Friday, June 15, 2012


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One Year Ago Today

*The black-haired baby with the ruddy complexion is Evangeline, the day I brought her home from the hospital. Olivia is beside her.
Last night we walked to the Bunny Bench, the name Audrey and Evangeline have given to the bench that sits at the tip of the golf course near our home. The sun had disappeared behind a low ribbon of mountain peaks along the northwestern horizon, but the light had not quite gone out of the sky.

We rounded the corner past the Bunny Bench, and up the winding, starlit path. We could smell the sweet, fresh earthy smell of grass, so recently watered; and in the distance came the “chh-chh-chh-chh” of sprinklers wetting some distant part of the green. In the brooding silver-gray moments before the sky blackened utterly, I watched as the focal point of beauty changed from colored clouds to flickering city lights. In an instant, in no time at all, a thick canopy had been erected above our heads and the black dome that was the sky was filled with stars that shone all the brighter for the blackness of the night. 

Ahead of us the path was flanked with the wiry, almost sinister silhouettes of cottonwoods, their sleek dark trunks shining in the starlight, and above us one star shone brighter than all the others; so bright it compelled me to exclaim, “Wow! Girls, do you think that’s a star or a planet?” The girls looked up quizzically from where they sat, side by side, in the stroller, and studied the star a moment quietly, their awed faces reflecting the silver-blue light of the moon.  

“I think it’s the star what God put up when Jesus was born,” Audrey said solemnly, then paused.  “Or maybe it’s the Olivia Star.”

Suddenly Evie gave a deep, anguished cry, as if in pain. “Oh!” she moaned. “Oh, my friend! I miss my friend Olivia!”

“I know, Evie,” I said.

But Evie kept on: “She died! Oh! Olivia died!”

I was dumb-founded. Evie was two years old when Olivia died. How could she remember her enough to express genuine grief? At last, my voice nearly swallowed by chokes and gasps, I said, “You're right, Evie. Olivia is with Jesus. Did you know that? Did you know He is holding her in His arms?”

“Oh!” she moaned. “But I want to play with huh! I really whoosh I could play with huh.”

I glanced over at Dutch to gauge the depth of his astonishment. “I’m sorry, Evie," I said again, groping for words. "You will be able to play with her someday. When we see her again in Heaven.”

“But I want to play with huh now!” Evie persisted, and started to cry.

The part of me which a moment before had suggested that perhaps these were false cries, full of affectation, was now utterly silenced, replaced by the sounds of a child's lamentations for her departed friend: “Oooooh! I miss Olivia. I miss my friend!”

Audrey, who had been observing this scene in silence, gallantly leaned over and kissed her sister on the knee. “Oh, Evie,” she said reassuringly, patting Evie's leg now. “Don’t worry! Just look at the star! You have to stay looking at the star. It will remind you about Olivia. It will say that you would be okay…” Then -- right there, in the darkness and quiet -- Audrey began to sing: 

“O, please! O please! Shine the moon for me! 
  O, please! O, please! Shine the star for me! 
  Jesus, please, check on Livia for us
  Make sure that she’s okay… 
  Tell her that we want to play with her another day Heaven.”

I looked again at the star, shining more radiantly than all the Jesus, our Bright Morning Star. The One for whom we stand and wait; the One who says, “Do not be discouraged! Be not afraid! Do not dismay. I am the Living One. My work is finished. I am coming quickly, and I will make all things new!"

Without Jesus, words of consolation, so often given, like, "She will live on forever in your hearts" or "Her spirit will never be forgotten" are just... words. Whimsical, empty words. Without a whit of truth to justify or ground them. Memories fade; and, for all we can see, life ends when the body does. "But that Christ on His cross did rise / and fall, / Sin had eternally benighted all" (John Donne). It is only because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we dare to hope - to believe with confidence - that Olivia now experiences that blessed state which, Paul says, is “better by far” than life on this earth: union with Jesus. We will see her again. In the place of "No More Tears."
 *Audrey drew this picture of Olivia and Jesus on May 25th, the day that Olivia would have turned three.