I put the flowers in the center of the table and stood back to admire the way the sun was shining through their colors. My headphones were in my ears and connected to the phone in my pocket, but all was silent. The podcast had been paused in response to the text I had received a few minutes earlier from my friend, Brandy.
"Hey" it said, "I put a surprise for u by your front door."
I had been cleaning all morning while the kids and Brian were playing at the water park - a Move Fast And Scrub Hard cleaning that felt both refreshing and rejuvenating - but I had put the scrubber down to open the front door, and there the flowers had greeted me.
And now here they were, casting their beauty as a finishing touch to my freshly scrubbed kitchen. And it was quiet. So quiet. Even unnaturally quiet because of the silent headphones that plugged out the sounds of a living world. Quiet enough for me to hear my own thoughts and feel my own heart as I stood and admired. I re-read the handwritten note tied to the vase and when I reached the last phrase, something inside of me broke.
I thought you might need some cheer today.
Standing there alone in my kitchen the tears started to flow, and I wondered how she knew. How did she know that I would need a little extra cheer this day? This day of all days on the anniversary of Jess's birth. My heart stirred with gratitude for the gesture of a friend who cared. This one perfectly timed vase of flowers made me feel loved, and after all these moves and all the little friendships that were promising but simply never had enough time to grow, it meant something beautiful to my heart. I did need some cheer.
And I felt grateful that someone knew.
Eventually the house was clean and Brian and the kids came home from their day at the water park, so we piled into the van and made our way to the grounds of the temple. An annual tradition that has become a happy part of my life.
"Do you know why we come to the temple on Jess's birthday?" I asked my children.
"To celebrate that he is sealed to us forever," Carson and McKenzie understood. Miles was confused, however, and it provided a beautiful chance to talk to him and explain exactly what that means.
Teek was uninterested in having any sort of a quiet, spiritual conversation, so he made things a little difficult, but he was so darn cute that we forgave him pretty darn quick.
Halfway through our Taco Bell picnic on the temple lawn, a security officer hiked down the rocks behind us to inform us that, while we were welcome to sit on the lawn and enjoy the spirit of the temple grounds, we were actually not allowed to picnic. He was sorry, he said, about that. And so sorry, he said, to interrupt our family time. So we packed up the food and set it by a tree next to us.
Fifteen minutes later, the same security guard hiked back down the same hill and, after asking if he could take a family picture for us, told us the exact same thing: we were not allowed to picnic on the lawns. We explained that we had packed up our food and were not eating anymore, but we could tell that something about us being there with a bag of food and a picnic blanket made him uncomfortable. So we thanked him for the picture and then packed ourselves up to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the temple from other vantage points.
Notice McKenzie's smile above? She's rather excited about it. After these pictures, she exclaimed, "Hey mom! I learned a new way to smile that is so easy I don't even have to think about it! All I have to do is curl my top lip underneath itself... like this... and prop it up on my braces. So easy!" I looked back through the pictures on my phone and gently remarked that, while it certainly did look easy, it wasn't a very becoming look and maybe she could muster the strength every once in a while to smile normally?
This next picture is one of my new favorites. They are getting so big, and I can't even believe how much I love them. They are wise beyond their years and we have Jess to thank for much of that. They have learned from a young age what it feels like to have a tie into the heavens - and how lucky they are for that.
I do wonder, occasionally, about how our family would be different if Jess had survived, but I have no doubts that this is the way God intended for him to be in our family. And just like the flowers from Brandy brightened my kitchen with love and color, Jess colors our family with a bright and beautiful love. He is a final touch in my life that brings loose ends together, that whispers to me that I am not alone, that reminds me that I am loved. And though sometimes I ache to hold him and to know him the way I know my other kids, I see and know that the way I love him now is so extraordinarily beautiful just the way it is.
And someday when I am able to hold him and know him the way I know my other kids, I'm sure I'll not be surprised to find that he is extraordinarily beautiful. So beautiful that he changed my life - in many beautiful ways - without even taking a breath.
Just by simply existing.