Tag Archives: faith

Discover

I laughed when I heard Bear’s resolution for the new year:

“Be nicer to Rafael.”

Those two provide more entertainment and drama than one house should hold. If she’s not chasing him around, seeking the sensory softness of his undeniably beautifully silky fur, then he’s lying in wait somewhere, acting very too-bored-to-even-move…until it’s time to pounce on her quick toes as she dashes by. I told her if she stops chasing, he might stop pouncing. I don’t know if it will work, but I guess she decided it’s worth a try.

Then she asked me if I made a resolution this year.

Her question stopped me because I typically don’t make resolutions. I think about things I’d like to do or that I need to do, but my thinking of those things and the coming of the new year rarely coincide, so I start most projects at random times. Some I stick with; others are shuffled aside when life gets busy or I get bored. Either way, not a very exciting answer for my girl.

So I told her that instead of resolutions, I liked to think of a word for the year, and then try to live that word, focus on it. Use it as a guide for my actions every day. I’ve been doing it intentionally for a couple of years now, but when I stopped to think about it, I realized I’d been doing it unofficially for longer.

On June 19, 2008, when we found out Kevin’s cancer wasn’t contained to his colon, but had already spread to his lungs and liver, we resolved to be a better husband and wife to each other. We promised to not let life’s little annoyances get in the way of living every moment in love with each other and our Bear. We still fought and argued, of course, but we kept that resolution. In one word: LOVE.

And on December 31, 2012, after the doctor told us that the end was beginning, we resolved to spend as much time as possible with each other and the Bear. Our decision to homeschool – a plan set in motion, thanks to God’s perfect provision, before we knew Kevin’s prognosis – made that possible and I treasure every moment of our last seventeen weeks together. In one word: FAMILY.

But I’m stuck right now, and if not for Beary’s question, I might not have even thought about coming up with a word at all this year. This curious juxtaposition of grieving and living – life stopping but life going on – it’s wearying. I don’t know what to do with it. Some days I throw my head back and laugh at my daughter’s wry and hilarious observations and I feel peace, and other days I drag myself to bed at night, feeling defeated by the effort of living without Kevin. I feel like I’ve lost my way and it doesn’t seem so simple to choose a word of the year for this unexpected life.

But then it occurs to me what my word should be…needs to be…has to be this year.

DISCOVER.

Defined in various online dictionaries, the word means to gain knowledge of something previously unseen or unknown. To notice or learn, especially by making an effort. To learn about for the first time in one’s experience.

I hope it will be discover in the obvious sense. I would like to travel and explore new places with my girl – just like her Daddy wanted her to. He wanted to give her the world because he just knew she’d know what to do with it.

But I hope it will be discover in a personal way, too. I need to learn how to simply be with my grief. Not set it aside, not try to get through it or past it, because I will grieve Kevin for the rest of my life. But I want to recognize how it’s changed me and somehow find a foothold of peace in this mountain of grief.

And most importantly, I want to discover what God’s plan for my life is. None of this is a surprise to Him, but my life isn’t what I thought it would be and I need to discover what He intends for me to do – for me, for my Bear, and for Him. I need to make an effort to really be still and let Him reveal what’s next. I can’t tell my girl that God has a plan and God works all things for good if I’m not willing to notice His glory and be thankful for His gifts and discover a deeper relationship with Him.

So I tell her, “My word this year is DISCOVER,” and her eyes light up with thoughts of spirited adventure, but I feel like God is going to use the little things – her laugh, a sunset, a visit with a friend, or a memory of Kevin – to guide me this year and help me discover my way again.

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Let it Snow

“Mama! Come quick! It snowed last night!”

The high pitch of her excited chatter reverberated down the hallway, stirring me from sleep. I pulled the pillow over my head, but the pull of her delight was too much. I sighed, fixed a smile on my face, and shuffled to the classroom, where she stood, nose pressed to the window, watching the barely-risen sun sparkle across the snow-covered backyard.

When she turned at my footsteps, I smiled for real because the joy on her face…well, magic.

“Can we just watch it, Mama? It’s so pretty!”

She’s like her Daddy in this. He loved snow. Loved it. When he spotted the first flakes in the sky, so tiny you could barely make them out, his face lit with a smile that glowed from deep within him. “Baby Doll, it’s snowing!” he’d boom, gleefully making his way to the kitchen. “Do we have any hot chocolate?”

To Kevin, snow meant Slow down, take a break, just watch and let it be. I envied him that perspective, because to me, snow is work. Shoveling the driveway and the sidewalk. Skating across the icy street to the mailbox. Dragging the trash dumpster to the curb, bumping across criss-crossed tire tracks, frozen slippery ice trails to the street. And the cold. Oh, I hate the cold. The bite of wind, the string of freezing rain. To his mind, life slowed down in the snow. To mine, it got more complicated.

He listened to me worry about electricity going off, or wonder if I could make it to the store one more time, then patted the arm of his recliner, “C’mon, Baby Doll, just sit here for a second.” He gazed out the window, watching the flakes grow larger and spin faster, more crazily to the ground. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

And that was the day. Sitting by the picture window in the front room, curled up in the recliner, cozy in his Cowboys Snuggie, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow. As if it were a grand production God was putting on just for him and he didn’t want to miss one minute. There was something so pure about his delight in those frozen crystals. Magic.

She has it, too. That watchfulness. That certainty that God is creating something beautiful just for her to enjoy. That instinct to stop. Just stop everything and enjoy and marvel and gaze with joy at the glittering wonderland before her.

I need it. Whatever mysterious genetic enchantment allows them this peace, this stillness, this just be-ing.

Be.

Still.

It’s Christmas and it’s harder than I thought it would be. Part of me needs to close my eyes and hide in my room until it’s done. Kevin’s not here to watch me put together toys, handing me the wrong screwdriver for the parts. He’s not lounging on the bed, watching me deliberate over the packages stashed in our closet. Christmas? Birthday? He’d ponder and point and I’d agree and sort. Cookies? Candy? Santa visits? Elf on the Shelf? I can’t summon any genuine emotion for these things, but our little Bear can. And does. These traditions are important to her, especially now. Everything connects us to Kevin, to her Daddy Bear. Keeping Christmas is keeping Kevin, so when she asks if we can still eat cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, I answer, Yes, of course. We’re not doing half of what we usually do, and I feel both numb and guilty about it, but even that fraction of the yuletide list feels too hard right now.

Then it snowed last week and she asked me that simple question: “Can we just watch it, Mama?”

Yes.

Yes, my aching heart cried out. Yes, teach me how to do that. Teach me how to sit and watch and wonder. Teach me how to set aside the complicated and embrace the simple. Teach me how to find the magic in the beautifully unique snowflakes that float gently from heaven. Teach me how to be still when it feels like my world fell apart and the heavy, sharp pieces are still crashing down, breaking me and burying me in grief, and my every instinct is to run and hide.

Teach me the secret you and Daddy share. Teach me how to be, little Bear. Life really hurts right now and I just want to be.

I knelt at the window beside her and we watched the snow drift down. The ground was already white with glittering sparkles and more came down and time slowed down and the world outside felt God-filled, with peace and hope. She sighed, was still, beside me.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

I was still and I heard him.

And I answered, Yes.

Yes.

Yes, it is.

And yes, my love, we were.

And yes, she is.

And yes, life will be. With our Bear and our God, life will be beautiful again. Peace will drift down and cradle the brokenness and hope will sparkle and joy will glow.

Let it snow.

Her Favorite Thanksgiving

I’m letting Beary take over today, because she’s been talking a lot about Daddy and her memories and writing in the journal she’s keeping for our writing unit. Honestly, I was not prepared for how hard this holiday grief would hit. I thought I could power through, but I can’t and I didn’t make French silk pie or watch our movie; it hurts to even think about doing those things without Kev. I’m feeling sad and empty and bereft and hopeless. But then she brings me her journal and this entry triggers my memory and then a cascade of happy memories tumble rapidly, flowing over the jagged rocks of grief and I just hang on to the hope I’ve found…to the joy of knowing my girl remembers her Daddy.

In her words:

My favorite Thanksgiving memory with Daddy is watching the Hello Kitty float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on television when I was almost four. It was on in the morning and we were dressed already in our Cowboys sweatshirts. I sat on Daddy’s lap. We had to watch the whole very long parade because the Hello Kitty float was at the very end! I was very impatient about the Hello Kitty float. Daddy would say, “It’s okay, Beary. It’s coming.” When it finally came, he had to rewind the TiVo over and over so I could watch it again! Then we had Thanksgiving lunch.

The Upsell

The gas station clerk laughed a little as he rang up my purchases. “Needing some sugar?”

Looking at my Mountain Dew and bags of mini peanut butter cups and mini Kit Kat bars, I could see what he meant. What he didn’t know was this:

I needed the memory.

My Kevster was an absolute sucker for the upsell. I’d send him to Walgreens for my photo order and he’d come home with it…and two candy bars, because they were on sale by the register and the cashier suggested it. Do you want fries with that? I think we know the answer. Can I interest you in the one-year guarantee for that item? Yep. Wick trimmer with your new Yankee Candle? If you say so. How about a car wash with your fuel purchase? You bet. I finally had to say, “Kev, babe, I can’t possibly wash my car that often! Hold off on the car washes until we use these, please!”

He liked the bargain. He liked to feel like he was getting a good deal. He liked to provide those little extras because he liked to make me and the Bear happy. And after ten years with him, I knew to expect something extra when he came home from an errand. It was what he did, and I loved his quirky little habit. Especially because it was completely opposite of my inclination. I’m more of a “get only what you need and nothing else” kind of person.

Sometimes I imagine that he talks to me, that he’s with me during the day, guiding me as I stumble around this house, this life, without him. I imagine that my master of the upsell tells me this:

“Baby Doll, don’t just take a nap. Get some real sleep. Please?”

And, “Hey, I saw that smile. Now give me a good laugh. C’mon, you can do it!”

Or “That was some okay happy there, Baby Doll, but I know you can still feel joy. Real, delightful, wonderful joy. Why do you think God gave us Beary? And all His promises? It might be hard – I know it’s hard – but you have to try. For me.”

And then he reminds me of all God’s promises. Promises that aren’t just an upsell, but are truly valuable and necessary for me to know and have. Promises of joy and comfort and peace.

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalms 30:5

I will turn their mourning into gladness. I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

So when I walked up to the cash register with my soda, and I passed the candy-bar stand, strategically placed next to the counter with its neon cardboard signs shouting “2 for $3” (and in small print, “$1.69 for one”), a memory flashed by and I smiled. First inside, thinking that Kev would totally grab two bags of mini candy bars, because, yeah, it’s a great deal. Then on the outside, knowing that my husband’s quirkiness is so deeply engrained in my life now there is no way I can pass up that offer. Not the candy, and not the opportunity to feel a little glow of cheer inside, imagining his knowing grin as he watches me go for it.

Two for three dollars?

A burst of sparkling happy to nudge aside the crushing grief, if even for just a moment?

Yes, please.

We Are Still a Family

“Are we still a family, Mama?”

Her question startled me. Tears welled in my eyes. I felt a hard pinch inside, twisting and tightening among the broken bits of my heart and I ached for my little girl trying to figure out if she still had a family. I couldn’t think of words fast enough and, in the silence, she pushed on.

“I mean, with Daddy gone, there’s just two of us and can that still be a family?”

I pulled her closer to me. I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s concerned about this; she likes to have things in order, have everything be clear and defined. And our lives right now are the epitome of unclear and barely defined. Of course she’s wondering what we are without Daddy. His death changed everything.

But it didn’t change this.

“We’re definitely still a family, Little Bear. I’m still Mama and Daddy’s still Daddy and you’re still you. We’re still our family. It’s just that Daddy lives in heaven and you and I still live here. So it feels smaller, but we’re still a family.”

She nodded.

“It doesn’t feel exactly right, does it?” I asked her, softly.

“Not really,” she admitted, even more softly, almost whispering.

My arms tightened around her and I pressed a kiss onto the top of her head and we sat there, the two of us in Kevin’s recliner, the place where we feel most like a family.

We can’t get used to Kevin being gone. It’s been a little over six months and I’m still waiting for him to catch up to us, still waiting for him to get home from work so we can pile in the Durango and head off on some adventure. Every time I load our suitcases for a weekend away, there’s too much space left in the cargo area. I look around for his duffel bag and pillow, trying to figure out why there’s so much emptiness. We walk across the church parking lot, her little hand holding mine, but how come Daddy’s not on the other side of her, swinging her arm wildly in his absent-minded hand-holding way? And what about our Family Group Hug, Bear scooped on my hip, our arms wrapped akimbo and her legs dangling, all squeezing together like some misshapen octopus? I scoop her up and hug her all the time, even more now because I’m giving her Daddy’s hugs, too, but it’s not the same as the warm crush of all three of us.

We don’t look like the family she’s used to seeing. And with Kevin gone, we don’t feel like the family she’s used to being.

So many moments just don’t happen anymore. We used to have supper at an actual table, sometimes the dining room, sometimes the kitchen. Now the two of us picnic on the floor in the front room and she thinks that’s great fun, but she doesn’t know it’s because I can’t stand the idea of eating a meal at our table without Kevin. I miss standing at the stove, yelling, “Hey, Family, I’m plating up! You two need to get water in glasses and napkins on the table!” And they’d bustle around the kitchen, ice clinking and drawers banging shut and it was noisy and happy and then we settled down to hold hands around our plates while Kevin said grace. Now the dining room is abandoned; sometimes we sit at a bistro table in the kitchen, but only because I moved the bigger kitchen table to the basement a few months after Kevin died – I felt like every bite of food caught in my throat, choking me as I stared across at his empty chair. The bistro table has two chairs, takes up less space, feels empty, and is completely indicative of everything I feel right now.

But we are still a family.

We’ll keep on doing our family things – travel and read and shop and play – because that’s what she knows and it keeps Kevin close to us, where we so desperately want and need him to be; it makes our small family seem complete again. There are shifts in our routines and nothing is exactly the same without him, but we just keep on doing the best we can because I know that’s what Kevin would want.

We are still a family.

But what I’ve come to realize, in some paradoxical shift, with Kevin’s death, our family has also grown. I don’t know all their names or their faces and I may never meet them or talk to them, but the Bear and I…we are now part of another family, one born of heartache and grief and loss. There’s a huge family of us out there, the ones left behind, and it helps to know we don’t grieve alone. We’ve all lost part of our family, and like Beary, we think and ponder and reflect and finally, finally ask because we have to know, we have to make this make sense:

“Are we still a family?

Yes.

Everything is different, but this one thing is the same.

We are still a family.