For Bobbie, 1959-2020

I never wanted you to be a part of our lives. It was nothing personal. It’s just that no parent wants her child to need a counselor. Especially one court-appointed by a judge. Maybe the real truth is that no parent wants her child to be involved in a situation that involves a court and a judge, but the feeling was what it was. It did not matter how highly our lawyers spoke of you, and it did not matter how stellar your reputation was—that April afternoon when we drove from the courthouse to our daughter’s school and then back to your office was one of the worst of my life.

It was also one of the best.

Our case was in year six by the time we met you. We had been praying for rescue since day one, but lately I’d been getting the feeling God was preparing to make a play. I couldn’t explain it, but I couldn’t shake the idea that something was about to happen. Now I know it wasn’t something, but someone.

The first time I sat on your couch, surrounded by toys and stuffed animals and kid-made art, with fluffy Kirby curled up at my feet, you looked me in the eye and said you believed without a doubt that everyone who walked through your door was sent there by God for a specific purpose. It is not an exaggeration to say your words took my breath away. My breath literally caught in my chest. When I place myself back in that moment, it feels drenched in light. I see myself surrounded by something otherworldly. I’d had prayers answered before, but I had never watched an actual response from God manifest before my eyes. But there you were, your blue eyes narrowed, your kind face filled with a concerned determination I was desperate for. I knew you would lead us to safety. You had one hand on our daughter, and the other was tucked neatly into the hand of God.

It snowed the day we met you. It was April 2. Huge cottony snowflakes, the kind you can hear making contact with the earth. Snowfall is like a sedative for me, an instant source of calm, so those freak April flakes felt divine, like some sort of message. This would become a pattern on the days we visited you: signs, everywhere. You had a way of looking past the ordinary dimensions of physical space and time, of reaching past the room where we sat, at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, and plucking meaning from places beyond the typical realm of thought. You spoke often of dreams as a dialogue with God or long-dead loved ones, of holy light making its way in through the cracks of our lives, of animal messengers appearing as signs of things to come or reminders of where we should focus our energy. Rabbits in the yard, which you talked to and fed every day. Birds at the feeder, dream encounters, bubbles of light carrying away pain and shame—I think of these now, and I can hear the sound of snow landing softly on the spring grass.

And so it went, week after week. You led us to a place of calm, and then you asked the hard questions, opened doors we kept locked tight, gently pried loose the grip we had on our darkest fears. You walked us through years of turmoil, which you sorted into neat stacks and piles, and helped us find what was real and true. That truth is literally what set us free, and it was your voice, speaking for us, that put the fatal crack in the wall between us and freedom.

The last words I said to you were “thank you.” For what, I did not say. The list is long, and I was sure there would always be time to say more—to thank you for the very specific things you did for my family, for my daughter. But time has a way of folding in on itself sometimes, dragging along while also speeding by, warped and blurry. The card we picked out to send you sat on our kitchen counter for months. It sits there now, blank, unaddressed. “Meeting you was a game changer,” the front of it reads. When I heard you were gone, that card nearly came alive, pulsing with the force of my guilt. I could hardly bear to think about it, bright and cheerful, a picture tucked inside of my smiling family huddled in a giant teacup at the Magic Kingdom’s Mad Tea Party, a snapshot of the joy you helped restore to our lives. I was overwhelmed by my regret.

But I began to think of our talks, of dreams and rabbits and signs. And then something happened, something between memory and miracle, to remind me that you liked the cracks between ordinary time and space, and that perhaps you already knew the extent of my gratitude.

On the Sunday after you died, my pastor read a passage from Exodus 14 during his sermon. I have heard the story of Moses leading the Israelites through the raging Red Sea a thousand times. Every child who grows up attending Sunday School is familiar with the raising of the staff, the frightened children of Israel running into the safe path Moses commanded into existence with nothing but his faith in God’s power. But until that Sunday morning, I don’t think I’d ever read the text that chronicles that storied moment.

In January of 2018, we began a full trial in court. We were convinced it was the beginning of the end of our nightmare. It was not. But on the ride to the courthouse that first morning, I had what can only be described as a vision. I’m no religious zealot, but sitting in the passenger seat of my husband’s car, wide awake and staring out the window, I saw in my mind, plain as day, an ocean split in half with a dry path down the center, with Jesus himself standing in the center, leaning down to lift my family into his arms as our enemy was pushed back to shore by the rapidly collapsing walls of water.

The calm I felt was unearthly. Even when the judge delivered her verdict against us, meaning another trial and who knows how many more years lay ahead, I kept seeing those parted waters. I kept seeing Jesus holding us in his arms like little children. As I have already said, I could not shake the feeling that God already had something in place. We just had to wait a little longer. Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today, Moses had told his people. Just stand still.

The book of Exodus says God himself was traveling with Moses and the Israelites as they fled Egypt. Each day he guided them forward with a pillar of smoke, and each night he lit their path with a pillar of fire. But on the morning they were to cross the Red Sea, the text refers not to God, but to “the angel of God.” The angel took the pillar of smoke and fire, and moved to the back of the line, placing herself between the children of Israel and the Egyptians. Exodus does not call the angel a she, but in my story, there’s no doubt that the figure who stood between the innocent and the enemy was a calm, powerful woman, her wise blue eyes narrowed, a peaceful smile on her face, with a fluffy black dog by her side.

By the time we reached those parted waters, I was so desperate for the story to end. I was tired and angry. Why is this still happening? Why are we still stuck in this wilderness? The whining, protesting children of Israel had nothing on me. But I had somehow known all along that the resolution was in the waiting. Until we met you, I just hadn’t known what we were waiting for. You knew, though. Peace. Clarity. Years of shame and deception and manipulation washed away, leaving only what was real and right—the truth. We’d been speaking it all along, but we had needed an angel to stand between us and the enemy and deliver it. The writer Anne Lamott says there are only three basic prayers, and they are “help,” “thanks,” and “wow.” We cry for help, we fall on our knees in gratitude, we stand amazed. You were the answer to all three, and I think you knew it. You knew it the minute we walked through your door on that snowy April day.

Generations after Moses delivered the Israelites from Egypt, another prophet, Samuel, placed a stone on a mountain as a reminder of the help God had provided his people thus far in their battle. Samuel didn’t want his people to forget the help they had been given when the going got tough again. Ebenezer, it was called. Stone of help. Remember. “Here I raise my ebenezer,” the old hymn goes. Remember what he has done so far. I’ve learned that there are ebenezers everywhere—reminders, markers of help that has already been given, promises that help will always come. You’ve left us, and your absence is a vast empty space for so many. But you’ve also left us so much—the stones of help you laid for us, for me and for countless other families, pave a pathway straight to God’s arms. For what you meant to our family, for the help you gave us, for every reminder you left us; for every spring rabbit, every tiny bird at the feeder; for falling snow, for dreams, for truth and light—for every ebenezer you raised on this mountain: thanks, and wow.

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