"He will cover you with His feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."
Psalm 91:4 NIV
"When you are covered by His wings,
it can get pretty dark."
-Corrie Ten Boom
I ate our neighbor, Shirley's cookies before I ever met her. 2003 with Luke only 10 months old and a ramshackle house we would call home. It was a mess inside and out but we could afford it and Jeff could repair it. It took months and one time while we were walking through and dreaming of the home it would be she left a carefully wrapped plate of cookies on the roof of my car with a note that said, "I am so happy to have new neighbors, welcome home! Love, Shirley"
That seems so long ago now. The first tentative steps in a relationship. Decades separating us. Her lawn filled with flowers and lush green grass. Always quiet without a fallen leaf in the fall and not a blade of grass taller than a toe in the summer. I would walk over if I saw her out, Luke on my hip and then later him tottering forward through the bare spots in our yard, leaves clinging to his pants he went. Shirley would always pause from her work to talk about children, flowers, and God.
Two years passed with her laughing at Luke running through the sprinkler and chasing the cat. And then Levi came. Colic and red faced crying as I tried to look less flustered than I felt. That is when we began to really talk. She would tell me to enjoy the moments of flustered days. The child holding my leg and the baby crying in my arms. I remember so clearly her saying one day I would wish for noise and need and mess. That one day it would be too quiet and the lawn would look too nice and tidy.
Three years passed and the boys would ask to go see Ms. Shirley now. We built snowmen in her yard, sledded down her hill, and picked flowers in Spring. We would sit on her couch and bin of old toys would be brought out and words would flow. That is the season I learned that the year before we moved in she had lost her mom, dad, husband, and a son. All in one year, loss after loss. After the last funeral she started praying for her fears to subside, her hands to help others, and neighbors in the vacant run down house next door. And through misty eyes she would exclaim, and He answered my prayers.
Two weeks ago I knocked on a different wooden door with stomach knotted. Not knowing what to expect after the news from her son that two strokes had taken much of Shirley's strength and that recovery was unknown. She lay still, eyes open and unable to move even a finger. I listened close as she tried to form her lips to ask about her flowers and my children. I spoke with rushed words covering my shock, trying to reconcile the woman before me with the one I last saw. She asked if the cherry blossoms had bloomed and I answered no. Thankful for the late March snow and telling her that we would be praying that she would come home in time to see them bloom.
Last night I creaked open the wooden door again, my throat tight. The florescent light streaming in across her face from the hallway. I held a jar of cherry blossoms cut an hour earlier. I couldn't tell her it had blossomed without her home. Her eyes first focused on my face and then the jar of pale pink blossoms she cried. Mouth twisted and bent tears streamed down her face. We spoke slowly in the darkness of the room. I asked if she was scared. Her answer silenced me. "I was really really scared at first. I don't want to be here, I want to be home. But I am trusting Him now. I am in His hands. And if my life is in His hands I want what He wants. I want what He wills." She said this with tears still streaming down her face and longing to be whole. And I cried with her and prayed with her. The drive home asking God to have that same heart in me. One that accepts not just the easy from His hands but the hard. The one that knows He is a good father who protects even when we still feel pain.
Today as the sun set and the boys yelled wild I ran from my backyard to hers and took picture to post on her walls. I laid under the trees and stood on the hill high above them and wondered if she planted them with her husband before I was born. Wondered what she thought of as she sat Spring after Spring under their branches. Wondered if they reminded her of life each season instead of loved ones taken. And prayed that God would be gentle and that she would feel His love each moment. Realizing slowly that as I sat there that she is more certain now of God's hand in her life now than any other season. And that even in this darkness His light will shine through her and produce something beautiful.