Tag Archives: prayer

All together, for always

“Ma-ma!”

I heard her clear little toddler voice ring out behind me as I stood at the kitchen counter, doing dishes. I turned around to find her decked out with seemingly every bit of finery her dress-up box contained.

“It’s time for the wed-ding!” she sang out, like our kitchen was a Broadway stage and I was in the back row.

She turned on her plastic high heels and clomped off to the front room. I followed and found Kev, sprawled sideways in his recliner, with a questioning look on his face that I’m sure matched mine.

“Okay, Mama, you have to say the words so I can marry Daddy,” our little Bear announced. Kevin smothered a snicker with a cough and a pillow over his face, leaving me to face the little bride alone.

“Umm…you’re marrying Daddy?” was all I could think of to say.

“Yes. I like him and he likes me. And I already know him, so we can get married.” Certain logic there, no doubt, and I hated to break the news to her.

“But, Baby Bear, Daddy’s already married,” I said and added, “To me.” Just in case that part wasn’t clear to our usually-precocious four-year-old.

“That’s okay. I can still marry him. And you’ll still be married to him for always. But now we’ll all be married together.”

That decided, she took her place beside Kevin’s recliner and motioned for me to begin.

So I did.

I married us all together for always.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

________________________________________________________

“Mama, why did you say that?” She looked at me with questioning eyes when I hung up the phone.

“Say what, Bear?”

“Why did you say you were a ‘single mom’?”

I took a deep breath and sighed. “Well, a single mom is a mother who isn’t married and is raising her child all by herself…”

She interrupted. “But you’re married to Daddy so you’re not a single mom.”

I sighed again. “But Daddy died, honey, so technically, I AM a single mother. Most people don’t consider me married anymore; I’m a widow.”

We’ve had this conversation before, she and I. One time, as we watched a movie, I commented about a character not wearing a wedding ring anymore. And my girl piped up, “But you should always wear your wedding ring. It means you’re still connected to Daddy. If you take it off, it will mean he’s farther away from us.” Another time, as I attempted to explain how someone had a father and a stepfather, she said, “But you’re still married to Daddy, so you can’t marry anyone else.”

She’s not being stubborn or obtuse; I know she understands our situation. She simply doesn’t apply the rules and reality of death to it. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism; maybe it’s a way to deal with grief. I don’t know. And, honestly, in my heart, I agree with her. These new words feel so foreign: widow, single mom. I’m still wearing my rings. Kevin is still very much a part of our everyday lives. We talk about him, remember things about him, giggle about his silliness, kvetch over his picky eating habits – anyone listening to our conversations would assume he’s still alive and well and with us.

I married us all together for always.

But in my head? That’s a different story. Logically, I know that I’m a widow. I test the word out in my mind, roll it around. It doesn’t fit yet, doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t feel like an accurate definition of my life. Not when my life is so full of my baby Kev – she is so much like her Daddy, and not just in looks. With her around, he’s simply not gone yet, despite the fact that a very official death certificate is tucked away in the safe, ready to pull out when I need to legally verify his absence.

No, I don’t really feel like a widow, but I do feel like a single mom. Some nights, panic grips me as I carry the Bear to my bed and lay down beside her. And in those moments, I imagine impossibly terrible things: What if I die in my sleep? What will happen when she wakes up? How long will it be before someone finds her alone? Will she call someone? Will she sit beside me, crying, telling me to please wake up? I pace through the dark house, afraid to sleep, crying, feeling like this weight of grief and panic will crush me.

I can’t die, I cry out to God in those lonely hours, I can’t leave her alone.

And in that cry, in that release of my fear, I finally feel a peace, I feel a presence. I feel His promise.

You’re not going to leave her alone, He says. Just like you haven’t been left alone. I know you miss Kevin; I know you feel lonely and afraid. Yes, you are a single mom, but I am the Singular God. You are a widow, but I am the Wonderful Almighty. I will never leave you, never let you go. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I am always here, always holding your hand. And I’ve got her, too. I promise. You will always be together in Me. Trust me.

I take a deep breath. I stop pacing. I lay down in my bed, beside my beautiful Bear and listen to her slow, even breathing. I reach out and tug a blanket over her shoulder. Then I close my eyes and let His promises cover me.

Being a single mom is hard. It’s not what I imagined the day Kevin and I became parents to our incredible little girl. I never thought I’d be raising her by myself. I never imagined a life where he wasn’t on this parenting adventure with me, laughing and crying and trying to help our Bear make sense of this world. I never imagined we wouldn’t all be together for always.

Every day I have to stop and take a deep breath. And another. And another. I feel God’s hand close around me.

“People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their Feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit.” (Isaiah 26:3, The Message)

And I whisper, We’re all together for always.

Advertisements

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.

Life and Yellow Lights

An involuntary cry caught in my throat as I watched the car I was following speed down the road while I braked to a sudden stop. The yellow light flickered to red and the car disappeared around a curve.

“Mama?”

I heard my girl’s voice from the back seat. A little quaver, not panic. She’s gotten so good – too good – at picking up every tiny shift in my emotional barometer.

“Where did they go? Are we going to be lost now?”

I replied mechanically, the same words I’ve used over and over and over these last eighteen months in every situation that I’m unsure of: “We’re okay. We’ll be fine.”

A tear slid down my cheek. I hoped my oversized sunglasses hid it from my daughter’s eyes, peering at me from her backseat perch. It’s such stupid stuff that makes me cry these days. Random stuff. A missed phone call, a canceled get-together, a song playing in a store, a car leaving me behind at a stoplight. The wicked, crushing sobs of that first fresh grief no longer overwhelm me, but these smaller moments when tears sting my eyes unexpectedly are no less painful or powerful. I still can’t control the anguish when grief prickles and probes at the gaping black loneliness I feel without Kevin.

We’re okay. We’ll be fine. I think, I added.

I need Kevin, I thought a little hysterically, and another tear dripped off my chin and rolled down the seatbelt. I need Kevin and his maps. It was a little joke that every major car trip included him handing me a stack of pages printed from Mapquest. He drove and I navigated, pulling one map after another out of his carefully-prepared trip binder. Not that we didn’t still get turned around and off the beaten track a few times, computer and human error being unavoidable, but at least we had a map.

I didn’t have a map. Not for this road, and certainly not for this life.

I need Kevin.

The light finally turned green and I lurched forward, hitting the gas pedal too hard as I tried to catch up to the other car, tried to close the gap between us. Impossible. I felt trapped in a nightmare of those stupid word problems that confounded me in math class: If Car A is traveling x miles per hour and has a five minute head start, at what point will Car B, traveling y miles per hour catch up?

Answer: Never. The answer is never, never, never.

I will never catch up. Not on this physical road. Not on the metaphorical road. As much as I try to keep up with the other cars and people, and blend in with the traffic and activities, and just keep life going on, going forward, grief is like a yellow light flashing to red. It slows me down, forces me to stop, and life…well, it goes speeding by.

But as I’m stopped, waiting for my chance to get back on the road, to get going again, I realize what I told my daughter is true.

I don’t have to catch up. I can travel at the speed that works for me and we’re okay. We’ll be fine.

I know.

Because I do have maps. God wouldn’t leave me wandering.

When I’m sad and desperately missing my best friend, I think about Kevin and his maps. And then I hear God say, Find Joy — there’s some in every day if you look — and start there and then keep going. It will take you straight to Peace. The road twists a little, there are some sharp curves, and it might take a long time, but just keep going; you can’t miss it. I promise.

When I’m scared and lonely and need someone to talk to, I imagine God holding another map up to me. If you take Prayer, He says, that street right here, see? Well, just stay on it for a while, no stopping, and Comfort will be coming up soon.

Living with cancer is not an easy road. There are lots of dead-ends and Road Closed Ahead signs. Detours and No U-Turns Allowed are all over the place – even when all you want is to find the road that gets you back to the life you had before – the one without cancer. After a while, you accept the fact that the road you most want isn’t on any map you hold anymore. You have a new map, and new roads to travel, and you just have to figure out the best route to get through one of the toughest journeys in life. And we did it. We got turned around and lost sometimes, and Kevin being Kevin, maybe even tried a couple of illegal u-turns, but that never stopped us. We kept going and we managed to find the roads to Joy and Love and Happiness. God helped us, with an ear tender to our cries for help and the best guidebook ever written. And He’s helping me still.

Life is moving forward. That much I know is true. It’s still moving much too fast for me right now. Sometimes there will be people to follow, helping me find my way along this bumpy road, and sometimes I’ll get slowed down by grief and sadness and I’ll be on my own, navigating the hills and valleys by myself. When that happens, I’ll reach out for the travel binder, full of maps and love and memories, and I’ll just keep going. That’s the only way to get to the joy that’s waiting over the next hill. And there is joy over the next hill. That I know for sure is true. God promised it, Kevin’s living it, and I just have to keep believing I’ll find it.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking…then the Lord will be my God…’” (Genesis 28:20-21)

Love is Like a Prayer

We sat cuddled in Kevin’s recliner, watching “The Waltons”. In this life that feels like it’s falling apart sometimes, I need the reassurance and comfort I get from watching this show. I remember most of the episodes from when I was a kid, and my daughter thinks it’s funny that she’s the same age I was when I first watched John Boy and Jason and Mary Ellen and all the others.

My girl was especially interested in this episode, because Olivia had been stricken with polio. Anything medical is right up Beary’s alley, so she watched with particular enthusiasm. I knew I’d be in for a round of questions and a marathon polio research session at the laptop afterward, because that’s how my girl operates. The alternative remedies weren’t working for Olivia, though, and Grandma and John had all but given in to the resignation that she might not walk again. Not John-Boy, though. He fought against the prognosis with everything he had, and ran up into the mountains with his anger and frustration when it seemed as if everyone else had given up.

He shouted to his father, “All my life, I’ve been preached to about this God of love and mercy watching over us. You just show me one thing that’s loving and merciful about this.”

I felt the hot sting of tears behind my eyes, and thought about how many times thoughts like that had run through my head.

Why, God, why? Why does my little girl have to grow up seeing her Daddy so sick with cancer? Why does she have to know this kind of sorrow, this kind of pain? She’s so young. Why does she have to grow up without her Daddy? Why? Why?

She shifted toward me in the recliner, sensing my melancholy mood. “Mama?” The question in her voice broke into my thoughts.

“It’s okay, Beary, I was just thinking.”

“About polio?” Her mind was still on the show and the fascinating medical information she’d picked up.

“No,” A little laugh escaped me; I love her intensity and focus. “No, little girl, I was thinking about what John Boy said. And about what Grandma told him, about accepting God’s will. Sometimes I wonder if I’d prayed harder…or prayed more…” I choked back a sob. “I just wonder if Daddy would still be here. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or believe hard enough. Maybe I just gave up. Maybe I didn’t really believe he’d get better…” My words trailed off.

“I don’t think that’s true.” Her words were so confident. “Grown-ups get stressed about stuff like that but kids just believe God is good. We love Daddy and I think love is like a prayer.”

I think love is like a prayer.

I wondered at her words. At her ability to break down the confusion and doubt and self-blame and just get to the heart of it. To shout truth to the accusing voice that hammered in my head at my lowest moments, the voice that filled me with shame and remorse and recrimination. I wanted so much for Kevin to get better, to beat the cancer. I wanted a miracle; I wanted the hateful tumors and lesions to go away forever. Like John-Boy, I’d been raised hearing about a God who loves us, and a God who still works miracles. Like John-Boy, I was angry when those miracles didn’t come to us, when Kevin wasn’t completely healed. I found it hard to give thanks after a CT scan came back showing cancer’s vengeful march through his body. There were days, as I watched my husband retch and sweat and ache and cry out through the endless chemotherapy, when I felt such despair, felt so hopeless, that it seemed too hard to open the Bible and find comfort…so I didn’t. I never turned away from God – and I know without a doubt that His hand held us through every day of that journey – but I did grieve for the life I felt slipping away and I did get angry with Him. I did question Him and His will and His plan for Kevin and me and our girl.

And at the end, when I brought my husband home to die, I wondered if it was my fault. If I’d had more faith, if I’d trusted God more, if I’d believed harder, prayed harder – would Kevin still be dying? I cried as I held our daughter on my lap and we told her what was happening. I said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over, but I wonder if I was saying it to her? To Kevin? To God?

The last eighteen months have done nothing to ease the blame I feel. Could I have done more?

But here was my daughter – my thoroughly rational, tell-it-like-it-is daughter – telling me no. I’d prayed enough, just by simply loving him.

Love is like a prayer.

Could it be possible? When I drove him to chemo, when I fixed his favorite foods to tempt him to eat, when I slept on the couch to ease his discomfort in bed, when I sat on the arm of his recliner and rubbed his head, when I did everything I could think of to help him because I love him – she says I was praying. Is she right? Was I praying in the only way my breaking heart could at the time? Was loving him my ceaseless, constant prayer?

I rolled her words over and over in my mind.

Relief tingled, slowly bringing feeling in the numb shards of my broken heart.

Yes.

Love is like a prayer.

I prayed. During all the awful days, during all the glorious days, I prayed. I loved and I prayed.

There are many kinds of prayers. Some are spoken out loud in moments of grateful thanks. Some are murmured through tears in times of great sorrow. Some are silent in the heart, when the pain is too much and the grief mutes the words. God hears them all. And He heard my prayers – the spoken ones, the murmured ones, the silent ones – and especially the ones offered in love as I cared for my darling Kevster. He heard them and He answered them – maybe not how I’d hoped, by giving us a miracle and more time – but He took Kevin’s cancer away and that was always my prayer.

I squeezed my girl close and turned back to the television in time to hear John Boy’s father tell him this: “Good times and bad times come to all of us and what counts is the way you take them. What you let those times do to you. That’s what counts.”

We took all our times with love. Love for each other, love for our daughter, love for the God who held us – even when we doubted Him and didn’t understand His will. We let those times strengthen our love and increase it so that it would always be with us, inside us.

And in the end, all that love was one long prayer that God answered.

Believe

Her face beamed as she handed me the paper this past January.

“I know Christmas is over, Mama, but I’m getting ready for next year.”

That’s my girl. Just like her Mama, always planning ahead. Making lists, checking things off. I skimmed the list, laughing at her practicality and her whimsy: Sharpies, a whole pack! A wish upon a star! Spinning top!
But then three words silenced me.

Cancer-curing kit!

I raised my head. Gazed at her as she smiled to herself, still chortling and feeling quite clever at preparing a wish list eleven months before necessary.

“Beary? What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the cancer-curing kit.

“Oh, you know, Mama, a kit that I can have to cure Daddy’s cancer. Then he won’t be sick and at the hospital. And if I have a kit, then no one will get cancer again.” She answered with her usual matter-of-factness, dismissing my puzzlement with a wave of her hand.

“Uh, yeah, but I’ve never seen a cancer-curing kit before. I don’t know…are you sure they make them? I mean, that’s sort of what chemo is for, right?”

“A kit works faster than chemo, Mama.” She was so solicitous of my obvious ignorance, so adamant in her certainty.

I had no words. Truthfully? I wanted a cancer-curing kit, too. I wanted Kevin to be healthy again, able to be fully present with us again. Not weakened and dragged down by the endless chemo, the endless poison, the endless…cancer.

So I shrugged and she danced, and we both wished for the impossible. A cancer-curing kit.

We didn’t get it.

Not the impossible and not the kit.

We prayed. We wished. We hoped. And Kevin fought longer and harder than anyone expected. But none of it was enough.

It’s Christmas now, and there’s been no more mention of the kit. But it’s not because she’s given up on the idea. Her whimsy and imagination and absolute certainty in how life should unfold wouldn’t allow it. No, she hasn’t given up on the idea of a kit; she just decided that she’d have to be the one to make it happen.

After an exhaustive discussion about cadavers, infectious disease, and vaccinations, she turned to me and earnestly said, “Mama, I am going to be the one to figure out how to stop cancer from ever growing. Not figure out what to do when it’s already in your body, but how to keep it from even getting there. I can do it. Do you believe me?”

You bet, little girl. I believe you.

It’s funny what we choose to believe in, even when everything in life conspires against our faith and shakes our confidence. Even when things are so hard that it feels impossible to keep going. But we do it. We keep going on; we keep believing, trusting. And right now, at Christmas, there is so much in which to believe, so much to open our hearts to. And I do believe. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, as we spread happiness and compassion to those around us. I believe our holy God sent His son as a baby to save this hurting world. I believe Kevin is alive and healthy in heaven and that someday I will be there with him for eternity.

And I absolutely believe in a little girl who is holding my hand and showing me every day there is still joy and hope and miracles and mystery to be found in this world. She believes in God and in herself and she is unwavering in her conviction that she can make a difference. She believes in possibilities, in wishes on stars and cancer-curing kits, and she wants me to, as well.

So because of her, in the midst of this Christmas season, in the midst of the hurt and grief and uncertainty, one prayer will be unceasing in my heart:

I believe.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that’s playing
There’s no time to waste
There’s so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe

(Believe, Josh Groban)