2017, asp, brave, grief, jan richardson

Little Hands

We had terrific weather last week in Breathitt County, KY. The first few days were cool in the morning and warmed up to the high 70s in the afternoon. Our work consisted of replacing the subfloor inside and putting up insulation under the house. The cool temperatures were much appreciated by everyone!

However, as the week went on the temperatures began to rise. It still wasn’t too bad – mid-80s. Comparatively, this was probably the best week of weather I’ve ever had on ASP. As the temps rose though, I looked at the creek flowing next to the house more and more. I wondered how the water would feel after a day of work. On Thursday, as we packed up our tools and crossed that bridge, I glanced down to see three of the grandchildren playing in the water. I wanted to join them!

So, Friday we made that happen. Earlier in the day we were talking with the kids and mentioned that we wanted to play in the creek with them. They were a little surprised, “Really? You’ll go in with us?” Apparently the crew they had the week before wasn’t as playful. We finished painting the bedroom walls, the living room wall was mudded and drying – our work was done for the day, so we all changed into shorts, eager to jump in the water.

Wouldn’t you know…just minutes before we headed down to the creek two of the ASP staff arrived with supplies to start working on the underpinning. “I’m sorry,” I said, “you arrived 10 minutes too late.” “What did we miss??” “Nothing. But we’re changed and ready to get in the water!” The advantage of being the group organizer on my last ASP was that I could get away with this 😉 We helped them carry the wood and rebar across the bridge so it would be ready for this week’s crew, then we went to the creek.

It was cold! But so refreshing! Casey, Kaylee and Sara got ahead of us quickly. Jeff, Madeline, Sarah and Andy took a little extra time to wade in. Jaci and I were in the middle – a spunky, sometimes shy, beautiful six-year-old girl was leading me through the creek. At times I stomped around. She let me know when there was a “tar” (tire) in our path. Eventually we made it to a small, rocky island. Next to it was a natural water slide, of sorts. If you got ahead of the current, you could lie down and it would pull you through to a hanging branch that you had to grab otherwise you’d just keep going. Jaci can’t swim well so she couldn’t go the whole length since it got deeper toward the end. She was nervous, so I kept my eye on her.

Soon the older kids decided to keep moving up the creek to the jumping rock. At this point Jaci knew she couldn’t go much farther by herself. She needed someone to hold her hand. So I did.

What is it about holding a little hand? I didn’t cry in that moment, but I felt my heart breaking again. When will it stop breaking? She was so brave – kept going out a little further, making rules for herself – “when it gets to here (pointing to her neck) I’ll stop” – and then going a little further. She wanted to be out with the big kids, but knew she wasn’t ready for that. She was perfectly happy hanging back with me doing front flips and chasing the sunlight through the trees.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in that moment thinking about what I don’t have in my life. Instead I was present – I enjoyed the moment. I laughed and swam and watched Jaci knowing we’d never share this moment together again. I didn’t want to miss any of it.

But later that night, during the Friday night share circle, I did cry. Sure, many of my tears were because of the beautiful words shared by young adults I’ve known since they were in middle school and younger. Many of the tears were about saying goodbye to people I’ve loved for the past nine years. But, some of those tears were about Jaci and the little hands I miss in my own life. I hold the little hands of my nieces and nephews and that is a miracle in itself. But…it’s not the same. It’ll never be the same as holding the little hand of my own.

Just before we left for ASP I decided it was time to purchase Jan Richardson’s most recent book of blessings – The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. I figured it was time. When I got home on Saturday, there it was waiting for me. So, each morning I read a blessing – the reason for our grief is different, but the experience of grief is much the same.

Here’s an excerpt from the one I read this morning:

I should tell you
this is all provisional,
because the point is that
from here you will
have to wake up
every day
and ask yourself
what you need.

It will change.

It will change again.

It will keep changing,
and so you will have
to keep asking
the question.
You will not always
know the answer.
You will not always
even want to ask.


I don’t know what question to ask today. I don’t know what I need just yet. But, I think that moment in the cold creek with Jaci taught me something I already knew – stay present. Be in the moment. It’s in the moment that I discover the gifts already present in my life.


2 thoughts on “Little Hands”

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, I loved reading it. This one, along with Bridges are wonderful representations of a wonderful family that has touched me and many others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Cara. I take it you were in Jackson this summer too? In my nine years of ASP, this was the most engaging, loving, friendly family I’ve worked with. Such a blessing!


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