I opened a book this morning and picture fell out from between some of it's pages. Odd, that I didn't even realize the photograph was tucked inside, considering I frequently read the little motivational exerts. But there it was at my feet.
I barely recognize the young woman in the picture.
So skinny from forever choosing between lunch or filling her gas tank. So shattered from the ordeal in juvenile court. I was hanging on by a thread in this photo, not realizing that in just a few short hours I would have my first full blown nervous breakdown in the confines of my beat up Chevrolet Corsica. It was the hardest season of my life.
Yet some voice must have whispered to grab a quick picture with her.
Her long sleeves, wig, and genuine grin of happiness kept the cancer that was killing her hidden well beneath the surface. Her youngest daughter was getting married and she would get to see it.
It is the only healthy picture I have of the two of us.
She is the reason I went to college. She is why I was able to chase my dream as a TV news reporter and have the courage ten years later to chase a new dream. She is why my sisters are saved. She is why I am saved. She is why I have so much fight inside, both the good kind and the nasty four-letter word ugly kind.
She is why I believe in miracles.
Isn't that ironic?
This past birthday I turned 36, but it's the number 12 that stuck in mind. My birthday marks 12 years since the night her chest stopped moving, her hand turned cold, and I would never see that smile again. The grief still comes. To be so far removed from that night, yet to suddenly feel a wave of longing that God had only been taking her on an extended vacation and not an eternal journey, jars your spirit at its root.
I wonder what she would say to me about attending seminary, about chasing the title of "Pastor." Her membership to the conservative AG church would have her pray for my pride and inability to submit, yet I know she was a woman of her own mind. I long to have her read McKnight and Bessey, and to discuss Systematic Theology and her thoughts on Inclusivism, Pope Francis, and if she believes there really was a garden.
Conversations I can't have.
I want a picture of her side-by-side with Asher to determine if I'm simply being nostalgic when I look at his face and catch glimpses of hers. While the name Asher had deep significance in its meaning, his middle name was one I was merely drawn to because it sounded nice. It was only later when I realized his middle name is the masculine version of her first.
Pictures I'll never take.
Most of all, I want to hear her laugh. When no one else could be even be bothered to ensure I had eaten that day, she not only gave me food and shelter, but she saw me - and I saw joy in her eyes when she looked at me. She didn't love me out of obligation or family devotion. She had something better for me.
She liked me.
In a world where strong-willed, opinionated, and power seeking women are immediately disliked, and in the church, quickly dismissed, she not only liked me...she enjoyed me. Without ever using the words, she made it ok for me to be me. When I was with her, I could breathe.
I am not sure I've breathed so freely ever since.
Perhaps, that is why despite the deep pain and sadness churning inside the two of us, despite the turmoil this time period wrought, we look authentically happy standing side-by-side in our wedding get-ups and bad flash photography.
Oh, how I miss her.
The marriage may not have worked out, but I am forever grateful to my cousin for having done it. In the time before digital, selfies, and Instagram, we never thought to take photos at random moments.
This moment, so many years later, now brings joy to my eyes.