It was March 2007. Our lovely daughter, teacher extraordinaire, faithful friend Leslie was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer, at the age of 31. We were completely broken at hearing the news, something a parent never wants to hear: cancer. No matter their ages our children are still ours—flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. I ached beyond measure for her and what might lie ahead.
Two days after her diagnosis, my husband and I went to the Natchez Trace to hike the trails. Truthfully, we were trying to escape the four walls that were rapidly closing in on us, to find release from the suffocating pain.
How I remember that day.
It was cloudy and gray–one of those late winter days that make your heart and soul yearn for spring and the promise of new life. Our hearts were yearning for comfort, hope, and peace amid the grim diagnosis.
We walked along a path, up and down a few challenging hills, tip-toed across a few small streams, each step with a heavy burden, barely glancing up at the barren trees. The brown and dusty dry earth had no sign of life, the gray skies hiding the sun. The wind was bitter and the cold followed us all the way up the last long steep hill.
At the top, in the midst of the overwhelming dread, sadness, and pain depicted by this gray hopeless day, we unexpectedly came upon an exquisite field of hundreds of daffodils in full bloom—glorious green and brilliant yellow boldly clashing with the experience and colors of the day, even in the cold of winter!
I will never forget it; that splendorous sight spoke to me of God’s deep and abiding love and His promises. Even in the overwhelming pains of life. It reminded me that Spring would come again, new life would break forth from the earth with God’s good rains and sunshine, and Leslie was part of this magnificent creation. As we all are. She would be held by God’s healing love. I could only bask in the wonder of it all, awed in humility in this sacred space. This garden of grandeur was planted many, many years ago on this hilltop field by some who would never know what the glimpse of glory and life meant to me.
As we walked back down the hills, we chanced upon little pockets of daffodils along both sides of the path. Some almost hidden in the brush, but blooming just the same. We hadn’t been able to see the flowers on the way up because we could only see the gray. Now God revealed this to us in a soul-changing fashion. He showed us that the presence of the holy is always with us—sometimes hidden.
Sometimes we simply have to open our eyes.
On February 18, 2009, after a valiant, two-year battle, our Leslie passed from this life to the next. She was 33 years old. We were all mired in the deepest valley of unending grief, looking for hope anywhere we could find it. But we couldn’t see even the light of day.
A few days after her memorial service, I was sitting on our porch mid-day. I listened to a robin singing its glorious tune, feeling the unexpected warmth in February. I watched the birds who hung around for the winter as they delighted in discovering my birdbath on the patio, enjoying a gentle breeze. And still, my heart was beyond broken.
Why did the birds sing? There was nothing good to sing about, no melody that could lighten my pain. And then it rained, poured in fact, an image of God’s tears mingling with mine.
The next morning, my husband, Leslie’s twin brother, and I went back to the Natchez Trace. We crossed the same streams, trudged up and down the hills, slogged through the mud. We glanced at the overcast skies and bare trees of winter. It was much earlier in the season than when we visited there two years ago.
I didn’t expect to see new life; I just wanted to visit the place where God visited me.
I almost didn’t believe it, but the daffodils were in full bloom. They were early this year even after the cold winter. Beautiful, brilliant yellow and green amid gray and brown and bare.
That space is holy ground to me.
My heart was still beyond heavy. My soul was weary. My tears overflowed. And yet, God visited me once again that day, reminding me of the promise and renewal of spring. I realized that our lovely daughter was now well. Healed, happy, whole. She was enjoying a field of brilliant spring daffodils.
That’s how I still picture her today.
My mantra while Leslie endured this journey, was “God is good. Cancer Stinks. God is with us.” This is even more true today as we continue to grieve, shed our tears, and miss her beyond measure.
And we still give witness to God’s presence with us, even in an unexpected daffodil on a winter day.
Kaye Harvey is a retired elder in the United Methodist Church, having served as pastor in churches in Marshall County, Brentwood, and Nashville, Tennessee. She is a wife/mother/grandmother/aunt/confidant/neighbor/friend. Although she is retired, she is still a pastor at heart, continuing to preach and teach on occasion.