Tag Archives: peace

It Is Well With My Soul

She twirled her pencil thoughtfully, brought it closer to hover over the paper then, in a furious spurt, began scrawling letters in her Daddy’s slap-dash handwriting across the lines I’d drawn for her graphic organization chart. We’ve been working on descriptive writing, and this section focused on describing a place. She’d listed several and I wondered which one made the final cut.

I peered over her shoulder and caught my breath.

Of course.

Orange Beach, Alabama.

Around the edge of the page, she’d written possible titles, introductions, and concluding sentences. I felt tears in my throat as I skimmed the words.

“My first trip to Orange Beach was fun!”

“I had a really good time there.”

“I have tons of amazing memories.”

What she didn’t write were the words bleeding from the jagged cracks in my heart:

“It was the last vacation we took before Daddy died.”

We both thought it, though. That vacation has been on our mind this week, because it was exactly one year ago that we were at the condo in Orange Beach, and my little Bear saw the ocean for the first time. Everything about the beach, the sand, the water, the waves…she was in sensory heaven. I will never forget watching her, Kevin breathing heavily at my side, the trek down the boardwalk taxing his dwindling strength, as she stood at the ocean’s edge. Just stood there, arms stretched wide, frozen in wonder and delight. Soon, her hands fluttered wildly to the beat of the pounding surf and she couldn’t resist. One foot slid in the water, followed by the other and soon she was knee-deep in the white-capped waves that pushed to the shore, abandoning herself to pure, childlike joy.

I watched her dance in the surf for a moment, then turned and smiled at Kev. He grinned and said wryly, “I think she likes it.” He squeezed my hand and turned back to watch her, but the smile fell from his eyes, replaced by a shuttered look.

I thought he was tired from the day’s long drive, so I pecked his cheek and said, “Let me go grab her and we’ll head back upstairs for a while.” I thought he’d just wait on the boardwalk while I crossed the sand and fished our mermaid out of the ocean.

And he did wait for us. But while I was pulling her from the water’s edge, he snapped a photo on his phone. A photo he never told me about and I didn’t find until six weeks after he died.

I wonder what he was thinking as he stood there, alone on the weather-beaten boardwalk in the fading light. Did he feel like he was fading from this life? Did he feel beaten down by cancer and the chemo and the aching tiredness of fighting? Did he see his two girls standing together, alone at the edge of the ocean, and know that soon it would be just his two girls standing together, alone at the edge of his grave?

I don’t know.

Orange Beach

My girl isn’t wrong. That week at the beach? We do have so many amazing memories. She built sand castles and played games dancing and darting around in the surf. I buried her legs in the sand and fashioned the mound into a mermaid’s tail. We sculpted a sea turtle on the beach and she trudged back and forth to fetch water in her bucket to make the sand wet enough to mold. We spent a stormy afternoon at a massive tourist trap of a gift shop, Kev hanging out in a beach chair, carefully guarding each “treasure” she wanted to purchase with her souvenir money, but holding firm (although laughing) when she begged for a hermit crab. When the sun went down and the ocean air cooled, we fixed supper in the cozy condo and watched the lights twinkle across the bay. We played card games and sorted sea shells and it was just the three of us in a place where no one knew our name, but it didn’t matter because we were together. And the three of us together – that was always enough.

We didn’t know that was our last vacation together. Exactly one month after we returned home, Kevin died.

The weeks that followed were a blur and I cried myself to sleep each night and woke up each morning, hand stretching across the empty bed, hoping to brush against his broad back just one more time. Shattered, I longed for one more message from him, one more “I love you, Baby Doll” brushing from his lips against my ear.

And then one day, there it was. The photo. The stark loneliness of the image haunted me at first, but the more I stared at it, the more I saw love in it. Of all the wondrous things he could’ve captured in a photo that second– the fading stormy sunset, the crashing waves, the swaying beachgrass – he chose us. His girls. At a distance, out of reach – but not beyond his eyes. Not beyond his heart.

The melody of a hymn wove its way into my thoughts.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

That photo was the one more “I love you, Baby Doll” I’d wanted from Kevin. I believe he watched us that day, sensing what was going to happen soon, and took the photo, knowing I’d find it, to show me he’s still watching us. Still looking at his two girls. Still loving us. We are always in his heart – no matter how far apart we are.

I smiled as she kept scrawling. Memory after memory of that Orange Beach vacation filled the lines of her chart, taking the shape of a story about that trip. It will always be bittersweet for me to remember that week, but she’s right. It was a great week, and we’ll always have amazing memories of that magical time.

It is well with my soul.

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Snowed In

We didn’t have any “snow days” because of Snowpocalypse 2014 — one of the perks of homeschooling. But we did slow down just a bit. There’s something about being snowed in, being forced by nature to BE STILL. My girl and I, we needed this time, the private space to be together with no interruptions from the outside world. We put the kettle on for tea and we snuggled on the couch with our history book and Robin Hood’s adventures, and we sat and read. And relaxed. And took care of each other. My girl, she’s such a great comfort and comforter — and I know in our closeness and quietness we were held by the Great Comforter. I’ve had a rough few weeks, which means the Bear has had a rough few weeks, too. So these last couple of days, I’ve set everything else aside to just be still and be with my girl. I have things to write down, so she’ll know someday how much she’s helped me through this time. But the words will have to wait just a little longer…we have some hot cinnamon tea to sip and a merry adventure in Sherwood Forest to continue.

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.

If You Listen to Me

My daughter loves music. Has ever since she was a baby. She may look exactly like her Daddy, but the music? She gets that from me.

We listen to music in the classroom, in the car, in the backyard on her iPod. And it’s all kinds of music. We go from Mozart to Putumayo Kids, from Glenn Miller to Journey. She’s just as likely to belt out “Dancing Queen” as she is to hum Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 while she does her math. We permeate the air around us with music, so it’s no wonder that my girl breathes it all in and exhales her own lyrics and melodies, dancing her way through life like the little fairy sprite she is.

She likes to seclude herself in the upstairs playroom to work on her new pieces, not letting a single note be heard until she declares its perfect place in her composition. Kevin and I loved to hear her announce an after-dinner performance. We clapped and “Brava”-ed and gave standing ovations at every front room recital.

_____________________________________________________

She put away her Literature binder, then turned to me and asked, “Do you want to hear my new song?” Her eyes shone with excitement, anticipating my answer.

“You bet!” I replied, wondering what she’d come up with now.

She grabbed her plastic microphone, and proceeded to pierce my heart with the lyrics she’d composed. They were not fancy or elaborate or groundbreaking. But they were God’s voice, speaking to me through my seven-year-old daughter.

One, two, three,
If you listen to me,
You can find you can do anything
.”

I’ve been struggling lately, unsure about this new life I have to live without Kevin. It’s hard. I hate it. I was promised a lifetime of love and happiness in all the wedding cards we received. Not one single card mentioned that his life would be much too short. I miss him every single minute of every single day.

When the loneliness overwhelms, I don’t always remember that I’m not truly alone; God is walking this path with me. It’s funny that I forget that now, when for five years of chemo treatments and CT scans, I always reminded Kevin of that fact:

“We’re not alone in this, babe,” I would try to encourage him. “Can’t you see we’re only surviving this because our friends and family are holding us up to God? He is with us, He is not letting go of us…not for one single minute.”

He didn’t then.

And He still isn’t.

But this week has been hard, and my faith’s been taking a hit, and when the grief takes me down and I forget He’s with me, and I won’t just be still and know He is God, He sends his message through the voice of my daughter, His beautiful creation:

If you listen to me…”

If I listen to His words, I can find comfort and peace. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

You can find you can do anything…”

If I listen to His words, I can find the strength to get through the days that seem impossible, when the seconds tick He’s gone, He’s gone and I can’t imagine getting through the next hour, much less the next day or the next years. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

And I remember the verse from Zephaniah I selected for Kevin’s funeral service: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Sometimes His singing sounds an awful lot like my girl with her plastic microphone.

After turning over the stage to her purple Hello Kitty for the song’s bridge, she belted out the big finish (every song has one) and then looked at me and asked, “Was it good, Mama? Did you like it?”

Thanking God for this beautiful girl and His beautiful message, I answered, “I LOVED it!”