She would have turned 17 this year.
I can’t imagine the length of her hair or the hue of her eyes anymore. The sound of her voice and things that would make her heart beat fast elude me, this sweet girl's mama. Would her face resemble mine or would age have morphed her into someone I never got to know?
It’s been far too long since I last held her sweet frame, but I’ve learned so much since she breathed her last. Healing. Hope. Redemption. Lessons about God’s character I may not have learned any other way, though I still would’ve chosen a different path for my life, for hers.
I remember that moment her eyes fixed on mine in absolute trust. She trusted me, I knew that, but this time was different. This time her gaze was intense, focused, and clear. Trust peered out from the depths of her soul.
But I could see the pain, as well.
It was the fall of 2004. Emma played at our neighbor’s house, jumping on their trampoline. It was her day to be home with her daddy, and her big sister was there, too. I was at work when I got the call.
Emma broke her arm.
My heart dropped. I could hear her sobbing in the background as her brave big sister offered the details.
Trampoline + big kids + little girl + too much bounce = broken arm.
I rushed to the hospital. Turned out the break required surgery and pins and strong medication. My poor girl. I stayed the night. I was present. I barely left her side. Loving her. Caring for her. Showering her with every ounce of love I had.
Weeks passed and her arm healed well. Maybe it was her youth or the strength and courage God poured into my little girl, but she quickly became accustomed to lugging that heavy cast around. It didn’t matter that it extended from the tips of her fingers up to her shoulder, she still managed to jump and play as if it wasn’t even there.
The day arrived when she would not only have her final cast removed, but the pins would be as well. I didn’t know what to expect. At this point Emma was a bit afraid of the doctor’s office. Simple x-rays brought fear to her little heart. So when we knew it was time for her to have the pins removed, I had to be there. I couldn’t stop her from experiencing the pain or prevent the feelings that swirled around her little mind, but I could comfort her and cheer her on.
Laying down on the exam bed, she spread her left arm away from her body as best she could. The drill started and her body stiffened. The sound broke my heart because I knew there was fear in her soul. I could see it in her eyes. Those precious hazel-green eyes that reflected my own.
I positioned myself so we were face to face. She fixed her beautiful eyes right on my own. As the drill sawed away the cast, I encouraged her Look at me, Emma. Keep looking here. It’ll be over soon. I held her other hand and and stroked her brow.
Oh how she stared in my eyes. How she fixed her gaze firmly on mine.
The saw finished its job and her arm was released from its bondage. She didn’t look at her arm, slightly afraid of what she might see, so she kept looking at me.
Twelve and a half years later and I can still feel the intensity of her gaze, the absolute trust that bubbled up from her soul. Her loving dependance that her mom would never leave her side.
The nurse explained that it was time to remove the pins. It might feel a little weird, a slight pulling, she explained. There might be a twinge of pain.
My sweet girl shifted her eyes from the nurse back to me . . . stronger . . . braver . . . because she knew I wouldn’t leave her. I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t no matter what. I whispered words of love over my precious daughter.
I love you, Emma.
You’re so brave.
Keep looking at me.
As I watched, I knew the moment she felt the pin move. Her bright eyes grew wider and tears welled up and began to spill.
I’m right here, Emma. You’re okay. It’ll be over soon.
If I could’ve taken that moment from her, I absolutely would have. I would have taken ever wince, every pain, every wisp of fear she felt.
But I couldn’t.
All I could do was stroke her hand, wipe her tears, smooth her hair, and tell her how much I loved her, how brave she was. All the while her eyes remained fixed on mine. I don’t remember if she ever blinked. I don’t remember if I did. Together we made it through, my sweet girl and me.
It felt like hours but the pins were removed in a matter of minutes. Once they were done and her wounds bandaged, I scooped her up in and snuggled her close. I told her how proud I was of her for enduring the pain. I told her how much I loved her.
Oh, to have her faith and rest in the trust she displayed.
That’s what she taught me that day --faith and trust when life hurts. Little did I know what lay on the horizon for us a few short months later. Little did I know the lesson God revealed to me through my little girl the day her pins were removed.
Months later, after fire destroyed our home and snatched my sweet girl’s life away, I, too, lay on a figurative doctor office’s table. The pain and sorrow, the fear and loss filled my soul. I didn’t know how I was going to survive this brokenness - the death of a child.
Sometime during those early days I found Hebrews 12:2. Found? No. God gifted this verse to me, to answer my question as I cried out in the pit of sorrow and grief.
How, Jesus? How will I survive without Emma? How will I survive this crushing weight of grief and sorrow? How? It hurts. It hurts more than anything Ive ever experienced in my life.
This is how He answered:
Fix your eyes on me, sweet one. I am the Author and Perfecter of your life, your faith, your story. Trust me. (paraphrased from Hebrews 12:2).
That verse became my anthem, my anchor, the truth that I clung to every time I felt my faith flounder and fear sweep over me.
Fix my eyes on Jesus.
There were days I did, and days I didn’t. Days I felt His presence so very near, and days I felt completely alone.
But then the memory flooded in . . . the memory of my sweet Emma’s eyes that day in the doctor’s office when she fixed her eyes on me, her mama, the one who loves her so. I was overwhelmed at the memory of her trust in me. As long as her eyes gazed at mine, she was okay. She winced and hurt, but I saw the strength grow deep within her soul.
As the memory of her trust in me flooded my soul, I, too, grew strength from Emma’s gaze and shifted my own to my loving Father through the gift of His precious Son.
I fixed my eyes on Jesus, just as Emma fixed her eyes on me. I stared deep into my Savior’s eyes and came to realize he was nearer than I had every imagined.
When I felt the blow of the Emma’s death and winced deep in my soul, He was there whispering words of love and comfort.
I’m here, sweet one. I love you. I’ll never leave you.
When I felt the crushing sorrow of life without Emma, He stroked my cheek and wiped my tears (Psalm 56:8).
When the pain felt like more than I could bear, He whispered words of encouragement.
Do not be afraid, I’m here (Deuteronomy 31:8) .
Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).
I will never leave you. (John 14:16)
You have all of me, right here with you (Psalm 139:7-12).
Fix your eyes on me.
Twelve years have passed since that day Emma’s eyes gazed into mine. Her death taught me about the grace and mercy of our compassionate Father. The kindness of God overwhelms my heart as I realize He also taught me much through Emma’s life. A precious lesson and legacy of faith and trust in the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Of my faith, and hers.
I hope you’ll return next weeks as I continue to share lessons from Emma’s life.