them, she still finds a way to grit her teeth and bear it. There certainly have been times in her life when there were peaks and shadows and there were no birds singing or bells ringing, but she is strong and resilient and I wouldn't change a thing about her. This post is about her two white dresses, but really, it's not about dresses at all. It's about everything that has transpired in the space between those two white dresses, and the person she is becoming as a result of all she has experienced. I was reading back through something I wrote when she had just turned 3 and saw this,  "I feel like I've worked SO much harder with her than I had to with the other kids in every way. EVERYTHING is so much harder with Raya. I feel like NOTHING has ever come easily with her."
And 5 years later, that statement still rings true. Except for one thing. The one thing that comes completely easily with her is loving her. She is so easy to love, and she lights up the room when she walks in. She is a gift and a blessing, and I am grateful for every bit of her.


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