Here’s the thing about lilies: they can often be vibrant. They stretch and face outward. They’re beautiful flowers that make people appreciate the small stuff. Some of them almost seem unimaginable because of the glorious color and life they reveal. Even when they die, they live. They are referred to as “stargazers” because they appear to be looking up: up at their Creator and the sky, both of which help them throughout the span of time with grace, rain, and shine. Rain is necessary sometimes, along with the sun. They both help lilies sprout to what they are meant to be on earth. And that grace? That grace is what lilies count on when they are picked out of the bunch: hand chosen by God to bring happiness to others, even if it’s only for a little while before He needs them. I had a lot going for me. I had a life I enjoyed. I had a lovely lily of a daughter and a caring wife who was right there by my side to raise her to full beauty. It almost seemed too good to be true; maybe because it was. I’ve already seen my fair share of flowers here on earth. I’ve watched them come and go. I thought that was over. I thought I finally had a garden that God would leave be. I was happy with this garden. The soil was good. The drainage was right. I had done everything necessary to get over the flowers that had left, and focus instead on the ones in front of me. I watched my lily as she was the happiest I had seen her. She was healthy. She was lively. She was bold. I was proud because she was mine. I remember rocking on a chair next to my wife’s the day my garden changed. My daughter was running around and frolicking with the family dog. Her smile was one I’ll never forget. It even plays in my head in slow motion from time to time. The weather that day could not have been better. It was sunny with a light breeze and seventy-two degrees. Perfect! The oak tree sat in the middle of the yard, large and convenient for shade. My wife was sipping southern sweet tea, which to me mixed better with lemonade and a splash of water. She twisted a couple of fruits in the drink, so I guess that counted for something. Still, it was far too much sugar for my taste. I eyed the deck and determined that it was in need of a paint job. “Maybe on another day,” I thought. I just wanted to kick back. I was ecstatic with where my life was headed. I had already braced for the worst to happen as it had in the past, but I had lost those thoughts. It seemed as though God was going to let me have this moment this time. I prayed daily, hourly even, to a Savior I worshipped all week and double-time on Sundays, that it’d be like this forever.
“Throw it to Mocha, sweetie,” I yelled to my precious daughter as she held a red ball that was misshaped from Mocha’s constant chewing. “I can throw it far, Daddy,” she replied. “Show us just how far you can throw it,” her mother, Becca, encouraged her. And Gracie did. She had quite the arm for a young one, and quite the imagination. She was intrigued by everything; bored by nothing. I smiled wide as I watched Mocha sprint full speed to her toy, amused at Gracie’s laughter and spirit as she interacted with her. She’d been doing this for almost a half-hour and was still enjoying it as if she’d just started. “Come on, Mocha,” she yelled. “Bring it to me, pretty girl.” This was my life. Wow, did I love it! I turned my head to the side to gaze at my wife. She was approaching her thirty-seventh birthday, but didn’t look a day over twenty-one. She had my baseball cap sitting backwards on her head. Earlier, she had played my guitar rather terribly, cuing Gracie’s escape to the green grass, and forcing me to take it from her to play something our ears could actually enjoy. Her laugh filled my heart with joy. Her beauty made me love her so. I’d never seen a mother cherish their child so much, not even mine with me, and that’s saying a lot. What felt great was that she loved me just as much as she did Gracie. The three of us had it all. “Drop it, girl,” Gracie insisted as Mocha shook her head from side to side, wanting to play tug with her. “Daddy, she won’t drop it,” she sadly said to me, triggering me to hop out of my chair. I placed the guitar against the porch and walked over immediately. I was never hesitant to come to my daughter’s rescue. “Now, honey. Here’s how you do it: when you tell her to drop it, you can’t say it so politely. You have to break pups of bad habits early. Watch this.” I slowly wrapped my fingers around the ball sunk into Mocha’s teeth and waited for the right time to give the call. “Drop it,” I demanded, pointing to the ground simultaneously. Mocha didn’t give in. She ran, ball in mouth, to the other side of the yard, propped down next to her toys, and gnawed at the object incessantly: her tail wagging victoriously. “Way to show her, Pops,” Gracie said, unimpressed. “Now I really know how to teach her a thing or two.” I loved the way she joked with me. She was witty, smart, funny, and charismatic. She was a mini-me. Those aren’t my words. They were everybody’s. She was as precious as precious can be. “You ‘bout hungry, Gracie?” I asked her. “I’m almost done with those St. Louis ribs you love so much.” “Oh my God,” she yelled out loudly. “Dad, you know those are my favorite. Of course I’m hungry. I could be hungry even if I just ate for some St. Louis ribs.” “Good,” I responded. “Then why don’t you go wash your hands and set the table with your mother while I put on the finishing touches?” “You can wash your hands, too, mister” Becca suggested in the distance. I gave her a look of question and started to come back with something sly before she beat me to the punch…. “What?” she said. “You think you’re touching our food with those grubby hands you just had on Mocha’s ball?” I couldn’t be mad. After all, she was right. “Alright, alright. You win,” I conceded. “I’m coming.” Gracie remained as she whistled to Mocha. She became irritated trying to call her in without success. “Mocha, girl,” she said. “You love the bones from ribs. Now you better get over here or else they’re just going to go in the trash.” Still, Mocha sat there and played, ignoring the words of my princess. “Maybe next time,” I mentioned while looking back at her, keeping my pace in stride. “Yeah, maybe next time,” she agreed and shrugged. I turned back towards the house and was a few steps away from my wife when she had this look: one of worry and one I’d never seen before. Confused, I stared at her blankly as she ran hurriedly right past me. “Gracie!” she screamed deafeningly. I turned after she passed and echoed the same…. “Gracie!”
“What’s going on? Keep me updated,” I asked and requested in a panic. My wife was frantic and I could barely understand her crying voice. “She has a pulse, Cole, but that’s about it,” she replied before she talked directly to Gracie. “Come on, sweetie,” she pleaded. “Come on, Gracie.” But Gracie just laid there on Becca’s lap in the backseat looking lifeless. I’ll never forget what I was thinking in that moment. I was wrapping my head around the fact that just minutes before, Becca was encouraging Gracie simply to throw a ball far for our dog to fetch. Now, she was begging her to wake up and stay with us. Other than that, my mind was blank at the time. I felt like my body was in cruise control. The shock I was experiencing caused me to hover over myself metaphorically and root myself on to get my daughter to the hospital quickly. I didn’t know what was wrong with her, but I knew it wasn’t good. She didn’t have a history of collapsing in that manner. “Anything new?” I questioned a tad bit later. “Keep checking for her pulse.” “I have been,” Becca answered. “It is still there. Just please hurry, babe.” “I’m trying, hun.” Normally, her comment to tell me to hurry would have bothered me a little. Obviously I was going as fast as I could. But Becca was just scared. I understood that. I was, too, and I couldn’t react negatively when I glanced in the rearview mirror at her pressing tissues against Gracie’s nostrils to cease the bleeding. I could see the terror in Becca. She had never lost anyone she didn’t expect to lose. Noticing this, I prayed internally. The light about fifty yards ahead of me turned from yellow to red. I didn’t have time to stop. I checked both sides of the intersection and noticed a driver to my left approaching aggressively, likely anticipating the light to turn green and not wishing to hit the brakes if he didn’t have to. As a result, I pushed the gas pedal harder and swerved to my right. It wasn’t really that close of a call, but I was honked at anyway. “Oh well,” I thought. “My daughter needs help.” “Where are you going?” Becca inquired, showing doubt in my directional skills after I passed the turn people typically took. “It’s a shortcut,” I responded. “Are you sure, Cole? We don’t have time to play around with guesses.” Again, her comment would have upset me under normal circumstances, but I kept my cool in knowing how she felt at the time. “I’m sure, dear.” Shortly after, we pulled into the entrance and I stopped sharply without shame. “Help her get out,” I directed. “I’m going inside to find someone.” I ran speedily into the hospital and immediately noticed how busy it was, but I didn’t care. There were probably a lot of people there who thought they’d be seen next, but a broken arm was not near as important as a broken heart if I had to watch my baby perish. “We need a doctor promptly,” I said to the receptionist as I slammed my palms down to the counter instinctively.” She was calm….too calm. “Okay, sir,” she said nonchalantly. “What’s the matter?” I turned around to see my wife carrying my daughter in and expecting to hand her off to a lifesaver without postponement. I pointed to Becca and Gracie and my voice became sterner. “My daughter is unconscious,” I replied. “She has a pulse, but she needs help fast. We don’t know what is wrong with her.” The staff did a good job that day. Becca and I were happy with their care and rapidity after that initial, casual response. We thanked them when we calmed down, and we later apologized for how rude we may have come across with our arrival. Once they’d taken her back, all we could do was wait. We grabbed a seat and we didn’t say much. We just let our brains make up for lost ground with our bodies.
We sat there for an hour, yet it felt more like our entire eleven years of parenthood. My daughter just passed out and fell to the ground. She was bleeding and pale and her breath was short. I had never seen anything like it before. One moment she’s playing endlessly with Mocha, and the next, she’s in a room full of machines I probably wouldn’t even be able to turn on. Becca sat next to me with a tendency I usually got scolded at for. As she bit her nails in nervousness, I did my best to play the part of a collective husband, wrapping my arm tightly around her and assuring her that it would all be okay. “She was probably just dehydrated or something,” I’d guessed. I had made up something to that degree if I recall. The truth was, I was every bit as concerned as Becca as she rocked in distress beside me, but I couldn’t show it. Every husband and dad knows that, like it or not, it is their job to be the rock of the family. When things go south, the man is the one everyone looks up to. When Becca glanced at me for comfort, I acted as best I could and pretended it’d all be fine. I knew this feeling, though, of my gut telling me that my clouds were gray again and my past telling me that happy gardens weren’t welcomed here. No, it would not be fine. I knew that. I just did my best to reject it at the time. Hospitals had always been uncomfortable to me. The air just never felt right. It is too musty, or is that just me? I undid one button of my collared shirt, cleared my throat, and remained speechless from that point on. When I finally saw Gracie’s doctor at the ER walking our way, I stood up along with my wife and she gripped my sleeve awaiting the word. She was hopeful it’d be something small. I was convinced it was much more than that. I was only right about things when I didn’t want to be. Here’s the thing about lilies: If they catch God’s eyes, He’ll pick them. It’s a compliment and a curse all the same. For whatever reason, my garden of lilies seemed to get His attention a lot, much to my dismay. He had interest in them. That was certain. I’m working on a new one now while I remember my last.