“I love you mama!” my son Jake shouted with a bright smile as our paths crossed in the hallway one morning a few days after Christmas. He was still in his pajamas, enjoying a laid back holiday schedule, and his blue-green eyes sparkled with pride.
I stopped in my tracks, joy overflowing from my soul.
Had he really just said it for the first time?
The words flowed out like a melody … like he had said them a million times before. There were no mispronunciations and no awkward pause for the right sounds. That love I had waited so long to hear had been spoken pure, clear, and effortless.
We took a moment to celebrate the victory that only he and I knew the monumental value of. I scooped him off the floor, tears in my eyes, and we jumped up and down, arms tightly wrapped around each other and he continued on, this time adding a word into the mix … “I love you too much! I love you too much! I love you too much!”
That was a couple of years ago when Jake was four years and four months old. He had been in speech therapy for two years.
Jake is now six years old and recovering from childhood apraxia of speech, a neurological disorder where a child understands what is being said and knows what to say, but words get scrambled in the brain before they are spoken. Children with apraxia have inconsistent errors; they may be able to accurately say a word once, but that same word may come out differently an hour later or if it is repeated multiple times.
Speech therapy involves practicing sounds and words sometimes thousands of times before progress is made. I had to wait until he was three to hear “mama” and he was virtually silent until he was four. The words that he did attempt to speak were typically not understandable.
At that point in his life, to string five words together and say them repeatedly was huge. A miracle in my book.
Jake had been signing “I love you” since he was two and his brothers had started busting rock alongside the gesture. Every night I would tell him I loved him before he went to sleep, but he would just respond with a silent snuggle or a garbled attempt.
But maybe he was just waiting for the right moment.
The night before Jake said “I love you” for the first time, I wrote a blog post – Angels Among Us – about our friend’s daughter … the inspirational, ultra-special, and very talented Lily Anderson. A girl who was known for lighting up life with her love. A girl who was eleven years old and had recently lost her battle with cancer.
These are the words I used to describe Lily on December 27, 2012 …
She had the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. Beauty and grace radiated from her spirit. While her courage and strength astounded me, her natural God-given talent to bring people together and inspire them was remarkable. Each time over the years when I would hear this little girl sing or see her smile beaming from a photograph, I couldn’t help but feel something deep in my heart.
She made people care. She made others want to do something phenomenal. She made life look easier; she made struggles seem shallower. Her fighting, loving spirit made people want to work harder, be kinder, and go out of their way to do something nice.
In my post, I quoted 1 Corinthians 13:13, as I felt it was the perfect representation of sweet Lily …
Faith. Hope. Love. The greatest of these is love.
I closed with … The only way I can begin to comprehend this girl’s tragic sickness, is to think her presence here on Earth was for some greater good. Sometimes God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Lily was that girl.
How can I even begin to explain the perfect, out-of-the blue timing of Jake’s “I love you” the next morning? After thousands of attempts to speak the three words that a mother longs to hear, my heart overflows with gratitude for the special way they were delivered. Some may call our story a coincidence, but I know it was more. A lot more.
Although Lily passed on December 15, 2012, I know she is still out there breathing love into life.
This post is very close to my heart and will forever be one of the most special and spiritual moments of my life. I am beyond honored to be able to share Jake and Lily’s story on the same page.
Over Easter weekend, I read the newly released book “Glitter,” by Lily’s mom, Jennifer Anderson. After learning more about this special little girl, I knew I had to reach out to Jennifer and share our story. I didn’t want to publish this post without her blessing.
Despite the heartbreaking subject matter of cancer, this is an uplifting story about a girl who chose to live an optimistic “YES” life even through difficult circumstances. It’s about a family who fought and did not give up, relying on “Anderson Power” and “whispers”from God to strengthen their faith. After reading this book, I know without a shadow of a doubt that Lily’s purpose was to spread faith, hope, and love to everyone she encountered. Thank you Jennifer for sharing her story.
- To learn more about “Glitter,” please click here.
- To listen to some of Lily’s singing performances, click here. Included in this collection, is her singing the national anthem before a Braves game at Turner Field when she was ten years old. According to Yahoo Sports, Braves reliever Peter Moylan described it as “the longest standing ovation I’ve witnessed.”