(written in 2017)
His voice was so tender. Even without opening my eyes I knew he saw me. Somehow, I already knew I couldn’t hide from him. Quickly I wiped the silent tears from my eyes using the sleeve of my shirt; the roughness of the fabric deepening the red already showing in my cheeks. I peeked my head from behind the old, plaid couch, not yet willing to emerge completely.
He smiled. “There’s my girl.”
Silently he beckoned me to him. But my fear took control and I froze. I knew he was my safe place in a world of chaos. But the past few months had taken its toll on my seven-year-old heart. Safe seemed to have lost its meaning. And yet, his loving eyes reached out to mine in a way that I longed to understand.
“How’s my girl?”
A blank stare was all I could offer him in return.
“That good, huh?”
He turned and walked towards the back door.
“Well, I thought I’d go for a walk. If anyone wants to join me they can.”
As I watched his tall figure cross the threshold out into the light of the summer sun and out of my sight, the fear of being alone outweighed the fear of the unknown. I leapt from behind the couch and ran out the door. Hesitating, I stopped at the top of the stoop. He walked on without checking to see if I was following. At the end of the driveway, just before he turned up the path to the woods secluding his house from the town, he paused and held out his hand to the empty space where I should have been standing. As fast as my young legs would carry me I ran to him and grabbed tightly to my grandfather’s welcoming grip.
We and I walked in silence through the trees for several minutes. The quiet of our steps settled my uneasy mind into a rhythm of love and peace I hadn’t experienced for such a long time. I longed to stay in this moment, holding tightly to the hand of my rock, my Papa.
Gently, he squeezed my hand and paused in the path.
“I need to ask you something, Baby Girl,” seriousness dripped from his tone.
Panic gripped my mind. I dreaded this moment. I had no words to answer the questions I knew were filling his mind. I knew he had recognized the gradual change in my personality over the course of the past few months. And I knew he saw the stress and panic that consumed my life now. But I could not answer any of the questions I guessed were coming.
He let go of my hand and knelt down to face me. Gently placing his hands on my shoulders, he wiped an early tear from my eye. He smiled and looked away, but not before I saw the tears begin to well up in his own eyes. Staring up to the branches above he took a breath and began a lesson that would ultimately shape the rest of my life.
“Baby Girl, where is God?”
Shocked, I studied him in search of understanding. He met my eyes with amusement on his lips. Again, he asked:
“Where is God?”
“Heaven?” My voice squeaked the only answer I could think.
He smiled. Picking up a leaf from the ground he continued, “Did God make this leaf?”
Pointing to the trees above our heads, “Did He make the tree it came from?”
“And the bird sitting on the tree singing its song. Who made that bird?”
My confidence returning, I replied “God.”
“And who do you think the bird is singing to right now?”
“Do you think he’s singing to God?”
“Maybe” I whispered.
Standing up he walked a few steps ahead of me and picked a flower. Handing it to me he asked, “What about this flower? Who made this flower?”
“God did, Papa.” Feeling braver I ventured more of a response, “God made everything.”
“That’s right, my girl. He did.” He lovingly stroked my head and smiled. “Why do you think He made trees, and flowers, and birds, and clouds, and even the sun and wind?”
“Um… ‘cause He thought they were pretty?”
My grandfather stifled a small chuckle before continuing.
“Maybe. But He had another reason too.”
Picking up a stick and a blade of grass, he handed them to me to add to the growing collection now resting in my tiny hand. Pointing to the pieces of nature in my grasp, Papa continued.
“God made nature to remind us that He’s with us, everywhere. He created it all to surround us with Himself: His love, His peace, His joy …. Him. It’s his signature. Like a painter signs a picture they’ve created, God signed the earth. Everything in nature is His signature. It’s Him.”
He paused so I could take in what he was saying. My eyes floated around the woods, seeing as if in a new light. I spotted the different rocks and saw their unique beauty in a new way. I heard the wind rustle the leaves of the bushes ahead and I heard them with a new joy. I took a deep breath and smelled the earthy air as if I was taking in breath from Heaven itself.
A row of ants marched past my bare feet. I pointed to them, “Even the bugs?”
This time his laugh echoed through the woods.
“Yep. Even the bugs” he continued. “Everything. All of nature is speaking to us. It is saying ‘God is here. You’re not alone. God loves you and He’s with you.’ And if you learn to listen, you can hear it.”
It was as if a door I didn’t know existed was opened within my heart and mind. And as the door was flung open, peace poured in like a flood bursting past a broken dam. The birds’ songs seemed to surround me in visible beauty. The sound of falling leaves seemed to be speaking a language I longed to know. Everything around me had a new lightness, a golden glory I had never seen before.
As I studied the world around me with new eyes, I felt his gentle gaze. I knew he was praying for me, as he often did. Now, in this moment, I could almost hear his silent prayer in my soul. I met his eyes and the tears came. Unlike before, these tears were tears of release, of awe, of wonder and joy. They were tears of healing rather than tears of fear and pain. And they were refreshing my dry and dusty heart.
He wrapped his large arms around my body and scooped me up to his chest. Gently he whispered, “God is always with you, Baby. He sees. He knows. And He will never leave you. Always remember this, my girl. Always!”
Gently, softly, the drops of a summer storm began to fall on the canopy above our heads, as if in response to my tears. But the drops barely touched me for I was shielded by my grandfather’s love. In one moment of time God reached down to His broken, burdened, tiny little daughter and surrounded her with wisdom, strength, and unending love.