Tag Archives: life goes on

Always Safe

“Mama!” She squealed in delight when I joined her at the edge of the beach, the cool water splashing over my toes. She danced in the surf, jumped over the waves, and shrieked when the sand rushed from under her feet, pulling her into the ocean. Water has always been her magic, and to have the vast gulf spread out before her was almost too much.

“Mama! Come in the water with me, please?” She turned her shining blue eyes, her Daddy’s eyes, on me.

How could I resist those beguiling eyes?

I tossed my phone into the beach bag, then took her hand and followed her into the pounding, yellow-flagged surf: medium hazard, moderate surf and currents. If she wanted to play farther out, she’d definitely need me with her.

“Mama?” she confided in a voice low over the waves’ roar, “I like it when we go in the water together, because we can go out farther, but you can hold me up when the big waves come so I’m always safe.”

And, boom – there it was. God always finds a way to remind me of His promises.

Kevin died two years ago – and I’m still here. Somehow. Honestly, in the weeks that followed his funeral, I’m not sure I thought I would make it through that much pain, that much grief, that much heartache. It hurt too much to breathe, to sleep, to eat, to talk…

It just hurt too much to live.

And, honestly, sometimes it still does.

But God is still here. He’s been here through it all. And when I forget that, as I have lately in the loneliness of grief and the busyness of life, He speaks through my beautiful Bear.

Stay with me, He reminds me. We’ll do this together and when this pounding, yellow-flagged life comes at you too big and too much, I’ll hold you up. You are always safe.

I smiled wryly to myself and waded out a little farther with my girl. She watched the waves rolling toward us and I swung her up, over and over, laughing at her screeches as she kicked the white caps that rushed by. And even when a massive wave caught us unaware and knocked us into the surf, I held on to her and kept her safe. We came up together…drenched…and laughing.

She is always safe. And so am I.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Psalm 5:11

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Sand and Life and Two Years Later

It’s in that moment when the waves crash to the shore and I watch the tide pull back and pull everything with it, when shells skitter as they wash back into the sea and precariously-close-to-the-water sand castles crumble and dissolve, and footprints in the sand disappear – that moment when it seems everything is destroyed – that’s when I see it. An intricately formed sand shape, carved into the slope of the beach, pounded into beauty by the relentless surf. Standing firm in that moment against the tide, not disappearing, but letting the waves work to create something new and magnificent.

God, I think to myself, if that’s a message to me, it’s a beautiful one. Thank you.

We trekked across five states to the beach where we’d last vacationed with Kevin. It seemed the best place for us to be on the anniversary of his death – a new tradition and a beautiful memory to get us through what is still a very hard day. Trusting the hope of heaven to keep us going.

Two years ago, on April 16, I lost the love of my life. My daughter lost her Daddy Bear. In an instant, our world changed completely and forever. So much loss, so many tears, so much heartache…even still. I wasn’t sure how to go on without him, but I knew I had to, especially for our daughter. It wasn’t easy, but nothing about this life alone is. The idea of being cheerful and thanking God and believing that all things work for good – that seemed impossible…still does sometimes, if I’m honest. I felt so pounded some days, so pulled under by the grief and the tears and the missing him. Everything destroyed by the relentless battering of life. I sobbed at his graveside; I screamed into a pillow in my closet; I sang lullabies to my girl as I rocked her in my arms on our sad days. And when it all still seemed incredibly overwhelming, I simply told her what I had to believe was true: “Life’s not fair, but God is working good, Baby Bear. Always. We have to trust Him.”

Slowly, the days went by, then weeks and months, and we started putting the broken pieces of our life back together. She made me laugh and I helped her learn and finally we started to really live – not just exist. Parts of our old broken dreams and traditions got swirled around and mixed up with our new dreams and traditions and Kevin is still so much a part of everything we do every single day because he’s always, always, always in our hearts. We remember him with happiness and love and laughter and celebrate everything that was and is still beautiful about this family of ours that God carefully and lovingly created.

So we came to the beach, to be here on this hardest of days. We came here to be by the water he loved, that his daughter simply adores; to be in a place where the memories are all happy, where we were all so happy.

And at the beach, when I look one way, all I can see are the waves, the grief and loss, constantly rolling and swelling and sweeping the beautiful bits of shells, the beautiful bits of life, away forever. But when I look the other way, when I look ahead with faith and love and hope and joy, I see the shape of something more, the shape of something formed by the hardest parts of living, the shape of something breathtaking and intricate and resilient. I see those shapes in the sand. And I see something that felt impossible two years ago, but something I know Kevin, out of the deepest love, would want for me – something that God has planned for me.

I see a beautiful life. Not beautiful because it’s easy and carefree, because it’s not; the loss and sadness are part of me forever. No, it’s beautiful because God is using all the parts – the pain and the tears and the joy and the dreams – and forming them into a new story for me and my daughter. It will shift and change, as stories – and sea-sculpted sand creations – do, but it will be okay. It will be better than okay because God is working all things – all things – for good.

I love you, Kevin, I whisper it into the waves and the salty sea breeze. I love you and I miss you, but I’m taking you with me as I keep moving through this life with our girl. You always said I was strong and beautiful…I guess it’s time to find out.

Some Assembly Required

I didn’t know that opening that box containing pieces for a new kitchen island would open a box of memories and make me smile and laugh out loud. I didn’t realize, until it was all over, that the slow, tedious, hand-blistering, detailed work of putting those pieces together to create a beautiful, functional structure was the perfect metaphor for the journey through grief I’ve traveled these past two years.

I thought I was just finally getting an island for the kitchen.

The box was too heavy by far for me to carry into the house by myself, so I cut it open in the garage and started carrying the pieces into the kitchen, one by one. Slowly, a pile grew in front of the refrigerator, the white planks tipping precariously once when a curious Katje tried to navigate their height. I kept carrying and the pile kept growing until, at last, I brought in the last piece and stood for a moment, surveying the mess in front of me.

In all the time I’d admired this kitchen island on the website, and saved my pennies to purchase it, I’d secretly hoped that “Some Assembly Required” really meant just installing the shelves behind already-attached cabinet doors. Not so much. “Some Assembly Required” was actually a bit misleading, I thought, once more taking in the piles of pieces littering my kitchen floor. “Total Assembly Required” would be more accurate.

“Mama, are you sure you can do this?” My daughter came into the kitchen and looked around doubtfully. “It won’t fall down on me while I’m eating, will it?”

I stuck my tongue out at her. “Beary, do the drawers in your dresser slide in and out? Is your armoire still standing?”

When she answered yes, I said, “Well, I put those together – and I was eight months pregnant with you when I did it! – so I think I can manage this little island. Now scram while I get all this stuff sorted out!”

She giggled and ran off to play with the cats, and I got busy. I unearthed the directions, and started laying out the pieces in order.

It was time.

For the last two years, my daughter and I have eaten most of our meals on trays in front of the television. After Kevin died, I couldn’t stand sitting at our kitchen table, trying to get food past the grief in my throat, looking across at his empty seat, knowing he’d never smile at me again over a slice of deep dish pizza, or sigh with satisfaction after filling himself with roast beef and gravy. I moved the table and chairs into the basement and convinced my daughter that having our meals as a picnic in the front room would be so much fun. She happily agreed – partly because of the novelty, I’m sure, and probably partly so she could eat a meal without watching tears stream down my face.

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain…then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!

I looked at the directions, pulled the first two pieces toward me, and reached for the screwdriver. And I smiled, remembering all the times I’d put furniture together with Kevin and he always handed me the wrong screwdriver. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but taking a pile of random parts and assembling them into a bookcase or a television stand or a rocking chair just wasn’t his thing. We had a running joke, whenever I got underway with a project. Like our daughter, Kev would look doubtfully at all the pieces and say, “Sure you can do this, Baby Doll?”

I always replied, “Kev, I come from a long line of people who just get in there and figure out how to do it.” And he’d come back with, “Well, I come from a long line of people who HIRE people to get in there and figure out how to do it.”

We’d laugh, then he’d pull up a chair and read the directions out loud and hand me the wrong parts until finally I announced the project was finished. We put together an elliptical exercise machine, a desk and hutch for his office, and all of the Bear’s nursery furniture like that. Just the two of us, apprehensive about all the pieces and hardware, but game for an adventure, for a good laugh, for just spending time together. He was just so much fun to be around. I miss that.

I thought I might be sad putting the kitchen island together by myself. I thought the memories would overwhelm me and tears would stain the directions and I’d end up on the floor, just another broken piece among all the other parts scattered about. But it wasn’t like that. I felt happy and content and full of wonderful memories and even when I accidentally put a section together upside down and had to take it all apart, I didn’t get frustrated. I felt peace, I felt assurance.

I felt Kevin.

O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside…then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live

Sometimes I catch myself writing the date and I wonder how it can possibly be almost two years ago that Kevin died. Time is so weird and relative and fluid; it feels like it was just yesterday, it feels like it’s been a lifetime. And I still stumble through the hours and days and weeks and months, feeling broken, feeling unhinged, feeling like I will never be able to fit together all the bits and pieces of my shattered heart. My life couldn’t be more disassembled than that kitchen island scattered across the floor.

The kitchen island is complete now. It looks lovely and solid and functions perfectly.

And my life? My journey with grief? Well, that will never be completely finished; I know that. I love Kevin and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. But through the grief, through the tears and the excruciating pain of loss, through the cries to God and the whispers of joy, through the laughter of my girl and the silence of the lonely nights – through it all, I’ve been picking my way through and sorting things out, putting the pieces of my life together, fastening them with moments of peace and bits of happiness.

It’s starting to come together.

Lyrics from “The Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)”, sung by Chris Rice.

The “Perfect Day” Game

She always comes up with the most intriguing games.

And at the end of the day, honestly, any game that I can play while lounging on my bed, surrounded by pillows and blankets and cats…well, I’m in.

“So, Mama,” she began, “describe your perfect morning – the part before breakfast.”

Hmmm…

Sleeping late. Long, hot shower. A few minutes to read. I probably should’ve added “time to exercise” but this is my perfect morning, after all. In that world, I am imagining that exercise is not necessary.

And so it went. After my perfect morning, came my perfect breakfast, then my perfect mid-morning. Lunch, afternoon, evening. And so on. After I described my perfect parts of the day, she chimed in with hers and, as always, I am fascinated with the goings-on of her mind. Some of it was obvious, but other choices I wouldn’t have guessed.

We finally got to the end of our perfect day. “I’m going to relax in a warm bubble bath,” I decided, then added, “where the water always stays the perfect temperature and the bubbles never disappear. And then after that, I am going to put on super-cozy Egyptian cotton pajamas and go straight to sleep.”

She giggled mischievously. “I’m going to stay up super-dee-dooper-dee late, like…nine forty-five!” Then, with a sassy little smirk and nod, “Or maybe even ten o’clock!”

I hid a giggle and, in my best awed voice, pronounced, “Wow! That’s like, REALLY late.”

“I know,” she answered, all seriousness now, “but I want to be asleep before my perfect day ends at midnight. I just think it would be too overwhelming to have it all swirl around and disappear before my eyes.”

That is the hard part, isn’t it? I thought to myself after I tucked her in, listened to her prayers, and kissed her good night, then sat – alone – in Kevin’s recliner in the darkened living room.

Because once again, for probably the millionth time, my all-too-intuitive girl is right. She nailed it. It has been absolutely too overwhelming to have the perfect-for-me life disappear before my eyes. Soon it will be two years since Kevin died. Two years. How is that possible? It feels like he was just here, and I’m still so exhausted trying to make sense of this new life that arrived when he left. In one fell swoop, I lost my husband, my partner, my best friend, keeper of my secrets – the person who chose me, chose to love me no matter what. I heard him pull in his last breath of air, and when he didn’t breathe it back out, the force of that unexpelled breath exploded and shattered my heart into tiny fragments that still pierce me today.

I am overwhelmed.

Such a simple sentence. I’m amazed – and always thankful – that my girl manages to put together exactly the right words for what I’m feeling. Even though time is passing and I’m getting closer to accepting (hateful word) that Kevin is gone, there’s still such a heaviness in my life.

I am overwhelmed.

With sadness, with chores and errands, with loneliness, with paperwork, with missing him, with driving to lessons, with trying to keep busy so grief doesn’t pull me under again and again. With tears, and lonesome nights, with the task of raising our daughter properly, giving her what she needs, with simultaneous worry and hope for her future. With words to say and no one to hear them. With dreams that we had, and dreams that I lost, and dreams I’m afraid to imagine now.

It’s all overwhelming, and I’m overwhelmed.

But my girl had another part right, too. The part at the very end of our game where she said, “Even though it will be totally sad when I wake up and the perfect day is over, at least I can remember how great it was.”

Yeah.

Of Socks and Birthdays

I swept through the classroom, closing binders with one hand, even as I precariously aimed my foot at the reading rug and pillows scattered across the floor, trying to straighten them out in front of the fireplace.

“Beary! You got socks on? Time to roll!” I called down the hallway.

“I’m ready!” She emerged from her room with a stuffed cat and pointed a foot at me.

I glanced down and saw the solid blue star on the white background of her sock. A sock that didn’t begin to remotely match the outfit she’d put together, but totally made sense for the day. I looked at her and nodded. She nodded back and smiled. We didn’t have to say a word.

Dallas Cowboys socks on her birthday.

Of course.

It’s the day I miss Kevin most. Of all the beautiful things we created together – memories, traditions, a happy marriage, an incredible friendship – our little Bear is the most beautiful. And we made her. We made her. It still is such an awesome, gives-me-chills, mind-boggling realization. She is part of me and part of him, and all of God’s amazing plan. Infertility was our first struggle and I like to think it made us strong enough to face the fight with cancer that would come our way just two years later. In so many ways, our little miracle baby girl completed us, bringing more faith and love and happiness into our life than you could imagine six pounds and 12 ounces would be capable of holding.

And Kevin loved his Little Bear. Oh, how he loved her. Loves her still, as she reminded me not long after he died. He was fascinated by her and marveled at her tiny fingers and tiny toes and not-so-tiny baby cries. From the moment he walked in the door after work, he held her, hardly even putting her down to eat his supper. I always went to bed a little early, leaving her and Daddy sitting together in the front room, watching ESPN or reading a book. He’d feed her the nighttime bottle, then rock her to sleep. Sometimes I wonder what he whispered to her, as he cradled her in his arms, holding her close, his voice a soothing deep timbre in the dark. Did he tell her he’d always be with her? That she’d always be his little baby girl? That he’d love her forever…no matter what? Even if she wanted to date a Washington Redskins fan someday?

Yes, her birthday is the hardest day for me. I know life isn’t fair, but it seems so incredibly unfair that I get to be here, watching our little girl grow up, sparkling with magic and whimsy, and Kevin can’t share that joy with me. I feel guilt for celebrating this day that brought me so much joy, and I ache for what the two of them will never get to share, and I grieve because I want him here with us so badly. He’s supposed to be here – we’re supposed to do this part together. She’s so much like him – more every day, it seems. Her handwriting, her wry jokes; he would get such a kick out of her spot-on observations of the absurdities of life. She is the best thing I’ve ever done and I still can’t believe she belongs to me. How did I get so lucky? She’s nine now, going on twenty-nine it seems, and every day with her brings more delight – even the hard days.

And on that hardest of days, she surprised and delighted me again. I woke with a heavy heart, thinking of Kevin, memories of the night she was born chasing through my dreams. But her exuberant smile and birthday excitement were contagious. She ripped open her gifts and asked for leftover ice cream cake for breakfast – just like her Daddy. She chased the cats, made her bed, and read a book.

Then, to make sure Daddy was with her every step of the day, she pulled on her Dallas Cowboys socks – never minding the fact that sports socks don’t go with black Mary Janes.

She’s ready, all right. Ready to show me that he’s still here, still with us, still loving us, still part of this birthday celebration.

Somehow, over the last nine years, that tiny baby I snuggled close at the hospital turned into an amazing, smart, and brave girl. A girl confident in love and secure in knowing her Daddy is still with her.

I nodded again. It’s still a hard day, but it’s going to be okay. Our little girl is still bringing more faith, love, and happiness into my life than I could imagine. Thank you, God, for the gift of her. It’s her birthday, but she’s the gift.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go, birthday girl!”

And we were off.