One of the last clear sentences my mama said to us was “She wants to be free – unfettered.” A few days later she flew home to be with Jesus. She had been diagnosed with cancer almost three years before. The journey was long. On the way she wrote these words. They are a comfort to me. I hope they will be to you too as you journey home.
Winter wrapped the rawness of a cold night around our small cabin. The crisp, stark evening fell hard. Beautiful in it’s severity. But the sturdy cabin stood brave against nature, protecting us. Tucked away in a crease of the giant hill our small home was shielded against the seeing eyes of the world, neighbors, or the passerby. And except for the telltale mail box and open mouth of the driveway there would not have been a hint that life was being lived in that fold of earth. The capable wood stove of our cabin glowed red, fighting off the threatening cold just outside, and warmed us as we observed our evening habits, our ritual falling into place, like every other night.
My husband had achieved reentry from his day of hard work, and time together had been well spent around the black stove as we enjoyed the remains of the day. Dinner had been satisfying, delicious in it’s life giving. And our chatter had been satisfying as well. Our conversation had not been of much importance or of great interest, but necessary in sustaining the relationship, keeping us in touch with each other, a little like taking a pulse. We used this time to familiarize ourselves with each other after the separation of the day. I washed up dishes looking out on a view I never tired of. The almost gone sun made leafless trees and pines, which edged the ridge, appear shadowy against a deep purple sky creating my rural skyline. The angle of the meadow right out my window was a very steep grade and it’s contrast with the horizontal tree line could sometimes make me dizzy. I gave thanks for it’s beauty again as I looked at it for the last time of the day.
Settled in our favorite, respective chairs we read aloud together. Using someone else’s words to help put meaning and description to our own feelings and thoughts. We found comfort, pleasure and amusement in another’s creativity. It was an ordinary evening, exactly the same as other evenings. It was the sameness that made if feel secure, familiar, and comfortable. All seemed right with the world, especially in our secluded, private piece of it. Troubles seemed far away if not nonexistent. The grandfather clock dutifully counted off nine strikes signaling phase two of our evening, and our flow moved upstairs seeking deeper rest. Dependent pets were taken care of, their needs of food and warmth supplied, all lights were turned off, downstairs shades drawn, doors bolted securely against evening and anything unwelcome it might hold. I usually made it upstairs first, turning back covers, covering our canine companion on his bed, and beginning my relaxing, warm shower, ready for cozy covers. He lagged behind feeding the little black stove a heaping serving of logs. Guaranteeing warmth in the depths of the cold night. I was soon followed by him, where he took his place on his side of the bed, and he checked in on the cyber world while waiting for the last of the evening’s rituals to be complete. Being in a rhythm together had given peace, now for sweet, restorative sleep. Layers of covers insulated us and the nearness of another added to the warmth of our bed.
The silence outside so filled our sheltered nook you could almost hear it. Any sound was amplified by the cove and by the crispness of a winter night. Stillness, the partner of silence, settled on us just as the heavy, black velvet of night blanketed us. All was hushed as if the earth had put her finger to her lips and issued a slow shhhh. It was easy to imagine us all alone on the planet, but being watched by the universe. As I had pulled the last shade against the dark, I glanced up at the seamless sky seeing it full of watching, twinkling eyes. Tucked in, sleep came easily and cocooned us. Soon after darkness was allowed into our room breathing slowed and deepened, movements became involuntary and our bodies worked on auto pilot having been programed for a night setting. Visions from unknown places, funny, weird, or relating to the events of the day played in our heads while the mystery of sleep was at work holding us captives in other worlds. Dreams became our reality and there we lay. The clocks in the cabin ticked in the night and the sands of time slipped away unnoticed. The night deepened and the world whispered.
Sometime in the night I woke to change my position, adjust overs. Something wasn’t right. Maybe this leg needed to move, or that pillow be shifted. Comfort had left me. Dread lay a heavy hand on me. I sensed it in the room. It moved from corner to corner and whispered uncertainty to my fear. The menacing spectral was glad to have me alone in the darkness, there it could fill me with worry. It offered me anxiousness, not of anything certain but made me guess while my fear grew. I recognized fear. The gripping you have when you smell smoke in your house but you can’t find it. It was present but wouldn’t identify itself. It laughed at me, making fun of the peace I had celebrated during the day. It lay close, up against my cheek, ridiculing the security I had found in The Faithful One. Spinning stories of failure, ruined finances, loneliness, disaster. Casting doubt on my belief in Forever, it hissed that the dark hole may be all that awaits. I felt suffocated, my heart rate increase, panic began in my chest but the darkness gave me nowhere to hide from my tormentor. A prayer formed in my heart and I cried out for reassurance.
I heard it faint and far off. A low, easy sound broke the spell encasing me. I reached over my head to raise the window allowing the cold air to usher in my comfort. Deep in the woods of the ridge a lone owl sang it’s night song. Who, who,who,who. It sliced through the darkness of night and my soul. I lay still, listening, willing it to sing again. Needing the sound of a fellow living creature. A companion song came from across the meadow. The same song, the same tune, it’s mate in one accord. The two owls created to endure the cold, to give life to the empty night, sang in duet and I heard their words given to them by their Creator. They sang to the One who had given them voice, and to me. They sang, “I will praise the One who made me, I will be the owl He knows, I will watch over the darkness, I am not alone. He is faithful to His creatures, He is watching over all. He sees you in your darkness, He does not sleep, He hears our song, He sees you weep.” The mountain walls vibrated with their worship, it rippled through all of the wood. As the praise of the night filled my room, the blackness that sought to fill the night and my heart could not stay. I joined in the praise to Him, along with the singers of the night, until I fell asleep. Peace had returned with the lullaby.
The unknown has become known to my mom. What she hoped, a reality. Her hope was not in a god of her making or imagining. But in the God made known through creation and the words of the Bible. How could I have let go of her if we hadn’t received the comfort that God was present with her, with us, keeping his promises to the very end?
Regardless of what we are experiencing, God is present, he hears us, he will not leave us. And he desires the gift of our worship in those moments. It’s what all of his creatures were made for.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:1-2, 7, 14