web analytics

Grace

PANERA BREAD, EDEN PRAIRIE, 12:15pm ON JANUARY 27, 2013

“And how do you spell your last name?” Kay asked, her hand pausing over the check.

“B-o-u-d-r-e-a-u.”

I poked at the croutons in my French onion soup with my spoon. I could feel the tears welling up but I forced them back. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to cry. I took a sip of lemon water and tore off a piece of my baguette. I glanced over to Ted, who was sitting next to Kay with a giant smile on his face.

“If only the people in this restaurant knew what was going on here,” I thought to myself. “They wouldn’t believe it either.”

Kay neatly finished writing my name and amount, tore the check out of its book and slid it across the table to me.

All the noise in the busy restaurant seemed to fade away.

It was as if it were just me, Ted and Kay.

And the check.

Made out to me.

I could no longer stop the tears.

 

2 WEEKS EARLIER…

I barely recognized Ted when I entered the coffee shop. I had, after all, only met him two times in person. Once a couple years ago and once at a local charity concert that we had both attended. Ted waved me over and when I arrived at his table, he gave me a big hug and cheerfully announced that it was two-for-one wine night.

I realized in that moment that although I had not spent much time with Ted, I knew quite a bit about him from our online friendship. I knew that Ted’s wife had once lost a baby. I knew that he was a writer. I knew that he had recently retired and that he was a self-described “foodie and extrovert.” And I knew that he had been following my blogs for many years. Occasionally he would leave a compassionate and encouraging comment under one of my posts. The kind of comment that you remember. The kind of comment that reminds you that you are doing something of value. Something important.

I hung my laptop bag on the back of the chair, ordered two glasses of merlot and rejoined Ted at his table. We exchanged pleasantries – how is your family? How is Chris’s job? How is your writing going?

“So tell me,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “What made you want to get together all of a sudden?”

I took a long sip of wine and considered his question. I realized I didn’t really know why I had emailed him the week before to see if he wanted to get together.

“I’m not really sure,” I said slowly. “I guess…I just…I am just so grateful for the support you have given me on my blog. I know that you are a writer, like me, and I just…I don’t know, I just wanted to get together and talk about writing.” I was embarrassed at having been thrown by such a simple question.

There was a long pause. Ted took a sip of wine so I did too.

At last he spoke.

“Let me cut to the chase,” Ted said. I clenched my hand around the stem of my wine glass, suddenly very uncomfortable.

“Prinna, I think there is a reason you contacted me now.”

I leaned in, completely unsure of what was happening.

Ted continued. “My family has recently come into a very large sum of money. As part of our faith, we have decided to tithe away 10%. Now are you ready for this?”

I tightened my grip on my wine glass.

“I want you to give me a reason to give some of it to you.”

My face felt hot. I’m sure my jaw dropped, my eyebrows furled.

“Excuse…me?” I said quietly, as if he had just told me a secret.

“I know!” he said excitedly. “This is just as incredible for me as it is for you!!”

I still wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly.

“Excuse me,” I said again. “What exactly are you saying?”

Ted stretched his arms into the air and took a deep breath. He was smiling from ear to ear.

“Prinna. My family has recently received a very large sum of money. It’s a long story. But we are giving away 10% of it. We want to give some to you.”

Yes, I had heard him correctly. But I couldn’t entirely process what he was saying. I spent the next 15 minutes or so babbling, probably incoherently, about how people don’t do this kind of thing. About how this was crazy. About how I didn’t know what to say.

Ultimately, I asked Ted if I could write to him in response to his offer. He said of course.

I went home that night and told Chris what had happened.

“I’ve heard of people tithing like that,” he had said. “But nothing like this. No…nothing crazy like this.”

It took me a couple of days to process Ted’s offer.  Finally, I knew I was ready to write to him. And I decided to tell him this story:

 

Dear Ted,

I’d like to tell you a short story. It’s short because the experience only lasted about 30 seconds. But it’s these 30 seconds that have kept me going for the past five years; through the dark hours of grieving for my daughter, Sophia. Through the loss of our home and several of my husband’s jobs. It’s 30 seconds of my life that I will never forget. When we met last night, you asked me, as many others have, what has kept me going these past five years. I didn’t want to get into the whole story then, but the truth is, I know the answer: 30 seconds.

The story begins as I sit in my car on Hwy 494 in Bloomington – just by the Hwy 100 exit. It was heavy enough traffic that I had come to a complete stop. Accepting that my fate was to spend at least the next half hour on this stretch of road, I turned on the radio to one of my favorite talk shows. I tuned in just as they were welcoming their next guest, Kate Hopper. Over the next several minutes, Kate spoke about a series of classes that she was teaching called Mother Words. She talked about the importance of mothers’ stories and the strength that can be found in writing these stories.

I could tell you that I cried as I listened to Kate. But really, I wept. I wept because my daughter had died just a few months earlier. I had been an avid writer prior to her death but hadn’t been able to write much of anything since.

I put my head on the steering wheel for about 30 seconds. And in that 30 seconds I prayed. For the first time in a long long time, I prayed to God. And I asked him to give me the strength to tell my mother story. To give me the resources I would need to make a difference with my story. To give meaning to my daughter’s short life by allowing me to write about it and share it with whomever wanted to hear it.

I believe that our meeting last night is a direct result of this prayer. Because the fact is, I could use your help more than you know. Kate Hopper, the teacher who I heard on the radio that day, has invited me to a writing conference that she is putting on in Madeline Island School of the Arts in Wisconsin this June. I was devastated at having to tell her I would not be able to attend because we just couldn’t financially swing it. I asked Chris just last week if anything had changed and he told me no, we just couldn’t afford it.

You asked me to think about how I might put your tithing to good use. I think this conference would be my choice. It would enable me to study with one of the writing teachers who I most respect. It would allow me to move closer to completing my manuscript, which I have been working on for several years now. And most importantly, it would be the resource that I need to do what I set out to do five years ago – tell my story of what it was and is like to be Sophia’s mother.

Of course, I don’t know if this is what you had in mind but it’s what immediately came to me when you told me of your unique circumstance. There are surely others you know who could make use of such a donation. I would understand completely if you made the decision to give it elsewhere. Just knowing that there are people like you out there is all the hope I need to keep going on my path. But if you do find that this Kate Hopper conference would fit your idea of how the money could be utilized, I would welcome and appreciate it more than you could ever know.

Warmly, Prinna

 

And then I waited. I can’t say patiently. After a few days, I received the below message from Ted.

“Your prayer will be answered. You responded in faith to a whisper from God … and God whispered back … through me and my wife. Kay and I are working out the details and trying to come up with a time for us all to get together and celebrate the awe that comes with having our eyes opened to the string of events which landed us where we are … and … where we all are headed from here.”

 

This is a true story. This get-together happened today. I am going to Madeline Island in June thanks to these wonderful people. I am one step closer to telling my story.

Cozier

“Mom. If I stay in this spot, it will get cozier,” she whispers into my ear.

Her curly light brown hair rubs against my cheek as we sit, embracing, on the green sectional. Our “morning hug” ritual. As she speaks, I smell a wisp of her sour morning breath. I notice she is wearing the sweater from yesterday underneath her pajama top, its bulky collar bulging out, surely making things quite uncomfortable. But she doesn’t appear to mind. She is happy and light and hopeful for another day spent with….me.

This is my sweet Eve.

It’s 6am and I’ve been up for an hour, writing. She’s likely been up for that same hour, maybe more, playing in bed with her Polly Pockets and singing to herself. And, like it does every morning, some strange internal clock tells her to come upstairs at 6am to watch My Little Pony in our room.

Eve is what you would call my “rainbow baby.” The baby I had after the loss of my second daughter, Sophia. And, like a rainbow, she is something beautiful and full of light that appeared in the midst of darkness and clouds. She turned four this past October. We had a Mexican fiesta and I made a six-layer rainbow cake. I didn’t even make the connection until just now.  One day she’ll understand. She’ll understand that there was once another child who drank from her sippy cups. Another child who had curls covering her head. Another child who we loved and dreamed through. She’ll understand that she is here because we chose life over grief.

My 7-year-old daughter, Annabelle, would argue that it’s all because of her curly hair that people notice Eve. And it’s true…her hair is a work of art; like spun gold. Strangers will come over and run their fingers through it. My mom says that, like my hair as a child, her curls are so tight you could hide little toys in them.

Eve likes “hot pink strawberry milk,” puts eye shadow on her eyebrows, and will tell you her sister Annabelle doesn’t like her very much. She has a half-inch gap between her front teeth and an outie belly button that you can sometimes see through her shirt. She plays with anything that is “mini sized” and has been called a “leader” in her preschool class. She sings along loudly to the vacation bible school CD in the car and prefers orange to any other color. She is quirky and funny. “Fascinating to watch” as my grandmother would say.

The other morning as I was trying to get three kids ready for school, I thought about the pure joy and relief that would come when they all boarded the same school bus and went to school for an entire day. I would have entire days to accomplish things again. Entire days to organize and work and be productive in a way that I haven’t known for many years. I want time to speed up so badly. But then a shred of sadness creeps in and I realize that I also want it to stand still. So I get to keep these morning hugs and baby curls. I want to stay in this place with my children for as long as possible.

But no matter where time stands, Eve will be that shining ray of light that appeared out of darkness and clouds.

Yes, my sweet Eve. You are right. If I stay in this spot, it will get cozier.