It can be my most difficult time.
Before the new greens of spring and first blooms are born, comes the barren pallet of winter —a season desolate, dreary and dark.
Because dark always comes before light.
It was late winter when we found out her daddy had ALS.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Two-five year life expectancy—he made it a little past three.
She was three-years-old when she found out the man who chased her around the yard would soon lose his ability to eat, drink, walk, talk and breathe. By the time she turned four, he was a sole-tube-fed, quadriplegic. And by the time she turned five, the only thing he could move were his eyes.
And with the return of snow that year, he died.
It was the morning of December 30th, 2017, when he made his journey home. As his new lungs inhaled all the elements of heaven, the sky’s exhaled steady, white flakes of snow.
The creator sent a beautiful, white blanket to cover the cold, fractured soil lying just outside the walls of our home.
I suppose he also sent this beautiful, white blanket to cover the cold, fractured hearts lying just inside the walls of our chests.
The snow fell quietly that morning, covering the tops of everything in sight—including the white azalea bush by the front window.
The azalea he’d planted when we first moved into our home.
It was the morning after he died when she burst past its branches, knocking snow from its limbs. She marched inside, immediately realizing something was different —immediately realizing he was gone.
It was her first major heartbreak and I dare say the worst. A heartbreak no five-year-old should ever experience. A heart-sting every widowed-mother desperately pleads to relieve.
Because the only thing worse than your grief, is helplessly watching your child’s. It’s a double-blow to the heart and a double-weight to the bag.
The bag I carry always —it holds my grief and theirs.
The entire first year after his death, felt like a slow emergence from a coma. And to be honest, most days, I felt dead inside too.
You see, this dark season of winter, literally and figuratively, almost did me in.
For three years prior we had went through the unthinkable and even with the assistance of others, I had functioned in the red for far too long. These others were like life support to me and learning how to function without them was the equivalent of coming off a ventilator.
You have to relearn everything—including how to breathe.
This was it. Our new “normal”.
I was a newly-widowed and completely overwhelmed mom doing her best to care for the hearts of her children.
But slowly, I learned the Father was using them to care for mine.
It was Mother’s Day 2018, just five months after he died. We were headed to the car when I noticed my white azalea in bloom. I flung open the car door, tossed my bags inside and noticed my then five-year-old daughter heading straight for me —white azalea in hand.
With her daddy’s huge smile she said,
“Mommy, I picked this flower for you for Mother’s Day. It is SO beautiful like you mommy.”
Then, with the wisdom of a thousand King Solomon’s she said,
“Mommy look close. I know it still has the dark stem attached but don’t focus on the stem mommy — it has to come before the flower. Focus on the flower.”
On the outside, it was the scraggliest-looking azalea I’d ever seen. But the bloom was BEAUTIFUL and carried inside those dark, frail-looking stems, flowed the life-blood of the creator himself.
This azaleas’ one mission was to carry that life-blood directly to my dark, frail-looking heart.
Choking back tears I stood silent, holding two beautiful blooms —one in each hand.
This soft, white, delicate flower passed onto me by the soft, white, delicate hands of an equally beautiful creation.
Both uniquely designed. Both planted as a seed and both grown in the dark.
Because dark always comes before light. Just like stems always come before blooms.
And sometimes stems aren’t pretty, but they MUST BE present.
And sometimes stems contain thorns, but they MUST BE attached.
They pull from the dark what’s needed in the light and they take from the light what’s needed in the dark.
And without the dark there would be no stem.
And without the stem there would be no bloom.
And this bloom and this child that stemmed from the creator’s heart, was the connector that stemmed HIM back into mine.
We’re approaching Easter and for almost a solid year now, I’ve carried that withered, dried up flower in the dash board of my car —dark stem and all.
And I just keep thinking about stems being connectors and just how connected everything seems to be.
And I just keep thinking about the womb that gave me this child.
And I just keep thinking about the child that gave me this stem.
And I just keep thinking about the creator who ultimately gave me both.
This creator who sometimes uses the darkest of places to plant the tiniest of miracles.
This creator who once used another dark place to plant another tiny miracle —the miracle child.
—Who was planted in a womb, crucified on a cross, then sealed in a tomb.
Who bore our stripes, our sin, our shame, who hung and bled and bore our pain.
Who rent the veil, who split through hell, who drained his veins, lest dark prevail.
Who from the dark rose up again, who resurrected us with him.
Who cleansed us white as snow and bloom, whose life-blood FOREVER covering o’er our tomb.
Who said we’d suffer through darkness afraid, but told us,
“FEAR NOT CHILD, I’VE CONQUERED YOUR GRAVE!