I want to tell you a story.
Every word of it is true, although it feels so transcendent, so beyond my own capabilities here on earth, that I have spent this week contemplating how it could have been possible.
First, you must know about an amazing woman who came into my life. When I was five years old, my dad met the woman who would soon become my stepmom. I loved her, fiercely. She had a smile and laugh that absolutely lit up a room. When you were around her, you could not help but to feel joy. With her beautiful, long, red hair and gentle voice, she sang to me and taught me grace and kindness. She had a heart to that desired to give, and was the most amazing teacher. Her students adored her. Everyone did. There are not adequate words to describe what a light she was to the world.
She gave to me two brothers, who have grown into handsome, intelligent, openhearted and GOOD young men.
They have done so well, in spite of the odds stacked against them.
On a cold, December night when they were just three and six years old, and I eighteen, their mother was set free from the pain of fighting against breast cancer.
All these years later, I now have boys that are three and six. I think of her all the time.
A few months ago when I waited in agony for results of a biopsy– results that could have been cancer — I thought of her constantly. My newborn daughter was just six weeks old, much like my baby brother who was a newborn when my stepmother received the news that she had only twenty-four months to live. I can close my eyes and vividly see her in the stillness of the night, rocking her baby. I can clearly hear her voice, singing hymns and lullabies to him, sweetly. Though he slept in her arms, she did not rise to put him into bed.
I now understand what I couldn’t possibly understand then. Her sorrow had nothing to do with the thought of her own life ending. The heartbreaking grief was in knowing the pain her passing would leave behind; a weight her children would have to bear, without her.
My body breaks with sobs at the thought of her surrender. The surrender to the end of this life here on earth and to the beginning of her life with God in heaven; a God whom she trusted and worshiped and LOVED fully. A steadfast God who has loved and led her children.
I do not understand why I received a call in February with the news that I would get to live, while she did not.
I do not understand why three years after losing her, I would lose my baby sister, my beautiful, baby sister that my mom brought into the world, to leukemia.
I do not understand why some of us live and some of us die and some us spend ninety years here on earth without ever having the courage to live life at all.
What I do know, after thirty years of loving, losing, grieving and trusting, is that it is not for us to know. We are simply here to do our life’s work, to love deeply, to trust something greater, and to open our heart to the miraculous along the way.
This is a story of the miraculous.
Earlier this week, I was hurrying about to knock-out items on my to-do list. My two boys were happily playing and my infant was napping. I had much to achieve before the playing turned to arguing, before the baby would wake hungry.
In my closet, I stumbled over a box that has been sitting on the floor, cumbersome and left unattended for months, while the postpartum haze has left my organizational skills sub par. I have walked past that box a thousand times this year without giving it a second thought.
But that afternoon, I felt it calling to me. And when I say that I felt it calling, I mean I really, truly, felt an overwhelming urge to sit down and search through the contents of that box.
Delighted, I discovered it was a time capsule filled with memories from my senior year in high school. Rummaging through a stack of hand written notes, I recalled my life as written by my friends, laughing at our escapades, remembering our sorrows.
Quite some time passed as I sat on the closet floor reminiscing. I knew my uninterrupted time was waning, and yet I could not pull myself away.
I had to follow the calling to keep searching; for what, I did not know, until I reached the bottom of the box. There beneath prom photos and choir programs was a folded newspaper clipping, yellowed and fragile with age. And beaming up at me was a beautiful smile — my stepmother’s radiant smile.
The headline read: FIGHTING ON – Woman maintains positive spirit in battle against cancer. February, 2004.
I suddenly was struck by the realization that these were her words. HER words from her heart that her voice had shared with a reporter. A moment in time captured forever. Instantly, I thought of my brothers. I wanted to call them right that moment, to take a picture of the article and send it, but I feared it would be an assault to their peaceful afternoon in high school. You see, they have lived on and created a good life. A life with a mother who loves them hard, who has given them two beautiful, little sisters. A life full of happiness and successes and normalcy.
A life of which their mother in heaven is undoubtedly proud.
Yet, my heart felt particularly led to the older of my two brothers. It is the end of his senior year. This weekend he will attend his prom, and just a few weeks later his graduation. And then, after that golden summer spent on the horizon of new beginnings, he will begin his own journey as he begins college. It is a time when a young man might be missing his mother. A time when the words she had once said might need to be heard.
But something told me to wait. To trust. The time to deliver the message would come.
Carefully folding the clipping, I returned it to the box.
The following evening I found myself distracted by dinnertime with young children. I had completely forgotten about the article. The frenzy of 5 pm was interjected with a phone call: my brother. Answering, I explained that I only had a moment, to which he replied that was all he needed.
His voice was cool, as always, but tinted with the hint of excitement. He was on his way to a scholarship interview and needed to tell me two things:
“First, I just want to say thank you, you know, for everything that you’ve done. And now, well, I was wondering if there is anything you needed to say to me.”
Anything I needed to say to him? My body broke out in a chill.
YES, I had never, ever in our life together needed to say something to him in the way that I needed to say this now.
Bolting up the stairs to retrieve the clipping, tears rolled down my cheeks while I attempted to grasp the profound serendipity of this phone call.
Breathlessly, I tried to explain that I DID have something I had been needing to say, but resigned to waiting for the right time to arrive. And now, here he was, the very next day, calling to ASK IF I NEEDED TO SAY ANYTHING.
This is not what one would call coincidence, friends.
This isn’t a random occurrence or me grasping for straws or searching for something in the dark without a flashlight.
This is a moment – a MIRACULOUS moment – where you know that we are all merely vessels here on earth, carrying out the work of someone much, much greater.
From my kitchen, I read to him his mother’s words. We spoke of her life, and of her legacy. Above all, I reminded him that she is always near. Always.
And in that moment, I had the honor of being a vessel. A vessel for a mother’s love for her children.
A love that transcends time and death and everything of this world. A love that lives forever.