Everything else blurred as the 5 of us stared at each other in the living room. All I remember are the eyes. My husband’s grieving eyes. Agonizing over the reality of sharing the devastating news of my diagnosis with the ones he lives to protect. Wide 3-year-old eyes searching mine. Begging to see that everything was going to be ok. Beautiful 8-year-old eyes bewildered. Trying to grasp the news she didn’t quite comprehend with no idea how to respond. It was the 11-year-old eyes that pierced my soul. I knew at that moment she’d be most deeply affected. She’d remember the “before” more vividly than the others. She’d bear the brunt of new responsibility. She’d be old enough to ask hard questions and to wade in inevitable doubt.
I knew she was most vulnerable to be crushed in the darkness of the valley ahead.
Three days before, completely unsuspecting of the disastrous news, we’d attended an evening service at our church. I’d been experiencing some strange symptoms following routine surgery, but I was sure a doctor would take a look, give clear directions, and set me on the path to recovery. We sat around the table at church laughing, eating together, and listening to the speaker. My mind was distracted, but I stole a sideways glance when I heard my 11-year-old daughter scratching away in her journal. Was she writing something to the friend beside her, or taking notes?
The emotion in her eyes caught me off guard.
I tuned in to see what the speaker was saying that had caught her attention. He was sharing the story behind a song we’d heard countless times. He recounted the experience of a man who tragically lost his four traveling daughters when their ship collided at sea. She was scribbling furiously about this grieving father’s unexpected behavior. In response to the devastating loss, this man sat down and penned the timeless hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”
Our eyes met in amazement. How could it be well with his soul?
Now these same eyes were staring at me in the living room. She was old enough to understand the words coming from my husband’s mouth. Chronic. Disabled. Excruciating. Spreading. Never. Always. My focus turned to the reel playing in my mind, dubbing over the previously anticipated narrative of our future. A twist of plot hanging thick with dreams that would never be.
I knew she was watching it with me.
We couldn’t sit in the living room forever. Somehow life just kept going. In an attempt at normalcy a few days later, we sent her off to an art festival in our small town with a group of friends. I pressed some cash into her hand and told her to enjoy her time. I cried when she left, fearing the impact that this shadow would cast on what I wished could be her young carefree days.
She returned with new resolution in her face.
Young hands behind her back clung to an item she had traded for her snack money. She presented the gift to me as I lie in pain on the couch. In the streets of our small town, a vendor’s booth had caught her eye. She walked away from her giggling friends, drawn to a tangible word from the One who penned each of her days before one came to be. Beyond the depth of a simple a piece of art, a tangible message from the One who sees drew her attention. A simple, rugged piece of wood. A simple hand painted phrase.
“It is well with my soul.”
The days, weeks, and months to follow held some even darker moments than the first. They also held some unexpected victories. Daily, they drew our eyes to those hand painted words. We’ve squinted at these words in the shimmer of a hope that is only revealed in the valley. Together, we’ve discovered that souls can be well…when all is not well. Our dependence has shifted. Emotions are still fragile, but our hearts are resolved. Some of our dreams may never be. The doubts and the darkness can not crush us.
A settled assurance is shining in our eyes. It is well.