Tag Archives: joy

Stand. Watch. Wait.

She lolled on the couch, musing out loud. Fortified with sugar cookies and Mountain Dew, we were in it for the long haul, determined to make it to midnight to see a new year begin. The clock chimed. One…two…three…

Eleven o’clock. Almost there.

“You know what, Mama?” she began. “I wish we could make a deal with life. If we don’t like the year we’re in, we can either go back or skip ahead. I don’t know if I’ll like 2015…and if I don’t, it would be good to get out of it.”

She paused, and her words hung silent in the room.

Then she looked straight at me. “You’d go back to years with Daddy, wouldn’t you?”

Yes. Yes. Yes, my broken heart cried. A million times…yes.

I knew she wasn’t judging me, or accusing me, or doing anything other than acknowledging the Kevin-sized hole in our life. It’s not just me – she feels it, too. We miss him, and as much as we fill our days with work and play and laughter and crazy cat antics, we crave his presence and we still can’t understand why he’s not here hanging out with us. Why did he have to die? Why do we have to live without him?

I remember my first New Year’s Eve with Kevin. We were newly engaged, and he’d made reservations at a hotel’s dinner-and-dance party…where it turned out we were among the youngest people there. We laughed, and ate the delicious food, and danced to the live Glenn Miller-type band, and promised that we’d come back in thirty years to see if some other young couple had stumbled into the same delightful mistake. I didn’t know then that the clock had already started ticking for us, counting down the already-numbered and too-few days we’d get spend together.

We looked forward that year, and there was no thought of making a deal with life and going back to a different time. The times behind were what brought us to each other – they’d served their purpose, and we didn’t want to go back. Then the New Year’s Eve I was pregnant with our Bear – we looked forward to the new year and our new life as a family of three, with new names: Mama and Daddy. The first New Year’s Eve after Kevin’s diagnosis, when the numbers were going in the right direction and it seemed like we’d won a few rounds of our battle with cancer – we looked for a year of respite, and maybe remission. Forward, forward, forward – always looking forward. Looking forward to time together, time with our Bear, just time…more time.

There wasn’t enough time.

And now? Well, now there’s too much time, and there’s a lot of truth in my girl’s late night musings. How many times have I begged for the same thing? The chance to make a deal with life? To only live the years I knew I would like? I knew on December 31, 2012, as I stood in the dimly-lit hospital hallway with the doctor, barely hearing the words he didn’t want to say, that 2013 was not a year I wanted to live in. I was right. And last New Year’s Eve, the idea of 2014 – a year where Kevin never was and never would be – it scared me. I didn’t know if I could do it, even with my little Bear dancing alongside, carrying her Daddy’s spirit wherever we went. And this year, with my constant companions, grief and loneliness, I stare into the future of another year without Kevin. And another. And another. Go back? Skip ahead? Where’s the place where I can be at peace again, and feel safe and loved and whole?

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me… (Habakkuk 2:1)

Between the swirling uncertainty of the years ahead, and the solid loving comfortableness of the years behind, there’s one place I need to be right now. I know it – and as tempting as my daughter’s theoretical deal with life sounds, it’s not the answer for the aching loneliness and hesitation I feel in going on without Kevin.

No, the place I need to be at the beginning of this new year, that place is right here – right here in the middle of this life that God is unfolding every day, guiding me along paths that He set in motion long ago. I will stand here, in this new year, even though I am unsure of the future, and I will stand watch, and find joy, and wait for God’s answers to all my questions.

It’s not exactly earth-shattering, as resolutions go, and it seems too simple, but I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s what I’ve been doing half-heartedly, but now I know I need to do more intentionally. I need to be here – in this year – to stand watch and wait for God. There’s a plan; He works all things for good. It’s time to figure out what my part in the plan, in this next part of my life, will be. It’s time to see how God answers my “Why?” and “What now?”

“Mama?” She bounced up from the couch and settled herself in the recliner with me, cuddling into my shoulder. “Even though I don’t know what 2015 will be like, I’m glad I’ll spend the new year with you.”

I squeezed her close. “Me, too, little girl. Me, too.”

Stand.

Watch.

Wait.

Advertisements

The Christmas Letter

We’d never done a Christmas letter before. Honestly, getting a decent family photo took up quite a bit of the energy I reserved for Christmas goings-on. Then to get envelopes stuffed, sealed, stamped, and delivered to the post office…well, adding a letter to that process didn’t seem like a “must-do” to me. But for some reason, this year my girl wanted to include a few words about what we’d been up to. So, I sat in front of the computer, staring at the cursor blinking on the blank screen, before I finally dashed this off:

We packed a lot of activity into 2014. We adopted a kitten, Katje, to join Rafael; played on the Florida beaches, wandered around the zoo and amusement parks; took in a baseball game and a Renaissance Faire; and had a wonderful time traveling to London and exploring that amazing city. We also started our third year of homeschooling. We wish you a blessed Christmas season and hope that 2015 brings you joy and happiness.

Not an awesome letter by any stretch of the imagination, but it hit the highlights and made her happy. I added a photo of her in London, on the Queen’s Walk by the Thames, waving a Union Jack with Big Ben in the background. Printed off three to a page, cut them up, stuffed them in the envelope with the photo card, and we were good to go.

But the letter I mailed wasn’t the letter that’s been in my heart this whole month. That letter, written by pointed grief on the shards of my heart, isn’t nearly so breezy, so carefree and merry, so filled with our traipsing and wandering. The only Christmas letter I really wanted to write this year is to Kevin:

Dear Kevster,

I miss you.

It’s Christmas again. Another one without you and that seems impossible to me.

Impossible.

Thought you’d like to know that we’re having cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast again – Beary already asked because she loves that tradition you and I started so many years ago…all because I didn’t want to cook on Christmas morning. We added some new ornaments to the tree and I wish you could see them because I know you’d love them – especially the one from Buckingham Palace. It’s a Palace Guard and I set him watching over your ornaments to keep them safe and protected; I just like feeling that something is taking care of them, nestled in the green branches, while I sleep.

Rudolph and all his pals are still singing under the tree, except Hermy won’t work this year, even with new batteries, and that makes me sad because his song is the one I most want to hear: “Why am I such a misfit?” I could sure use his squeaky elf voice singing to me right now because I feel like such a misfit at this season. I get cards with photos of happy, smiling families, and I tape them up around the dining room entrance and pass under all that joy every time I go to the kitchen, but inside, it’s hard. It’s hard to share the joy when all I want is a card with a Christmas photo of my whole family – you and me and the Bear – all together again, like always. I feel like I don’t fit in at Christmas, this season of joy and merry and family – because you’re gone and it feels like our family shattered and scattered like an ornament knocked from the top of the tree. Everywhere around me, there are bits of tradition and bits of my heart and bits of our Bear’s spirit – and even if I glue all those bits back together, something is still missing…You.

I planned a jolly season, Kev, a season that you would be so proud of. Our Elf on the Shelf has been up to some antics like you wouldn’t believe and our little girl is so caught up in the magic; it’s breathtaking to see. And I took her to see “A Christmas Carol” – she loved it, Baby. She loved every bit of seeing the actors on stage and the story unfolding: “God Bless Us, Every One!” And we saw “White Christmas” on the big screen and munched buttery popcorn and Junior Mints. And I surprised her with a golden ticket for an after-bedtime Christmas lights scavenger hunt. And we’ve done our Jesse Tree and read of the miraculous, unwrappable gift of love God gave us. And we’ve made sugar cookies and gingerbread men, and decked the halls, and raised the roof with our caroling. But all these things that we did to fill our Christmas with joy and love couldn’t fill the space you left behind. There’s still an emptiness, Kev, because you’re not here with me.

I miss you.

I love you.

Merry Christmas, Baby.

Joy in the Darkness

DSCF5860-001
The overcast sky allowed only a thin grey light to pierce the early morning shadows. I squinted my eyes, straining to make out the words in the book I’d been reading when the electricity snapped off. Rain fell steadily outside the window. It looked and felt more like a warm spring rain, even though the calendar showed us quickly reaching the end of the year. How could it be almost December already?

Unless I grab a flashlight to aim on the small print in this book, I thought, my reading is over until the electricity comes back on. I looked over at my daughter on the couch, her face lit up with the light from her iPod. She played Doodle Jump while the cats took advantage of the rare moment of peace and curled up on a cozy throw close by. As long as the battery held out, she was good for a while. The only sounds in the dim front room were the electronic sproings and beeps from her game and the soft splat of raindrops on the dead leaves outside the window.

There was a brief surge of light, a flicker of electricity that quickly went black again, but was on long enough to show me that the Christmas tree had been turned on when we lost power. My girl must’ve turned on the tree lights when she woke up earlier. We’d just put it up the weekend before, too anxious to get the Christmas season started to wait until after Thanksgiving like we usually did. With holiday songs streaming from the TV and those darn cats batting at every strand of beads I unwound, we’d made an afternoon of giggling and dancing and decorating the tree. Each ornament I handed her had its own story, and I reached deep into the past, into the story of her and Kevin and me, digging the treasured memories out one by one to present to her: this one from our trip to Chicago, and this one from Orange Beach, and this one from the year she loved Thomas the Tank Engine so much. Her beloved Dora the Explorer appeared on quite a few ornaments; so did Kevin’s New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. Each green branch of the tree, bent under the weight of the colorful ornaments, became a page spilling over with our memories, heavy with our family history.

But now I stared at the tree, incredulous at what I saw perched in its darkened branches.

JOY.

The glittery lime green ornaments, in the shape of letters that spelled out JOY, sparkled brightly in the dim room, even though no twinkling white lights illuminated them.

I couldn’t stop staring.

JOY.

I’d gotten several boxes of those ornaments for twenty-five cents each at an after-Christmas sale a few years ago. Last year, I pulled them out for the first time, when I was desperately seeking some joy in a season that only felt melancholy and impossible in the middle of my grief. I stuck them haphazardly in among the branches, and they balanced precariously, which was exactly how I’d felt: stuck and off-balance in this new life without Kevin. I hoped they’d remind me to feel something – anything – during the Christmas season, because I needed to. For me, for Kevin, but especially for my girl, who still deserved all the magic of Christmas. It sort of worked, I guess, but the bright green color got a little lost among the dark green branches and sparkling lights and the overwhelming assortment of rich colorful ornaments, and I’m not sure I remembered to look for the JOY when I walked by the tree.

It was a hard Christmas.

But now?

Well, now, with the electricity off and the tree in solemn darkness, there was no missing it.

All over the tree, in all the hidden nooks and bent branches, JOY shone out brightly.

JOY.

In the midst of darkness, it shines.

In spite of the darkness, it glimmers.

Because of the darkness, it glows.

And I needed to see it.

Because Christmas is still hard this year. Kevin’s not here, and that’s not any easier to reconcile: the mourning and the magic. And in the midst of this season, I need to be reminded that God is still here, even when grief clouds my life and it’s hard to see His light, or any light, in all the sad, depressing shadows. He is still with me, with my girl, still guiding our steps and catching the tears. He is still holding Kevin close to His side, and me and my girl even closer, murmuring words of comfort, of peace.

He is still bringing joy to our life. Joy in the memories, joy in the love, joy in the hope only He offers.

When the darkness comes, joy shines ever brightly.

I Will Remember

She doesn’t sit and cuddle up with me as much as she used to, so when she snuggled her head into my shoulder and I felt her warm breath soft against my neck, the song rose unbidden and filled the air around us. I didn’t even think about it – just closed my eyes as her fingers tangled in the ends of my hair – and sang the words low into the night.

Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
Hush now, don’t you cry
Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
It’s an Irish lullaby

I remembered all the words, though it’s been years since I sang my Bear to sleep. I sensed, rather than saw, her beautiful mouth curve into a smile as she curled more closely into me. She remembered, too.

My voice broke as I struggled to finish the song through the tears that filled my throat and threatened to spill from my eyes. It’s so lonely, sometimes, being the only one who remembers. Her daddy fought so hard to stay with us long enough that she would remember him, to have her own stories to tell of him, but I’m the only one who remembers so many of the details of her life – our life as a family of three – before he died. If she’s to know the stories, the anecdotes, the inside family jokes – it’s up to me to hand them down, like some modern-day minstrel, wandering the lanes of my life with Kevin, weaving our story and giving her a sense of the family we were and the one we’ve become.

I could buckle under the pressure of being the family bard, and in that first wicked wave of grief, I did. I was frantic to remember everything and I showed myself no mercy. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I wandered around in the night, blearily, wearily, trying to hold on to every memory that flooded my mind. Distraught, discouraged, drained – I knew I was going to fail at this one simple task: telling my girl about her Daddy.

I had to remember.

Then Grief’s heartless cousin Guilt moved in, making itself at home in the wreckage of my life. And I felt bad that I couldn’t remember the name of Kevin’s summer-league baseball team, or the names of the guys he roomed with in college, or the only phrase he remembered from high school Spanish. He’d told me all these things, but our daughter hadn’t heard them yet, and now…well, now, it was up to me and the answers weren’t right at my fingertips. So I got mad. Not at Kevin, but at cancer. Stupid, hateful, life-destroying cancer. If cancer hadn’t taken him away from us, our Bear would know these things, and more, about her Daddy. We only had ten years together – we were still learning things about each other, and now I’ll never know what I didn’t know about him.

The guilt and the anger and the grief pulled at me. I searched for joy and snatched moments of happiness, but those three dogged me and I worried about the things my girl would remember about me, about this time after Daddy died. I didn’t want her to think back to a frightened, irritated, worn-out mama who talked about keeping on and trusting God, but didn’t really seem to live it, who cried and yelled and desperately needed sleep. I needed to trust in the Lord with all my heart and seek His will and pray without ceasing and let Him comfort me in my mourning.

I needed to remember that my God will supply all my needs.

All my needs.

Even my memories.

He didn’t bring Kevin into my life, didn’t walk with us through the days of infertility and sustain us in the years of cancer, only to abandon me when Kevin died. He didn’t shower us with blessings, with comfort and joy and happy days, with heartachingly wonderful moments, and a beautiful Bear, only to leave me with no love and hope and no memories to hold on to in the dark days.

We will remember we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give You praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

You’re our creator, our life sustainer
Deliverer, our comfort, our joy
Throughout the ages, You’ve been our shelter
Our peace in the midst of the storm
….
When we walk through life’s darkest valleys
We will look back at all You have done
And we will shout “Our God is good
And He is the faithful One”

So I stop and I float and I pray and hold tight to His promises, and I live and love my girl and believe that all will be well; God’s working it out. He is good and He is faithful.

And I will remember. When I need to, I will remember, and she will, too. Words to a long-ago lullaby, stories of Kevin’s childhood, crazy travel mishaps, funny things that he and Beary did together.

But more than that, I will remember the love. Oh, the love. The glorious, life-altering, fill-me-up-to-overflowing love that spilled over and streamed through this home and bound the three of us together and created a family story we will tell again and again and again. That’s what I want my girl to remember most of all. The love. Whatever else I remember to tell her or forget to tell her, I want her to remember the love. God’s love. Her Daddy’s love. All the love we had for each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing you never forget.

“We Will Remember” by Tommy Walker

The Unremarkable Room

The room was unremarkable, really. Square-ish, small, with scuffed wooden floors and an outdated fireplace. But he could see the possibilities of that room and imagine it and in his mind it was the home library he’d always wanted.

“Hey, Baby Doll, we can line that wall with bookshelves and put a couple of leather chairs facing the fireplace. It’ll be great!” Kevin’s voice echoed in the mostly empty room.

His eyes shone as the space transformed in his mind. The scuffed floor disappeared as I entered his imagination. “And a cozy rug under our feet. Maybe a couple of lamps by the chairs for reading light. Oooh, and a low table in between our chairs for a cup of tea.”

“Quite right, old girl,” he clipped out in an appallingly bad British accent, then reached out to squeeze a hug around my waist. At my feet, our six-month-old baby Bear woke up in her pumpkin seat. Her Kevin-blue eyes blinked slowly as she twisted her head up toward our voices, then a giggle bubbled out.

“I think Beary likes this house, too,” laughed Kevin. “This is it. This is the one. Let’s do it.”

A few weeks later, with papers signed and new keys in hand, we moved into the house with the unremarkable room. The cozy rug went down in front of the fireplace and beautiful oak bookcases lined the long wall. We filled them with books, books, and more books – all the history we loved and read voraciously, arranged in a loose chronological fashion. No overstuffed leather reading chairs yet, but a floor lamp and an old lounge chair from Kevin’s bachelor days offered a place to sit, at least. A few toys scattered across the floor and a baby girl rolling in the sun lighting the room from double windows on the south wall completed the picture. No echoes in the room now, just happy baby babbling.

We surveyed the scene from the kitchen entry. “The books look nice, Baby Doll!” His voice rumbled by my ear. “Yeah,” I replied, “The shelves turned out so nice. And we’ll get the chairs eventually; it doesn’t have to be finished all at once.”

The years went by and the room never was finished – at least, not the way we’d first imagined. More toys found their way into the cozy space. A Christmas tree went up by the fireplace and Santa brought a play kitchen which fit perfectly, tucked into a corner of the room. An art easel and sturdy plastic Step 1 play table claimed the space on the rug in front of the fireplace. A bin of stuffed animals lounged in the warm window and a wooden train track nestled in the valley between the bin and the beautiful bookshelves. We laughed about how a tiny girl had taken over our hearts…and turned our dream library into a playroom.

A couple more years passed and we thought of the day when our girl would head to school and the playroom could finally turn to the library we still imagined from time to time. But plans changed again and the playroom turned into a classroom as Little Bear and I explored preschool fun together, then moved to full-time homeschool. When his declining health forced Kevin to leave work, he took on a new job as history teacher to our girl. Their matching blue eyes shone with pride as Beary recounted the morning’s lesson to me, with Kevin nodding when she glanced at him for confirmation about a fact.

I cleared the room out over the weekend. A hailstorm damaged our roof last spring, and it had started to leak by the fireplace in the classroom. New shingles and flashing fixed the problem outside, but some of the classroom ceiling had to be removed and replaced. A two-day project, I was told, but everything had to be taken out of the room before work could begin. Art carts and storage cabinets and bookshelves lined the hallway, while the classroom table found center stage in the kitchen. I took down all the maps and posters and the mostly empty room once more echoed with my footsteps. It felt like déjà vu.

The cats sniffed around, curious at the emptiness, and my girl danced around, delighting in the echo-ey reverberations that bounced off the walls. I stood in the middle of the room, on the still-scuffed wooden floors.

“Can you see it, Baby Doll?”

I heard his voice echoing from my heart.

I felt a tear slip down my cheek. Yeah, Kev. I can see it.

And I could, because I knew he didn’t mean the once-dreamed about library. We had a single dream for that room, but God gave us so much more, because our dream was so small and His plan is huge and perfect and He knew that a room filled with books couldn’t fill my life with the memories I’d need after Kevin died. I could see a laughing baby crawling across the cozy rug. I saw tea parties with Kevin’s crown perched precariously atop his head as he balanced himself on a toddler-sized chair. I saw our girl, completely splattered with paint, laughing gloriously as she swiped her hands across the easel and created “art” for Daddy’s office. I saw a manger and a reindeer and a Christmas tree with a little girl laying underneath, mesmerized by the twinkling white lights. I saw books and pencils and three-ring binders and our Bear at her study table, her little brain soaking up all the knowledge we poured over her. I saw all the love that filled this room every day and spilled over into the house, as the library gave way to a playroom and classroom.

That unremarkable room filled our life with extraordinary happiness and the memories of it all still echo in my heart. There is still so much aching and loneliness in my heart, but sitting there on the floor in that room echoing with Kevin’s voice and my daughter’s laughter, I felt a little less empty, a little more able to keep on going without him. We never got the library, but we got the life God allowed us to live – and, as Kevin predicted when we first saw the room…

It was great.