Remembering Kiley Elisabeth
Our toes are nestled deep in sand. We point our faces to the sun, daring it to warm not just our bodies, but our souls as well. We talk about the latest chick flick, The Family Stone. Sweat invading, we run off to the waves, the sun taking us up on our dare. We look for all of God’s tiny and perfect creations and then talk about how we can’t wait to stuff our faces with steamed shrimp and key lime pie.
The beach was always a safe haven for us.
Eight years into this, and Kiley is still wrapped in burial clothes. Layer by layer, I so badly want to remove each sorrowful piece of clothing until only the memory of her twenty four years of living remains. It is hard not to be marked forever by the word suicide, and I want to undo that, even if it is only in my own mind.
When I think of her, my thoughts still go to the day we lost her and the days that followed. That’s the imprint that suicide leaves. It not only robs your loved one, but also every single happy memory made until that moment. It seems that Satan stole more than just her life on that tragic day in February.
As Jon Bloom says, “Her life was undone in a moment by her own doing” that day. The rest of us have been left in the aftershocks of the great quake. Even after eight years, the tremors still rock us to our core, always unexpected and always unwelcome. The seism of our hearts surfaces no matter how much time passes; the repercussions are now a part of our identity.
The sorrow reminds me of the heart condition called regurgitation where the heart works extra hard because the blood flows backwards. My mind can’t ever seem to gain ground because I’m always being drowned in the backflow of ache. Trying to pull up the happy times becomes even more difficult as my memory seems to have died a quick death.
But, today, I choose to remember the lovely, vivacious young lady that God dreamed up.
These are just snippets, the memories that still rise to the surface like sweet cream in a sea of dying brain cells.
What comes to mind first is the day she asked Jesus to be her Redeemer. It is a precious memory, and one that has brought me comfort these past eight years. I have full confidence that she resides with Jesus now, because of this day and the fruit that she bore in the years afterwards. It seems fitting after eight years of hard memories that her redemption story would be first. God’s grace on her was sufficient to wash her clean, even on February 13, 2008.
I was about thirteen when she was born again. My family was not the “big church” type, but we occasionally found ourselves at Springdale First Baptist Church, a gigantic place for our country hearts. The pastor was gifted at dishing out spiritual food, and sometimes, we were just plain hungry.
We always sat in the balcony, partly because we didn’t want to be noticed and partly because it took a whole wooden pew to seat our family. At the altar call, with Just as I Am in the background, Mom and Dad suddenly ushered us out of the pew and down the huge staircase. I remember specifically praying that I would not trip on all those stairs. Dad didn’t call me Lulu for nothing. We smiled (and I trembled) in front of hundreds as they led us into a smaller room.
Someone talked with Kiley and prayed with her and then with our family. In hindsight, according to Mom, while in the pew, Kiley tugged on her sleeve and said, “I need to go down there.”
This unabashed and indiscreet way that Kiley begged for her heart to be washed in Christ’s blood was a reflection of the bold character God graced her with. Her character was always stretching the rest of us and calling us to a life laced with freedom and abundance.
Even at the tender age of seven or so, she was not afraid like I was. When she saw an opportunity, she grabbed it, even if it would stretch the faith and nerves of those around her. I think my parents may have preferred that her “call” come in our smaller church or at home, but God knew that Kiley would always have a flair for the dramatic. Bigger was always better with her.
During our cow showing days, Kiley’s fearlessness continued to shine.
This was clearly shown the day she tied her big fat heifer, Coal Dream, to the rod iron fence. We had to bathe our show cattle regularly, mainly to try and grow their hair and teach it how to lie correctly. Kiley drenched one side of Coal Dream with the hose and was trying to get to her other side, but the 1200 pound gentle giant wouldn’t budge. Now Kiley wasn’t afraid of anything and she was determined to get her way. She found the “hot shot” livestock prod that works well in getting stubborn cattle to move by zapping them with a little shock. But, Coal Dream was soaking wet tied to a dad gum lightening rod. I could tell you about the bellering of that poor animal, but you really need to ask my Dad to make the sound. His vocal chords hold back nothing and you might find yourself in a hot mess of hysterical tears.
At cow shows, I was terrified to talk to the cute cowboys my age. But, six years my junior, she had them eating out of her palm. Pigtails and hot pink wranglers, she walked around like she owned the joint, and since she bought a horse for $2 at the age of 5, I have a sneaking suspicion that she probably had a financial stake in the fairgrounds, as well. The girl could get anyone to do anything for her, which came in handy when trying to carry heavy equipment. Wherever her feet fell, beams of light radiated in all directions. Sunshine, she was.
Even though she was fearless, I have deep imprints of longing to protect her. Kiley was about as independent as a person could be, but there were moments when my big sister instincts kicked into high gear. There was the time I drove her back from the farm. On the old country roads, we came up on a large black snake. In my opinion, all snakes were evil. I ran over it purposefully but that wasn’t sufficient. I put my silver Topaz in reverse and ran over it again. Back and forth I drove over the wicked beast, willing it to die so it would never harm her. It didn’t matter that there were layers of automobile metal separating us from snake venom. No one was getting bit on my watch.
There was also the time when we lived a solid year in the outskirts of Shreveport, LA. Being a 9th grader in a new school was torture, but when I heard that some girls in her class were threatening to beat her up on the playground, I about came undone. New prayers for her safety went up nightly and God rescued us out of that environment soon enough.
When her basketball days started, my protective instincts really kicked in. I wanted to run onto the court and smash whatever girl knocked her down. Each jammed finger, taped up ankle, or braced knee upset my insides. She was a talented athlete, but it tore me up to see each injury and each tear. I probably needed to get over myself a little bit. Good thing she was one tough cookie because basketball provided her with a scholarship her first couple years of college.
That breeze in her hair, though. There was this one day that she was free above all others. She had just bought herself a beautiful white convertible and she double dog dared me to take a spin with her. I had two young children I needed to come back to, preferably alive, but that didn’t squelch her heavy foot as we sped away from responsibility. We drove the back roads of small-town-Farmington, AR, the music full in our ears, screaming to hear one another. She was unconfined and free that day as long curled locks of dark brown sugar flowed behind her. In that moment, Kiley belonged to no one but her Maker and she was content in being who God had made her to be. Her liberation seeped into my pores, a moment in time forever etched in my being.
There is an interval of time I long for, a moment where neither time nor death define our days. It is our never ending fresh beginning. I can almost taste it, hints of dark chocolate and the purest of honeys and perfectly ripe pineapples swirling around my taste buds. Our toes are nestled deep in sand and our eyes are peering at the Son, since no sun is needed. His light bathes us in warmth and we remember faintly that the sun’s rays were only a hint at the blanket of affection that was to come…that is here now. His perfect love envelopes us both and we can’t help but to hum, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”
Kiley grabs me by the hand and pulls me to my feet. Hand in hand, we run to the ocean, deep and majestic, pure and comforting.