Sweet Baby James' 4th birthday was Sunday (can I still say "baby"?)  It is crazy to me that we have a 4-year-old.  Some girlfriends and I were chatting the other day about how children's birthdays remind you of how old YOU are getting even more than the age of the child!  I would have to agree.  They are a great reminder of the rapid passage of time and in my case, the passage of time since my stroke (it's easy to remember that my stroke happened when James was 6 months old, so my stroke is always 6 months younger than he is).  It's hard to imagine how much has happened in his life in the short 3 1/2 years since then.

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As milestones prompt reflection, I must admit that in many ways my life is not where I would have hoped it would be by the time I had a 4-year-old child.  Even post-stroke, I would have envisioned things being a little different, maybe even having a little brother or sister for James by now or being able to do more with and for my 4-year-old.  All of those little unmet expectations aside, I am mostly just plain blessed to get to experience my child's 4th year at all.

James' birthday also easily reminds me of God's goodness in sparing both of our lives when he was born.  Since my stroke, the doctors tell us they cannot figure out why my AVM did not rupture during childbirth (James was "sunny side up" and I pushed so hard that I literally burst multiple blood vessels in my eyes).  I can only imagine the catastrophe that having a massive brain hemorrhage during birth would have caused for both me and James.  The doctors would not have known what was happening and I might not have been able to decifer stroke symptoms from the unique feelings of childbirth.  Thank you Lord for 6 months later (a strange point of gratitude I must say).

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This was the alternate no-party year for James.   We were supposed to have a family-only, very low-key affair (last year we had a huge festival on Halloween weekend with over 100 people, including tons of adorable kids in costume -- we invited the entire New Parents ministry from church to join us for this huge party).  His birthday this year involved many less people, but somehow, it did turn into a 3-day affair.  Oh well -- James is ALWAYS worth celebrating!

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First, he had a Thomas the Train family party with lots of pumpkin accents (his request).  Mimi (my mom) really made this lil party happen.  It was precious and even had Thomas cupcakes and favor bags for all the guests!

Then, we headed to this adorable pumpkin patch complete with pony and train rides.  James was in Heaven!  As a special birthday gift from above, James' best friend from preschool, Maizie, just happened to be there (see below of them hugging -- don't they look like brother and sister?)  Auntie Grace took James on the train, and Mimi and Big B got to enjoy the party and outing as well (really special to have them both in town for James' big day).

The next morning we celebrated a birthday breakfast for James at our favorite diner up the street.  He loves bacon and pancakes, and this place has some of the best we have ever tasted.  Big B (my Dad) was able to go with us which always makes everything more fun.  James loves his Big B and they always have a blast together.

Perhaps the most adorable event of his birthday was an impromptu party in our front yard when we got home from church that day.  Some friends from church and the neighborhood gathered (thanks to my sweet friend Mia for organizing) and brought along their little ones (some of James' main buddies).  They insisted on staying in our front yard only since this was a surprise party and they had a feeling I might not really want them all seeing the condition of the house after a crazy morning (uh, good call).

That evening, we prepared and served a meal at a homeless shelter called PATH ("People Assisting the Homeless") with some of our dear friends and their kids.  I have referenced PATH on here before.  It is a wonderful program where we feel the homeless population in LA (the largest in the nation) gets more than a hot meal and place to sleep but really gets a second chance to live a normal life again.

Kids and industrial kitchens are always an interesting combination, but I think giving James opportunities to interact with people in hard life situations, as well as seeing his family and friends serving them is always worth the effort.  Thanks to our friends, Ryan and Sarah, who allowed us to take part with them (they are are on a regular rotation).

For this occasion, James really had to wear cowboy boots with his shorts.  Probably not Mommy's first choice, but what are you gonna do?  He had been in my cousin's wedding the weekend before (see the sweet pics in the slideshow at the bottom of this post, here), and he was still in that country, North Georgia mood.

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No birthday celebration would be complete without more sugar, consumed after normal bedtime hours!  Frozen yogurt with lots of yummy toppings never, ever gets old to the Wolfs...

The final leg of this extended celebration was Monday morning when James' preschool class celebrated his big day.  Jay and I brought in mini-donuts, also one of James' favorites (and possibly one of the reasons he loves church so much), for the whole class while they sang "Happy Birthday", then sang a little meal-time prayer together.  It was absolutely adorable!  His teachers, Ms. Lougie and Ms. Tracey, are pictured with him below.  The little homemade birthday crown reminded me of Max, from "Where the Wild Things Are"--trust that James, too, was a little wild after 3 days of uninhibited sugar, but we loved every minute of it!

We left the preschool and drove to UCLA for a long and hard eye appt.  I will talk about it on here sometime soon, but I need more time to process it.  The contrast between those precious children singing to James and then the long and rough doctor's appointment only served to make the sweet sweeter.  If it were not for hard and sad things, I'm not sure that the beauty in my life would mean as much.  As Jay so accurately articulated in this posting, we are in a progressive dinner between the house of feasting and the house of mourning.  Perhaps that is a good place to be.  I think it makes the special moments truly worth celebrating.