I lean my suitcase against the wall and walk to the closet to hang my jacket and stack my shirts. A cardboard box in the top right corner catches my eye. Dropping my coat onto the floor beside my feet, I reach for the small box and pull it down. I lift the lid and look inside. On top is a framed picture of a young man in a white shirt and black ball cap, a young woman in a striped christmas sweater, and a baby, with his head resting against his mother’s shoulder. Something is wrong with the photo’s feel and I instantly decide what it is.
“Julie,” I call, “come here a minute, will you?”
I hear a muffled thump in the kitchen before picking up the sound of her feet hurrying down the hall towards me.
I slide to the floor and hold out the picture, “look at this.”
I watch as she eyes the framed photo.
“Whoa! That actually looks strange. They’re looking towards the camera but the young couple isn’t smiling at all! While the baby’s face lights up the whole shot!”
I nod and turn back to the box. Lying inside is a small brown journal. I pick it up a bit carefully. A few broken crayons roll to the far end of the box as I set it back on the floor.
Julie sits down beside me, “Oh! Whose do you think that was? Read it, Thad!”
I too am eager to know what stories the small book may hold and I flip open the cover. The handwriting is uneven, slanting hard to the right -- a lefty.
My eyes fall upon the top line and I read aloud….
-- Weston Foster
To: my son. Learn from my mistakes, and stand on my shoulders. Follow Christ every day of your life and remember that He controls absolutely everything.
I pray you will think on this story from my life, that I have written for you.
One memory stands out to me from my first year of marriage, more than all the rest; Mia was painting. Her flat box of brushes, paints, crayons and colored pencils lay quietly -- inviting.
I watched as the white paper transformed under her fingers into a landscape by the sea. Small white gulls seemed to soar on the breeze that was only a painting. I wanted to touch it, but she warned me with a laugh to let it dry first.
I fingered the artist’s utensils that lay beside her as she worked and picked up a thin blue crayon from the box. I flipped it over and over, toying with it as I watched, and before I knew it, my thick carpenter hands had snapped it down the middle. Mia heard the sound and her head shot towards me, eyes wide.
“Whoa, sorry about that Mia!” I exclaimed, quickly setting the crayon down. “It’s totally useless now!”
She looked at me with mock hurt then grinned, flipping her notebook to a page near the beginning. “Look Wes,” she pointed, “sometimes, I as the artist, will break crayons on purpose if they are too dull and thick to color a small section of the picture. See these leaves? I could never have colored them with a new crayon.”
I was fascinated.
“It’s not useless at all, I’ll save it just like the rest of them and use it for something breathtaking. Maybe I’ll even call it….Weston’s blunder….transformed!” she teased dramatically before tipping back her head and laughing.
In only three years, our lives would be forever changed.
For me it all started with a scream. Not a scream of delight or surprise. No. It was a scream of the worst terror and anguish. The kind that only a splintering heart can utter. The kind that comes from a spot so deep inside of your soul, you didn’t even know such a place existed. The kind that that can terrorize any loved one that might suffer to hear it. It nearly paralyzed me. Before the high pitched cry had echoed away through the trees, I had dropped my axe onto the snow splattered ground and raced like a mad-man down the hill towards the train track. The scream was from Mia.
My arms and face were whipped by the long branches as I tore by them. I could see at the bottom of the hill, the huge black train that rattled by our mountain once a day. My heart sank into my shoes as my mind jumped to conclusions. Oh Mia! And Robin! I leaped over a fallen log and charged the last few yards towards the track. I could feel the wind flow that the train shot out to each side pushing against me. My eyes searched for my wife and little girl. They were nowhere in sight. My heart pounded wildly in my chest. The massive train hissed and swayed as it raced on. Smoke bellowed from it’s pipe in angry black curls.
The last three cars whizzed past me and my eyes flew to the track that had been hidden by the train. Blood spread crimson on the white carpet of snow. I hurried closer. It was Robin, my little girl. She lay broken on the wide track. Dead. Snatched from our lives in a moment.
“NO!” I screamed, “NO! God, NO!”
The wail of the train echoed off the mountainside as if trying to somehow echo me.
“NOOOOO!” Tears raced each other down my face. I gasped for breath and sank to the ground.
Through my blurred eyes, I saw a dark form to my left and my head turned in that direction. It was Mia lying senseless in the snow.
“Mia!” I leapt towards her. “Mia, Mia!” I shook her, and reaching for her wrist, searched frantically for a pulse. She stirred and her eyes flitted open, filled with panic.
“Weston,” she breathed.
I pulled her to a sitting position held onto her arms.
“Robin? My little baby! Oh Wes!” she nearly collapsed again but I pulled her into me and her very soul wept on my shoulder. Her body was shaking with sobs and I realized mine was too. We grieved together in the cold. Sharp snowflakes swirling around us.
Ripping off my coat I laid it on the ground. Bending, I picked up my limp child. She would never reach for me again.
I wrapped the coat around Robin’s small body and carefully lifted her off the tracks, cradling her in my right arm against my chest.
We buried our daughter the next day. We had no family anywhere within a reasonable traveling distance, only one neighbor and his family attended the abrupt funeral. I cut wood for a small coffin and tears welled up in my eyes as I tried to put it together. I leaned forward, resting my arms on the wood, and cried.
The train’s whistle was daily like a cannon shot to our hearts.
The storm pushed me along towards the house. I had gotten everything situated in the barn for the animals, expecting it to snow for a few days straight. Shaking the cold from my coat, I hug it up. Easing off my shoes I rubbed my hands together for warmth before grabbing a mug and filling it with water. I then headed to the living room; Mia was asleep on the couch. The house was quiet and only the fireplace and one lamp lit the small area.
I sat down quietly on the thick rug, leaning on the couch where Mia slept. I stared into the fireplace, the mug tight in my fingers. As the wind wailed outside and my mind finally got a break from life’s busyness, eventually my thoughts wandered to the days before the accident. I thought of Robin, the sparkle of joy and laughter that lit our lives for three full years. The compassion she had held at such a young age was remarkable. Her smile had looked so much like her mother’s.
Suddenly I realized how much Mia had changed. She was no longer the young butterfly she had been; tragedy had grown her more than years ever could. I wanted with all my heart for her to once again chase sunsets and think of snowflakes as worlds of wonder. I wanted her to see the so called ‘normal’ things around us as signs of hope and beauty. Just as she had taught me to do years ago. Most of all, I wanted her to paint again. Mia was an artist in the truest sense of the word, and I missed it.
“How can I awaken the artist in you?” I whispered, turning to look at her face. Her brows were drawn together on her pale forehead even in her sleep. “I love you either way, I added.” before slowly turning back to the fire. “Oh Father, bring us back to a good place. A place of blessing once again.”
As I set the mug on the end table it clanked noisily against the lamps metal base and Mia jolted wildly and cried out, “Robin! No Robin! Stop! The train, it’s too close! ROBIN!”
I hurried up to my knees and reached for Mia. She flung her arms out wildly and grabbed desperately at the air. I took her hand and with nearly inhuman strength she clutched it and twisted my smallest finger backwards. I heard the snap and felt it break.
Repressing a yell I sat beside Mia. She was shaking and sobbing. I pulled her close and whispered, “shhh, Mia, it’s gonna be ok.”
She buried her face in my shoulder and cried.
The next day as I was making breakfast with Mia, she jumped.
“Weston, what happened to your finger?!” she looked worried, eyeing the makeshift splint I had bandaged it in.
I coughed loudly, thinking fast. “So you remember that one cow that wasn’t quite the most gentle creature ever?”
“Wes! That’s horrible! Should we get rid of him? What about the milk though? But oh Wes, I can’t bear to have you hurt!”
“It’s okay. He’s already a lot calmer than when we first got him. I’ll be better in no time at all.” I winked at her and her brow lost some of its tightness.
I just couldn’t tell her; she wouldn’t be able to bear knowing she had done it.
A month later, Mia fell sick. I took care of her as best as I could while trying to balance the farm as well.
I finished milking late one night and picked up one pail in each hand. I made a mental note not to do chores so late at night, and forgot to extinguish the kerosene heater I had been using to fight against the cold while I was out there.
Pushing the house door open, I found Mia crying, doubled over in pain. I got her some water, and stayed with her for nearly three hours, completely forgetting the lantern.
Only when the angry glint of fire through the window caught my eye, did I realize my mistake and the harsh consequences it would have. By the time I rushed out there it was far too late, and the barn, the hay, and the animals, were gone. I fell to my knees, panting. “Why, God? Why?!”
Mia and I sat together on the porch steps -- dirty, spent, exhausted.
Mia spoke, “I just feel so done. The trials have come, we’ve stood firm, but now….I’m drowning. Can’t we just have a break?” She buried her face in her knees.
The question rang in my ears. What was the ‘right’ answer to that? Especially when it expressed my feelings exactly. I tried to encourage her, but it came out choppy and not how I wanted it to. “I know Mia, I know. But think of Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Try to remember, when it feels like we’re making no headway, when it feels like we’re flopping in a mud puddle, we are still on the path! By His grace, even though we are muddy, broken, and torn, we’re still on the path.”
Mia closed her eyes.
“The Christian road doesn’t always feel like the highroad of triumph, Mia, but that’s because it’s the road leading to triumph!” I wet my lips, thinking. “Of course Satan’s not going to want it to be victorious or easy but even in our failure, there is true victory because when we fail, Christ can lift us. When we are spent, He is strong.”
The sun dropped below the hills and darkness settled over the mountain.
“Look for the rainbows of promise, Mia.” I whispered. “Be still, knowing that He is a good, good Father. Even the darkest night will end with the sun rising again.”
She didn’t answer, and I didn’t know what else to say, so I was quiet.
Finding out why Mia had been so sick was the answer to a million prayers. It was like the sun breaking through black clouds. She was pregnant. We were going to have a baby boy -- a new life.
My eyes filled with tears as I held him for the first time. A new day was dawning. Mia smiled weakly as she watched me hold our son.
“Merry Christmas Mia,” I placed a flat box on her lap.
“Weston,” she asked, her eyes bright, “how did you afford--”
“Open it,” I grinned.
Folding her legs under her, she fingered the off white paper covering the box, before slowly pulling it back. I bounced my new little son, Thad, on my knee. He giggled and I kissed his wispy hair as Mia unwrapped a flat wooden box. Unclasping it she lifted the lid and her eyes fell on an art set.
Her gaze was blank for a few moments, yet, I watched hopefully. The brushes, paints, crayons, and colored pencils lay quietly -- inviting.
“Wes,” she whispered. “It’s perfect.”
Thad giggled and flung his little hand out towards his mom’s new gift. His little fist came down on the box’s corner.
Mia’s eyes popped open in remembrance. She grabbed Thad’s wrist, and lifting his fingers, revealed a yellow crayon his clumsy fingers had just snapped in two.
We stared at each other.
“Weston! That’s it! The broken crayons still color, or a nearly empty jar of paint still provides enough glow for a breathtaking sunset when it’s in the right hands,” she paused, getting more and more excited as her analogy took shape. “You know Weston, we’re broken, we’re nearly empty, but we’re in the hands of the Master Artist!
The sun will rise again, and from our lives, He will paint something….beautiful.”
And with hope flooding into her green eyes, she smiled.
Carefully fingering the last page, I realize my eyes have filled with tears.
Julie takes my hand in hers. “God is faithful through the generations, Thad. What amazing parents you had.” She hands me the broken crayon from the bottom of the box and I take it gently.
I nod my head in agreement, “We must always trust Him. For He is the only one who can bring a new day.”