“You are good, and the source of good; train me in your goodness” (Psalm 119:68–The Message).

I took a walk with Lila Grace and Emory Wren today. We imagined you held our hands.

Had you been with us, we’d have talked of flowers and birds, naming some of those we’d see along the way. (I hardly know them all.)

We stopped to admire our exploding peonies–bent to inhale their fragrance, careful not to breathe in an ant (those pesky insects that love these blossoms, perhaps as much as me). So nice of them to bloom, and just in time for your 24th birthday.

I’d have told you how I’ve loved them since I was a girl, living on a small plot of acreage in rural Ohio. I’d have laughed, remembering that even those mid-western ants loved peonies, how my dad would dust them in his attempt to drive the pests away.

I’d have told you, too, how–several years ago–we tried to transplant one from our old homeplace, though, sadly, to no avail. Maybe it was these native ants attacking this Ohio-born plant. Though it put up a good fight—trying hard to take up residence in our North Carolina soil–it died.

Peonies at Wildcat Ridge Farm

“So,” I’d say, “Your daddy–the one I’ll always consider your daddy–took me to a peony farm nearby. Last year, in fact. We’d heard about it, read about it, too, in the local paper. Wildcat Ridge Farm–owned by our friends Ricardo and Suzanne Fernandez–is exploding now, I bet.”

And I’d smile, and you might wonder why I pause. “I’m remembering,” I’d explain, to ease your troubled mind. Then…

“Last year, on that day your daddy took me to Wildcat Ridge, I’d had an incident. Pulling out of our driveway to get somewhere fast (never a good idea in a driveway), I hit your younger brother’s car. (I’ll always think of Jacob as your brother!) Totaled it, in fact, though I didn’t realize the extent of the damage then. I probably said a couple cuss words, which I apologized for later. (Little ears and all!) Allie’s eyes were wide with wonder–fright, no doubt. After all, we had just hit a parked car. I got out, assessed the damage on my own vehicle, determined I could drive and, so, took off for that place I was trying to get to too fast.”

I imagine you’d squeeze my hand, probably laugh a bit. “You did that?” Then you’d urge me, “Go on.” And I would…

“Later that day, when my pace had slowed, Daddy and I took a picnic to the peony farm. Ate cheese and crackers under an old oak by the flowing Pigeon River. It was then that I could finally laugh about my earlier mishap and the anger it stirred. ‘Man, I was ticked,’ I told him. ‘I was blocked in on both sides–paid particular attention to not hit Ian’s truck, only to ram right into Jacob’s.’ I shook my head, took a bite of an apple. ‘Serves me right, rushing around so.’

“After our lunch, we strolled through rows and rows of peonies–snapped photographs of many and discussed which ones were prettiest. ‘I like that one… and that one,’ I proclaimed, pointing. I was overwhelmed by the beauty on every side. It was difficult to believe I was angry earlier that day.

“Having decided which ones we liked best, Bill said, ‘Let’s go buy them!’ ‘Really?’ I exclaimed. ‘Yes.’ And we did–bought two, in fact. And only a day or so later, we transplanted them in the garden by Stevens Creek–took care to use rich soil, then watered them in. Standing back to assess our work, I sighed. ‘Flowers have meaning. I wonder what peonies symbolize,’ and I determined to discover the answer before day’s end.”

And on that day–the day I was angry, then grateful (the peonies and all!)–I did learn their meaning. And it simply made sense.

“‘Anger’,” I told your Daddy before nightfall. “‘Peonies stand for anger’.””

Peonies at Wildcat Ridge Farm

And Devon Mara-Leigh, as we would stroll in our walk to remember, I’d tell you about another time I was angry. About another time God turned my anger into something else–yes, even before nightfall (though I was sad, sad for a very long time).

But before continuing, I’d stop again to think. Pause in this place called Selah Farm, named such for a reason. There’s purpose in its name, this property we’ve called home for two decades–this place I’ve often pictured you loving too, just as your brothers and much younger sister have loved it. (Funny. Allie may not have come to stay had you remained, which is another story entirely.)

After a moment, I’d continue…

“As you know, yesterday was your birthday, dear Devon Mara-Leigh. And twenty-four years ago, my heart soared at the dream of you–the dreams we were to dream, the dreams we, your daddy and I, desired to help make a reality for you, our daughter. But how sudden some things change. Because, on this day–May 19th–as I held you in my arms, prepared to pack up and take you home, you were swept away. In an instant–just like that!–you were gone and my arms were empty.

“I honestly don’t remember making my way to my Nissan. Don’t recall pulling out of the 3-story parking garage in downtown Columbia. Don’t recollect how I made my way to I-26. What I remember is the anger–the raging fire that threatened to consume me, the voice of the hell-bent enemy, his mocking tones that nearly made me lose my mind. ‘You’ve lost her, and with her, hope. The death of your dreams, that’s what this is.’

“And it felt as much, though, somehow, I kept my physical eyes on the road, my attention fixed on the baby back home who needed me, his momma. Ian was, after all, only several months, and his daddy–your daddy, too, at least in my heart–needed me. So I battled the snide voice of Satan, for miles, in fact, until suddenly–

“‘Am I good?'”

Excuse me, again, dear Daughter. I would likely pause here once more, remembering. And you’d squeeze my hand, no doubt, seeing the tears that would well in my eyes, wish you had a tissue. “Momma,” perhaps you’d say, and my heart would break. How I’ve always longed to hear your voice, to hear you say my name.

And then, recovered enough, I’d continue. I’d tell you how He asked this question several times, always with patience, though with growing persistence. God is a gentleman, not at all uncomfortable with silence. Still, He demanded an answer, so He waited. Finally, once more…

“Am I good?”

And I succumbed. “Yes.”

“‘Yes’ what?”

“Yes, You are good.”

“Okay then. Let’s go home.”

And we did. Slowly, over the span of miles, the hate–

…for a birthmother who couldn’t say goodbye…

…toward an attorney who didn’t do enough…

…at my body that didn’t work right…

…And my anger, too, subsided. After all, the Spirit of God handed me a weapon, though I didn’t know until later, before nightfall, that it was a literal sword.

Once home, I opened my Bible to find what my heart needed, and my eyes fell upon words that further quelled any smoldering ember of that hot emotion.

My sword of the Spirit was Psalm 119:68, and with my answer to God’s question, when I proclaimed–even in my bitterness, despite deep pain–“You are good,” those words pierced the enemy right through, sent him recoiling, right out my car and down I-26.

Indeed, those three words were my weapon.

You. Are. Good.

And He is, dear Devon Mara-Leigh–on those two days of my seething anger and always, no matter what. And even though the lesson came with pain, there’s purpose in it–to teach me more about the One who is good.

The One you know, are with right now–face to face with Jesus.

I believe that.

And as I look back, gaze down at my hand and realize again you’re not really here, I ask myself–

Would I have it any other way? If I could go back in time, make choices that might have steered us in a different direction–perhaps to places where our paths never would have crossed and thus, there’d have been no pain in losing you–the answer is a resounding no.

Because having held you for that brief moment in time has given me the gift of loving you for eternity.

And I’ve learned that God is good all the time.

And, once more, I imagine you with me, and I hear your echo, that which you know now, more than ever–

All the time, God is good.

Sweet Lila Grace, one of our Gifts from God

And I breathe in again the fragrance of the peony.

And my heart’s at peace.

  • How has God shown Himself good to you, even in pain?
  • How has He redeemed what the enemy has tried to steal?

Dear Jesus, please tell Devon Mara-Leigh we love her, we miss her, and we will see her again. Please tell her, too, that we’re at peace, grateful for how the Lord has redeemed all the broken places, giving us good and precious Gifts. Amen.