Tag Archives: peace

Aiming for Contentment

The arrow released smoothly from her bow and sped to the target. THWACK! It made a satisfying sound as the sharpened point buried into the red ring, just barely missing the yellow center. A small, satisfied smile crept across her face as, in a practiced move, her hand reached for the next arrow. She anchored her feet, raised the bow, checked her draw and let the arrow fly. THWACK! This one hit the outer yellow ring.

“That’s a nine, Mama!” She tossed the words happily over her shoulder as she pulled another arrow from the quiver stand at her feet.

THWACK!

THWACK!

THWACK!

Three more arrows confidently, carefully released. Three more points buried in red and yellow rings. My girl was definitely improving. With an ease that belied the weight of the blue Genesis bow in her small hands, she carefully hung it on the rack and waited for the instructor to blow three tweets of her whistle: “Go Get Arrows.”

When the lesson was over, we loaded into the Durango and headed home.

“I hit almost all red and yellow today, Mama,” she confided proudly. “Only some of them were in the blue. Do you think I’m getting better?”

I smiled into the rearview mirror at her bright face in the backseat. “I sure do, baby girl. I think you’re getting awesome! You’re like a little Robin Hood!” She giggled, then said, “Music, please,” and settled in for the ride home.

It’s true. She’s getting better at this sport that we just stumbled upon five months ago. We’d finished reading about the adventures of Robin Hood and his band of merry men and an idea had sprouted in her mind: she wanted to learn how to shoot arrows, too. I had just joined a local homeschool group and, as luck would have it, two days later came an email inviting kids to join a class for homeschoolers at a local archery range. We went, and she was instantly hooked.

At first, she missed the target some, and hit the outer black and blue rings a lot. A LOT. She got frustrated but she never gave up. When the instructor tweeted the whistle once – “Shoot” – she eyed the target warily, determinedly, and shot. Again and again and again. Her shoulder ached and her fingers hurt sometimes. But perseverance paid off, and with each lesson, she got better and better. She learned to slow down, check her stance, then take a breath and release. The arrows took flight gracefully. Soon she was hitting more blue and red rings, then more red and yellow rings. We purchased her own target and bow, marked off ten and twelve and fifteen yards, and spent our summer evenings shooting in the front yard.

I like watching her shoot. I like seeing her straighten her posture, and stand tall and proud. Her quiet confidence in nocking the arrow. Her absolute joy when the arrow’s flight is true and she hits the yellow rings. She’s taken this sport that she knew nothing about and made it her own.

It hit me the other day, as I sat and watched the arrows fly, that if finding some peace and contentment are the goals in this new life without Kevin, I’m starting to — at least occasionally — hit more red and yellow rings. I think back to that morning fifteen months ago, the first morning I woke up without him. My memory of that week is so hazy. I know my younger sister drove me around as I made funeral arrangements. I selected songs, wrote his obituary, accepted dishes of food at my front door. But I don’t really remember any of it. Just bits and pieces, a few moments of clarity. The next few weeks weren’t any better, as I struggled to figure out what to do next. I’d stumbled into a life I knew nothing about. And it scared me. I didn’t know anything about being a widow, being a single mother. I know I must’ve missed the target a lot. A LOT. I know it wasn’t easy for my daughter to see me grieving. She’d seen me strong, seen me taking care of Daddy, seen me work with doctors and teachers. She’d never seen me crumbled and broken and devastated. Aimless.

So for her, I had to get it together. I had to aim for something more than tears and sadness.

It’s hard. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t want Kevin with me. But I try to find some joy in each day, some piece of life that makes me content.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:12)

I haven’t exactly learned that secret yet, but I’m working on it; I’m aiming for it. I can’t give up – my girl needs me too much. I eye this new life warily, but some bit of my daughter’s determination steels me to keep going. My heart aches and the grief is raw, so very raw. Some mornings I wake up and my pillow is soaked with tears because I dreamed of Kevin. Those are the days that my contentment-seeking arrows go awry, and all I can see are the black rings of grief. But some mornings I wake up and I hear a giggle as blankets are tugged away from me. And a cat purrs warm against my feet as he stretches a paw out to bat away the sunlight streaming through an open window. Those days – those are the days that I’ve learned to slow down, to check that I’m standing solidly in God’s love. Those are the days that I take a breath and then…release. I let some of the sadness float away. I let the love that builds up inside me spill over and drench my girl. I see the moments come and they’re filled with hope and beauty and life and I breathe it all in, gratefully. Gracefully.

I hit almost all red and yellow today, Kev,” I whisper softly. “Only some of them were in the blue. Do you think I’m getting better?”

photo

Sketching Life

I walked through the classroom on my evening rounds, putting away books and other stray bits of kid detritus that I’d found strewn about the house. She sat at the study table, busily drawing a page full of timepieces: a watch, a clock, a timer with seconds ticking off in a penciled blur. When she saw me walk by, she asked, “Mama, can I draw your portrait?” Drawing people is something she wants to be able to do well, so she practices portrait sketching whenever she can.

“Sure,” I answered and dumped my armload of stuff in the reading chair. “Where should I sit?”

“Across from me is okay.” She directed me to face her, and tilt away from the light just a bit.

“Do you want me to take off my glasses?” I’d be more than happy to, because I’d been wearing them for a week while taking steroid drops for an eye issue. The bridge of my nose hurt; my ears hurt. I missed my contacts.

“Ummm, no. It’s okay. I think I can draw them.”

A look of concentration settled on her face, and her pencil began hesitant strokes. She studied my face, then drew a few lines. Looked up again, then a few more lines. So serious with her work.

She caught me glancing at her paper and giggled.

“I know it doesn’t look very good right now, but that’s because all the parts aren’t there yet. It’ll look better when I put in the details.”

She got back to work and I settled back in the chair, my mind wandering, thinking about her words, because it seems that even when my girl’s not trying to be profound, she unintentionally says the most thought-provoking things.

It doesn’t look very good right now, but that’s because all the parts aren’t there yet.

That’s kind of where I am in life right now. Just last week, I ripped away another month from the calendar. Another page that carried me farther from the days when Kevin was still here. Still laughing with me and cuddling with his Bear and gathering us both in for a Family Group Hug. Still with us, making our family complete. It hasn’t gotten easier; waking up and moving through the day, I still half-expect him to wander through the garage door at supper time. He is still so much right here, that it’s hard to remember he’s gone. It’s hard in that moment when reality does hit and I remember: He died.

It doesn’t look very good right now.

I’m trying to float; I really am. I know it’s better for me, and better for my daughter. And some days are better than others. The Bear and I have become bicyclists of a sort. We load up our bikes and find a local trail, and it’s easy to float when I’m coasting down a small incline and the wind rushes against my face. I don’t have to think; I just have to feel. I even posted on my Facebook, “Feeling alive”, because I did. Watching my little girl’s legs pump furiously as she stood up on the pedals, preparing for the next bit of uphill trail, I felt alive and happy and so proud of her. She’s so strong, and she makes me want to be strong, as well, inside and out.

All the parts aren’t there yet.

So I take all the hard days, and the sad days, and days when I drown in grief, and I look at all the happy days, the laughing days, and days when I manage to float. It’s still kind of uneven, but that’s just how grieving works. Someday there will be a better balance; I know it. It’s just that all the parts aren’t there yet. There’s a lot left to be filled in. So many lines yet to be drawn in this sketch of my life. So many details that will help me live with the Kevin-sized emptiness I feel. I don’t know what the days and months and years ahead of me will hold. There are a lot of details God hasn’t revealed yet. He knew me before I was formed, and He knew that some of the details of my life would be hopeful and exciting, like marrying Kevin and the birth of our Bear, and others would be hard, forcing me to lean even more on Him, like cancer and death. I’m trusting Him with the details. I hope there’s laughter and adventures and opportunities to reach out and help others. I hope that when all the parts are filled in, my life looks good and God-filled.

She sketched a few more lines, then scrunched her nose up ruefully as she studied her incomplete work.

“I don’t know, Mama. You kind of look like a cartoon dog.”

We looked at the sketch, then looked at each other and burst into laughter.
Through her peals of merriment, I suggested, “I think maybe we need to add some more parts.”

Nora self portrait
(This is not the portrait we agreed should be called “Mama, the Cartoon Dog” – that one ended up in the recycling bin. This is a, I think, really well-done self-portrait of my girl from last fall, used with her permission. She’s even more beautiful in real life.)

The Best Life

I heard the distress in her voice as I jumped from the office chair and quickly walked to her room. I opened the door to find her sitting up in bed, silhouetted in the darkened room by the nightlight behind her. She was crying.

“Kitty Keyboard, Mama,” she sobbed.

I pulled her close and rocked her back and forth.

Kitty Keyboard was the name of a toy keyboard we’d had since Beary was about four, around the time she became really interested in music. I got it at Target and it was a green and purple cat face; the keys were the teeth of its very happy grin. Kitty Keyboard filled our house with a lot of music. A LOT. Among the features were the ability to change the sound to banjo or bells or organ, and it had some pre-recorded songs included, as well as a microphone so Little Bear could sing along to her favorite tunes. I picked out Itsy-Bitsy Spider on Kitty Keyboard, and the theme song to Dora the Explorer. My girl would watch closely while I picked out a tune, then she’d take the keyboard and play it back perfectly. She soon began picking out tunes on her own, and creating her own songs. Kitty Keyboard gave us a lot of musical fun.

As my girl got older, she accumulated more musical instruments, and began taking piano lessons, but she still loved to hang out with Kitty Keyboard and make music in her playroom.

But then one day, Beary brought me Kitty Keyboard. “Mama,” she said, “I think Kitty Keyboard needs new batteries.” So I dug around and finally found four AA batteries, opened up Kitty Keyboard, placed the batteries, and handed it back to my daughter.

But it didn’t work.

Kitty Keyboard still didn’t play music.

I took the batteries out, got a pack of all-new batteries, just in case the ones I’d pilfered from the DVD remote weren’t stellar, but Kitty Keyboard still didn’t play.

Panic flashed in my girl’s eyes. “Mama! Why won’t she play? Fix it, Mama, you’ve got to fix it!”

But I couldn’t.

She held Kitty Keyboard up for a final photo, then we lovingly removed a cute kitten face button and cut the microphone loose to keep as mementos. We put her in the bin to be picked up on trash day, and my girl seemed mostly okay with the way things were unfolding.

Until tonight.

She heard me haul the trash bin and the recycle bin out to the curb. The loss of Kitty Keyboard became a lot more real at that moment. But it wasn’t until she was in the cool darkness of her room, alone with her thoughts, that reality sank in. Kitty Keyboard was really going away.

So she called out to me.

I sat on her bed, stroking her hair back from tear-stained cheeks. I’m so tired of explaining loss to my girl, to myself. I’m so tired of things changing. I want Kevin to be healthy and here. I want toys to keep working. I want things that are perfect to stay that way.

But I can’t always get what I want.

“Baby,” I soothed, “remember we talked about how Kitty Keyboard had to go? We can’t keep broken toys, no matter how much we loved them. You’ve still got the kitty face button and the microphone” – I reached over to her dresser and got the items for her – “and we have that beautiful picture of you holding her. She has to go, sweetie, but you get to keep these things and a special place in your memory, right? Some things we keep and some things we have to let go of.”

She nodded, starting to find her calm. Then, matter-of-factly, “I guess she’s starting her third life, Mama. The first life was in the store, the second life was with me, and we don’t know what the third life is.”

“No, we don’t,” I agreed, “but I’m glad she got to be with us for her second life.”

“I think that was her best life, ‘cause it was with me,” she stated with eight-year-old confidence.

She squeezed my neck. I kissed her nose, then tucked her in again.

Wow, God, I thought. That’s hitting really close to home.

Because I’ve been so guilty of this. Of thinking, Kevin would be with me if he could. And we live in a world where books and movies offer up the same romantic notion over and over: the beloved deceased tries to come back, or tries to communicate with the one left living. I know – I just KNOW – I tell myself, that if there were any way possible, Kevin would come back to me.

I like to think the best part of his life was with me.

But that’s not true.

He’s living the best part of his life now, forever, with God.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Everlasting.

I sat in church a few Sundays ago and the choir sang a song I’d never heard, called Unto the Lamb. And when the soloist came to these words, tears streamed down my face.

And all of the angels cry Holy
All the saints cry Holy
All creation cries Holy
Holy is the Lamb

Because Kevin is there, in heaven, a saint healed before God, crying “Holy” – and I am here, on earth, shattered before God, trying so hard to cry “Holy”. At that moment, I was so lonely and so sad, but I felt as close to Kevin as I’ve felt since he died. I felt we were worshipping Him together, like we’d done so many times before. God’s plan was never for our life on earth, as good as it was, to be the best part. The best part of our life will be in heaven, with Him forever. This world is broken, full of hurting people. Kevin was one of those people. But he made it. He made it through cancer and chemo and the agony of knowing he was leaving us behind. I’m so glad, so honored, that I got to be part of his life here. We were good together, and it was a very good life. I miss having him close, sharing everything. I miss seeing the love on his face for our little girl. I miss him and what we had together, loving each other in this broken world. None of that is gone. He’s still close, forever in my heart. He still loves our Little Bear, and is in her more and more every day.

But now he’s made it to a place prepared for him, where there is no more night, no more pain, no more tears. He made it to his next life – and, as hard as it is for me to say, it’s a good one. And someday, when my work for God here on earth is done, it will be my eternal life, too.

It’s the best one.

Floating

“…and now I can hear Dad crying in the shower so I put my purple fleece over my head and close my eyes and plug my ears and with my elbows I squeeze my Dictionary tight against my chest.”

I stopped reading and sat quietly for a minute. The Bear snuggled deeper into my shoulder and I could feel the warmth of her breath against my neck.

This book. It’s good for us to read together, to share. It’s hard, too, because on each page I see some of the story of our past year, through the eyes of a young autistic girl – a girl very much like my beautiful Bear. A girl dealing with a devastating loss, and trying to find closure and empathy, and struggling to understand the adults around her.

I whispered hesitant words into the stillness. “Did you know I did that? Cried in the shower?”

A look of surprise crossed her face. “You did?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Oh. I just thought you were taking a shower.” Then puzzled. “Why did you cry in the shower, Mama?”

“I was so sad, Little Bear. I miss Daddy so much, but I didn’t want you to see me that sad all the time. It was so hard last summer, baby girl, so hard. So if I needed to cry, I cried in the shower so you’d only hear the water splashing…not me.”

We sat quiet, then she offered, “Sometimes when you cried, I didn’t know what to do. I thought you might be mad at me if you saw me playing toys, so I just tried to hide in my room, but it was boring by myself. And…you yelled at me in June when upstairs was messy.”

“Yeah, I did.” Remembering last summer is hard, but I couldn’t cut her off, not when she needed to talk. The book was giving us the starting point we needed, a touchstone for our shared grief. I continued carefully. “I did…and I’m so sorry. Being without Daddy was – is – so hard, baby girl. I didn’t know how I could be without him and I was afraid. I think sometimes when people are afraid, they get mad and yell.”

She nodded thoughtfully. I’d asked forgiveness for that incident a thousand times from my beautiful girl and she’d given it so sweetly, tenfold. There were no hard feelings on her part, but plenty of guilt remained on mine. “I should’ve tried harder, baby girl, to not be so sad. But we made it, didn’t we? Things are better now, right?”

She nodded her head again. “Yeah, but that’s the part kids don’t really get, I think. I mean, I get that Daddy died and he can’t come back, and I miss him, too, but I don’t get why adults get so sad. I think it’s because you’re paddling too hard.”

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. “Paddling too hard? What do you mean?”

Her explanation floored me. “Well, Mama, it’s like being sad is water and you’re trying to paddle too hard against it, but you should just float in it, like I do. When you float, it’s more peaceful and eventually, you know, it’s happy.”

I pulled her close. “How’d you get so smart, little girl?” She giggled, “I don’t know, Mama. I guess things make more sense to kids sometimes.”

She’s right. I’ve been paddling hard. Very hard. I look back at the days we struggled through, the days I still struggle through. The days I was so sad, so afraid, so lost. The days I tried so very hard to figure out what to do next, how to go on without Kevin when all I wanted was to have him back. I paddled so hard, and it wore me down and wore me out and I cried in the shower and I yelled over stupid stuff and no matter how hard I paddled, I drowned in the waves of grief that relentlessly pulled me under.

And my girl was just as sad, and just as lost. She’s had incredibly hard days of grief. But she stuck by me, came to me for hugs and offered them back, not exactly grasping the depths of my grief, but understanding I needed comforting. And she kept on living. She chased puffs of clouds that Daddy threw down, and squeezed the tail of the cat Daddy sent, and threw caution to the wind in a game of math dice. She worked with her grief therapist, figuring out how to keep the best parts of Daddy alive and how to accept that it was okay for me to be sad. She kept on finding joy around every curve, secure in the knowledge that her Daddy loves her and wants her to be happy and have fun.

She floated.

I didn’t make it easy on her. My thrashing about in the sad water sent massive waves rocking downstream, upsetting the happy peace she floated toward. But she did it, anyway. She kept floating.

Silence settled across the house as I held her sprawled across my lap, Kevin’s recliner hugging us. I didn’t hustle her off to bed so I could cram in a few hours of work before my bleary eyes crossed and I crumpled into bed. I just held my girl and listened to her breathe. Listened to the house breathe. Listened to myself – for the first time in a long time – just breathe.

No worrying, no crying, no thinking. Just breathing.

This is what it feels like, I realized. To float.

It wasn’t exactly the peace my girl described. Not for me; not yet, anyway. My grief is still too fresh. But in that moment, I felt something release. I felt God’s assurance: “If you stop paddling, I promise you’ll float…not drown.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Sitting there, holding my incredibly wise little girl, I felt the possibility of peace – and that’s something I need.

I stopped paddling so fiercely.

For just a moment…then a moment more…I floated.

(Excerpt from Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine)

This Pilgrim’s Progress

A road’s a kind of a holy thing.”

I slumped in Kevin’s recliner, stared at the first leaves falling to the ground outside, exhausted after another weekend of traveling. Of driving endless highways. Of remembering. And I wondered: Will I look back on this first, long, impossible summer without him and feel like I’ve dragged my girl all across the state, looking for him in all the places we used to go?

I can’t find him.

I need to find him.

I miss him.

There are no coincidences, at least not in my life, not where God’s concerned.

We stored the suitcases for a bit. Settled down to school. Opened up our books and, alongside my girl, the world opened for us. We traveled back, back, back into the past, into the Middle Ages, and read stories of barbarians sacking Rome, of Charlemagne and the Frankish kingdom, of Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings in England, the first Russians. This was history – what Kevin and I loved – and this was our girl, soaking up every enthralling word of it.

Autumn came and went, and between classes, there was more travelling, more desperate, lonely searching, weary pursuits to chase away the sadness. Finally, the icy blasts of an exceptionally frigid winter drove us inside, off the road. We cuddled close and sent our imaginations across the ocean to escape the bitter cold. Knights and peasants, Richard the Lionhearted, King John, the Magna Carta, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and pilgrimages.

And the words of those stories twisted and turned in my mind, then realization dawned, at a time when I was so low with grief, desperately needing the comfort of knowing that Kevin was somehow still with me.

It finally made sense. The long, sad summer, the travels, the constant need for motion, for searching – it wasn’t the restless, reckless wanderings of a grief-stricken widow and her young daughter.

It was a pilgrimage.

Like the medieval travelers, I journeyed to places of special significance – at least, to me — but not as proof of devotion to God or as penance. No, I traveled the roads, I think, because I needed to find God and remember Kevin. I was a traveler in a foreign land of grief, and more than anything, I needed to find some personal peace because it’s too hard; it’s just too hard to live without Kevin. I needed to petition for Him – for both of them – to stay with me; I’m so afraid of losing my way. I needed to find Him on this new road, in this life I never wanted. I needed to know He was still with me, and that Kevin was not far, either. I needed to know that a heart so shattered with pain still had enough pieces left to hold onto love and memories, enough beats left to sustain life and raise a beautiful little girl.

Each place we visited became a little chapel for my thoughts, a place to gather strength for all that lay ahead. A place where I could be quiet with my grief. Where I could be still with my daughter.

In each place, I saw God at work in my life, in my daughter’s life.

And I felt Kevin.

He was with us at the beach:

I stand in the gulf waters on spring break and help her jump waves. And her joy is infectious and the waves are no match for her happy determination to hurdle over them.

It makes me smile — just like Kevin wanted.

She is happy. She is living life – just like her Daddy wanted.

In the warm rays of the sun glowing down on us, I can feel him. His smile, his laugh, his shake of the head at our whimsical girl and her reckless abandonment to joy.

And at the Magic Kingdom:

As the week went on, we found our balance. We carried him with us, his spirit providing a comforting stability to our shaky emotions. Our memories of Daddy brought more laughter and fewer tears. Disney World is always evolving and we found new places to explore and we imagined he was with us, marveling at our grand adventures…We giggled and remembered and hugged him so tightly to us.

Splashing at the waterpark:

The two of us go places and we do things and I keep track of all our adventures and all the hilarity thinking I’ll share it with you because it seems impossible that you’re not in on the fun with us. We laughed today, baby, and we played in the sun and the water and I know that not one person guessed the giant hole in our broken life. But we knew it was there and that’s why we’re in this hotel room right now, clinging to each other, my tears trickling onto her sunburned head.

…It’s good to get out and remember that life is to be enjoyed, but for us, for now, we can only take that joy diluted, in small doses. We are going to be okay, baby. I promised you that.

And most definitely at a baseball game:

It’s not easy, being here without him. I cried, trailing my daughter through this city her Daddy and I loved to explore. But we did what he wanted. We made a fun family memory. Not the way he planned…but still. I should’ve known that the force of his love and God’s love would be enough to get my girl and me through this “first” – a weekend trip without Daddy.

And if I think about it, we weren’t without him. He’s with us everywhere, even at a ballgame, beaming at his Little Bear in her Yankees t-shirt. He surrounds her with love, settles into her memories and, with any luck, whispers the intricacies of the infield fly rule into her ear.

It feels impossible – living without Kevin. I love him so much. He was my best friend, keeper of my dreams and secrets. We shared it all, and now life is so lonely.

No wonder I search for him.

The road is a holy place.

The journeys? They were always pilgrimages. I just didn’t know it – but God did. This road I’m on? It’s hard and sad and there are floods of tears and mountains of grief and, honestly, most of the time, it feels like I’m not going to make it.

I miss him.

I love him.

And I’m grateful that this road into the unknown is a holy place, and I’m walking into places filled with God’s love and sheltering presence.