Once a month and then once a week I leave my apartment on Czechosolvensky Armady and push the button for the teeny, gray elevator with the mirrored walls that is located right outside my door to the left.  I take it down from the fifth floor and walk out into the foreign, shabby chic streets of Prague to catch a tram on Dejvicka Circle.  I am careful to watch for the busy cars flying by that swerve quickly around the circle.  I look for a place next to a window and take notice of the various characters around me.  If it is full, someone usually gets up and offers me their seat.  Up towards Prague Castle and over the hill we go.  Peering into the cobblestoned streets of Mala Strana, I lean my forehead on the glass, feeling so wonderfully content and far away.

I touch my stomach.  You are always with me.

We bump along the smooth tram tracks into the throngs of tourists trekking towards Stare Metska, Old Town, and we pass Charles Bridge, where the lighting always seems soft with an ethereal quality no matter what time of day.  I peer through the glass and smile at being alone and with you and at how good God is.  I don’t mind being alone.  I was never one who needed another girl to go with me to the bathroom.  I enjoy this little trip.  I am fine with Jon staying back with Eloise.  Thankful.  I like moving alongside the Vltava River, maybe with a good book, a few moments of quiet against the city sounds…and always you with me.

We end our journey each time about a block down from Podoli hospital, where I step down the three steps out of the tram onto the city sidewalk.  I cross the busy street and make my way to the building that looks more like a beautiful old hotel than a hospital.  The marble floors and columns greet me when I push open the two sets of heavy, double doors, and my booted feet clog up the stairs to see the nurses who only speak Czech and the doctor who will say: “Hello, Mrs. Stone” with staccato enunciation and a pronounced accent.  We do this many, many times, you and me.

On the night of October 15th, 2005 I want to go out to Old Town.  I always want to go out.  When you live in the city of a thousand spires who wants to stay home…even when you are nine months pregnant?  So Jon and I bundle up Eloise, place her in the double stroller and snuggle up in the small space of the elevator for the awkward ride down.  We talk and walk through the busy streets and then ker-plop the stroller down the stairs to the underground metro.  We wait and direct Eloise’s attention to the coming train.  Look!  Here it comes, Eloise!

We have adjusted to the Czech custom of being silent on public transportation and say little as we bumble through the belly of the old city.  “Pristi Stanace Stare Metska” we hear the woman say over the speakers so we line up behind the sliding doors and step out to where someone helps Jon carry the stroller up the stairs to ground level, Eloise staying seated and content to be carried.  People always look at the other seat, which is empty, and then at my rounded front.  Sometimes they smile.

We meander around the square, the scenery familiar to us, and make our way to Bohemia Bagel, an expat hangout where Eloise loves to slide down into the balls in the children’s area while Jon and I are comforted by over priced American food.  I don’t feel very well and do not yet notice that my “not feeling well” happens about every few minutes.

It is a gorgeous, sparkling night and we are not in a hurry to get home.  No one in the entire world matters that night except for our little family.  We are totally absorbed in our own little family and that is how it should be.  We stop to take a picture of the full moon highlighting the John Hus church.

The night is crystal clear and the air is brilliantly cool and I am very happy.  Pure possibility.  That is what is in the air at every turn in our family life those days.  The air is thick and expectant with dreams and hopes.

I still do not feel well and I am starting to get suspicious.  As we pass the pharmacy I realize that there are still a few items I need…if this happens to be the night.  I tell Jon that once we get Eloise tucked in I will go back out to the store.  Do I want him to go for me?  No, I would rather go.

Jon unlocks the front door to our apartment building.  The front entry way is dark.  We turn on the light and wait on the elevator.  Eloise is happy, too, and at two years old she knows this drill.  She knows all about waiting for the elevator and squeezing the stroller into the small space and unlocking the door to our apartment that is her home where we have left open the windows to air out our apartment that has no air conditioning unit.  The city breeze and sounds greet us in our dark home.  We can hear the trams starting and stopping in the distance.

After she is in bed I go back out into the Prague night.  The clean, crisp autumn air is blowing and feels soft on my skin and blows my hair.  I walk the streets to the pharmacy where I buy a few items that every new mother needs.  I am fairly certain now.  This is the night.

Jon makes a bath for me and we start to time the contractions.  Wow.  About a minute apart.  Could that be right?  He calls Jessica and Kelley, two ministry interns, who immediately make the trip across town to stay with Eloise.  I am ready to go. I hope they hurry.

Jon drives the blue van we have borrowed from another missionary family for the occasion.  He speedily bounces over the cobblestones and I alternately tell him to slow down and then to speed up.  Up the hill towards Prague Castle.  Down the hill past Mala Strana.  Alongside the Vltava River and peering across the dark Charles Bridge.  We’ve taken this trip many times, you and me.  I will get to hold you tonight.

I have never been to Podoli at night.  It is such a stunning building and I am excited to be bringing you into the world here at this beautiful place.

Up until this moment, my journeys to Podoli have been only for you and me.  Now, we are bringing Daddy with us.  Its time for him to be in on our adventure, too.

The doctor is called and registration completed.  I am already 5 centimeters.  It will not be long.  Only, you are not quite ready to come out yet and our young doctor, who arrives wearing a black leather jacket, is a little concerned. So he goes to get another, older doctor who enters the room speaking to our doctor in rapid Czech.  This older, shorter doctor, whom we later affectionately refer to as “Yoda”, turns to me and, in perfect English, tells me to turn on my side.  I do as I am told and within a few minutes, you are born.

Lillian Grace.  Pure, unmerited favor.

I cry remembering this time, Lillian, because it was dark and warm and beautiful and perfect.  The night was gorgeous and so were you.  There was something intense and set apart about it only being you, Daddy, and me.  That night was sanctified for us…so far away from our dear family and friends.

After several hours, they give us a private room with high ceilings and a balcony where we spend hours and hours alone, just you and me, and where we also entertain your daddy, your sister and friends when they come to visit.  Friends bring food to us from my favorite nearby restaurants and drop in for tea time.  Quite honestly, the three and a half days they require me to stay in the hospital feels like one big party.  I am sad to leave.

Your life started out as one big adventure and celebration.  You still try to get me to plan parties and adventures almost every day.  As I write this you are creating a party hat complete with flowers and feathers.  You don’t remember this night and you don’t remember the city you were born in, but I do.  I remember our first times together in that beautiful, old, shabby-chic city, with its mysterious ways, nooks and crooks, smoky sunsets, and cobblestoned passageways.  I remember its busy streets and its people who are passionate and sturdy and persistent and strong.  I remember all of these things and pretty much believe that even though you do not remember in your mind this place where you were stitched and formed, that you and I, along with your sister and father, brought some of that city and those adventures back with us, that we both, we all…our whole family…keeps some of that same passion, adventure, shabby-chic beauty, and strength in our hearts today.

Lillian, YOU are strong, sturdy, and beautiful with an adventurous, celebration spirit.  And, today, on your birthday, I wanted to remember.  I wanted to remember where and when you started…where and when WE started…mother and daughter and this new family that included a spirited girl named “pure, unmerited favor”.  I wanted to touch a time that was, as a friend of mine has said before, so sweet it hurts….a time that is and always will be characterized in my mind as “pure, unmerited favor” from my God.

I wanted to remember, needed to remember.  Because sometimes what I was afraid would happen when we got back has happened…we get busy.  We get busy and forget about the adventure.  We forget about tram rides and castles and people and the power of being set a part to just be together.  But, you and your story, Lillian, will never let me forget.  You are persistent that way.  You demand adventure and castles and people and the power of just being set apart together like you, your daddy, and I were that night.  You tenaciously call forth the magic in life.

As you turn 6…dear God how did that happen…I want to remember because I think I am a little afraid that leaving 5 might mean leaving some of that behind.  But, as I write these words and while you simultaneously yank on my arm to show me your feathered hat, asking me to come see the castle you have created in the living room, I remember another “little” girl…a twenty something dreamer enjoying a tram ride beside the Vltava River, and realize that none of us have to lose that. I don’t think I have and I am pretty sure you won’t anytime soon either.

Happy birthday, sweet girl.