Thumbing through stack after stack, we searched for his very first soccer team photos.  Teen son is now a coach and wanted to show the young ones he’s coaching the little boy he once was…bright blond hair, big blue eyes, soccer ball tucked rakishly under his arm…all of five years old.

We pick through the memories.  “Look at this one, mom…”  “Wow…that was a long time ago…”

Slightly rumpled photo, window to the past…they smile at me.

The first six.  My three big girls and three little boys…the “even split.”  Three of each.   Still the newbie homeschooler, I hadn’t even graduated my first student!  But there she is…a glorious profusion of red hair…her sweet smile beaming out at me…all youth and promise and beauty…my Ashley.

And then the little “mother…”  Lovely Caitlin.  Queen bee around the house…how often did I leave home and hearth for an appointment, to return to the scent of fresh baked cookies, beautifully dressed toddlers coloring peacefully at the dining room table.  She brought such grace, such joy…her sense of humor was only rivaled by her sense of style.  Oh…where did the time go?!

Look…beside her…my sweet Meredith.  The most beautiful tomboy, ever!  She could hit a ball out the park, run a mile without breaking a sweat…and hated to be told that she was beautiful.  But so often, people missed her true beauty:  her heart.  Her sweetness…her innocence.  Her love of her family and fear of losing them…my little girl is a woman now, with a life of her own…I miss my girl…

Did you notice that spiked blond hair and mischievous smile?  And the invisible eyebrows?   Zachary…fair haired, logical one.  My first born son…now a man.  When did that happen?  I blinked…and he moved passed me with that cool, confident stride…he’s on his way.

Joseph…were you really only four years old then?  You didn’t want to smile for that picture…no matter what the photographer did, you just wouldn’t smile.  But I remember those little boy smiles…I see them everyday, under the visage of manhood that is chiseling itself upon your face.  Don’t grow up too fast, my son…my heart skips a beat as my young man grows up, and yet it is thrilling to see this transformation…

Michael Gabriel…red-haired angel child.  His angelic appearance was and is no lie…for he’s changed so very little.   But my dear, dear boy is fast on the heels of manhood, too.  In four days he’ll be thirteen.  Dare I call him child?  For there must be a rite of passage for the growing ones…a mother marks each and every milestone in her heart.

Once upon a time, there were only six.  And I was in my early thirties.  And it all seemed so overwhelmingly exhausting at times, and still does at times.   But it’s passing.  Quickly.  Nine children…nine blessings.   Three grown, three now nearly men, and three that are still young enough to need me…almost as much as I need them…for I now understand that holiness is not something that happens to us…it happens through us, as we serve.

And I can’t think of any better way to serve than through the great gift of motherhood…