I sat in my parents’ den—in my mama’s old chair—watching my dad wrestling with my almost-two-year-old twins. He would playfully toss one away from him, and then the other would come around and attack him from behind, giggling. It was impossible not to smile. But I was still confused and angry about the string of events that had brought us here. God had some explaining to do!
Less than two years earlier, against my better judgment and without my doctor’s knowledge, I’d come down to Alabama, where my parents lived, to produce and direct a show that my production company had been commissioned to perform. I was 32 weeks pregnant with the twins, but one thing I’ve learned working in the theater is that when opportunity knocks, you answer.
My husband, Paul, and I already had two other kids, one-year-old Layna and five-year-old Ethan, and they came with us. We drove straight from our home in Columbus, Ohio. All the while, I was reassuring Paul that it would just be a short visit. I’d do the gig, Mama and Daddy would have a chance to bond with their grandkids, and then we’d go home.
I was in this very spot—in the den—when my water broke. Six hours later, the twins arrived for their surprise birthday. Immediately they were whisked off to the NICU, where they stayed for the next 14 days. Paul had to get back to work, and Ethan needed to get back to school. Even after being released from the hospital, the preemies were too fragile to handle the eight-hour drive to Ohio, so I stayed at my parents’ house with them and little Layna.
It was a rough separation. I was running on empty. Up all hours to feed the newborns while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, making calls back and forth to Paul (“How was work?”) and Ethan (“How was school?”). At least my parents were able to lend a hand. Mama had been a third-grade teacher, and nobody was better with kids than she was. She never missed a chance at a teachable moment, passing along a life lesson, no matter how young you were.
Ultimately Paul and I decided to live permanently in Alabama. It seemed the best solution. There was the promise of good work for my production company, Paul would get a new job, and we’d stay with my parents for a month or two until we were able to find our own house.
I wish! Paul had to take a significant pay cut at his new job. The golden opportunity for my production company collapsed, and we didn’t have the means to buy a new house or even rent one. There we were—all six of us—stuck at my parents’ place. Where was God now?
Then Mama collapsed. She’d had heart problems, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened early one Tuesday morning. She woke up not feeling well. Daddy went out to warm up the car to take her to the hospital. He left her in the kitchen. The next thing I knew, he was calling to me. Mama was slumped over in a chair, unconscious. I called 911. The paramedics rushed in and worked on her, desperate to revive her. They thought they could hear a heartbeat, but it was just her pacemaker. She was gone.
I had to do all those things you do when a loved one dies: comfort my father, call my sister, let the church know, post something on social media, make the funeral arrangements, contact Mama’s friends, find musicians to play for the service, make sure it was a funeral that would have made Mama proud. I might have looked as if I had everything together, but inside I was a mess.
And angry. Angry at God, angry that we’d been uprooted, angry that our kids had to have a front-row seat to this tragedy. I couldn’t understand why so much of what we’d planned for our family had fallen apart: the move, the jobs, the loss. I’d often heard people quote the Bible and say, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” How was any of this working for anybody’s good?
I rehashed this for the hundredth time, sitting there in Mama’s chair and watching our toddlers play with my dad. And then all at once, I heard her say, “This is a dot, Danita.”
I flashed back to a particular afternoon in high school when I was upset—I’d been passed over for a part in a school play. I drove over to Mama’s school and found her in the classroom. I unloaded all my teenage angst. It wasn’t fair. I should have gotten the part. Why me?
“It’s just a dot, Danita,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
She pulled a sheet of paper out of her desk drawer, a worksheet with numbered dots all over it. “What is this?” she said, sounding just like the teacher she was.
“It’s dot-to-dot,” I said, wondering what she was getting at.
“What’s it a picture of?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” I couldn’t make sense of the dots. They seemed strewn all over the page in no apparent shape.
“That’s how life is,” she said. “God places things in our lives, and sometimes they seem confusing or out of order. Most of the time, we have no idea why things happen the way they do.”
“So…we’re the dots?”
“No, we’re the pencil,” my mother said, handing me one. “The pencil never knows what the dots make up—it just goes from one dot to the next. But God sees the big picture.”
I stood there and began to connect the dots. In no time at all, the lines had come together to reveal a fish. What I couldn’t see before had become clear.
Now, in my parents’ den, I reconsidered what we had been through. Maybe it did make sense. If I just connected the dots.
My water breaking here led to us being surrounded by family to help us take care of our premature twins, which convinced us to move back home, where I got to spend precious time with my mother during the last year of her life—and happened to be exactly where I was needed when she died. Dots, all of them. Everything that had seemed so random—even cruel—as it happened had come to create a larger picture, leading to this moment: my father laughing for the first time in weeks as he wrestled with his grandchildren, healing from his grief.
Right there in my mother’s chair, I stopped viewing all these events as blips of tragedy. I needed to trust God to reveal the beautiful bigger picture. All things could work together in our life for good, dot to dot.
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