"For one so small,
you seem so strong
My arms will hold you,
keep you safe and warm
This bond between us
can't be broken
I will be here
Don't you cry..."
- Phil Collins
When she was born I was nine…going on 10. It was 1964, I had Beatles sneakers and I was the only girl in my fourth grade class who loved George. Everyone else loved Paul. I was different. But the Beatles didn't define being nine for me.
She did. Lila June McCullough Black.
She defined my ninth year. She was born on a day in late March and I was in love. She was perfect. Downy tufts of soft blonde hair, black button eyes, and the crooked little smile of an elfin sage. She was tiny and strong, alert and pensive...all the things a girl of "almost ten" would want in a new, carryable best friend. She was the sixth child in our family of eight, which would eventually become ten. When it was determined that our mother was too ill to come home following Lila's birth, Dad brought their remarkable gift of life and love home for me to help take care of while Mother recovered. I remember him coming through the door and feeling so grown-up as he placed her in my arms. How could something so light make me feel like I was holding the whole world in my hands? I would do anything to protect her from lions and tigers and bears, flying monkeys, melting witches...and wizards behind curtains....if I could. I was definitely in an "Oz" phase that spring.
That moment was the beginning of a bond that has survived all the emotional ups and downs of 43 years of sisterhood. Bringing her with me to basketball games in high school, having her next to me at my wedding and sitting outside our children's kindergarten classroom on their first day of school while we waited for them to emerge no longer babies. And through it all I think we have come out stronger than I could have ever imagined on that clear blue March day when I first saw her funny little face and wondered what she would become.
One thing was certain. Lila had a heart of gold. This was the flawless truth I would cling to one winter night in 1995 when my heart ached for her as she and her husband Floyd grieved following a miscarriage . All day I had reached out to God for something that would bring her comfort and give her hope. But it wasn't until we were on the phone later that night that I would feel the complete peace I had been searching for.
Lila had confided in me her concerns that she may never become pregnant again. I could understand how painful these thoughts must have been to her. She was the most wonderful mother I knew next to our own mom. She was kind, gentle, funny and smart. But most importantly her heart and her home were warm places where everyone felt welcome. She had shared her love for beauty and her effortless grace with all of us… her family, her husband, her son, and every child to whom she taught art with such generosity of spirit…that we all felt mothered.
As I paced the floor of our kitchen it occurred to me that it was absolutely incongruous for there to be any question about my sister's pregnancy…present or future. Her womb was an extension of her heart and her heart was so open and generous that nothing could keep it from providing nurture and nourishment for a child…or children. I could see with absolute clarity that this connection between her heart's open door policy to children of every age and the fulfillment of her desire to become a mother was as reliable as the law of mathematics. Open, warm, welcoming heart plus desire to mother equals family. Period! And I told her so. I felt such joy for she and her husband and their young son from an earlier marriage. There just had to be a child "on the way." There was nothing on earth that could close the door on her home, her heart, or their desire to parent.
I felt such an abiding sense of peace. As if God had audibly said,
"Shall I bring her to the birth and not cause her to deliver?"
"As the rain cometh down and watereth the earth
so shall my word be that cometh forth out of my mouth,
it shall not return unto me void,
but it shall accomplish the purpose whereto I sent it."
It wasn't a baby that God had sent into the world, but a mother's open heart and willing hands to serve His purpose in the universe. Lila was already mothering (verb)…the baby (noun) would follow according to God's purpose and nothing could interfere with what He had established in her heart.
God had breathed a sigh of benediction and "it was done."
When I hung up the phone that night I was certain that "according to the time of life she would be delivered of a child"…and she was. By the following November baby Tatiana Quinn Jones would join our family. Her sister, Hailey Fawn Jones, would follow two years later.
I've learned so much from my baby sister about motherhood. Besides making the best desserts this side of Paris she's helped me see myself through the lens of her heart...and isn't this what motherhood is all about. Four decades ago she trusted my "almost ten" year old arms to nurture and care for her as a baby, and by her example I've learned to trust God to nurture and care for life's most precious desires by placing them safely in the heart where they can grow and take shape before being borne, like seeds of promise, upon the winds of love.
"...Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more
You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here
in my heart always
- Phil Collins
Dear Lila...I am so grateful for your example of motherhood...and grace...I am so blessed to have you as a sister and a friend...all my love...always,