"How dark is it in here?" Talitha asked, as she closed her eyes and stared through her eyelids in my direction as we waited for lunch to arrive.
"Oh, it's always dark with your eyes closed," I responded.
"But in church today, the speaker told us that we are to be a light to others, and to shine the light of Jesus in other people's lives," I told her.
She smiled as she opened her eyes.
I was glad I made the decision to take the girls out to lunch, despite the fact we had no other adult to have conversation with. I was painfully aware of the others in the restaurant who were eating solo, as well.
After completing our meal, we navigated our way to the fearless minivan, caught in a rainstorm.
"It's a good thing I have my Nah-Nah coat!" Talitha exclaimed as she wrapped her childhood blankie around herself like a sweater with a hoodie.
We drove a few hundred feet in the parking lot to a store, in order to buy Joy some shoes, just as the rain had backed off.
But storm clouds threatened overhead.
As we shopped for Joy's shoes, Talitha didn't ask for toys. It was refreshing to go into a store and exit without whining, crying and disappointment. I'm not typically faced with that scenario because I have such easy kids, but lately, when Talitha and Joy are sick and I'm completely alone to deal with it as a newly single parent, the whining drives me to madness sometimes.
We left with our purchases, and as I glanced up above, the storm was almost upon us.
We heard a loud "BOOM!" as thunder crackled, running through our bodies as though the force of God were directly upon us.
It was a heavy, jarring feeling. One of power. And you just don't mess around when thunder is that close.
We quickly entered our vehicle, safe from the impending rain.
And just as I clipped into my seat belt, the rain began to fall.
It came hard, at first, fast pellets pelting the windows and frame of our midnight blue mode of transportation like someone shooting air soft ammunition at us.
Then, it started to downpour. It was a relentless deluge, one that just kept coming.
"Mom, I think it's time for us to get out of here," Talitha said from the back seat.
I agreed with her.
As I pulled our minivan out of the space, the sheer volume of the rain made it impossible to even hear the radio.
I turned up the volume and drove out of the parking lot, onto the street, and safely waited to enter the freeway from under the protection of an overpass bridge.
"Why is it quiet in here?" Talitha asked.
"Because we're under a bridge," came my reply.
The rain made it impossible to go typical freeway speeds, and I even hydroplaned at one point.
But as we drove further from our church, the rain dissipated, then finally ceased altogether.
"Why did it stop, Mom?" came the little squeaky voice in the backseat, once again.
"Because we aren't in the storm anymore," I responded.
As we drove a little further, my breath caught in my throat.
Mountains rose into view, and their carpeted majesty of velvet green hues were breath-taking,
The sunlight filtered towards them, as though grabbing at their rich hues, with accents of solid, fluffy clouds as their backdrop.
Homes dotted their feet, but the peaks rose in high splendor.
"The cross we pick up, isn't our marriage, our kids, our health, our finances, or anything else," the speaker had said in church. "The cross is the cross," he stated simply.
"And it isn't a one time thing, where we just meet Jesus at the foot of the cross for our salvation, then never return, thinking that is it," he pontificated. "The cross is where we meet Him every day."
The words had moved my heart with such passion that I surprised myself. I always had a difficult time with taking up the cross daily and following Him. What did that mean, anyway? And why had God make it so clear to me that I needed that scripture, years ago?
Our minivan crested up above the din of city life, and from up there I could see the storm we had come through, still pounding on weary city folk, animals, trees and landscape alike.
The curvature of the rain made it seem harmless from up there, close to the clouds, with that perspective. And yet, having just gone through it, I knew that wasn't the case. I knew how much damage it caused. And I knew the silence it left in its wake, the further we went away from it.
And there it was, a picture of my last five years, wrapped in the gift of precipitation.
We were just a typical family, just like anyone else, going through our normal, daily routines until the Cancer storm came out of nowhere, raining on us, God's tears weeping for us like Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus.
We made it safely through, and there was a break in the weather, giving us time for years, once again, to go about our daily routines, but intentional about what we did with our time, and thoughtful of the storm up above, always looming overhead.
Once we exited the store, our daily lives were changed with one fierce shake of thunder, ripping into our lives a need to seek shelter, and quickly after Ryan's death.
It rained hard until we came to the bridge, a momentary period of time where we felt protected, warm and safe, even though we could see the darkness surrounding us everywhere.
As we traveled for the past five months, the storm of the outcome has pounded us relentlessly, and grief sometimes made my life, just like my vehicle feel completely out of control. But when I got through to the other side, after the conclusion of my grief class, the storm subsided, then eventually stopped.
The beauty I see all around me, catches me by surprise.
A quick text from a friend telling me she wants to get together for a playdate. A dinner invitation by a family who isn't scared of my missing family member. A handwritten note of prayers and supplications on my behalf. A group of godly women telling me how much they dearly love me. Continuing hugs and phone calls of love, not pity or obligation, from ones who were there the entire journey and continue to remain. The ability of others to accept my help for them, instead of the other way around because my storm has now passed, but theirs is just beginning.
"If you keep your eyes on what you think is your cross," the speaker said, "you are really just keeping your eyes on your circumstances."
"But God wants us to keep our eyes on the cross of Christ. That is where change begins."
Oh, Lord God, please change me and mold me into the woman of God you want me to be. Show me the beauty You have given me to see and experience each day. Let the eyes of my heart be open to seeing the daily smiling faces, the surrendered hearts, the prayers for the people I need to pray for. This world is not my home, and this life is not my own. Please use me and guide me and strengthen me for what You have chosen for me, today and every day I have here on earth. And thank You, Lord, for giving me beauty from ashes. In Jesus' name. Amen.